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6 tree and flower ideas for winter: brighten up your garden during the darkest months of the year

Yellow winter aconite on a lawn covered in snow.
Winter aconite blooms in February and announces the arrival of spring. © istock

Bright, blooming flowers in winter? It’s certainly possible – provided you choose the right plants. Here we tell you which varieties you can rely on in the autumn and winter, from evergreens to plants with colourful bark. Take inspiration from the pictures and keep your own garden or balcony bright and cheery during the darkest months of the year.

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Plants that bloom in autumn and winter

Snowball hydrangeas, Christmas roses and witch hazel are special kinds of plants: whilst the rest of your garden hibernates during the winter, this is when they shine. In November, December and January, they will provide a lively dash of colour to your garden.

The snowball hydrangea starts to bloom in November and, depending on the weather, may continue blooming until March. Pink dawn, in particular, is very special: this plant bears leaves in the summer, while its pink flowers open up during the winter time.

From December, the leaves of the white Christmas rose also open up. It is closely related to the lenten rose, which is in bloom from January.

Or would you prefer a winter-blooming tree? Then consider witch hazel. Its yellow, orange and red flowers will add colour to your garden from January.

  • Pink dawn blooming in winter.
    Snowball hydrangea are not only beautiful; they often give off a pleasant aroma too. © istock
  • The perfect flower for winter: the white Christmas rose
    The white Christmas rose really comes alive in December. © istock
  • A witch hazel plant in the winter sun.
    Witch hazel will add some bright yellow accents to your garden over winter. © istock
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Green all year round: non-deciduous plants

When the autumn wind sweeps away the last of the leaves from your trees, it’s time to liven up your garden again – with evergreens.

Box, yew and privet – all popular hedge plants– hang on to their leaves in the autumn and winter. And they really look the part in winter landscapes if trimmed into geometric shapes. Many rhododendron varieties also keep their leaves, while evergreen ground-cover perennials such as yucca or barren strawberry will also bring some colour to your flowerbeds. A key benefit of ground-covers is that they protect the earth against frost and drying up.

  • The leaves of a rhododendron, covered in white frost.
    Not all rhododendron keep their leaves in winter – but those that do look beautiful, even in subzero temperatures. © istock
  • Box leaves covered in frost.
    Always green, even in winter: the common box. © istock
  • The branch of a yew tree covered with snow and bearing red fruit.
    With green branches and red fruits, the yew will keep your garden looking colourful all year round. © istock
  • A layer of snow on a privet hedge.
    A privet hedge thrives even when it snows. © istock
  • Ground-covers in a flower bed with a stone border.
    With evergreen ground-covers, you can keep your flowerbeds looking colourful in winter, too. © istock
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An Indian summer that lasts until spring

Trees or bushes with colourful foliage really catch the eye during the autumn or winter seasons. For example, the leaves of the European beech (or common beech), which is also a popular choice for hedges, glisten orange in the autumn and remain on the branches until spring. Some varieties of cotoneaster can also add a dash of colour to your hedge.

Hardy perennials with bright leaves such as spurges, bergenia and alumroot can also give your flowerbeds some welcome colour. Alumroot shades can range from a yellowy green to rusty red or deep purple.

  • A flower bed with alumroot.
    A flower bed with alumroot. Caption: With its bright leaves, alumroot is bound to catch the eye – even in autumn and winter. © istock
  • A cotoneaster with green leaves and red fruits.
    The red fruits of the cotoneaster will add a splash of colour to your garden. © istock
  • A European beech branch in the autumn sunshine.
    The leaves of the common beech will brighten up any garden. © istock
  • The perfect winter flower: bergenia.
    Hardy perennials such as bergenia look particularly attractive come winter. © shutterstock
  • Spurge blooms yellow, even in winter.
    Yellow spurge brightens up the darkest months of the year. © istock
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Bark can be colourful too

In autumn and winter, the bark of plants and trees takes on a new role – because it can also bring some colour to gardens. Dogwood, for example, has striking orange to red coloured twigs. Even fruit trees like silvery brownish-red cherry trees will look prominent in a wintry garden. Andbirch trees, with their delicate white bark, really stand out against evergreen hedges.

  • A flowerbed with yellow and red dogwood shrubs that have shed their leaves.
    Thanks to its bright bark, dogwood remains beautiful even after it’s shed its leaves. © istock
  • Birch trees with white bark and bare branches.
    The white bark of the birch tree is a real eye-catcher. © istock
  • A thick, silvery-brown cherry tree trunk on the right, and cherry blossom on the left.
    The silvery-brown bark of the cherry tree is sure to make an impression. © istock
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Colourful berries: not just popular with birds

Planting berry bushes will not only introduce a little colour to your garden; it will also ensure you get regular visits from hungry birds. Take holly, for example, an evergreen plant that always catches the eye in winter with its beautiful bright red berries.

Barberry bushes produce berries with a sharp acidic flavour. And that’s all the better for you: birds will only eat the fruits once all their other food options have been exhausted – which means the berries will remain in your garden for even longer. By contrast, the orange berries of the sea buckthorn are a lot more popular with birds. But because the shrub can grow up to four metres high, there should be enough berries to keep your garden looking colourful throughout winter.

  • Holly covered in a thin layer of snow.
    Holly isn’t just for Christmas – it can decorate your garden throughout winter. © istock
  • A barberry bush bearing red fruits in autumn.
    The fruits of the barberry bush are a beautiful shade of bright red. © istock
  • A sea buckthorn branch with orange berries, covered in snow.
    Sea buckthorn berries aren’t bothered by a bit of snow. © istock
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Early blooming flowers

Snowdrops and winter aconite bloom in the winter, but announce the arrival of spring as early as late February – provided there isn’t too much snow. And when the first crocuses begin to bloom between February and March, you can be certain spring is just around the corner. These early blooming flowers are exceptionally hardy and, once planted using bulbs, can remain in the soil for many years. It’s best to plant the bulbs some time between August and October; but it’s also doable later in the year, before the ground freezes over.

  • Winter aconite peek up through the snowpack.
    Along with snowdrops, winter aconite is one of the first garden flowers to bloom. © istock
  • Snowdrops growing on a snow-covered field.
    They may be the same colour as wintry snow, but snowdrops signal that spring is on its way. © istock
  • Three lilac crocuses blooming in the sun, with the ground covered in snow.
    Crocuses mark the arrival of spring. © istock