With a little imagination and creativity, it’s easy to add interest to your garden in the winter months. For the greatest impact, concentrate efforts on a few key areas that you see on a daily basis. These might include beds and pots close to the house, as well as the front garden, which you walk through every day. We've rounded up some of the best ideas to inspire you. Many require little effort and some are great value for money too. So, whether you step outside or look from your window, embrace winter and enjoy your garden at every opportunity.
Brighten it up with simple lighting
In winter, we often come home in the dark and miss seeing the garden altogether. Outdoor lighting can bring it back into play and transform the view from windows that would otherwise be dark, reflective panes. Try a few tea lights in clear jam jars to add seasonal twinkle for special occasions and solar lights to provide a few hours of decorative light. Fairy lights are fun draped in a tree and there’s a wide range of lighting kits on offer that are quick and easy to install. Be sure to switch lighting off before going to bed, to minimise disruption to wildlife.
Add evergreen topiary shapes
Even just one piece of evergreen topiary will add interest to a pot or bed and hold an area together in winter. Formal shapes such as balls, pyramids and cubes work well, but if you like a more relaxed style, then the trend for looser ‘cloud-pruned’ and organic topiary shapes may suit you. Box and yew are traditional plant choices, but other small-leaved evergreens, such as Ilex crenata, phillyrea, Lonicera nitida and privet, clip well. For instant impact, you can buy ready-made, but more costly, topiary – expect to pay around £25 for a 30cm box ball.
Grow scented plants by your door
There are many fabulous winter flowering shrubs that deliver rich fragrance, such as chimonanthus, daphnes, mahonias, sarcococca, and viburnums. If they’re tucked away at the back of borders, they’ll get overlooked and be under-appreciated. Plant them instead where their delicious scents can readily be enjoyed, such as close to the back door, in the front garden or beside a regularly used path. Many of these shrubs are happy in pots, so can be moved to centre stage for winter, then shifted to a less prominent position over the summer.
Plant up patio containers
Pots are the best way to add a seasonal splash of colour just where you need it. Opt for plants that look good together, such as cyclamen, heathers, hellebores, pansies and variegated ivy. In a large pot, add a shrubby evergreen plant for a bit of backbone, such as a rosemary or sarcococca. At this time of year, all these plants are available in garden centres in small pots, making it easy to mix and match.
Warm up with a fire pit or brazier
To use your garden on winter evenings, you need to make it as warm and comfortable as possible. There are some great braziers and fire pits on the market these days, which are ready to go and can be placed on the patio for people to huddle around.
Improve your window outlook
Most of us spend more time indoors over winter, so it really pays to have attractive views from your windows. Without redesigning your garden, consider what you can tweak to improve the composition. It’s amazing what a bit of seasonal rearranging can do. Think about relocating anything attractive that is readily moveable, such as pot displays and garden ornaments, so they can be clearly seen from the windows. Or remove a few of the lower branches of a tree to reveal a view of something eye-catching beyond.
Weave something sculptural
Get creative with flexible twigs and weave them into an eye-catching feature. You can buy long lengths of hazel or colourful willow by the bundle, or perhaps you have a plant that can be coppiced? Then bend, twist and weave the stems together to create interesting shapes. Simple woven twiggy balls look great dangling from trees, or make something large and abstract – a representation of an animal such as a deer or an oversized rabbit? Use galvanised wire to link sections together. They won’t last forever, but they’re a great project for children.
Make a hotel for bugs
There’s nothing better than a project that enhances the garden visually and benefits wildlife. Bug hotels can be simple or fancy, and of any size. Think nooks and crannies. Small holes make ideal hibernating homes for ladybirds and lacewings, so cut bamboo canes into short lengths with the hollow ends exposed. Set them into an old wooden box, or forget the frame and simply tie them into a small bundle. Leftover lengths of wood can be drilled with holes to do the same job, and if placed on the ground then beetle larvae will feed on the decaying dead wood.
Perk things up with a splash of paint
Introducing permanent colour into a garden through planting alone can be difficult, but painting or staining will add instant colour just where you need it to set off plantings or act as a backdrop. A wash of a water-based colour on large terracotta pots isn’t permanent, but will jazz things up for a few months. Rendered walls can be painted, while wooden fences and structures such as obelisks or pergolas are best stained, as it’s easier to re-apply. Think about which colours would work best in your plot and play around with them.
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Include silvery plants for sparkle
There’s a whole range of plants that hold their grey or silvery foliage all winter, fitting the season perfectly. These include: silver bush (Convolvulus cneorum), a compact, spreading shrub with shiny leaves that look as if they’ve been spray painted; Artemisia ‘Powis Castle’, with its soft, ferny, pale-silver foliage; and Helictotrichon sempervirens, a grey, arching evergreen grass. They all look great together in a large pot for seasonal interest and can then be transplanted into the garden next spring to provide interest for years to come.