Winter flowering shrubs have a place in virtually every garden.
Whilst some of them are grown primarily or purely for their winter interest this shouldn’t be seen as a ‘bad thing’. After all, we buy and plant flowers to brighten up a summer garden that die back over winter.
Some winter flowering shrubs may be more suited to smaller gardens because of their size. However, many of the larger shrubs are fine in a pot when young. They could later be given to a friend with a bigger garden or donated to a charity plant sale.
The floral display given by your shrubs can vary year in year; this is due not to the winter weather, but to the preceding summer as the hotter the summer the more prolific the display the following winter.
If you are concerned that you won’t be outside to enjoy your winter flowering shrubs then either place them where they can be seen through a window, or near your front door. Or you could choose shrubs which offer interest at other times of the year. For example, this could be evergreen foliage which provides a contrasting backdrop to spring bulbs and summer flowering herbaceous perennials; or a winter flowering shrub that has colourful berries to follow the flowers.
Here are ten of our best winter flowering shrubs that we’ve used in planting designs and garden designs:-
Viburnum x bodnantense
A deciduous shrub, the scented flowers bloom on bare branches from late autumn through winter and into early spring. Developed at Bodnant Gardens in North Wales, this hybrid is hardy throughout the UK. It will tolerate dappled shade quite happily. The cultivar Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’ has particularly attractive flowers, red in bud, opening to pink and fading to white. All the bodnantense are scented and the flower sprays are lovely both in the garden or cut to display indoors.
Sarcoccca is commonly known as Christmas box or sweet box for its family likeness to the hedging and topiary favourite. However, it is not related to Buxus sempervirens, or box. Sarcoccca is an excellent winter flowering shrub that offers interest throughout the year. It has black berries that follow the small fragrant white flowers and glossy evergreen foliage. Happy in a border, in a pot, used as hedging or a backdrop for spring bulbs, this is an outstanding choice for a small garden.
Winter jasmine throws acid yellow flowers along its leafless arching stems from November to March. This can be one of the more cheerful winter flowering shrubs. But so often it is allowed to grow untrained and unpruned; ending up all half dead stem and few flowers. Pruned hard after flowering it will replay you by brightening up dull grey winter days, visible even at dusk when you come home from work.
Daphne bholua is generally considered to be one of the best winter flowering shrubs. It is eminently suitable for smaller gardens as it has a fairly contained upright habit with evergreen foliage. The pink-red buds open to white, beautifully scented flowers.
Daphne mezereum by contrast is deciduous, so it has fragrant flowers on bare branches. The choice depends on whether year round foliage is desired in that part of the border where you plant your daphne, as scent-wise there is little difference.
Witch hazel (Hamamelis) prefers an acidic soil and comes in a range of yellow, orange and red flowers to offer colour and a spicy scent. Hamamelis mollis is usually the first to flower with acid yellow blooms on bare stems. Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Barmstedt gold’ has fragrant yellow flowers, whilst Hammamelis vernalis ‘January pride’ has pinky-purple scented flowers. The ‘witch’ comes from the old English ‘wice’ meaning pliant, referring to the pliant or bendable stems.
This shrub, also known as Wintersweet, has small yellow flowers to fill your garden with a sweet fragrance. It can be grown as a free-standing shrub or trained to grow against a wall. Wintersweet grows best against a south facing wall. Chimonanthus praecox ‘Grandiflorus’ is a bushier shrub with large yellow flowers that have a maroon centre.
This evergreen clematis needs a warm fence or wall and can take a while to get going but repays the effort you may need to put in. Happy climbing in both small and larger gardens, it has cream flowers with fluffy seed heads to follow. Clematis cirrhosa ‘Freckles’ has cream flowers flecked with maroon from November to March.
Rhododendron ‘Christmas Cheer’
Light years away from the invasive Rhododendron ponticum, Rhododendron ‘Christmas Cheer’ is an absolute winner in gardens with acid soils where brightly coloured winter flowering shrubs are needed. Bright pink buds open to pale pink or white flowers surrounded by shiny evergreen leaves even in the snow.
Mahonia x media
A good shrub to have on a boundary as its sharp edged leaves can act as a deterrent, Mahonia also provides a waft of scent on a winter’s day that often has you turning round wondering where the aroma came from. Mahonia x media has yellow flowers from November to January, followed by blue-black berries that are enjoyed by your garden birds.
Mahonia x media ‘Charity’ and Mahonia x media ‘Winter sun’ are both admirable winter garden additions.
Lonicera x purpusii
The winter flowering honeysuckle was Marie’s favourite plant of 2013. Creamy flowers with a fantastic fragrance from even a young plant makes this winter flowering shrub a must for the ornamental garden and the cutting garden. There is a downside, it isn’t the prettiest of our winter flowering shrubs when we come to the summer. The trick is to grow it near a path for easy access in the winter, and surround it with plants that have summer interest.
Lonicera x purpusii ‘Winter Beauty’ is a cross between Lonicera fragrantissima, which also has the common name of winter flowering honeysuckle, and is just as delightful in the winter garden, and Lonicera Standishii which is only semi evergreen and has a pink tinge to its scented flowers.
It is noticeable that the majority of the winter flowering shrubs mentioned above are scented. This is an asset, as it allows you to cut the flowers to bring indoors increasing your pleasure of the winter flowering shrubs in your garden.