Winter gardens don't have to be dreary! Some trees and shrubs provide colourful stems and bark, fragrant flowers and foliage colour.
Evergreen trees and shrubs can add form and structure to a garden in winter and of course provide screening too. Both conifer and non-conifer foliage can be used to create a colour pallette all year round. Gold foliage particularly stands out on dull winter days - Cupressus Gold Rider is a great variety for strong colour.
Evergreen shrubs that have variegated foliage, such as Pittosporum, can be used to great effect in mixed borders. Spotted laurel (Aucuba) tolerates shade so can be used to brighten up a dark corner. Similarly variegated holly when lit by house lights can be cheerful in the darkest months.
Colourful stems are found on many Cornus and Salix (dogwood and willow). Shrubs such as Cornus alba sibirica, C.Midwinter Fire, C.Magic Flame look great planted in drifts of red, yellow and orange. They can be trimmed in spring to encourage new growth and they tolerate heavy even wet soils well. Willow can be used in the same environment - Salix alba britzensis the Scarlet willow can be left to grow into a large tree where the top colourful growth catches low sun or pruned hard to create new growth at lower levels.
Trees with interesting bark include the Himalayan Birch - Betula utilis jaquemontii and Tibetan Cherry - Prunus serrula with glossy mahogany bark.
Shrubs which have colourful buds that last all winter include Skimmia rubella and Viburnum tinus Eve Price.
Flowering shrubs include Sarcococca - sweet box, Edgeworthia chrysantha - Chinese Paper Bush and Mahonia media Charity.
Many trees have interesting catkins in later winter and early spring - birch, alder, willow and hazel - early signs of spring are always welcome!