Best plants for winter colour

Bring colour and scent into your winter garden with our guide to the best plants to grow for winter colour.

Winter garden in colour

Here is our expert guide on the best plants for winter colour, including when they flower, soil type and how to prune.

Bring colour and scent into your winter garden with these outstanding plants, brought to you by garden designer and Chelsea Flower Show judge James Alexander-Sinclair

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1

Winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis)

Winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis)
Winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis)

The first bulb of the year pops up all over woodland and wilder gardens around January. The flowers are as bright as neon egg yolks with a frill of green foliage. Once they have finished flowering they disappear back into the ground for the summer.

Small garden pond

2

Skimmia japonica

Skimmia japonica
Skimmia japonica

Evergreen shrubs that look good on the edge of borders or in pots. They are best with a bit of acidity in the soil but are pretty sure to flower reliably and produce good red berries. Excellent for flower arrangements. Pictured: Skimmia japonica ‘Rubella’.

3

Heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica)

Heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica)
Heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica)

An evergreen shrub sometimes called the Heavenly bamboo even though it is nothing like a true bamboo. If you have a garden ravaged by hungry deer or bunnies then they are pretty much guaranteed to leave this alone. Pictured: Nandina domestica ‘Fire Power’

4

Scarlet willow (Salix alba var. vitellina ‘Britzensis’)

Scarlet willow (Salix alba var. vitellina ‘Britzensis’)
Scarlet willow (Salix alba var. vitellina ‘Britzensis’)

Another plant grown for its stems: this time the colour of a squeezed blood orange. There’s also one called golden willow (Salix alba var. vitellina) if you are looking for yellow, or Salix myrsinifolia for stems of purply black. There’s lots of choice, but they are big shrubs that need hard pruning.

5

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)

Possibly an odd choice for a winter plant but it is an evergreen shrub that is hardy in most gardens. Every time you brush or stroke the foliage the smell will remind you that the cold will end and summer will come again.

6

Red-barked dogwood (Cornus alba)

Red-barked dogwood (Cornus alba sibirica)
Red-barked dogwood (Cornus alba sibirica) ©Getty

In the summer this is a bit of a dull fish. The leaves are unremarkable and the flowers are tiny. However, once the leaves have fallen, the new stems are as red as Santa’s coat and sparkle in the watery winter light.

7

Ghost bramble (Rubus thibetanus)

Ghost bramble (Rubus thibetanus)
Ghost bramble (Rubus thibetanus)

You do not usually associate brambles with winter. The blackberries are long gone and all that is left are the prickles. However, Rubus thibetanus has wonderful white stems that stand out well amid the gloom. Image via ukgardenphotos on Flickr.

8

Tibetan cherry (Prunus serrula)

Tibetan cherry (Prunus serrula)
Tibetan cherry (Prunus serrula)

If a plant has no leaves, berries or flowers then what else is left to make it stand out in a crowd? Bark, of course: this small tree has the most beautiful conker brown bark that looks as if it has been buffed by an energetic drill sergeant.

9

Witch hazel (Hamamelis mollis)

Witch hazel (Hamamelis mollis)
Witch hazel (Hamamelis mollis)

A splash of colour to lighten any winter day. Its odd-looking flowers have petals like paper streamers – they come in yellow, orange or red depending on the variety. Flowers before the leaves appear so completely unmissable. As a bonus it smells of spiced boudoirs.

10

Wintersweet (Chimonanthus praecox ‘Luteus’)

Wintersweet (Chimonanthus praecox ‘Luteus’)
Wintersweet (Chimonanthus praecox ‘Luteus’)

You know when this plant is ‘in da house’ – or rather ‘in da garden’ – as the scent is sweet, slightly sultry and carries a long way. Loads of creamy yellow flowers are followed by handsome vase-shaped seed capsules.


Best places to buy these plants

The RHS Plant Finder will tell you where to find them. Many are stocked by www.crocus.co.uk, who kindly supplied several of the images we have used. Scarlet willow and red dogwood saplings are available from www.ashridgetrees.co.uk


Jobs for the garden in the winter

Winter is a great time for gardeners to take stock, tidy up, protect plants and plan ahead. Here is our month-by-month winter gardening guide.

Clear up and shore up

Dead-head autumn-flowering plants and prune summer-flowering shrubs before the first frosts. Check structures are stable and if they aren’t then mend them now before high winds and snow do more serious damage.

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Keep off the grass

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Although grass is evergreen it is dormant in winter, so avoid walking on it or you will damage it fairly easily. If you must walk on it, pop a plank down temporarily so that your weight is spread more evenly.

See our winter gardening guide