English Country Gardener

The Best Winter Plants

Its a common misconception that all gardens go into hibernation come the winter, as all plants either die back or they move to a state of suspended animation. There are many winter plants that come alive in winter to brighten or make your garden smell as sweet as it did in the warmer months. There are also shrubs, trees and perennials that do their best in summer and autumn then as they die back they create a beautiful winterscape with different heights and textures.

Summer Plants that Look Great as they have Died Back

  • Rosa rugosa is a collection of vigorous rambling roses, that bare bright red fruits in winter, my only snag (no pun intended) is they have nasty thorns! Picture Goodhousekeeping 
Picture of Rosa rugosa from http://www.goodhousekeeping.com/home/green-living/winter-photo-flipbook-50120808#slide-21

Picture of Rosa rugosa from Good Housekeeping

  • Buxus sempervirens or any topiary shrub eg Yew grow in well drained fertile soil in either sun or partial shade. Taxus baccata (Yew) grows in the same conditions however it will survive in chalky or acidic soils. If you want winter berrys though make sure you plant both sexes.


Topiary Fingask Castle

Picture of Topiary at Fingask Castle

The image is from Fingask Castle and yes it might not be box but you get the architectual jist.

  • Fagus sylvatica otherwise known as Beech keeps its rustic looking leaves through the winter adding a bit more texture and colour to your garden. You don’t just have to have a beech tree, beech hedges are becoming more popular, if you can do it right then it will look lovely. It grows in any soil as long as it doesn’t get water logged. Trim hedges in summer, purple leaves variety requires full sun however greener versions are ok with a bit of shade.
Fagus Sylvatica

Picture of Fagus Sylvatica from Sandy Lane Nursery

The image is from sandylandnursery .

  •  Hydrangea quercifolia this is a truly beautiful unusual hydrangea I love its oak like leaves and its cream flowers. We have one of these growing in the back garden. In autumn the leaves turn a red and purple colour. prefers full sun or partial shade in well drained soil.
hydrangea quercifolia

Picture of hydrangea quercifolia, Pailton

  • Achillea is one of those plants you either love it, or you think it looks quite like a weed. The right variety looks great in any English Country Garden. It is so easy to grow, yes it grows like a weed. However its best grown in a well drained soil in a sunny position.


  • Eryngium or Sea Holly not to be confused with Dipsacus or Teasle is another one of those prickly plants I hate to love. They are spectacular in winter and during summer. You can even pick them for decorations in the house. a very versitle plant. They need sun and fertile soil that is well drained. You can collect seeds in autumn.

Picture of Eryngium

  • Any perennial grass such as Miscanthus or Stipa tenuissima,or even Panicum. Most grasses like well drained soil in sun. Stipa looks really good with lavender. Choose your grass depending on the size of the space as grasses like Stipa gigantea grow to become very large specimins up to 2.5 meters high.


stipa tenuissima

Picture of Stipa Tenuissima, Yorkshire Lavender

  • Yucca is another love or hate plant, we have two next to each other but not from the same plant, in winter they just simply keep their form and nicely collect frost and snow. A simple plant for those spaces you have no other choice but to put a Yucca to fill it with. A bit of height and some foliage is all it really does. If you are lucky it will flower, it took years for my parents to flower and when it did it didn’t look anything like the pictures it was more of an alien looking flower trying to imitate the head of an asparagus.



Picture of Yucca, Pailton

  • Pieris japonica is one of those plants that the red leaves are more spectacular than its wierd looking flowers. They try to look like pretty delicate bells however im just not really that impressed. If you want to grow one it is acid loving although my parents and grandparents grow theirs in normal soil and they thrive. they also have them growing in full sun, however Pieris do prefer semi shade in moist soil. Do you have one growing in your garden? If so what position and in what soil does it grow?
  • Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’ othersise know as twisted hazel another love hate plant although I don’t know why people don’t like it, its twisted branches give it an edge that makes it different to look at in winter. Also great for home flower decorations. They are very easy to grow, either in sun or partial shade in any soil thats moist but well drained.
Corylus avellana 'Contorta'

Picture of Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’, Easingwold


Shrubs and Plants for Winter

  1. Cotoneaster, you can’t go wrong with a Cotoneaster. There are so many varieties the ones that bear red berries are my favourite. Im not a fan of the tree verieties. Aim for an evergreen variety for winter interest. Evergreen varietys do well in either full sun or partial shade. they are usually very happy in dry spots.
  2. Ilex aquifolium your common Holly a signature plant of winter and christmas, unfortunately another prickly plant. The common Holly is easy to grow, it will be happy in any soil in sun or partial shade.
  3. Salix caprea or pussy willow is great for winter interest but also again for house decorations. Ideal conditions is dry soil, in full sun. You can mix it with dogwood to get a really pretty hedge.
  4. Helleborus x hybridus ‘Queen of the Night’ a beautiful colourful hellebore, or Christmas rose. You can get many different hellebores, however the red or black ones are my favourite. They are perfect in semi-shade as they origiate as a woodland plant. Hellebores need well drained soil but that is water retentive.
  5. Viburnum tinus ‘Eve Price’ has little sweet cream/ pink flowers in clusters. Grow in semi-shade or sun, in deep fertile well drained soil, not too dry though!
  6. Dryopteris affinis or any other fern, im sorry but im not really a fern gardener, there are some in our cottage garden however im not a massive fan. Don’t get me wrong I wont be removing them but you wont see me buying one from a garden centre. They were always the hardest to identify in a plant identity test. My favourite fern name is Asplenium scolopendrium, its easy to identify (we have on in the garden) and its got a cool name. Aesculus hippocastanum (Horsechestnut) is also a great name to remember. Back to Dryopteris are great for those aquard spots in the garden that is always too shady or too wet. Put a ferm there and it will love you.
  7. Hamamelis my favourite winter plant for its witch like flowers. A very cheerful plant to cheer up any garden in winter. So beautiful and even better it comes in different colours! If anyone wanted to buy me a present for christmas this would be a good gift! I would love to put one in the garden. Yes they are boring duing the rest of the year but thats what the other plants are for! They love to grow in sun or semi-shade, best in well drained peaty soil, acidic hense why they are growing in amoungst the Rhododendrons at Harlow Carr, RHS.
  8. Cornus or dog wood again come in many different colours, its the stems that are attractive in winter. My favourite is Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’ its striking red stems look brilliant against snow or frosty grass and plants. Grow it in full sun or partial shade, it can be exposed or sheltered a very easy plant to keep.
  9. Sarcococca confusa otherise known as sweet box and sweet it is I love this smell. Again they have these in big patches at Harlow Carr, RHS. They bear black berries in summer which do stay during the winter in most plants, and white sweet smelling flowers come in winter only. It is an evergreen shrub so you will enjoy its folliage all year around. i would love to make a small hedge out of this. Place in full shade or partial shade, but somewhere where you can enjoy the sweet smell in winter! Do put it in a sheltered spot though in moist but well drained soil. They will grow in any soil types.
  10. Lonicera x purpusii ‘Winter Beauty’ this is a plant i haven’t knowing ever seen but ive heard of it. Place in full sun or partial shade in any soil.
  11. Cercidiphyllum japonicum if i had to choose one tree in the whole world it would be this one. I love the heart shaped leaves (simular to lime trees) and their rustic colour in autumn. The main attraction of this tree is the smell of the leaves in winter, the emit a beautiful toffee apple smell. Place in full sun or partial shade in a sheltered garden in acid or neutral soil, thats well drained but moist. It’s classed as a medium size deciduous tree that will grow to approximately 30 meters.
  12. Prunus serrula is another of my favourite trees its otherwise know as Tibetan Cherry. It has beautiful red thin paper like trunks, very striking in any garden. It needs full sun in any soil that well drained but moist. It will grow up to 12 meters high and wider than 8 meters.
  13. Callicarpa bodinieri var. giraldii ‘Profusion’ a totally cool plant with wicked bright purple berries that are around through the autumn. This is such a striking plant. Ideally situated in full sun or partial shade, in any soil. I will be getting one of these even though they don’t look tradtional they are just too cool to not have one. This is a perfect present for any of your gardener friends!
Callicarpa boninieri var.giraldii 'profusion'

Picture of Callicarpa boninieri var.giraldii ‘profusion’

Above picture is from Crocus an online plant shop. No excuses not to buy it now!

There are so many more winter plants that will brighten up your borders! Whats your favourite winter plant?


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