Winter gardening for colour and fragrance

Gardening tips for flowers, berries and herbs to brighten up your borders.

Transform summer’s greenery and autumn’s changing scenery with these smart winter gardening ideas that will produce blooms and berries to brighten your garden views as you stay cosy indoors.

Winter flowering plants

As tree branches are increasingly bare, the delicate beauty of flowers adds a stunning contrast. They won’t give you huge summer-style bouquets, but if you want to cut a few for your table, fill small vases with pretty little posies.

•Hellebores (otherwise known as Christmas Rose) blossom in January, even in snow. They flower in a range of colours, from pink and maroon to white.

TIP Hellebores are hungry winter plants. Dig in a good dose of manure around them in autumn, and again after they have flowered.

•Snowdrops are small, white bell-shaped flowers and fittingly named as they are quite happy in snow or very cold soil.

TIP For a spread of snowdrops around your garden, divide them after flowering: dig up the green leaves and bulbs for each plant in one piece, pull the bulbs apart into clumps and replant them elsewhere. Always allow snowdrops to die back naturally at the end of the season. Don’t pull out dying foliage.

•Irises (pictured) offer a striking purple splash in winter and are perfect for cutting.

TIP Irises love sun and stony ground, so position them on a rockery near the house in a spot that gets the best of the winter light.

Flowering shrubs for the winter garden

More sturdy than flowers, winter flowering shrubs can be a reliable choice which still produce colourful blossoms. They also work well in small spaces where bigger trees are just not an option.

•Camellia is an evergreen favourite that blossoms from autumn to spring with rose-like flowers from pink to rich red. It’s better to plant camellias in soil rather than pots, as their roots benefit from the surrounding soil’s insulation.

•TIP If there are a few days of really freezing weather, protect your camellias from the chilly wind with a horticultural fleece.

•Heather blooms year-round but in winter, its delicate flowers contrast with dark foliage to great effect. Find a place in your garden with good drainage (a clay soil won’t be suitable) and leave a good space between each plant to encourage air-flow around them.

TIP Heather loves an acid soil so add an acidic soil treatment if you need to, before planting.

•Witch hazel is a deciduous bush with bunches of aromatic yellow, red or orange petals that flower from autumn to early winter.

TIP Plant this shrub in a spot which isn’t too shady and which isn’t exposed to direct wind. When the witch hazel is still young, use a horticultural fleece when there is a hard frost. However, it’s good to know that more mature witch hazel plants have frost-resistant flowers.

Choosing fragrant plants

Just because the weather is far from tropical, winter gardening isn’t without its wonderful scents. These three flowering plants look good, too.

•Honeysuckle produces lovely sweet lemon-scented flowers, but make sure you choose ‘sweetest honeysuckle’, which is winter flowering, or it won’t thrive.

•TIP Keep the soil moist but well drained.

•Wintersweet boasts branches of perfumed blooms with a distinctive two layered petal formation for a strikingly chic appearance. They smell great too, with an almost spicy fragrance.

TIP Train the plant against a south-facing wall and be patient, you probably won’t get blooms for the first few years.

•Daphne bholua from Nepal offer a potent fragrance and pink clusters of flowers.

•TIP Plant in a sheltered spot that enjoys plenty of sunlight.

Planting berry bushes

Create a wildlife sanctuary with berry-bearing bushes that feed birds in winter, such as firethorn, chokecherry, Virginia creeper and chinaberry. Enjoy bird-watching!

•Winterberry shrubs lose their leaves in winter, revealing stems filled with bright red berries, much to the delight of garden wildlife.

•TIP Winterberry takes a couple years to germinate, so be patient.

•Holly is synonymous with winter and its combination of intense green leaves and rich red or yellow berries make it a classic alternative to flower arrangements indoors at this time of year.

TIP In order to get lots of shiny berries on a ‘female’ holly bush, there needs to be a ‘male’ bush planted nearby.

Growing winter vegetables

Edible winter garden plants provide perfect vegetables for a hot pot of soup during the cold months. These suggestions look great flourishing in your winter garden. While you’re waiting for your veg patch crops, check out other seasonal eats for autumn and winter to look out for when you’re shopping.

•Brussels sprouts can be harvested from August onwards, but actually taste better after they have been exposed to frost and can be picked through winter.

TIP Try Bosworth or Revenge sprouts as these are still good to pick as late as February.

•Kale produces greens for your kitchen all through winter, great for stir fries, bubble and squeak, and rich meat and gravy dishes.

TIP Kale takes a lot out of the soil so don’t plant it in the same spot the following season.

•Parsnips are frost-resistant and full of flavour so they’re wonderful for winter stews.

TIP Parsnip seeds need to be fresh so you should plant new seeds (as quickly as possible) each new season.

Growing herbs outdoors

Happily, some herbs are cold-hardy and will survive outdoors all year-round, but winter gardening can be enjoyed inside too – check out our ideas for planting an indoor herb garden this winter, then try planting these three suggestions outside.

•Rosemary is a really useful ingredient in winter meals. Once rosemary is well established, snip some sprigs for your roast potatoes.

TIP Prune the bush once a year (after it has flowered) so that it remains compact.

•Bay trees survive through winter but you should snip at them only sparingly at this time of year.

•TIP People like to give potted bay trees as gifts, but you should transfer your bay tree to soil for a hardier winter (the roots are more exposed to cold in a pot).

•Parsley, sage and thyme are also able to cope outside in winter and can be harvested so long as you don’t over cut.

•TIP All of these herbs like neutral to alkaline soils, good drainage and sunshine, so they make a great herb patch, planted all together.

Look forward to spring

Although there are plenty of winter gardening tasks at this time of year, it’s not as busy as spring and summer, so why not make the most of your time and consider exciting changes for the coming seasons? Check out planning a new garden for the new year for inspiring ideas.