Trees and shrubs for winter interest
There's no doubt that spring and autumn are the head-turning seasons for most trees, with blossom and bright leaves taking centre stage. Yet winter is also a time when some trees come into their own, either by providing structure and shape with their evergreen crowns or because their beautiful bark and outline are revealed as leaves fall.
Here are a selection to look at if you're planting for winter interest. Stock levels of different varieties vary.
Evergreens & winter leaves
What winter garden is complete without that most festive of plants, holly? And there are many more types of holly to consider apart from the classic, native holly, Ilex aquifolium, which will only bear berries on female plants, be aware!
There are golden-edged varieties (e.g. 'Golden King'), deep blue-tinged types (Heckenfee) and even huge-leaved hybrids (Chestnut leaf) that are great for screening. For guaranteed shiny berries, try Nellie R Stevens or Van Tol holly. See our full range.
Colorado blue spruce (Picea pungens varieties)
With icy blue needles and a Christmas tree shape, the Colorado blue spruce is a truly striking conifer. Many varieties have been bred; Iseli Fastigiate is an upright type, Blue Diamond is wonderfully silvery.
Japanese red cedar (Cryptomeria japonica 'Elegans')
One of a handful of conifers that take on autumn hues, Japanese Red Cedar 'Elegans' turns from a plump cone of feathery green to a soft red when temperatures drop. It greens up again in spring.
Beech (Fagus sylvatica) and hornbeam (Carpinus betulus)
The copper tones of turning beech leaves are hard to beat, and kept as a hedge, the leaves are retained through winter, before new green growth pushes through in late spring. Hornbeam hedges also retain crisp winter foliage, though it is a more chocolatey brown.
Variegated Japanese spindle (Euonymus japonicus varieties)
Winter flowers, berries & catkins
Silk tassel bush (Garrya elliptica)
This shrub has unusual wavy-edged leaves that give year-round interest, but it's the silvery winter tassels that are head-turning. Garrya can also make a small tree.
Witch hazel (Hamamelis)
Viburnum x bodnantense 'Dawn'
Powerfully scented pink flowers from November through to spring. This hybrid viburnum is named after the Bodnant Gardens in Wales.
Hawthorns / thorns (Crataegus)
Tough small trees with bunches of shiny scarlet berries that shine out in winter, offering food for the soul and for hungry birds. As well as native hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) there are types with pink/red spring flowers ('Crimson Cloud', 'Paul's Scarlet'), beautifully domed crowns ('Splendens') and bumper-sized, orange-tinged berries (Lavalle).
Semi-evergreen with tons of berries, Cotoneaster is a winter interest staple. Opt for a tree-sized specimen ('Cornubia'), yellow berries (C. rothschildianus), a weeping form ('Pendulus') or a silvery-leaved shrub perfect for hedging (C. franchetii).
Interesting stems, bark or shape
Paperbark maple (Acer griseum)
Following a vibrant display of autumn colour, the paperbark maple shows off its peeling, cinnamon coloured bark - particularly wonderful in winter sunshine.
Himalayan birch (Betula utilis)
Nothing compares to the smooth white bark of Himalayan birch, which demands to be stroked if you're passing by it! A shining light on dark days.
Tibetan cherry (Prunus serrula)
At the darker end of the colour spectrum, Tibetan cherry has the most incredible, shiny mahogany trunk, tiger-striped with rough bands of bark.
Purple leaved corkscrew hazel (Corylus avellana 'Red Majestic')
A contorted hazel with the bonus of late winter catkins and maroon leaves in spring and summer.
A useful plant that copes with wet conditions and provides plenty of seasonal interest, particularly in winter, when stems of bright red (C. alba), yellow ('Flaviremea') or even purple-black ('Kesselringii') are revealed.