Plant your garden for winter. Make it magical

Don't close the curtains on your garden. Enjoy foliage dusted with frost
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Close the curtains for winter, and you will only have to face the fall-out come spring. A better plan is to get the garden in shape for the lean season, then add a few cheering winter plants that will keep the home fires burning outdoors.

Bare soil is depressing and cut-back plants look clinical. Just remove foliage that is dead, diseased or decaying, leaving the rest — including seedheads — to decorate the garden and provide pit-stop snacks for birds and insects.

Ornamental cabbage
© Marianne Majerus Garden Images
Ornamental cabbage, cyclamen and violas brighten up patios

Summer's drumstick alliums look magical when dusted with frost, and so do perennials such as achillea, teasel, eryngium, fennel and verbascum. Autumn and winter is the time when grasses such as Stipa tenuissima come into their own. It's not too late to plant a trio of them to make a swishing, shimmering prairie patch that just needs cutting down in early spring to make way for new growth.

Leaving a logpile for wildlife to colonise is good practice but leaving flowerpots lying about is not, unless you fancy a colony of hibernating snails invading your garden come spring. Gather up all stray pots, scrub them in a sinkful of hot, soapy water and when dry, stack and store them away.
'Swaddle plants in fleece for winter and, come spring, you may find they have died through lack of water'
Rake up deciduous leaves from lawn, paths and pond and fill garden-centre jute sacks; in a year or so you will have the finest quality leafmould to mulch your soil. Alternatively, run over dry leaves with the lawnmower and layer them finely into the compost bin.

Add any summer bedding leftovers into the compost bin, too, but lift out dahlia tubers, cleaning them with a pastry brush and storing them safely till spring, buried in potting compost, in a frost-free shed or garage. Cut back any treasured pelargoniums and keep them indoors in a cool, light spot over winter, just ticking over.

Skimmia, dogwood stems and ivy create a cheery container
© Marianne Majerus Garden Images
Skimmia, dogwood stems and ivy create a cheery container
Winterproof container plants — including evergreen herbs, which suffer in a wet winter — by pulling them to a house wall, grouped together. The wall will keep them warm, shield them from rain and, huddled together, the pots will create their own warmth. If there is a severe weather warning, you can throw a duvet of double-layered white horticultural fleece over the lot. It's helpful to lift pots off the ground with terracotta feet or bricks so that water can drain through without sitting in the compost and rotting roots.

Be aware that you can kill with kindness by swaddling plants in fleece for the duration only to discover, come spring, that they have died through lack of water. If plants are borderline hardy, it's best to keep an eye on the weather and pull on a drawstring fleece jacket (the plant, not you) when frost is forecast.

Make sure it covers the pot as well as the plant, so the roots and pot are protected. The other bonus of weather-dependent wrapping is that you don't have to gaze out on a scary tableau of ghostly apparitions for months.

If you have a bare wall that gets a little winter sun and can be admired from a window, consider a clematis. Not the summer-flowering variety, but the gorgeous evergreen Mediterranean clematis, cirrhosa balearica. It has the prettiest small, ferny leaves and masses of plum-freckled cream cupped blooms that, like many winter flowers, are sweetly-scented.

Another fragrant cold-weather winner is pink-flowered shrub Viburnum bodnantense. Bring fresh life to the patio with a few berrying plants such as scarlet skimmia or pernettya, which has a mass of fat white, pink or cherry-red berries.

Universal pansies are great value but lighter, brighter colours will make a better show in dim light than fashionable dark shades. A tub of winter-flowering Japanese cherry Prunus subhirtella Autumnalis, just the other side of the french windows, will provide the occasional flurry of icepink blossom, and remind you that spring is, sooner or later, on the way.

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