Winter Bark, Leaves and Twigs.

One of the joys of winter is the black tracery of the branches of naked trees against a violet sky. But for the garden I wanted something more colourful. The muted palette of the winter countryside has its charm but I need a bit of pizzazz to help me through the long winter days.With our fickle climate we have to seize our horticultural pleasures where we can. I first made a winter garden twenty years ago after being bowled over by the one at Cambridge Botanical Garden. It is fun to do, it makes you look at shrubs and trees with new eyes as you assess how they will look in winter, either as foliage or bark.

Four years ago I started to create one here although on a smaller scale. I wrote about it on my blog. This is what it looked like once the turf was removed and it was all dug over. The pile is well rotted manure from Pickles up the road.

I am so pleased with how it has matured. I planted trees and shrubs with gorgeous stems and bark which form a lovely skeleton to the garden. They stand out against the shape and texture of evergreens. Many people won’t plant conifers, but a few well chosen ones are lovely in winter. I wouldn’t be without Abies koreana which has upright cones like candles along its stiff branches. This is the first year that it has had cones, I am hoping that next year they will be on all the branches. Here it is surrounded by the colourful stems of dogwood. The red one is Cornus alba ‘Baton Rouge’ and the orange one is Cornus Sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’.

I also love Cryptomeria japonica ‘Elegans’ because it has feathery foliage which turns from green to bronzey -red in winter.

Bronze foliage of Cryptomeria japonica ‘Elegans’ on the left.

Cornus should be cut back in the spring so that the new shoots with the best colour are on show the following winter. I don’t cut back all the stems of  ‘Midwinter Fire’ because it is not such a strong grower as some of the others. But the greenish-gold  stemmed Cornus  sericea ‘Flaviramea’ is very robust and quickly recovers from its annual haircut.

The white stemmed bramble Rubus thibetanus has a lovely ghostly appearance. It can be invasive but I control it by cutting it back each year and making sure it is not wandering about the bed.

The two trees I planted already look quite mature with lovely bark.  Betula albosinensis ‘Pink Champagne’ has pink peeling bark with a white bloom. The little shrub on the left is  Cornus sericea ‘Kelseyi’, a compact dogwood with fine, lacy reddish  brown stems.

Cornus sericea ‘Kelseyi’  with Betula albosinensis ‘Pink Champagne’

Every winter garden has to have a Tibetan cherry, Prunus serrrula because of the gorgeous shiny, cinnamon -coloured bark.

Prunus serrula

Red cornus is lovely, I have  both Cornus siberica ‘Westonbirt’ and ‘Baton Rouge’, but nothing can match acers for the reddest of red stems.

Acer conspicuous ”Red Flamingo’

The hose in the next picture is marking out the latest bit of lawn which will soon disappear. I leave it out for a few days until I am satisfied with the shape.

Acer pensylvaticum ‘Erythrocladum’

Soon I will have lovely catkins, the first ones are on the corkscrew hazel which Bowles grew in the area of his garden called the ‘lunatic asylum’.

Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’

I don’t know whether Bowles knew it, but I should think Muelenbeckia astoni is also a candidate for his lunatic asylum, its crazy wire-like stems look like tangled twine.

Muelenbeckia astoni

I shall probably regret planting a phormium, I once tried to dig up a mature one and it nearly killed me. Having said that I saw a bright, shocking pink one the other day and I was almost tempted.

Phormium on the right.

I love the holly like foliage of  Osmanthus heterophyllus ‘Koshiki’ with its cream speckled leaves.

Osmanthus heterophyllus ‘Goshiki’

For bright foliage I have the unusual Photinia x fraseri ‘Pink Marble’.

Photina xfraseri ‘Pink Marble’

The shrub to the right is Mahonia eurbracteata ‘Soft Caress’ which makes a change from the more usual prickly one.

The rather bare appearance of the soil in front is where I have recently enlarged the bed. As you can see I took a nice large chunk out of the lawn and got rid of this silly curve.

I have started the planting. To my delight I got this delightful weeping crab apple for £10.50 because it had lost its label. I think it might be ‘Red Sentinel’ and a crab apple that hangs on to its fruit into January is just what is needed here.


Oh but wait a minute, no sooner had I planted it then this happened. A hungry blackbird.

 I have also enlarged the bed here to give a better shape and more room. I took a good chunk off the lawn and enclosed my special white flowered Japanese Apricot safely inside the bed away from the mad man on the lawn mower.

 This is what it looks like now.

I have planted the black Cornus alba ‘Kesselringii with white heathers.

Cornus alba ‘Kesselringii’

There are plenty of jewel like winter flowers already in bloom and lots more to come as we go into the spring. But they are for another post.

In June I become so besotted with roses that I want to fill the garden with them. But in the winter I become just as excited by my winter garden. And it keeps on giving for six months and  more. And look at my last grotty corner under the trees here, just waiting for me to expand into.

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46 Responses to Winter Bark, Leaves and Twigs.

  1. krcc says:

    Awesome gardening. Love the red stems. Must be such a joy to walk thru ur garden!

  2. Christina says:

    That’s amazing, it has all matured so quickly. I love all the plants you’ve used in the winter day. I value evergreens as much in summer for their ability to look good in glaring sun as they do in winter. You have some real treasures.

  3. That is delightful, for sure! I think the previous owners, here, must have done some similar winter planning because when we don’t have snow (and even sometimes when we do), the colorful and interesting foundation plantings are impressive (I can only take minor credit for my few additions). I love your winter garden! The bark of ‘Pink Champagne’ and the webbed branches of the Corylus and the Muehlenbeckia are particularly fascinating!

    • Chloris says:

      Thank you Beth. I always admire gardens that have good bones in winter. Topiary gardens look wonderful even in the snow. I could never make or maintain a formal garden. But adding shrubs and trees that look good all year round makes an enormous difference.

  4. tonytomeo says:

    That is what I want to hear. It seems that so many of us want bloom all year. As a Californian who really gets bloom all year, I think that people should appreciate what each season excels at. We do not get as much autumn foliar color as everyone else gets. In the redwood forests, there are not many bare trees, and those that are bare are not very impressive. We have our own native Cornus stolonifera, but it is not much to look at right now.

  5. prue batten says:

    I’ve made a list a mile long from this post. Your work is patient and beautiful. What a lovely place to wander.

  6. Kris P says:

    It makes tremendous sense to me to garden for enjoyment during all your seasons, even though I live in a climate that really only has two seasons. I’d love to have an Abies koreana, which I admire every time I see it but have had to acknowledge that it wouldn’t survive here. The inclusion of the Phormium in your garden surprised me, especially as the garden bloggers in the Pacific Northwest with a climate closer to yours frequently complain about PKW (Phormium killing winters).

    • Chloris says:

      I agree, a lot of people put their gardens to bed for the winter and they miss so much pleasure. The winter garden has a magic of its own if you put some thought into it.
      I think some of the exciting new phormiums are a bit tender but I have never lost one here in Suffolk.

  7. Peter Herpst says:

    Your winter garden is gorgeous! It was wise of you to plant so many things that brighten this darkest season.

    • Chloris says:

      If I had a huge greenhouse like yours I probably wouldn’t strive so hard to garden outside in winter. Still. It is worth all the hard work and frozen fingers.

  8. Pauline says:

    Your winter garden is delightful, I have a lot of the same plants here but they are spread throughout each border that I can see from the house. Quite a few of my phormium were killed by 2 harsh winters, I just have one left now unfortunately.Colour from stems and leaves makes gardening in winter far more interesting, we need all the colour we can get at this time of year.

  9. Heyjude says:

    Your winter garden is a joy to behold and must have taken a lot of hard work to create. One thing I am surprised not to see is a witch hazel. For some reason I associate them with winter more than any other plant. Just how big is your plot Chloris?

  10. You have really made your garden interesting for the whole year.

  11. Flighty says:

    A most enjoyable post and lovely pictures. It’s good to have so much colour and interest at this time of year. xx

  12. Liz, garden is coming along so nicely. I love all the colored twigs and the Phormium, Mahonias, Cornus and Firs that I couldn’t hope to grow here. It seems there is always another chunk of sod to take out, doesn’t it.? And I have a mad lawn mower as well, my Citrus trees surrendered to him and he was asked to leave the garden.

  13. Chloris says:

    Thank you Amy. My mad mower has destroyed several rare trees but I can’t ask him to leave the garden because I’m married to him..

  14. Brian Skeys says:

    Several of my winter favourites there, I will copy the idea of white heather with my black Cornus.

  15. bittster says:

    Four years already!? It’s come in so well, I wish I could say the same for my four year old evergreens and shrubs. Some are still barely noticeable!
    I’m going to protest that your winter garden still looks so lush and colorful. I suppose that’s the point of it but here it would (and is) an entirely different case. Right now I’m looking at cold barren ground, but at least there are a few buds on the witch hazel and noses in the snowdrop patches. I can’t wait until your winter flowers post!

    • Chloris says:

      I suppose your winters are much colder, I see your G. Three Ships is only just coming into bloom and mine has flowered and now sailed away. I hope you get some more snowdrops soon.

  16. homeslip says:

    Wonderful post Chloris, thank you. I always read your posts with a notebook to hand because you always introduce me to new plants. I am still dithering about where to plant my Malus Red Sentinel and now I am thinking I should plant it where I can see it from the house, because I realise now it is a winter tree with its red crab apples, a few of which are still on mine too. Decisions decisions. I seized the moment today and pruned back to a sensible framework an ungainly cotinus. I was very kind afterwards and gave it a weak seaweed feed and a trug of homemade compost. Yesterday I happened upon a half price Miscanthus Morning Light. For now I think I will pot it into a handsome stone pot (had a bad experience with M. Kleine Fontaine in my old garden – one of those garden domination crises) and place it on a old stone plinth at the end of the garden. I often wonder what else may have graced this plinth as when I arrived it was submerged under brambles, ivy and elder but like you I love reclaiming unloved bits of garden. Best news of the week: the snowdrops I transplanted in April are back. I was so worried that they hadn’t survived the drought, the rabbits, the squirrels, but they have!

  17. Cathy says:

    This is why you need such a long hosepipe, Chloris! I so enjoyed reading about your progress here – hard to believe it is that long since you first removed the turf! That birch is gorgeous – but of course all your choices are informed and tasteful…! Look forward to seeing the winter blooms soon

  18. What a wonderful winter garden, and I love the before and after shots! Thank you for walking us through your thought processes and plant selections. I picked up some great suggestions for my new garden here in CT. -Lynn

  19. Great idea, great post, great photos. Love the variety of bark and habit.

  20. snowbird says:

    Goodness, how quickly your winter garden has matured, and wow….how very beautiful it all looks! So many gorgeous plants, love the new additions

  21. Oh it’s amazing how your beautiful winter garden is maturing Chloris. It must give you so much pleasure. I love that betula. Now I know who has been eating my ‘Red Sentinel’ berries – the last went just after Christmas.

    • Chloris says:

      It does delight me, in fact I’m thinking about making the front garden into a winter garden too. The blackbirds just love any berry, I bought a holly verticillata which was covered in berries and they stripped it in just a day or two.

  22. Keep nibbling away at the lawn, I love it! Some real beauties here, I am a big fan of cryptomeria, so soft to the touch. And all the wonderful trees. Amazing!

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