Plants for winter interest

Many plants with winter interest are scented, most are shade tolerant, and some are adaptable to life in containers so can be moved in and out of the limelight according to the season. The sight and scent of these valuable plants can cheer up a dull time of the year.

<em>Helleborus orientalis</>
Helleborus orientalis


Interest in the winter may come from flowers, scent, berries, coloured stems or dramatic evergreen foliage. Plants with fragrance are best appreciated when planted by doorways or entrances in regular winter use. Since some are not particularly attractive during the summer months, you may find it useful to plant in containers and change plantings according to the seasons.

Practical considerations

Before embarking on creating your winter displays consider the following points;

  • Containers are a great way of growing many of these plants to provide winter interest. Use loam-based compost, such as John Innes No 2
  • Flowering of shrubs can be sporadic over several weeks or months, depending on the severity of the winter
  • If you plan to train shrubs to a wall, first ensure that a satisfactory method of support can be erected or attached to the wall

Suitable plants

Heights given are approximate and they may vary under differing conditions. Shrubs may take several years to reach their ultimate height. When positioning the shrubs, take into account their eventual size.

Shrubs (deciduous)

  • Abeliophyllum distichum – fragrant white flowers in February. Height 2m (6½ft)
  • Daphne mezereum – purple-red flowers in February–April. Good in chalky soil. Height 1.5m (5ft)
  • Hamamelis × intermedia – several cultivars; fragrant yellow or orange flowers between December and March. Height 1.8–3m (6–10ft)

Shrubs (evergreen)

  • Arbutus unedo AGM – white or tinged pink flowers between October and December. Height 4.5-6m (15-20ft)
  • Elaeagnus pungens 'Maculata' (v) AGM – small, silvery white flowers between October and January. Height 2.4-4.5m (8-15ft)
  • Mahonia × media 'Charity' AGM – yellow spikes of flowers in November and December. Height 3-4.5m (10-15ft)


Herbaceous perennials

  • Bergenia – several species/cultivars with pink or white flowers from January to April. Height: 20-40cm (8-15in)
  • Helleborus niger AGM – white flowers from December to March. Height 30-45cm (1ft-18in)
  • Iris unguicularis AGM – lilac flowers from October to March. Height 22cm (9in)


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