7 things all amazing winter gardens have, according to the experts

Here's how to create the perfect winter garden

(Image credit: Alamy)

Baby, it's cold outside! And, if you're hoping to create a stunning winter garden at home, it can be difficult to know where to start – other than planting a bevy of winter flowers, of course. 

We understand your plight, of course: winter brings with it little sunshine, sharp morning frosts, and a lot of rain, so it's not always easy to figuring out ways to make that outdoor space... well, make it a welcoming one. 

Thankfully, there are plenty more winter gardening ideas you can use to ensure your little outdoor oasis looks its tip-top best over the colder months. Better still, though, they will help you to create a little spot that you can't help but want to wrap up warm and enjoy, no matter the weather.

With that in mind, then...

7 things every winter garden needs

'Transforming your garden into a winter wonderland involves more than just plants; it's about creating a space that's inviting, lively and enjoyable, even in the coldest and darkest depths of the bleak midwinter,' says Craig Wilson, co-founder, director and in-house gardening expert at Gardeners Dream.

Craig Wilson at Gardeners Dream
Craig Wilson

Craig Wilson, co-founder and director of Gardener's Dream Ltd has established himself as a key figure in the online gardening industry. With over two decades of plant knowledge and gardening experience, he takes pride in sharing his top tips and tricks for the garden.

To help you add colour to your winter garden, then, here's a list of must-haves that are a surefire way to make your winter garden a delightful retreat... no matter the temperature!

1. Outdoor lighting

Front of Holly Lodge Cottage in the evening with external lights on. A renovated and extended Victorian cottage in the countryside near Henley On Thames with four bedrooms and guest accomodation, home of Gabriella Barren Williams and Stuart Burgess and their son.

(Image credit: Future PLC/Polly Eltes Photography)

An oldie but a goodie, garden lighting ideas are a must for any winter garden.

'As daylight dwindles, outdoor lighting becomes a key feature in winter gardens,' says Craig. 'Softly lit pathways offer a safe and welcoming guide through the garden, while accent lights showcase trees and structures, creating intriguing shadows and highlights.'

String lights, he adds, 'can be draped over bushes or around seating areas, adding a festive, twinkling charm'. 

'The right lighting transforms the garden into a magical evening landscape, inviting you to enjoy the beauty of your outdoor space even after the winter sun sets,' Craig finishes. 

2. Texture and shadow

If you're looking to add a designer touch to your winter garden, make a point of playing with texture and shadow.

'From the show of bark of a prunus (cherry) from Crocus to the spiky glossy leaves of ilex (holly) from Thompson & Morgan to the small knitted texture of taxus (yew)  from Jacksons Nurseries, contrasting texture of planting keeps the garden interesting and enjoyable throughout the year,' says award-winning garden designer Zoe Claymore.

Zoe Claymore - headshot
Zoe Claymore

Zoe Claymore is a multi award-winning garden designer based in London. She focuses on creating outdoor places with emotional connection and ecological integrity for her private and commercial clients.

'Texture engages the skin and brain in a different way to colour, creating a more engaging experience,' continues Zoe.

'And remember, great winter gardens don't just use texture well; they also play with shadow. They know where the winter light is falling and choose trees and winter flowering shrubs whose form creates patterns over walls, patios and other hard surfaces creating life and beauty.'

3. Somewhere to sit

Dining table set up inside a greenhouse lit with fairylights

(Image credit: Getty)

Inspired by Nigella Lawson's cosy winter garden? We don't blame you one bit – and, thankfully, it's easy enough to recreate at home!

'During the summer months, we spend much of our time in the garden enjoying sunny afternoons and balmy evenings, but in the winter we tend to shut ourselves away indoors,' says Nelly Hall, brand director at premium bespoke glasshouses manufacturer Alitex

'It’s just as important to create a space to relax in the garden throughout the colder months, too, so every amazing winter garden should include somewhere to do just that, and a simple bistro table and chair set is the ideal set up to have your morning coffee or cup of tea while soaking up some much-needed winter sun.'

To ramp up the cosy garden vibes, you might consider popping your seats inside your greenhouse – even if, like Monty Don, you aren't planning on heating it this year.

'Add a couple of chairs and invite friends over for a catch up over a warming mulled wine or take your newspaper and portable radio with you for a few hours of peace and quiet,' suggests Nelly. 

'You can’t beat the sound of rain hitting the glass while you are cosy inside!'

4. Pollinator-friendly plants

Don't retire your bee garden ideas just yet; they are every bit as important over the colder months.

' Allow pollinators and other wildlife to enjoy cosy overwintering sites. Leave stalks, seed heads, and stems in place until spring and be creative with logs, placed in beautiful piles, which will also add visual interest to your winter garden,' suggests garden designer Annika Zetterman.

Annika Zetterman's headshot
Annika Zetterman

Annika Zetterman is a Swedish garden designer, as well as the author of the book 'New Nordic Gardens: Scandinavian Landscape Design'. She is also the founder of Zetterman Garden Design, and regularly gives lectures on garden design in both Sweden and abroad. 

Zoe agrees, adding that you should 'go with the more wildlife friendly trend of leaving ornamental grasses up during the winter for additional movement and interest'.

Try a winter honeysuckle from Thompson & Morgan or a lonicera fragrantissima from Crocus, for a little winter-friendly pollinating magic.

5. Firepits or outdoor heaters

garden chairs around a firepit and surrounded by fairylights

(Image credit: Future PLC/Tim Young)

You guessed it: fire pit ideas are a vital ingredient for any well-loved winter garden.

'Adding a fire pit or outdoor heater to your garden can redefine a winter garden experience, as well as extend the days or months in which you get to enjoy your space,' says Craig. 

'Fire pits become a focal point for social gatherings, while outdoor heaters offer a more controlled odourless warmth. They create a cosy ambiance, making even chilly nights inviting and comfortable, perfect for cosy evening spent watching the stars with a hot chocolate in hand.'

DAWOO Fire Pit | £58.99 on Amazon

DAWOO Fire Pit | £58.99 on Amazon

One of the bestselling fire pits on Amazon, we have this stylish design pegged as one of the best fire pits of the year – not least of all because it moonlights as a BBQ, too.

6. Winter flowering plants

'The very best winter gardens not only provide visual and sensory enjoyment now but tease us with the promise of spring,' says Zoe. 

'Maybe it's the odd plant flowering to remind us of what is to come or the peaking of the first snowdrops to hasten excitement - it all adds to the stillness and sereneness of the garden during this period.'

Craig agrees, adding that 'winter flowering plants are the unsung heroes of the cold season, bravely blooming when most others retreat'. 

'Plants like hellebores and witch hazel defy the harsh weather with their vivid flowers and enchanting fragrances,' he says. 

'These plants can turn a winter garden walk into a discovery of colour and scent, a true testament to the enduring beauty of nature.'

7. Bird feeders

Robin sitting in bird feeder

(Image credit: Getty Images)

We know, we know: you thought your days of trying to protect your bird feeder from squirrels and rats were over. Still, it's every bit as important to feed the birds during the winter as it is in the summer – more so, in fact. 

'Birdhouses and feeders transform a winter garden into a sanctuary for birds, creating a vibrant and dynamic atmosphere,' says Craig. 

'As the landscape turns monochrome, the flutter and chirp of birds bring a welcome burst of life back into any dormant back garden.'

'Birdhouses provide shelter, whilst feeders become crucial food sources when natural supplies dwindle,' continues Craig. 

'Watching various birds visit, from tiny chickadees to colourful cardinals, not only adds visual interest but also fosters a deeper connection with nature during the colder months.'


What is in a winter garden?

Every good winter garden has at least three things, according to Annika:

1. Structure and shape. 

'A winter garden relies on the bones and will look delightful with structural plants with variation in heights and shapes to find a balance within the space.'

2. Wildlife-friendly plants

'Allow pollinators and other wildlife to enjoy cosy overwintering sites. Leave stalks, seed heads, and stems in place until spring and be creative with logs, placed in beautiful piles, which will also add visual interest to your winter garden.'

3. A sheltered spot

'Invest in a sheltered space that you can use off-season, which will make you want to spend more time in the garden during winter and appreciate the seasons.'

How do you make a beautiful winter garden?

A beautiful winter garden should attract wildlife, include plenty of evergreens, and embrace those hardy flowers that bloom in the winter months.

'A space to sit and look and admire is also crucial so great winter gardens have home/garden connection you can enjoy from warmth and comfort,' adds Zoe. 

'Plan your garden in conversation with your house, a crucial step in my site analysis phase, to ensure you get the most out of it in all seasons.'

Craig agrees, adding that a 'well-prepared winter garden offers a serene refuge during the cold months'. 

'With the right combination of warmth, light, and life, your garden can become a year-round haven for both people and wildlife,' he says. 

'Whether it's watching birds from a cosy spot near the fire pit, enjoying the subtle fragrance of winter blooms, or harvesting the best fruit and vegetables, a winter garden can be a source of joy and relaxation.'

And, just like that, you have all the ingredients you need for a thriving winter garden! Time to get outside and get to work on your little slice of paradise.

Kayleigh Dray
Acting Content Editor

Kayleigh Dray became Ideal Home’s Acting Content Editor in the spring of 2023, and is very excited to get to work. She joins the team after a decade-long career working as a journalist and editor across a number of leading lifestyle brands, both in-house and as a freelancer.