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Tips on choosing plants for winter interest

Don't get caught out by good retailers this winter, who will be selling you plants in full flower! Before you hand over your money have a think about the following:

See what you already have!  Think shapes and seed-heads.  A garden will only look good in winter if it's a combination of good looking woody skeletons (with a few evergreens if you want but not essential), seed heads - don't cut down perennials until March and then splashes of colour provided by barks, berries and flowers.  What do you need to add?

What conditions have you got? Make sure any plants you choose will grow in your garden.  If the plant wants well drained soils in the sun, can you provide that?  If not choose something else.

How much space have you got for any new plants?  Check before you buy how big they are going to get (pruning is not the answer in most cases unless it's a hedge or topiary). If you are short on space think bulbs! to look at things that don't take up a lot of space and disappear for most of the year - bulbs!  Snowdrops, crocuses, winter aconites are classics for a reason.

What does the plant look like when it's not in flower? Growing some plants just for their flowers is fine regardless of how underwhelming they are for the rest of the year but the bulk of your plants should provide good shapes as well.  It's worthwhile trying to choose plants that have interest spread over a few seasons especially if they are going to take up a lot of space.

For example, winter box (Sarcococca confusea) has the most wonderful scented flowers in January but the plant itself is a dull looking evergreen messy blob.  If you have space to plant it somewhere it won't get noticed great.  Otherwise it would be better to consider multi seasonal plants - many witch hazels have good autumn colour, an attractive winter shape and fabulous flowers).