Best winter plants for colour and scent
Looking at most British gardens in the winter you'll probably be overwhelmed by the lack of colour and greenery. Most UK gardens remain dormant throughout the colder months and gardeners turn to annuals as a temporary fill in until spring returns.
It doesn't have to be this way. I've grown a colourful lush year round garden for over a decade now and from winter through to spring the garden is bursting with scent and colour.
So here are the winter plants that flower I've been growing that do great in British gardens that will bring joy and colour during the dull dark months. Having greenery and flowering plants in winter also creates a much needed source of food and shelter for insects, birds, frogs and small mammals.
Take a look below at what I believe are some great plants that will flower to cover a long winter season. I hope it convinces you to try some of these evergreen plants that will last for years and for some decades and provide much more value for you and help support native UK wildlife.
Best plants for early winter flowering
Early on in winter when most plants are no longer flowering a great late source of nectar for insects is the unusual white flowers of Fatsia Japonica. There are actually a few varieties that you can grow but the best for flowering is the standard large green leaved F. japonica.
The picture of the flowering Fatsia was taken mid December when it was in full bloom.
It can grow in both full sun and deep shade and almost any type of soil. Around December time they produce large heads of white flowering spheres that look otherworldly and produce an unusual scent. The smell is not sweet or perfume-like but sort of musky but I grow this shrub for the large deeply lobed leaves.
Fatsia is a plant that adds a tropical or jungle like look in the garden and requires almost zero maintenance. They can grow to several metres over many years but if you are looking for a variety that is much smaller and has variegated foliage I strongly recommend Fatsia japonica 'Annelise' or Fatsia japonica 'Murakumo Nishiki' with the most beautiful 3 colour variegated leaves that are more stunning than the flowers they produce.
Coronilla is not grown widely enough in the UK in my opinion. It flowers over most of winter in a mass of fragrant perfumed bright yellow showy flowers. It's an evergreen shrubs with small glaucous green blue leaves, mid green leaves or variegated leaves depending on the variety you pick.
If you want a plant to brighten up your garden over winter then Coronilla should be something you grow. The more sun it gets the more flowers it produces attracting bees when the winter days are warm enough.
The picture above was taken on New Years day. I have found that in the UK it flower pretty much consistently for the whole of winter and is pretty much guaranteed year after year. Sunlight encourages more prolific flowering so Coronilla performs best in a sunny position.
Just to show how great a winter flowering plant it is here is a picture I took of Coronilla flowers covered in frost in late January after weeks of sub zero temperatures. This plant just never gives up which is why it deserves a place in your garden.
Mahonia x media
Mahonia is generally an early winter flowering plant although there are some sports that flower later in the year.
Mahonia japonica, Mahonia x media 'Winter Sun', Mahonia charity and Mahonia aquifolium are probably the varieties you have seen online or in the garden centres. Both the Mahonia x media varieties Winter Sun and Charity produce upright bracts of yellow fragrant flowers from early winter and are a good choice for winter colour.
White flowering Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis f. albiflorus)
There are many different types of Rosemary but the White flowering Rosemary I grow aka Rosmarinus officinalis 'albus' the white flowered Rosemary actually flowers in winter. The picture taken shows it producing bright white flowers on January 1st.
I also grow trailing Rosemary if you want to grow winter plants in pots as well as pink flowering and blue flowered Rosemary. It's also a great sensory herb, when you rub your hands on the leaves you release that lovely Rosemary smell.
Best plants for late winter flowering
From late winter to early spring there are some great plants producing late winter flowers that will make you think spring has come early. I've suggested some great plants including climbers that will add a third dimension to your garden to clamber up walls or a trellis to cover a larger area with flowers.
These shrubs and climbers are all evergreen and hardy in our British climate. I've grown these plants for many years so can attest to their toughness and flower performance. These plants are a great way to cover ugly walls and fences with year round greenery with the added bonus of fragrant bright winter flowers.
Bergenia is a low growing large leaved evergreen that produces flowers around March to April time. Pictured is a pink flowering variety but you can get them with flowers that cover reds, pink and purplish colours and like all the evergreen plants flower every year without having to be replaced like most tray bought winter flowers.
Winter flowering Clematis
I'd recommend Clematis armandii (pictured) as a great late winter flowering evergreen climber if you want to cover a vertical space and add an extra dimension to your garden.
There are several varieties of Clematis for winter flowering such as Clematis cirrhosa but I have found that the best Clematis in winter is either Clematis armandii, Clematis armandii 'Apple Blossom' or Clematis armandii Snowdrift.
Clematis armandii can become rampant at times but can easily be pruned to tame it. The only problems that I have experienced with Clematis is that sometimes for no apart reason they die back only to return next year or some years later.
Sophora microphylla 'Sun King'
I have been growing Sophora microphylla 'Sun King' for its largish bright yellow tropical looking winter flowers that appear around February or March time. Pictured are the flowers at the end of March against the small dark green evergreen foliage.
As a self supporting plant you can grow this on its own or against a wall without needing any support and can be trimmed to maintain a shape much like Buxus although I wouldn't go as far as trying to do topiary.
If you want to add some much needed yellow gold flowers into your garden in winter adding a touch of the tropics then I strongly recommend Sophora Sun King. Sun King is pretty much problem free but you may find snails or slugs are attracted to the tasty leaves of young plants.
The oddly named Sausage vine Holboellia coriacea is quite rare in the UK but can be grown in a sheltered spot against a wall. I've had no trouble growing it up a drain pipe as it loosely twines its way up other plants or objects without doing any damage. It doesn't cling like Ivy.
It produces small white bell like flowers in late winter that are white (pink tinged cream)on the outside but once open reveal a purple like hue as it progresses to spring. The female flowers are a creamy white tinged green. It's an evergreen climber so can be used to climb up a trellis or wall but it can grow as tall as your house after 3 or 4 seasons. It can however be easily trimmed back.
Later in the year the flowers once pollinated produce purple fruits, I'd describe them as looking a little like elongated plums. The exotic looking fruits add some extra colour later on in the year.
Winter flowering Rosemary
I mentioned white flowering Rosemary earlier as a plant that can produce white flowers in early winter. Here again is the same Rosmarinus officinalis f. Albiflorus in flower in March, it really does flower till early spring especially if you get some winter sunshine.
I took this picture to show that it does provide food for Bees early on in the season. Rosemary is a plant that will last for decades and provide a great display of flowers year after year.
Euphorbia amygdaloides var. Robbiae, the Wood spurge or Mrs Robb's bonnet produces unusual iridescent green flowers in late winter. I've added this plant as it is a great plant for dry shade and brightens up those shadowy areas of your garden where most other plants will not grow.
This is a plant that will spread to cover the area around where you plant it over time. It spreads through rhizomes that tend to stay quite shallow in the ground so they are easy enough to pull up should they spread too far for your liking. If spreading plants are a concern then I can recommend Euphorbia Ascot Rainbow that produces green and red flowers about the same time of year and does not spread.
Daphne's are renowned for their strong sweet perfume and their delicate clusters of pink winter flowers. If you are not growing Daphne odora or one of the closely related highly perfumed varieties then you really are missing out.
Daphne has it all, the sweet fragrance, the pretty pink winter flowers and even after the flowers have faded you have the green or variegated green and white evergreen foliage that remains all year round.
More Evergreen Plants...
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