Winter Interest Plants

posted in: Gardening | 8


Let me take you back to when winter was descending on the Branklyn Garden when it was full of winter interest plants.


One December morning a mist hung over Kinnoull Hill. There was a distinct chill in the air. Tiny flakes of snow had fallen at dawn and winter was at last taking a grip on the season.


Winter is the time of year for woody plants.  The time when the deciduous acer trees show off their lacy intricate branch structure. While pools of dry soft foliage carpet the ground beneath. Similarly others are clothed with foliage only it’s brown and withered.


Evergreen conifers stand tall and statuesque in hues of green and blue.  Some with layer upon layer of arching branches. While others with dark green spires. Conifers get noticed at this time of year while during the other seasons you’d barely notice them.


Branklyn garden is closed to the public over the winter. But I was allowed to capture the garden ‘from behind closed gates’. Let me show you the winter interest plants. Those that few others get to see … 

Winter Interest Plants

There was a tapestry of muted colours and contours (unlike in Autumn)  underneath the tree canopy.  Hummocks of dwarf everygreen conifers contrasting with the silver spikey leaves of the Celmisia’s and the dwarf azalea’s. Hellebores were already poking through the ground with their plump buds. While some autumn coloured leaves still lingered along with some of the autumn flowering Cyclamen hederifolium.

Winter Interest Plants - standing at the base of the rock garden and looking over towards the stream and pond
Standing at the base of the rock garden and looking over towards the stream and pond – you’ll see this spot again at the end of the post only this time in April 2014.
Winter Interest Plants - still some autumn colour is holding on even in December
still some autumn colour is holding on even in December
evergreens giving colour and contour in December at Branklyn garden
evergreens giving colour and contour  in December

Winter Protection

Many of the alpine plants had glass covers to protect them from the worst of the winter wet.

Leucogenes leontopodium winter protection
Leucogenes leontopodium glass winter protection covered in a layer of fine snowflakes

This edelweiss is a perennial herb with silver leaves covered in fine silky hairs and is native to the rocky outcrops on the mountains on the North Island of New Zealand.  It’s quite similar to our European edelweiss Leontopodium alpinum which also needs gritty soil and protected from the worst of the winter wet.

Rhododendron thomsonii

While even in December the very first deep red flowers from the Rhododendron thomsonii were opening.  It was a very cold morning when I was in Branklyn with a little dusting of snow on some parts of the garden. This flower probably had had a bit of a shock when it opened its first flowers much too early.

Winter Interest Plants - red Rhododendron thomsonii subsp. thomsonii with large waxy flowers with orbicular evergreen leaves
Rhododendron thomsonii subsp. thomsonii with large waxy flowers with orbicular evergreen leaves



This shrub is found in the forests of the Himalayas and was first discovered by John Dalton Hooker.  It was named after Dr Thomas Thomson. He was not only an old friend of Hooker’s but also a 19th century Scottish naturalist.  Thomson accompanied Hooker on many treks in India. It’s thanks to Thomson that we now have Primula denticulata, Primula rosea, Frittiaria imperialis and many more in our gardens today.

Winter Interest Plants - Rhododendron thomsonii subsp. thomsonii with exfoliating bark
Winter interest plants – Rhododendron thomsonii subsp. thomsonii with exfoliating bark



John Grimshaw has recently written about  Rhododendron thomsonii on his blog. He grows one of the originals that was brought back to the UK by Hooker and grown from seed.  I don’t know if Dorothy and John Renton brought some of that original stock decades later to Branklyn or not.

Winter Interest Plants - Rhododendron thomsonii subsp. thomsonii seed heads
winter interest plants – Rhododendron thomsonii subsp. thomsonii seed heads

Ornamental Bark and Texture

Tree trunks with striking bark give winter impact and interest in the garden .. so tactile that you just want to touch, feel and peel those flaky edges!

Along with the Rhododendron thomonsii bark there was also the exfoliating bark from the Acer griseum, Stewarti and Betula trees.

Winter Interest Plants - Acer griseum peeling bark at Branklyn
winter interest plants – Acer griseum
Winter Interest Plants - colourful overlapping patchwork layers of Stewartia monadelpha bark
colourful overlapping patchwork layers of  Stewartia monadelpha bark
Winter Interest Plants - Stewartia pseudocamellia ornamental bark at Branklyn
Stewartia pseudocamellia – meaning false camellia as the flowers resemble those of a camelia


Seedheads and the browns of winter


There were many seedheads in the garden. I’m drawn to the larger hydrangea cultivars that grow in the garden. They have delicate papery seed heads which make good photography subjects.

hydrangea flowers decaying so gracefully at Branklyn
winter interest plants – Hydrangea flowers decaying so gracefully
Winter Interest Plants - Hydrangea winter papery flowers at Branklyn
Hydrangea papery flowers

Colourful Clusters of Winter Berries

Pink sorbus berries from autumn still over hung over the garden while along one path the bright amber berries from the Viburnum opulus ‘Xanthocarpum’ caught my attention.
translucent berries the size of grapes from Viburnum opulus 'Xanthocarpum'
winter interest plants – translucent berries the size of grapes from Viburnum opulus ‘Xanthocarpum’
Winter Interest Plants - One of the smaller sorbus trees in the garden opposite the shop with pink berries
One of the smaller sorbus trees in the garden

Scented Winter Flowers

Then there were the clusters of pale pink flowers and the scent from the many Viburnum’s already in flower.

Viburnum x bodnantense 'Dawn' beside the Branklyn shop
winter interest plants – Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’


You can see more of the photos from Branklyn Garden in December here on one of my google plus albums.



Now that Spring has arrived Branklyn Garden is open again to the public.  If you’re near Perth then why not drop by for a little visit – or even visit their facebook page.  At the moment the gardens look spectacular with erythroniums, oxlips and rhododendrons and I’ll be sharing those photos here very soon.

Here’s a little glimpse of what the garden has looked like in April … every week there is something new to discover in the garden.

Branklyn Garden in April
Branklyn Garden in April 2014


Follow Rosie Nixon:

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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8 Responses

  1. Gardening in a Sandbox

    What a gorgeous garden. How wonderful to see the trees and shrubs showing colour and texture and even blooms in December. So foreign here in our cold climate. I enjoyed that you gave us a glimpse of it's specialness. Valerie

  2. Coline

    Thanks, your pictures have had me back to the garden twice already this season, every day is different at this time of year…

  3. myaberdeengarden

    A great post – I really enjoyed seeing what was 'behind closed doors'. I especially loved your hydrangea photographs.

  4. Angie

    You were a lucky lady to get access Rosie. There is something about the bare bones of a garden like this – the bigger the garden, the more spectacular the plants are, I think. The peeling bark, wow!

  5. Millymollymandy

    I don't think my comment went through as I just got an error message, then my text disappeared!
    Anyhow I said that I was surprised by the peeling bark of the Rhododendron and that I loved the tour of this amazing garden which looks fantastic in winter. Thanks for sharing.
    Now I will copy my text before I hit the publish button….. 🙂