Designing A Garden With Winter Interest

Designing A Garden With Winter Interest

A garden with winter interest can really boost your wellbeing. Here are some tips to help you design a garden that will lift your spirits during the colder months.

Modern lifestyles mean that we don’t spend as much time outdoors in winter as we should.  Anyone working from home and having the groceries delivered probably doesn’t need to go outside at all for the majority of the time. 

That’s all fine and dandy when it comes to staying warm and cosy, but doesn’t give our bodies what they need in terms of fresh air, movement and natural light. A garden with winter interest however, will entice you out of doors to absorb some vitamin D, ease those still joints and oxygenate your blood.

Topiary garden at East Ruston with lots of winter interest

Topiary and hedges are great features for winter interest. This picture was taken on a works outing to East Ruston Old Vicarage Garden in Norfolk

What To Include In A Garden With Winter Interest

  • Sturdy paths and steps to take you on a journey around your plot
  • Sheltered spots so that you can escape from cruel breezes
  • A water feature – for sound and movement
  • Lighting to accentuate features and make the most of shapes and shadows
  • Awesome planting – you’d be amazed at how many plants look and smell good in winter time
  • Wildlife interest – helps you to really engage with nature.

Designing The Layout For A Winter Garden

When asked to picture ourselves in a garden, most people will imagine sun loungers, hot tubs, barbecues, bunting, picnics etc.  Which is why garden layouts so often focus on summer time.  Patios, pergolas, beautiful lawns and perhaps even a pool. It’s easy to forget that you use your garden differently in winter.  It’s unlikely that you’ll be dining in the garden with friends, but you might hug a mug of coffee as you walk around.

Designing a garden layout that works all year round should consider relaxation in summer and comfort in winter.  

Will you sit outside in winter? You might if you have a fire pit to keep you warm and a shelter to keep the rain off your shoulders.  Could you repurpose your outdoor dining area for winter comfort? Or should you create a cosy corner away from the house where you can snuggle up and watch the comings and goings of the wildlife in your plot?

In colder weather, you are likely to want to move around the garden a lot more.  So your layout should include sturdy (slip proof!) paths to take you on a journey to different parts of the plot.  Think about using curves, zig zags or angles for extra interest.  If you combine paths with clever planting you can use the art of hide and reveal to keep yourself moving on.

Don’t forget to factor in winter garden essentials – like having the bin store and the washing line in easy reach of the house….even if they are screened from view.  On rough days you’ll want to nip in and out as fast as possible.

A good garden layout plan will offer all year round interest

Shelter In The Winter Garden

I love winter days when the sun is bright and the air smells wonderful. My favourite winter aroma is of a Sunday roast cooking on my smoker.  Mmmmmm lovely.  But I’ve digressed.  Those bright winter days are often quite chilly, especially if the wind is blowing.  So, shelter in the garden is fairly essential if I’m going to be spending time out there. Choose something that suits the style of your garden and is also functional in summer time (I’m all for getting best value for money!)

Here are some ideas…

  • Modern pergola with removable sides and a louvred roof – open. It up for summer, close it down to make it cosy in winter.
  • Garden office or summerhouse with lighting and a log burner 
  • Hedges make great wind breaks and are wildlife friendly too
  • How about an intimate arbour seat draped with evergreen climbing plants?
  • Or a beautifully designed greenhouse with comfy chairs that can be moved to make room for tomato plants in the summer?

Water In The Garden

It doesn’t matter what time of year it is, you just can’t beat water in the garden.  Lovely splashy sounds are relaxing in summer and exciting in winter. But best of all, if we’re lucky enough to get some sharp frosts, are the patterns that form in winter ice.  Ice makes very ‘instagram worthy’ photos, so try to include some sort of water feature if you are aiming for winter interest.

Lighting For Winter Interest In The Garden

I’m going to have to restrain myself writing this part of the blog because my enthusiasm for garden lighting knows no bounds.  There’s so much scope for using outdoor lights to create winter interest.  And I’m not talking about those luminous Santa ornaments either – although they can be fun!

Have you ever seen a leafless tree lit from below?  Wow! Seeing trees stripped naked and being able to see the shape and arrangement of the branches, or appreciate the texture of the bark – there’s nothing quite like it.

Or what about subtle lighting along paths and steps to make you feel safer while putting the bins out?

There is so much you can do with lighting to make your winter garden come to life. Need ideas? Pick up the phone and talk to me – I can’t promise to keep the phone call brief though!

What To Plant In Your Garden For Winter Interest

bright red rose hips on rosa rugosa plant

Rosa Rugosa offers bright flowers in summer time followed by a pop of colour from winter rose hips


Herbaceous perennials are wonderful for summer colour but don’t go thinking that you have a limited plant palette in winter. Because you don’t.  

Mahonia, Daphne and Witch Hazel all flower in winter time as does Sweet Box.  Sweet Box, otherwise known as Sarcococca confusa has the most divine scent, and it’s really powerful too.  I challenge you to plant one and then ask visitors to your garden to work out what smells so good.

Ornamental grasses are a winter garden favourite.  Include them in your summer planting plan and your borders will have all year round interest.

Another good winter plant is Sedum.  Yes, it does flower in summer time, but if you resist the temptation to dead head, you’ll have wonderful seedbeds to catch your eye in the colder months too.

Teasels are a majestic wildflower beloved by bumble bees in summer and with architectural seed heads in winter.  Harvest them and bring them indoors for season flower arrangements.

Fatsia japonica – the castor oil plant. Has enormous, tropical looking leaves that last all year long.

Rosa rugosa – (a great plant for an informal hedge) has massive bright red hips in winter – they’re as big as cherry tomatoes and just as attractive.

The very best way to maximise winter interest from plants is to commission a garden designer to create a planting plan for you.  Read more about planting plans here.  

Bringing Wildlife Into The Winter Garden

It’s not so common to see bees and butterflies flying in the winter garden. But there are plenty of other creatures that need our support.  Mulching your beds and borders will make the soil more hospitable for worms. Not the most glamorous of creatures but they’re a vital part of the ecosystem.

Wild birds are always on the lookout for food and water. And they’re fascinating to watch.  Create a bird feeding station within sight of your window and I promise it’ll be as exciting as a TV soap opera.  There’ll be regular visitors with daily squabbles over the tastiest treats and maybe characterful squirrels joining in the fun. 

A bird bath or shallow pool filled with fresh water will be invaluable to all creatures. 

I’m writing this in early November – not too late in the year to install a hedgehog hibernation hut.  You won’t see much activity until spring, but if you’re lucky enough to have Mrs Tiggywinkle lodging with you overwinter, you’ll have something to feel proud about.

Of course, if your garden is wildlife friendly in winter, just think how busy it will be in spring time. And nothing beats the feeling of knowing that you are doing your bit towards boosting biodiversity.

Help Designing A Garden With Winter Interest

It’s not always easy to balance designing for all year round interest in the garden with managing the build budget.  That’s where a good garden designer can help.  If you need inspirational ideas, a unique look and feel and still be able to afford to build the garden, get in touch with Katie at Tapestry Design Studios.  You won’t be disappointed with her work.


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