Garden Design

As we take down the lights and the Christmas decorations many of us wonder what is there is to look forward to in January?

Of course, the garden, for most, wouldn’t be the first place to escape during these dull, late winter months. Surely, we must wait till spring before there’s any glimmer of life in the garden?

With frost settling in there are many plants with features that can be utilised in Garden Design to give a fantastic display in the winter. Here at Turning Leaf in Essex we choose the best combination of plants to keep a garden looking bright and magical, even after the lights have been taken down.

Here I will explore three main winter features;


Personally, I’m a sucker for colourful foliage. Although many plants shed their leaves in the winter there is a vast variety of evergreen and semi-evergreen plants that can be put to work in a garden design. The shape and colours of evergreen leaves can create a back drop to the summer blooms and fill in gaps in a spring bed, but in the winter these plants steal the show.

Fatsia jarponica, growing up to around 3 meters, is a fantastic structural plant with intricate lobed leaved. As it grows best in shady places Fatsia is often used as a textural background in garden design. However, due to it’s size, it can become a focal point unaccompanied in the winter months.

Dryopteris, Asplenium & polypodium are just a select few evergreen ferns. Although often used for textural backgrounds in garden design an arrangement using a combination of ferns can fill a bed with vibrant greens throughout winter.

Garden Design
Fatsia jarponica
Source: Turning Leaf Garden Design original

Euonymus fortunii provokes interest, not with the shape and size of it’s foliage, but it’s unmistakable variegated nature.

Garden Design
Euonymus fortunii Emerald Gaiety
Source: RHS

Although there are other variegated plants (Fatsia comes in a variegated form) Euonymus is one of the most common plant for garden design due to its reliability, and the variety of sizes and colours of this shade tolerant family.

There are many evergreen/semi-evergreen plants with vibrant foliage for those winter months, Bergenias are one of the most reliable and versatile. This ground cover plant has various tints of colour in the foliage some of which transform into deep reds and purples in the winter; such as Bergenia ‘Claire Maxine’, ‘Sunningdale’ and ‘Eroica’.


Stems are often covered and forgotten during spring and summer, but, it is in these winter months that we truly appreciate the colours of plants grown for their beautiful stems.

Winter Garden Design
Source: Turning Leaf Garden Designs Orignial


Cornus alba is well know for its vibrant red stem. However, in garden design we know there are many other varieties of Cornus which can be used and arranged together to create a vibrant structural display in the winter months. From the bright red of the Cornus alba to the greenish yellow of Cornus sericea Flaviramea planting design can create stunning winter focal points.

Rubus cockburnianus the white stemmed bramble can be used to a similar effect as Cornus in garden design. Planted together the arched stems can contrast well the ridged straight stems of Cornus.

Corylus avellana ‘contorta’ relies on the shape of it’s stems for winter interest. Although the twisted branches have been bred and only exist in this cultivar of Corylus avellana, it still has the same ecological benefits as the original native plant.

Garden Design
Cornus alba & Rubus Cockburnianus

Seed Heads

The final aspect of plants that can be utilised for their form during the winter are seed heads. Leaving seed heads in-situ during the winter also benefits wildlife, providing habitats for insects and other small creatures whilst also providing food through the scarce months of winter.

Dipsacus (Teasle) is often seen self-seeded in the country side in its more wild form Dipsacus fullonum. However, it’s cultivated version Dipsacus sativus, originally bred for it’s use in the textile industry, is now often used in garden design as an ornamental plant. The distinctive seed head can be left throughout the winter.

Not only do they provide interest for us in the garden they are an import food source for birds and can also be used in floristry. Spraying the seed heads gold or silver can liven up floral displays for the winter table. 

Garden Design
Teasle Floristry
Source: Teasle Floristry

- Written by Sophie Hauser Landscape Assistant - MSc (Landscape Architecture)

If you would like help realising the full potential of your garden we provide a full range of services: ‘Design, Build, Maintain’ so don’t hesitate to contact us! Alternatively for more professional advice on garden maintenance and design tips keep following our blog.

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