Brighten up your winter garden with sparkling leaves

If your garden is looking lifeless and in need of a lift, check out your garden centre for evergreen leaves to liven up the proceedings. Go for a range of different colours, textures and shapes for dazzling displays that will add winter sparkle, even in the depths of a freezing February.

Patio panache

For pots and containers, opt for sophisticated plant partners to inject a touch of class into your patio or balcony displays. I planted up this arrangement for a friend’s birthday present recently and just love the mix of smart cream and green striped euphorbia (Euphorbia ‘Silver Swan’), grassy fountains of sedge foliage (Carex morrowii ‘Variegata’), moody metallic green and purple Heuchera ‘Crimson Curls’, and variegated ivy. Heucheras are great winter container plants, and come in a whole host of glorious colours, from lime green to red and burnt orange, while some, like this one, have frilly leaves for extra pizazz.

Set your pot in full sun or part shade and give it a good dose of water every couple of days in spring and summer – it should be fine without any attention in winter unless we have a really long dry spell. And remember to raise your pot up on “feet” or stones to allow excess water to drain out.

Go for grass

If you’re not yet acquainted with ornamental grasses, you are most definitely missing a trick. As well as their graceful habit and diverse range of colours and habits, they make fantastic winter plants, even when they’re officially dead! Most are deciduous perennials, which means their top growth dies down in winter and regrows in spring, but their dried stems and flowerheads endure and take on a magical quality when dusted with snow and frost, as you can see from these images of specialist nursery Knoll Gardens. Try miscanthus, pampas, calamagrostis and panicum grasses, together with perennials that also form beautiful seedheads, such as eupatorium, asters and sedums, for a collage of textures and forms.

Big and bold

Grasses are graceful but if you want to beef up your borders with something more substantial, select a range of evergreen shrubs. Partner up a Mahonia x media ‘Charity’, which has long stems of spiny, holly-like leaves and sweetly scented yellow winter flowers, golden-leaved Choisya Sundance, and a spotted laurel. The gardening elite may scorn these common plants, but they make a beautiful group beneath my damson tree where few others would tolerate the shade and dry soil.

A glamorous companion for a winter bed is the dramatic Euonymus fortunei ‘Silver Queen’, with its bright, cream-splashed leaves, which really shine out against an impoverished winter landscape. Happy in sun or shade and any soil, it’s also very easy to grow. For a spark of fire in a frosty garden, plant the red-barked dogwood, Cornus alba ‘Siberica’, which produces fists of scarlet stems – prune old stems to the ground in early March to create this effect.

Gardens to inspire

As well as visiting Knoll gardens in Dorset this winter, take a trip to one of the four RHS gardens (images top and below copyright © RHS Images): Wisley in Surrey, Hyde Hall in Essex, Harlow Carr in Yorkshire or Rosemoor in Devon. All have wonderful winter borders to inspire you, and each plant is labelled so take a notebook and compile a shopping list of your favourites. The gardens are also hosting a range of activities for kids over half term to keep your little ones occupied.

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Zia Allaway, Garden Expert

View all posts by Zia Allaway, Garden Expert