At North Leeds Garden Design we’re often asked to design a garden with year-round appeal from the planting. Many of our customers obviously think it’s quite a challenging ask to have plants of interest in the garden in winter as well as summer. But I have to say that what’s difficult about this is often more about the amount of choice available – and how to narrow it down! So today I thought I’d share with you my current top five favourites.

Garden-making in the UK, with our temperate -if increasingly unpredictable- climate means there is a huge range of plants with which to beguile us in the winter months.

Many of them are completely hardy – largely unaffected by cold and wet, with no need to cosset them in any way.

But there is an important aspect of winter garden-making which IS affected by the weather: YOU! What I mean is that you won’t be using the garden as much in the winter, or sitting out in it. But… you WILL still be parking the car next to the house, or coming in from walking the dog, or looking out from the sitting room into the garden. Therefore these are the places where you need to site plants with winter appeal. There’s no point putting them where you won’t see them!

My Top 5 plants for winter colour 

1. Cornus

My first suggestion for you is the Cornus, the dogwood. Dogwoods are not evergreen shrubs but in winter they have bright red or yellow stems which really sing out on dull days, so these plants are equally good seen from a distance or right next to you.

We have a red-stemmed one, Cornus alba Elegantissima, 100ft from the sitting room window which is incredibly eye-catching, especially when the sun catches it.

Cornus make large shrubs but need to have the oldest stems pruned out each year in early spring to retain just the youngest, brightest stems.

They look especially wonderful underplanted with snowdrops. 

2. Viburnum tinus and viburnum Bodnantense ‘Dawn’ 

These two shrubs are both from the viburnum family, but very different from each other. Viburnum tinus is a large evergreen shrub with pale pink and white flowers which open in tight groups during mild periods right through from November to March.

It’s no trouble to look after; grows well in most soil conditions; doesn’t need much sun (I have it on a north-facing wall); and it can easily be pruned in spring to suit the space you have. Being an evergreen makes it a useful shrub for the winter garden anyway, but the all-winter-long flowers make it a must-have for me. I grow it where I can see it from the kitchen window. Viburnum Bodnantense ‘Dawn’ also grows to be a large shrub but it’s deciduous.

Its leaves turn an amazing buttery yellow or coppery red colour in autumn and then the sweetly-scented tiny pink flower buds open.

It usually has a main burst of flower in autumn and then flowers intermittently all winter. The scent is so incredible on still days that it really will stop you in your tracks! Definitely a plant to be grown where you will walk nearby.

3. Crab apple 

Until this year I’d considered crab apples purely from the culinary angle, because crab apple jelly is one of my favourite jams – it’s especially good on toasted English muffins!

Crab apples are small, deciduous trees whose leaves often have lovely autumn leaves. They only produce tiny apples – the size of a large marble.

But this year the growing conditions were perfect for them in our area, and there are so many apples it looks like each branch is decorated with miniature red or yellow baubles. On good cultivars such as Malus ‘Red Sentinel’ (red) or ‘Golden Hornet’ (yellow) these will stay on the tree for much of the winter, giving you a wonderful festive effect.

4. Clematis cirrhosa ‘Freckles’ 

I wanted to include a climber in the list and had intended to write about clematis Armandii – a useful large, evergreen clematis with white flowers in late winter, which can be scented.

In contrast, clematis ‘Freckles’ is a delicate winter clematis whose pale flowers open wide to reveal purple-red streaks inside.

You need to see it close up to appreciate it. I would recommend letting it climb up a deciduous shrub so that its green leaves and white flowers don’t get lost amongst evergreen foliage. 

5. Callicarpa bodinieri ‘Profusion 

If you’re looking for a plant to fit in well with a contemporary house or garden design, just have a look at this!

Callicarpa has clusters of the most incredible metallic pink berries on bare pewter stems in autumn. The berries last into winter if the weather is kind.

It’s not fussy about soil requirements and will grow perfectly well in a part-shaded spot. It’s not a large shrub and so I’d probably grow in groups of 3 to ensure good pollination – but just one of these shrubs will make an impact, and add real excitement to your winter garden!

If you’d like us to advise on the right plants for your situation, just contact us at

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