How to create a beautiful and functional garden in the winter months

While people begin to batten down the hatches and retreat to the warmth of the indoors, the garden can often be mistaken for an unusable space. But a little imagination and an appreciation for the incredible durability of nature, can in fact inject a new life into your winter garden. It can be a welcoming space that doesn't rely on the floral bounty of the Spring & Summer. Read on and learn how your garden can embrace the white wonder of winter.

1. Select plants that bloom in the winter

While Spring has a well earned reputation for its abundance of colour and growth, winter can also provide stunning flowers and plants to brighten up those short days. Witch Hazel is not only famous for its healing properties, but it also produces vivid orange and yellow spidery flowers. Snowdrops and their delicate beauty are synonymous with the first thaw and hellebore or Christmas roses will flower mid-winter and can be found in a variety of colours.

2. Include evergreens

Just as the name suggests, evergreens aren't just for the holidays! When choosing plants for your garden, a selection of evergreens will ensure your outdoor space has a year round injection of colour and texture. Spruces, firs, and boxwoods are good choices if you want your garden to stay green into the winter months.

3. Create a focal point

While evergreens and winter florals are a beautiful addition to a garden, they may not be suitable for some outside spaces. In order to create an interesting winter space, add a decorative element to liven it up. In areas that will not freeze in the depths of winter, a bird bath or water feature are always winning focal points. If it does freeze, just crack the ice in the mornings so the birds can access the water. Otherwise a sculpture or light installation can create a beautiful aesthetic and if you intend to spend time sitting in your winter garden, a fire pit would also introduce some warmth.

4. Include hardscaping

Winter can also be a time to address any functional issues in preparation for the Spring. A stone path, wall or patio will add an additional dimension to a space that may seem a little bare in the winter months. You could also install a seating area with heaters or your fire pit to sit around and look at the night sky. This is also a time to be a friend to local wildlife. There can be less food for wildlife to forage and the cold can be challenging for some smaller critters. Build bird boxes and feeders to allow them to nest in a safe haven.

5. Use Seasonal Décor

Your garden or outside space is in fact an extension of your home, and in turn an extension of yourself, so don’t be afraid to decorate it with the same love and attention you give the inside. Stagger pumpkins up your steps or along a path in autumn and Christmas lights in the winter can add a sense of fun and a personal touch to your space.

6. Prepare for snow

If your climate is likely to deliver a blanket of snow, it is always best to prepare. But it need not be burdensome and can indeed be a beautiful addition to a garden. Grasses will endure a cold snap and can look magical with a white dusting over their blades. Make sure pathways and seats are accessible and if you fear slippage, toss a layer of salt on the pavement.

7. Mulch as a layer

Plants and soil need protection from very low temperatures so a thick layer of mulch will insulate the roots and keep the nutrients alive. This will also help retain moisture and contribute to the prevention of soil erosion caused by winter rains.

8. Pruning and planning

Finally, winter is an excellent time to dead-head and prune your plants. You can make leaf mould from your dead leaves which can be used as a mulch or compost while encouraging healthy regrowth. And the bonus is that your garden will look like it has just had a haircut.

Winter Garden Maintenance and Protection

Winter can be a magical time outdoors but it also involves maintenance and a little care and attention. Cold weather can be harmful to certain plants and your garden structures may need a little protection from the elements. Begin by wrapping fragile shrubs and young trees in burlap to keep them safe from freezing winds and heavy snow. Covering fragile plants with cloths or specialised frost blankets before a frost can be a lifeline but remember to take off the covers during the day. While it may seem counterintuitive to water a garden before a freeze, wet soil will in fact retain heat better than dry soil which will in turn protect the roots. And don’t forget to check the integrity of your garden structures. The beauty of a garden need not be a sacrifice of the winter season. Some planning and a few informed design decisions are all it takes to maintain functionality and a seasonal aesthetic. Embrace the charm of those darker months and you'll discover that winter has its own brand of garden enchantment.

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Written by: Fiona Byrne

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