A quick glance out of my kitchen window confirms that winter is definitely in residence in the garden. The light is low, the tree branches are the only real structure in sight, most plants are dormant, and the lawn is blanketed in yet another carpet of fallen leaves (note to self: make more leaf mould).
This all sounds more than a little bleak, but actually it’s not that hard to add interest to your garden in winter.
At the simplest level, improving your garden in winter is a question of training your eye to notice a different set of features in your garden. This could be the effect of fading daylight viewed through ornamental grasses, the previously hidden structure of trees and large shrubs, or the texture of raindrops on ivy. They’re less showy displays than those provided by the stars of other seasons, but no less enjoyable for that.
How to improve your garden in winter
If you’d like to spend a little time making your garden look good in winter, focus on these areas. They’re all quite low-effort (one of the benefits that the slower pace of winter brings), but will ensure you can look out upon an uplifting piece of nature, which is wonderfully cheering at this time of year.
Add structural plants
Our gardens are pared-back in winter, which means plants that provide structure at this time of year come in very handy. You can use structural plants to create interest, lead the eye to a particular area, and frame plants in other seasons.
Think of your garden in terms of layers. Winter plants form the basic structure, over which you can layer plants that look good at other times of the year. Get the structure right, and you’re well on your way to improving your garden in winter.
Great plants for providing winter structure in the garden include box, cornus, mahonia, lavender and evergreen ornamental grasses. Trees with fabulous bark such as silver birch are ideal too.
Great plants for winter gardens
In addition to structural plants, you can add plants to your garden in winter that will provide colour, scent and wow factor.
Hellebores, winter clematis, heucheras, daphnes, heathers, snowdrops and the humble pansy are all great plants for winter gardens. I’ve got a whole post on my top winter plants which covers this in more detail, and there are some nice suggestions in this video too:
Don’t be too tidy
It’s good to be lazy now and then, and this is one of those times.
Leave spent flower heads on plants rather than cutting them off. They will collect frost beautifully on crisp mornings, and look fabulous with the winter sun shining through them. They will also provide local wildlife with a source of shelter and food.
Instant winter interest in a container
You probably won’t be using your garden very much during winter, so it’s worth focusing your efforts on the parts of the garden you can see from your window. Containers are a great solution for this, as you can move them around easily until you have them just where you can see them best. This doesn’t have to be on a patio or deck either; consider tucking them into the bare patches in your borders.
Get the kids to help you plant up a pot of winter flowering annuals such as pansies, viola, cyclamen, primrose and calendula, and they will flower for you right through to spring. Remember to layer some spring bulbs lower down in the pot to extend the flowering season with minimal effort.
I always have a pot of winter flowering plants outside our front door, because it’s lovely to see a little bit of nature every time we go in and out.
Winter wildlife gardening
Wildlife can bring bags of interest to your garden in winter. At other leafier times of year garden visitors are often tucked away out of view, but in winter we can see them in all their glory.
Encourage birds to visit with hanging feeders; remember to position them where you can see them from the house, and out of the reach of cats. This is a lovely one to get the kids involved with. You could encourage them to make a diary of the varieties that visit, or get crafty making your own bird feeders and bird bath. Leaving seed heads on your plants provides a good food source for birds too.
More winter garden inspiration
For more ideas and tips on gardening in winter, take a look at these posts:
What’s your top tip for how to make your garden look good in winter?