Banish the Winter Blues

As leaves fall and branches stand bare, it’s easy to feel low when looking out of the window into the grey sky, but what if we can create a beautiful winter garden to banish those winter blues? I am going to give you a few ideas to uplift your mood by adding some colour and scent to your garden.

Sarah @ The Garden Creative

Roses all produce hips, as long as you don’t dead-head all the flowers. Species roses have the most dramatic hips: dog-rose (Rosa canina) and Rosa rugosa make wonderful hedges, or additions to an existing hedge, and carry masses of red-orange hips that will attract birds and bring colour to the border.

What about a rambling rose, especially useful to cover the sides of buildings, garages or to scramble into large trees? There are many varieties that give the most stunning display of rosehips during winter months. Seagull is a beautiful rose with clusters of open white flowers in the summer and sprays of tiny rounded red hips in winter, as is Rosa filipes Kiftsgate, a vigorous variety that will quickly climb high.

Climbers and wall shrubs are great for covering depressingly bare fences and bringing flowers or foliage to the vertical aspect of the garden; this tricks the eye into thinking the garden is bigger than it is!

Evergreen climbers are especially good. Try Trachelospermum jasminoides (Star Jasmine) for good green cover all year and the most delightful scent from its star-shaped white flowers in summer. For a floriferous jasmine at this time of year, try Jasminum nudiflorum (winter jasmine) for attractive yellow flowers on bare branches from January to March, like little twinkling lights!

Another dramatic wall shrub that can also be grown at the back of a mixed border is Garrya elliptica ‘James Roof ’ (photo right) with the most decorative display of long, silver tassle-like catkins throughout winter. It’s evergreen, too, so acts as a great backdrop to flowering shrubs and perennials all year round.

Witch Hazel

A dramatic-looking and heavily-scented shrub is Witch Hazel (Hamamelis). Unless you have acidic soil, you will need to grow this beauty in a pot in ericaceous compost and ideally water with rainwater, but it’s worth the effort because its fiery display of orange or yellow spidery flowers is like no other, and the sweet scent is sure to brighten your day!


If your garden is shady there are many plants that will brighten up your winter days. Pyracantha ‘Saphyr Orange’, known as Firethorn, is a fantastic shrub that will grow in part-shade and gives the most dazzling display of orange berries all winter. They are not fussy, will grow in most soils and are evergreen and provide a great backdrop to flowering plants during spring and summer.

Many winter-flowering plants use their scent to attract insects for pollination, so we have an array of intoxicatingly fragrant plants to choose from. Among the best is Lonicera x purpusii ‘Winter Beauty’, which grows happily at the foot of a wall, so it’s great close to the front door where its heady scent from creamy white delicate flowers can be appreciated in late winter and early spring.

Viburnum x bodnantense is a large shrub that flowers on bare branches and fills the whole garden with a strong fragrance from autumn to spring.

There are many stunning shrubs and trees that save a lot of their most impressive displays for winter. Even though deciduous trees and shrubs lose their leaves there are many that are chosen for their fantastic coloured bark, seedheads and catkins. Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’ – twisted hazel – with its long yellow catkins is a fabulous specimen small tree for planting as a stand-alone or at the back of the border. It looks great under-planted with snowdrop and daffodil bulbs and the twisted branches can be brought into the house as displays.

There are many varieties of silver birch that have dramatic white bark throughout the year, more so highlighted in winter, and look great when planted alongside dogwood with red, yellow and black branches. Try Betula utilis ‘Snow Queen’ with Cornus sericea flaviramea, sanguinea and kesselringii. Prunus serrula has shiny mahogany bark that looks great under-planted with hellebores and dark-leaved Anthriscus sylvestris ‘Ravenswing’.

Mahonia x media is another wonderful shrub for a shady garden, displaying bright spires of fragrant yellow flowers. Sarcococca confusa, or sweet box, is an evergreen shrub with an intoxicating fragrance that loves deep shade. It’s perfect for small shady gardens and if planted close to the path or doorway will bring much joy to the senses!

Hellebores, or Christmas roses, also love the shade and come in many colours from white and pale pink through reds and maroons to the darkest, almost black, flowers. They are fantastic late nectar for foraging bees and insects and being evergreen are great value for money, flowering right through winter. To really enjoy the flowers, bring one or two inside and float them in a small bowl of water.

Ornamental grasses

Grasses look great during winter, when their movement and graceful seed-heads can be appreciated without being upstaged by brightly coloured flowers. They create structure in a winter garden alongside shrubs and, because many are upright, they are great for tight spaces. Great varieties to try are Miscanthus sinensis ‘Boucle’, Pennisetum ‘Hameln’, and Stipa gigantea.

Winter-flowering Cyclamen coum

Cyclamen make for a beautiful, happy display in pots and troughs outdoors on the balcony or patio as well as in the garden under shrubs and trees. Incorporate horticultural grit into the compost and choose a pretty container with drainage holes. Plant the hard corms close to the top of the soil where they can get light.

Make a statement

If there’s no space for a new tree or shrub, think about a piece of sculpture that will bring you joy. It can be as simple as a large urn or pot that could be planted with a ‘lasagne’ of bulbs (layering of spring bulbs) for a continuous display of colour in the new year, or something hand-crafted that can take centre-stage. A water bowl will attract birds and there are many sculptures available online from simple handmade garden stakes of seed and flower heads to larger animals or abstract forms. A bird feeder or, even better, a bird feeding station will bring many hours of happiness during the coldest months. Place it to be viewed from a window where you can see all your feathered visitors, who will very much appreciate seeds and nuts.

Some ideas to cheer up small spaces, window boxes, balconies or indoors

Plant up a bowl or vase with Paperwhites. Narcissus tazetta ‘Paperwhite Ziva’ can be bought as bulbs and planted now in compost or grit. Keep them well watered in a bright, warm area in the house and they will bring you much joy this winter! If you plant them at two-week intervals, you will enjoy the stunning flowers for longer. Other bulbs you can grow indoors are autumn-flowering crocus in yellow (Sternbergia lutea) or purple (Crocus sativus) – group them together in a glass vase – and Amaryllis, a giant of a flower often available in autumn in kits for growing indoors for a Christmas display. Make a winter wreath. If you can forage winter holly berries, ivy, dried hydrangea heads, pine cones, twisted or coloured sticks, seedheads, and evergreen foliage like eucalyptus or pine, have a go at making your own wreath to hang indoors, on the door or outside where you can see from the window.

Tips to care for the environment

Don’t throw away bulbs and plants you have bought for winter displays. Store and reuse them next year, plant outside in the garden, or give away to others.

Try not to buy new plastic decorations, instead forage for natural ones and reuse your shop-bought decs every year.

Buy only peat-free compost and avoid buying sphagnum moss.

Ask questions at your local nurseries and garden centres: do they grow in peat-free compost? Think about supporting local businesses by spending your money there.

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