I love the way a garden marks the passing of time, with seasonal events to look forward to each year. While summer is often the garden's big show time, there is every reason to look forward to a range of garden highlights, right in the depths of these cold, dark winter months.
Some garden effects can only exist during these times and when designing a winter garden, it is worth taking advantage of these. The best winter gardens make use of this season's soft colours, crisp tonal contrasts and the effect of frost or even snow as it blankets our winter garden plants on the coldest of days.
Winter light here in the Northern Hemisphere is soft and slanting. The colours of the countryside are muted, often bordering on ethereal. Mist and frost blankets morning hillsides, coating them in soft blue greens. So often, this is coupled with the most amazing gentle yellow pink skies radiating out from a slow-rising winter sun.
Well chosen flowers and foliage blend seamlessly with this natural winter colour scheme.
Lavenders, rock rose and juniper take on the tones of frost laden fields before the frost has even hit, with their sumptuous blue-green leaves, while the dark, evergreen leaves of box, yew, hellebores and native iris make a bold contrast, remeniscent of stands of coniferous forest, holding on to their dark green foliage through these winter months.
These evergreens are the perfect backdrop for splashes of winter colour. Winter is a great time to get creative and make the most of not just flowers, but also foliage, catkins and even stem and seedhead colour.
In my garden, I have gentle winter yellows from our Native Primrose and from Hazel catkins, soft yellow greens and pinks from hellebores.
Cool blues shine out at this time of year, even on the greyest of days and I love to include hoardes of blue winter flowering violas to provide some much needed cheer.
Seedheads, from plants such as Echinops ritro, Mondarda and our native teasel all look just as good as the flowers ever did and in winter, their soft tan-browns play especially well against either a dark evergreen or muted green-blue leaf. They also make a brilliant focal point for frosty mornings, catching the frost like exquisite, living, garden sculptures.
In contrast to these pale, muted tones, I have dark, sombre reds from heucheras and Ajuga, with splashes of winter bright coming in from rosehips and hawthorn berries.
Willow and dogwood stems can offer some fantastic fiery tones to brighten up a sunny spot.
No winter garden design is complete though without those pure whites. Whites give a garden that classic winter sparkle. Lenten rose flowers right through the winter and is a great one for a shady spot or in a patio pot.
Winter blossom is quite a wonder and always stops me in my tracks. Viburnus bodnantense looks and smells amazing right through the winter, with sweet clusters of pink-white flowers held against a backdrop of dark winter stems.
Prunus subhirtella 'Autumnalis' is simply quite spectacular at this time of year. This is my very favourite ornamental cherry, with a full canopy of amazing, almost glowing flowers right through the winter months. Mine has a few years to go before I can enjoy that full canopy effect, but already I'm getting some gorgeous sprays of winter blossom.