Winter Interest

posted in: Gardening | 19
Did you ever think about planting for winter interest when you first started gardening? I have to confess that when I started my very first garden I was only interested in the colour that came from flowers. Then each autumn I would cut down all of the herbaceous plants …and what was I left with? Not very much other than an evergreen hedge, a hellebore and the silhouette shape from a deciduous tree. When the frosts arrived there were no dried seed heads to sparkle, no drama from colourful winter stems and the flower beds just lacked any winter definition. I’m glad to say that all of that changed after many years of gardening, study and loads of trial and error. Today I’m sharing three of my February winter interest favourites …all with one thing in common the colour red.

Stems for Winter Interest

Cornus ‘Baton Rouge’

The deciduous  Cornus | Dogwoods are so well suited to this garden as the soil is wet and heavy. I’ve been growing Cornus ‘Mid Winter Fire’ for many years. Two Cornus ‘Baton Rouge’ plants are the newest shrubs that I’ve added for winter interest. They’ve the most intense scarlet winter stems especially when the sun is shining. You have to see if for yourself to believe it

Cornus 'Baton Rouge'
contrasting colours and shapes from the Cornus “Baton Rouge’ H4 and the carex grass.

Their stems literally glow on a bright and sunny day and contrast so well with bronze coloured carex grass and the red cowberry  Vaccinium vitis-idaea ‘Red Candy’.

Vaccinium vitis-idaea 'Red Candy'
Red berries for winter interest from Vaccinium vitis-idaea ‘Red Candy’  H5


winter interest planted container
I’ve planted this one in a container for the winter months and added a few other plants from the garden.

Their winter stems add drama especially when the backdrop is evergreen. They also contrast so well with a snowy winter wonderland or in my case near by a colourful hamamelis | witch hazel.   

Cornus 'Baton Rouge'
Capturing the glow from the Cornus ‘Baton Rouge’ while in the background grows Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Pallida’ being back lit by the winter sunshine.

If you do consider using a cornus in a container please don’t use a multi purpose compost but use a soil based compost that is suitable for the plants you’re growing.

Prune cornus shrubs back hard in the spring. Then give a good feed. This encourages the new growth which produces the most vivid colours during the winter months. 

(You’ll find more details about the H4 and H5 annotations next to each featured plant and further information on how to look after planted containers during the winter months on my Scottish Hardiness Ratings Page

Berries for Winter Interest

Vaccinium vitis-idaea ‘Red Candy’

The Lingonberry or Cowberry is a very hardy evergreen. It is also low growing and compact. The plant can tolerate temperatures down to -40 °C though hates really hot summers. Hence it’s perfect for any Scottish garden!

Vaccinium vitis-idaea 'Red Candy'
It’s berries are ornamental as they are much too bitter.

It carpets the ground as it’s quite vigorous and produces white flowers in the late spring and red berries from early autumn right through the winter. It too is good for a container as long as you have added some ericaceous compost. Besides it loves the same moist conditions as the Cornus shrubs and likes to have some shade during the summer months.

It’s probably best to grow more than one type of cowberry in the garden to be sure of getting those winter berries.

Vaccinium vitis-idaea 'Red Candy'

Vaccinium vitis-idaea ‘Red Candy’ last week covered in snow.

The birds don’t seem to like the berries so they give great winter interest throughout the season.

Leaves for Winter Interest

Leucothoe fontanesiana ‘Rainbow’

Finally another plant that deserves a mention for winter interest is the evergreen acid loving plant  Leucothoe fontanesiana ‘Rainbow’.  It grows in a spot in the garden that only gets the morning sunlight. However it provides the border with lovely red leaves with a little touch of variegation  during the winter months. Mine grows below a Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’ which takes over with the red/burgundy theme from late spring onwards.

Leucothoe fontanesiana 'Rainbow'
Leucothoe fontanesiana ‘Rainbow’  H5  covered in frost this week.

The stems of the Leucothoe arch over gracefully. During the winter time it looks so attractive with a dusting of frost. It’s really only then that you’ll notice the really pretty leaf stalk pattern along its stem.

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Photography Tutor and Gardener

Rosie is a garden photographer, writer and nature lover. She enjoys soaking up nature and is easily distracted from doing the weeding by anything that flutters, flies, buzzes, creeps or crawls! She enjoys sharing the beauty of creation through her photography. Rosie has been featured on TV on BBC2's The Beechgrove Garden and she uses the outdoors as her natural light studio. Her work can be seen at one of Scotland's only photography galleries - Close Gallery, 4b Howe Street, Edinburgh.

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19 Responses

  1. Larry

    Great post… I like the red dogwoods and also the yellow ones, unfortunately I don't have room for many shrubs in the gardens, but have used them in designs for others. I was not familiar with Baton Rouge… cool name and it looks like a great plant…. Larry

  2. Angie

    I've both Cornus and Leucothoe growing in the garden and yes, the reds really do stand out, especially at this time of the year.
    I've a Coral Bark maple that also adds a bit too!
    Don't grow Vaccinium – I have seen it for sale but walk right past it. I need to give it more thought now!

  3. elaine rickett

    Lovely to see a hit of red in the winter months – I have a few berried treasures but really ought to try and introduce more winter plants to liven things up.

  4. Gerry Snape

    I remember the lingonberry bush in a neighbour's garden in Belfast that I used to pass….and how the shape of the berries facinated me….great post!!!

  5. Janet/Plantaliscious

    That's a lovely trio of scarlet plany hussies! I've just planted a trio of dogwoods for winter interest in the back garden, including 'Midwinter Fire' which is new to me. I love the look of that Leucothoe fontanesiana 'Rainbow', but sadly I don't have acid soil. I am envious of your 'Forest Pansy', a favourite plant of mine, but which I have so far failed to find a space for here.

  6. Rosie Nixon

    @Larry I'm surprised you don't have room as you have such an extensive garden Larry 🙂 but I suppose to make any real winter interest impact you would need to have lots of them.

  7. Rosie Nixon

    @elaine rickett I started planting my garden in Autumn over a decade ago and since most GC's only sell what is looking good for that particular time of year it made it easier to pick out the winter interest plants.

  8. Rosie Nixon

    @Janet/Plantaliscious My forest pansy struggles to grow up here in Perthshire for me. It's always the last to break into leaf and I always wonder if it's still alive. Mid winter fire gets a little bit of die back on the stems but up until Baton Rouge came into the garden it was my favourite cornus.

  9. Alistair

    Rosie, I am always banging on about how our garden at one time was all about Summer. There still isn't much in the way of colour but we do now have good structure in Winter. I thought we had the brightest red dogwood with Alba Sibirica, however when I see your Baton Rouge, well, I want it!'

  10. PlantPostings

    Oh my, the Leucothoe is lovely! I never thought to plant it, but it will be on my "potential" list now. I have, however, always enjoyed the burgundy glow of the Dogwoods, especially this time of year! Wonderful post!

  11. Melanie J Watts

    Cornus are such lovely shrubs and very hardy. The one in my garden, C. alba spends most of its life buried in snow.