Plants for winter drama (updated)

If you see winter gardens as drab and lifeless, you may need to adjust your thinking (or your garden!). In the still, quiet wintery world, evergreen foliage, bark and seed pods become as interesting as flowers are in spring. The colour palette changes to a more subtle beauty. Winter hardening burnishes the browns, silvers and bronzes of grasses and succulents.


Deciduous trees surprise by displaying unexpectedly interesting skeletons.


Berries, glossy red or pale amber, decorate leafless branches.

The few flowers stand out like gems and any fragrance they may impart, is an unexpected luxury.

I’ve been doing some research and listening to some very capable local gardeners, looking for ideas on how to jazz up my winter garden. Here are some plants which add beauty to cold climate gardens in winter, on the east coast of Australia. Trees and shrubs are long term projects, but bulbs will provide a quick return on investment and may be more likely to survive our summers during their dormant period.

Osier dogwoods (Cornus stolonifera ‘Flaviramea’), unremarkable in their summer greenery, lose their leaves and reveal brightly coloured twigs.


White dogwood
Grey Euphorbias, biding their time as more interesting plants capture all the attention during the summer, grab the limelight with their masses of vibrant yellow-green flowers.

The glossy leaves of evergreen shrubs such as Aucuba and Skimmia, remind us that there is life aplenty in the depths of midwinter.


Aucuba- it does very well in my Mudgee garden, looking oddly tropical year-round.
The paperbark maple (Acer griseum) provides colour and texture through its display of deep red-brown bark. Chinese elm bark is also richly beautiful in colour and texture.


Paperbark maple
Ruby red rose hips linger and provide a lovely counterpoint to delicate frosting as the earth chills.

Rose hips
There are some lovely fragrant winter-flowering plants. Often the flowers are insignificant- I suppose the fragrance attracts enough attention. The tiny flowers of winter boxes (Sarcococca species), hidden among the glossy evergreen foliage, are richly perfumed.

Wintersweet (Chimonanthus praecox) is another forgettable looking shrub, but in June its small, beeswax-coloured flowers, give off a delightful fragrance. I’ve had a small wintersweet in my garden for a few years, and I’m eagerly awaiting first flowers, which, I’ve recently learned, may be a few years off yet.

Wintersweet flowers and bud

Bulbs begin to emerge from the mulch of grey, weathered autumn leaves, from the winter solstice (21st June) onwards. Galanthus and Eranthis, pictured below, are lovely.


Then come the hellebores, the “winter roses”, my favourite jewels in my winter garden.

Some of my hellebores
Not forgetting the veggie garden, this year I’ll experiment with planting winter crops in late summer, in the hope of picking a few fresh veggies in winter. I’ve heard that daikon, komatsuna, carrots and turnips are worth trying. Spinach and sprouting broccoli may last until midwinter. The brassicas will resume growth once the days begin to lengthen. My tomato beds will be slumbering under a green manure crop to prime the soil for a bumper crop of tomatoes next spring!

Other jobs to be getting on with in February, include:
• Continue to protect plants from persistent heat
• Apply slow-release fertiliser to give plants a little extra energy
• Prune hydrangeas that have finished flowering (I did mine last weekend)
• Lightly prune roses and other perennials to encourage an autumn flush of flowers (my job for this coming weekend)
• Cut back wisteria and jasmine to keep them under control (a constant battle)
• Watch for caterpillars, snails and slugs which are out and about now (yes, they just ate all the little seedlings that I’d nurtured and planted out when we got a few cooler days. There’s not a trace of them to be seen now!)

At the very least, I’m going to plant some of the lovely bulbs pictured above, in a spot where I’ll be able to see them from the warmth and comfort of my living room, as I sip hot chocolate and read my favourite books, in the depths of the coming winter.

I’m not sure when is the best time to plant these various plants. Please check with an expert before you buy. See Tony Tomeo’s comment below. He is an expert.

Do you have any of these plants?

What do you love in your winter garden?


10 Comments Add yours

  1. janesmudgeegarden says:

    A favourite view of mine is the tracery of the branches of the white cedar complete with bronze berries against a grey winter sky. Quite a dramatic contrast. I don’t have one in my garden, but there are plenty to be seen around Mudgee. I’m going to be ordering some Turkish tulip bulbs to plant under my perennials so that they’ll ready to bloom when the perennials have been cut back.

    1. My Dream Garden says:

      Hi Jane, I agree with you about the cedar berries. The Turkish tulips will be lovely.

  2. tonytomeo says:

    Are they planted now too? It seems like they should be planted next autumn like everything else, or planted during the growing season and watered until autumn.

    1. My Dream Garden says:

      Hi Tony, you’re probably right- I’m no expert on these things, I’m just an enthusiastic learner.

    2. My Dream Garden says:

      Hi Tony, I’ve updated my post, based on your advice. Thanks for sharing your knowledge!

      1. tonytomeo says:

        ! I did not mean to say that it was completely inaccurate. Some things do get planted while dormant in winter, like dogwoods, maples and roses. I just prefer to plant most of what does not get planted in winter in autumn, like euphorbia, aucuba, grasses ans succulents.

      2. My Dream Garden says:

        Well, we’re just about to go into autumn now, so all good!

  3. Hi Tony, I’m ordering the bulbs, but they probably won’t arrive until the end of February, so it will probably be into March before I plant them.

  4. My Dream Garden says:

    Hi, Jane and Tony, this is getting confusing- 2 Janes in Mudgee writing gardening blogs! I don’t know exactly what Tony was referring to, but his advice sounds pretty good anyway!

  5. My Dream Garden says:

    Actually it’s not all that surprising- there are Janes galore in Mudgee- I’ve never met so many as I have since coming to live here!

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