Come winter, the crutches that we rely on to make our gardens look good – frothy annuals, lush herbaceous perennials, screens of rampant runner beans – are gone. What’s left – the bare bones of the garden – can leave the most dedicated summer gardener inclined to turn a blind eye until spring.

But some plants come into their own during the colder months. The place to go for inspiration is a garden that really comes alive once the days shorten and the leaves fall. Anglesey Abbey in Cambridgeshire boasts a winter garden based around a winding path: the scale is far beyond domestic plots, but it includes many vignettes that would be easy to replicate in the average flowerbed.

Anglesey’s assistant head gardener David Jordan took me on a guided tour of some early winter highlights in the hope of pinpointing plant combinations that will stand out in the average garden border.

Start with a tree
The winter garden recipe runs something like this: a tree with colourful or tactile bark – try Tibetan cherry (Prunus serrula), paperbark maple (Acer griseum) or Arbutus unedo, the strawberry tree – acts as an anchor for the rest of the planting; then add a mid-level shrub with scented flowers, coloured stems or interesting leaves (dogwoods, euonymus, daphnes, viburnums or sarcococcas); finally, there’s the option of a low-growing ground cover (snowdrops and hardy cyclamen, or foliage such as bergenias or pulmonarias).

picture of snow tree

One of Jordan’s favourite combinations is the shaggy-barked paperbark maple teamed with the variegated evergreen shrub Euonymus fortunei ‘Emerald Gaiety’ and the pink, scented blossoms of Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’. At Anglesey, the euonymus is cloud-pruned in summer to create a sinuous shape, but as Jordan points out, “It has adventitious roots, so you could grow it up the walls of a house and have it as a backdrop.”

Jordan also recommends the crab apple tree Malus ‘Evereste’ as a centrepiece to a winter border. “You get long, persistent fruit, and you can underplant with dogwood in red or orange that works with the colour of the fruit. Underplant with snowdrops, then daffodils, and this takes you through to May when you get the flowers – that gives you a long window of interest.”

Story Courtesy of The Guardian