Thriving Winter Garden Plants & Design Essentials


Discover the hidden beauty of winter gardens. Through Clive Nichols’ lens, we explore the frost-detailed landscapes where cold weather highlights plant forms and structures. This guide reveals how to make your garden thrive during the colder months, showcasing the unique charm and muted colours of winter’s natural palette. Dive into creating an outdoor space that celebrates the resilience and beauty of winter.


The Importance of Form & Structure in Winter


Photos by Clive Nichols


The coldest months bring a subtle charm to your senses, with winter garden plants offering beauty beyond vivid colours and fragrant flowers.  Frost adorns lawns and accentuates the forms of topiary hedges, making them sparkle under the winter sun’s early morning light.

Tall ornamental grasses and evergreen shrubs thrive under the winter sun, adding structure to the winter garden.

In winter, it’s the shape and structure of plants, shrubs, and trees that are most noticeable. Think of the juxtaposition between the laced tracery of bare winter branches against the clear blue sky. 

Then there is the awe that the ethereal emergence of solid, evergreen shapes as the winter fog dissipates creates. Or the tall upright forms of ornamental grasses against the low hummocks of herbaceous planting. 

Cloud-topped seed heads of umbellifers, like cow parsley, with strings of frosted pearls, suspended on spiders’ webs. There’s a softness to the winter colour palette. Muted lavender grey & dusky apricot, with mellow bronze & pale golden tones.




Having waxed lyrical about the beauty of winter forms, there are some plants that stand out at this time of year. Winter flowering shrubs such as Christmas Box, Daphne, and the fragrant flowers of Witch Hazel fill the air with sweetness, brightening the chilly days.

Pink flowers and the vibrant stems of Dogwood stand boldly against the winter backdrop, adding a splash of colour to the garden. Plants for the winter garden, like Snowdrops and Cyclamen with pink and white flowers, create a lush carpet over the barren earth.


A bit of Science behind the Magic



The crystalline Ice particles from frost can look beautiful on plant forms, but they also damage many. Frost is formed from water vapour. It forms when air contains more water vapour than it can hold at a given temperature. If this is above the freezing point, it forms dew. Below freezing, it deposits on a solid surface in the form of ice crystals. The specific temperature at which this occurs depends on the relative humidity of the atmosphere and is known as the ‘dew point’.

However, there are some plants that contain natural antifreeze properties and can withstand lower winter temperatures. Think of Hellebores and snowdrops pushing up and throwing layers of snow.

How do they do this?

Well, some plants are clever and respond to factors such as cold, short day length, dehydration, and ethylene, which is a plant hormone that influences growth & plant stress responses, for example. 

Changes to the water molecules within their intracellular structures activate proteins, which prevent the growth and recrystallization of ice.

It seems daft to talk about plants being ‘dehydrated’ in winter, but if the structure of the water molecules has changed into ice crystals, the plant can’t access them because they no longer flow through the plant cells. This is the reason that many plants without antifreeze properties die.


Hilliers Gardens & Arboretum in Romsey, Hampshire, is a perfect inspiration for anyone designing plants for the winter garden, showcasing winter jasmine and evergreen shrubs.


Box balls with snow caps & light diffused grasses


Embrace the serene beauty of your winter garden by exploring these design essentials and plant selections. Transform your outdoor space into a winter wonderland that captivates and inspires even in the coldest months—start planning your winter garden transformation today.