Should You Put the Garden to Bed?

 In Gardening, Hardy perennials, Seasonal Gardening, Trees and Shrubs, Winter colour

I shudder every time I hear that phrase ‘put the garden to bed for winter’!

Okay, so if you own a great pile and have to open your garden to raise funds to fix the hole in the roof I can understand it but, for the rest of us, there really is no reason to follow this mantra!

winter garden

Sir Harold Hillier Gardens in winter

For many plants, autumn is when they move centre stage and delight us with a far more subtle and appealing presence.

In summer there is colour everywhere and far too much look at me, me, and me from every border!

Winter can be a truly beautiful time too!

But during the shorter days of winter we have time to enjoy the detail. To drink up the scents and appreciate the shape and form that is easily passed over when there is a riot of colour in every corner!

‘Put the garden to bed’ means waving the white flag to me.

Sure, you can tidy up a little and fork some well-rotted compost or farmyard manure between plants in your borders but, just because we’ve turned our clocks back an hour; we don’t have to retreat indoors!

put the garden to bed, winter garden

Cambridge Botanic Garden in winter




Perennial plants and ornamental grasses

Fortunately many gardens with herbaceous perennials and ornamental grasses are left au naturel.

So that we, and wildlife, can enjoy the seed heads and the straw coloured skeleton shapes that remain.

This is invariably enhanced by hoar frost on cold mornings creating a spectacular scene.


Evergreen shrubs

berries on a skimmia bush

Skimmia japonica female [with berries] and male behind

But there are plants that wait until now to perform! Take the Mahonias for instance. The hybrid Charity blooms spectacularly before the New Year and then the stronger scented Mahonia japonica takes over.

Skimmia, especially the male form ‘Rubella’, has prominent red flower buds.

Christmas box, although not especially colourful will fill the garden with scent soon.

Deciduous shrubs

witch hazel flowers, hamamelis

Hamamelis mollis [Witch Hazel]

For scent and blooms, the witch hazels take some beating! These are incredibly hardy and will flower from January until March.

There are Hamamelis with lemon, yellow, gold bronze and red flowers and all have the sweetest of scents.

Many deciduous Viburnum such as ‘Dawn’ and appropriately named fragrans are great for sweet scent in winter.


Many trees have very attractive and colourful bark. I’ve written about some of them here.

I’ve also written about shrubs with very colourful stems here.





If your garden can’t accommodate large shrubs then consider the low maintenance and low growing winter flowering heathers.

These are tolerant of lime in the soil and are also a magnet for any bees that venture early out of hibernation.

It pays to plant these in groups of odd numbers [even numbers look like rows] of say three or five or more.

Very soon they mesh together as one and smother out any weed that might try to grow between.

You might care to read more about what I have to say about heathers here.


a man digging in the garden

Digging a trench for runner beans

As to the veg patch or allotment, this is a busy time!

There will be little that can be sown or planted for a while but this is the time to prepare the soil for next year.

It is also the time to prepare a trench for where you are going to grow runner beans and sweet peas.

Now is the time to fill those trenches with plenty of compost to keep the beans ‘setting’ fruit and the sweet peas blooming longer.





Winter is also the best time to prune and reshape many trees and shrubs.

It is after the leaves fall that we can see more clearly where the cuts should be made and just how much can be safely pruned away.

Some gardens, such as the Sir Harold Hillier Gardens near Romsey have large areas devoted to plants that look at their best in winter. RHS Rosemoor Garden also has an inspiring Winter Garden which will give you lots of inspiration!

Rosemoor winter garden

RHS Rosemoor Winter Garden

Health and Well Being

I take every opportunity to be out in the garden in winter.

I find that it’s great exercise -the green and free gym!

When daylight is short we need to take advantage of every bit of it. And although I personally don’t suffer, this is a sure cure if you happen to suffer from seasonally affected disorder.

So don’t hesitate, get out there and keep on gardening!

What tasks do you enjoy in the garden during winter?

Do you feel fitter and healthier by continuing to garden during the winter months?

Are you one who adheres to the mantra of ‘put the garden to bed’ in winter?


Recommended Posts

Leave a Comment

fruits and berries in a trug