'I determined to bring life to my garden in winter - to make autumn join hands with spring. Winter was to be a season in its own right, vital to the gardener who really wants to garden. I decided, like that innovative gardener, William Robinson, to banish the idea that "winter is a doleful time for gardens".'

Rosemary Verey - The Garden in Winter

In the dark days of winter I might not be out in the garden as much, but it's still there outside the windows I look out of all the time. It needs to include plants to brighten up the winter.

From the windows I can see a sprawling mound of the statuesque dark green leaves of a hellebore. Thick vigorous buds form in the late winter, defying the cold season.

Against the sunny south-facing wall is the evergreen shrub Viburnum tinus "Gwenllian", which carries flowers from November right through the winter, and beautiful blue berries too. Even more stunning are the flowers of the winter-flowering iris - Iris unguicularis. This too is planted at the foot of this sunny wall, and took some years to establish. In March 2003 it produced its first ever single flower, and the following year was at last a "winter-flowering" plant, producing a few of its beautiful blooms in the early months of 2004. Other flowers in the late winter period come from the early flowering iris bulbs - Iris reticulata and Iris danfordiae - planted in autumn every year in pots.

My favourite winter plant, now it's established enough to produce an impressive display, is Garrya elliptica. It is growing in Kitchen Corner, against the wall of the dining room. I think, judging by the length of the tassels, that I must have the variety known as 'James Roof'. The tassels begin as short stubby things, late in the year, then lengthen through the winter, and by January and February they're swaying in the breeze, all fluid and lovely. Not much colour - just green - but they're good to look at, I've found, when you're looking out of the window on a dark winter evening, trying to think cheerful thoughts and compose a web page . . .

Here near the windows are assembled other favourite winter interest plants, a Mahonia x media 'Charity', more dogwoods with coloured bark; the potted Acer with its bare, elegant branches; a bronze carex, displayed at the top of a tall planter, so I can see it move in the slight breeze; Arum italicum 'Pictum', Choisya ternata, Epimediums and ivies. 

Many of these are in pots. Though some are in very large pots - which means they're not easily portable, all are movable enough to be brought to this part of the garden, near the windows of the house, to keep spirits up over the dark days of winter, and keep the general winter muddiness at bay.

Useful books (in association with www.amazon.co.uk)

The Garden in Winter by Rosemary Verey
I don't look forward to winter, but this inspiring book makes you see the winter garden in a more favourable light. A series of 'Plant Portraits' gives useful information on a good selection of plants that brighten winter days.

Frosted leaves of Hellebore, January 2002

Above: frosted leaves of Hellebore, January 2002.
Top left: frost on Choisya ternata leaves.