Quick fixes for winter colour

After a stunner of a summer during which gardens have looked at their most glorious, the onset of autumn and winter can feel like a bleak, downer of a time in our outdoor spaces.

Many gardens after October can start to look rather dog-eared and colourless, with all those empty borders and drifting piles of wind-blown leaves, so it can be tempting just to shut the door on it all until next spring.

However, it doesn’t have to be like that.  There are plenty of quick fixes to ensure that you enjoy colour and texture in the garden right through the winter.

The simplest solution is to invest in some hardy winter bedding plants, and plant them into all those bare spots in your flower beds, as well as using them to fill troughs, urns, baskets and other containers to brighten up your exterior space.

Probably the most popular bedding plant choice for instant colour is the cheerful Pansy, with its flowers that almost seem to smile.  A stalwart of winter bedding displays, the Pansy will bloom for far longer than most others, producing a seemingly endless rainbow of blues, purples, yellows, oranges and reds. Just make sure you dead-head the plants regularly and they will flower pretty much continuously.

There’s also the Pansy’s slightly smaller cousin, the Viola, which produces masses of daintier flowers and comes in upright varieties that are ideal for planting in pots or beds, as well as trailing varieties that look fabulous in hanging baskets and urns.

Other popular winter bedders include Primrose and Polyanthus, sweetly-scented wallflowers and delicate little Cyclamens, which will fill your garden with colour even on the dullest of January and February days. As a more subtle kind of winter-flowering bedding plant, Cyclamen’s dainty pink and white flowers and pretty marbled leaves look good teamed with snowdrops, evergreen grasses, boxwood and trailing ivy. 

The Royal Horticultural Society’s advice on creating interest in the garden through the winter is to aim for scent, berries, coloured stems and dramatic, evergreen foliage.

But remember that evergreens don’t necessarily have to be green!  You can include some more unusual leaf colours such as blue spruce, Juniper Blue Star or yellow and gold conifers. Frilly pink ornamental cabbages look great in containers while photinia and euonymous  will light up borders.

You can also try berry-bearing shrubs like holly, cotoneaster and pyracantha, to add vibrant splashes of winter colour.

Among the most useful perennials to include in your garden for winter colour and texture, there’s winter-flowering heather which comes with pink, white or purple flowers; evergreen viburnums with their lovely little clusters of flowers; and Mahonia, a range of evergreen shrubs commonly known as barberry, with sunny yellow flower spires that rise out of rich green leaves.