5 garden plants that lift the spirits even in the depths of winter

PUBLISHED: 09:38 21 January 2016 | UPDATED: 15:12 22 January 2016

Snowdrops ©  William Gray

Snowdrops © William Gray


It’s been a long, grey, wet winter, but no matter how dreary the weather gets you can always rely on these five easy-to-grow garden plants to brighten your day – whether it’s from a splash of early colour, shiny evergreen leaves or striking bark. Give them a try, along with snowdrops and other winter favourites.

1. Algerian iris (Iris unguicularis)

This vigorous evergreen kicks off the year with a flourish of showy lilac flowers which can come as a surprise when the likes of snowdrops, aconites and crocuses are still struggling through frostbitten ground. Iris unguicularis likes it lean and mean – a rubble-filled bed of poor, dry soil at the foot of a sunny wall will do very nicely. It tends to form a rather unkempt clump of new and old foliage, although the shorter-leaved cultivar ‘Mary Barnard’ looks tidier and has the added bonus of very fragrant, rich violet flowers.

Iris unquicularis ©  William GrayIris unquicularis © William Gray

2. Siberian dogwood (Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’)

Laid bare in winter, the Siberian dogwood’s fan-like array of crimson branches has an almost coralline quality – like a sea fan sprouting from a reef. Usually, the younger the stem the more intense the colour, which means hard pruning (late March to mid-April) to remove older growth. An equally striking alternative, or perfect partner to C. alba ‘Sibirica’, the golden dogwood (Cornus stolonifera ‘Flaviramea’) adds a lighter ‘sunnier’ touch to moist borders. If, however, you prefer your colourful winter stems with added ‘fluffy bits’, the violet willow (Salix daphnoides) has conspicuous catkins during February and March.

Cornus alba Sibirica ©  William GrayCornus alba Sibirica © William Gray

3. Holly-leaved hellebore (Helleborus argutifolius)

A stalwart of winter gardens, the holly-leaved hellebore has a strong architectural shape and long flowering period. Particularly impressive when massed under trees, its leaves continue to make a bold statement when the flowers have passed. Good partner plants for early-flowering interest include Hamamelis mollis, Lonicera x purpusii ‘Winter Beauty’ and Mahonia x media ‘Winter Sun’.

Helleborus ©  William GrayHelleborus © William Gray

4. Himalayan birch (Betula utilis var. jacquemontii)

One for the purist, the stunning Himalayan birch has gleaming white, peeling bark, flecked with brown. For linear ‘columns’ of pure white, choose the standard form; for maximum impact from peeling bark and branching structure, opt for the multi-stem form. Another birch beauty, Betula albosinensis var. septentrionalis has peeling, coppery-pink bark that glows in low-angled winter sunlight. The paperbark maple (Acer griseum) is richer still, with translucent strips of peeling bark, which resemble curled shavings of chocolate and cinnamon.

Betula utilis jacquemontii ©  William GrayBetula utilis jacquemontii © William Gray

5. Hart’s tongue fern (Asplenium scolopendrium)

A long, hard winter may leave the strappy fronds of Asplenium scolopendrium looking a little tatty, but this hardy evergreen fern bounces back in spring when vibrant green tongues of new growth unfurl from its centre. Unusually for a fern, the fronds of the Hart’s tongue are whole and undivided which – coupled with its shiny surface – allows the plant to reflect even the weakest winter light and

add sparkle to woodland gardens and shady corners.

Asplenium scolopendrium ©  William GrayAsplenium scolopendrium © William Gray

William Gray is a garden designer, writer and photographer


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