Looking onto your garden from a warm and cosy indoors in the depths of winter, especially if there is a light dusting of snow, is bound to give pleasure. You can make it even more special with an element of planning. Even in a small garden you can achieve shapes, colours, seedheads, grasses which sway in the breeze and shrubs that amaze with their scent. The latter have been covered in previous blogs, so we will concentrate on others on this occasion.

Grasses-and-evergreens-at-Harlow-Carr-Gardens

Grasses and evergreens at Harlow Carr Gardens

Grasses

Grasses often come into their own in late summer and the flowering heads of some will stay until you cut them, which is ideally done in spring. Mixing grasses into your herbaceous borders is very much of the moment, after the stunning designs by Piet Odoulf at a variety of gardens, over the last ten years. A wonderful example in North Yorkshire is Scampston Hall where there are rivers of grasses which look fantastic as they wave in the breeze. The foxtail grasses (or Pennisetums) have long furry plumes which move with the wind making delightful shapes. Covered in frost they can be quite magical.

There are many different varieties of Miscanthus varying in colour and height and who’s fronds which are fan shaped, create more movement in the winter garden. They vary from one metre tall to over two metres and can give you height where you need it in the border. There are many other grasses but these are my favourites.

Winter-in-the-garden-Pennisetum

Pennisetum

Containers

You can give yourself additional pleasure by siting winter containers and hanging baskets where you can plainly see them from inside. You can give the containers height with a small shrub or evergreen such as a small pine such as Pinus heldrechii Smidtii or different Hebes; cover the container or pot with trailing ivy and include lots of colour with a layer of small bulbs such as early tulips and daffodils or crocus and some violas or wall flowers for colour on the surface. There are many choices to be made, but if you plant a succession of different plants you will always have a pleasant view from the house.

Shapes in the winter border

Some of the most effective shapes in the garden can be achieved with evergreens such as Box, Euonymus, Griselinia, Osmanthus and there are many others to choose from and to shape the way you wish. Once you have the shape you like, it is only a matter of keeping it that way by judicious pruning. With a snow dusting or hoar frosting they illuminate the garden! Likewise, but for larger garden, a well placed birch tree with lovely white bark will light up a corner. The well known snowdrop garden at Anglesey Abbey in Cambridgeshire has a stand of beautiful Betula Jacqumontii , it is even named Snow Queen as if to emphasise it’s beautiful white bark.

Betula-Jacqumontii

Betula Jacqumontii

Colour in the winter garden may be helped by using the coloured stems of different dogwoods and willows. I have seen these used to great effect in the winter garden of Bressingham Gardens in Norfolk. The different greens, yellows and reds of the stems are used brilliantly with other plants and evergreen backing to add to the impact. Closer to home, RHS Harlow Carr Gardens has a grand array of different dogwood shrubs showing off their best colours in low winter sunshine. Cornus sanguinea Midwinter Fire is one of the best followed closely by Salix alba var vitellina Britzensis. The way to maintain the stunning coloured stems each winter is to hard prune them each year in early spring, effectively coppicing them.

Cornus

Cornus

Helping the insects

By leaving stems and seed heads of Alliums, Honesty and Teasels after they have flowered, over winter you enable small hibernating insects to find some protection from the weather. They crawl into the seed heads and find some shelter from the winter. Not only are the seedheads good for insect survival but they also create nice shapes and patterns in the winter border and are visible from inside! Generally, an untidy garden with longer grass for example (in some areas) will benefit wildlife especially frogs, toads and other insects which in turn will help you in the garden either as pollinators or as slug eaters. Some insects such as bumble bees find a hole in a wall or tree trunk or in your bug hotel crevices so that they can get out on a warm day to forage early in the year. The helping hand you can give the wildlife at this time of year, will benefit the diversity in your garden next year.

Winter-in-the-garden-Cotoneaster-berries

Cotoneaster berries

Feeding the birds

More pleasure can be derived by feeding your birds and siting the feeders within easy reach of the back door. You will be helping the garden by doing so, as many of the smallest birds such as the bluetits will feed their chicks in spring on caterpillars which might otherwise be chomping on your plants! A great variety of different birds can be seen from the house and many feeders have a queue waiting for access to the nuts and seeds.

Greater-spotted-woodpecker-on-a-feeder

Greater spotted woodpecker on a feeder

Looking onto your garden from a warm and cosy indoors in the depths of winter, especially if there is a light dusting of snow, is bound to give pleasure. You can make it even more special with an element of planning. Even in a small garden you can achieve shapes, colours, seedheads, grasses which sway in the breeze and shrubs that amaze with their scent. The latter have been covered in previous blogs, so we will concentrate on others on this occasion.