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orange flowers blooming
Grey skies and lower temperatures shouldn’t prevent your garden from looking its best. This winter planting guide will teach you how to transform your backyard into a riot of colour.

Winter wonders

The colder months might have a reputation for being the ‘off season’ in the garden, but that doesn’t have to be the case. Each season presents a great opportunity to experience a different palette of hues and textures. By integrating trees and plants in your yard that add interest year-round, or that come into their own during the coolest part of the year, you’ll cultivate a garden of year-round colour. Here’s a few suggestions on what to plant.

Close up shot of yellow flowers on a tree branch in front of blue sky

The right foundation

Gardens need mainstays such as hedges, evergreen shrubs and trees that look good throughout the year and provide a reliable backdrop for plants waiting in the wings. Trish Bartleet of Trish Bartleet Landscape Design (trishbartleet.com) likes to create gardens that span all four seasons and recommends cycads and palms for Auckland’s subtropical climate. In cooler areas, plant evergreen natives such as cabbage trees and flaxes.

Tip: Only 11 New Zealand native plant species are fully deciduous, so if you plant natives, you’ll have a reliable backbone to last the year. Choose species such as pūriri or kōwhai, which bloom in late winter or early spring, to provide kai for tūī and kererū.

Orange autumn tree

Cultivate chameleons

Once you’ve set the scene in your garden, it’s time to introduce winter plants that will dial up the colour in the cooler months. Plantsman Alan Trott, who created a Garden of International Significance in Ashburton renowned for its rare and beautiful trees, recommends the coral bark Japanese maple ‘Sango-Kaku’ Acer palmatum as a wonderful winter option. Once it drops its yellow leaves in autumn, the red bark is left exposed and provides outstanding colour. Or brighten up your backyard with the papery white bark of silver birches (Betula pendula).

At ground level, Alan introduces colour with heucheras. Not only do these perennial groundcovers provide year-round interest, but they also come in vibrant hues, running from zingy lime to dense burgundy tones. “I only grow them for their foliage and cut all the flowers off them,” he says.

To add colour to your outdoor space, Trish favours variegated plants. “You can tuck them in dull shady spots in the garden and they give you good depth of colour,” she says. For those with frost-free or sheltered gardens, she recommends Iresine herbstii, also known as bloodleaf. “It’s a lovely, bright, pink-leafed plant that really leaps out at you.”

Pink flowers in amongst large green leaves, with sun shining on them

Living sculpture

Another way to add depth to your garden or outdoor space is with topiary or cloud-pruned trees. Trish recommends fern pine (Podocarpus gracilior) – related to our native totara – as a particularly good tree for shaping. If you’ve never shaped a plant before, start with a simple form, such as a cone or ball. Need a little help? There are plenty of video demonstrations online.

Topiary is ideal for pots, too, says Alan. “Plant them in pots and underplant them with pansies or polyanthus.” As well as traditional buxus, Alan suggests using boxleaf honeysuckle (Lonicera nitida) and silver germander (Teucrium fruticans).

‘Buxus’ clipped into rounded headges

Cool-season flower power

One of the stars of the winter garden is the camellia. These attractive shrubs produce flowers in white, pink, red and yellow to bring some welcome colour. Their glossy evergreen leaves make them ideal for clipping into hedges and they look even prettier when they flower between autumn and spring. Varieties with open yellow stamens, such as the white-flowering Setsugekka, provide nectar for birds and bees.

Don’t overlook the beauty of buds either. Magnolias, which flower in late winter, slowly unzip their fuzzy grey-green buds to reveal gorgeous pink, white or yellow blooms. Michelias also have winter bud appeal. “Michelia ‘Fairy White’ and other michelia varieties are lovely in winter as they start to form russet buds that open up in early spring,” says Trish.

Winter roses (sometimes known as hellebores) also put on a show. These charming perennials come in a wide range of colours, from ruby red to antique pink and lime green, and many have charming speckles and smudges on their petals. Alan favours vibrant ‘Anna’s Red’ and also ‘Tutu’, which comes in pink and white.

‘Camelia’ hedge stretching horizontally along grass, pink flowers blooming

Scent stars

Winter gardens should engage all the senses, especially smell. The spicy-sweet fragrance of daphne is a winter treat, and just a few stems in a vase will fill a room with a lovely aroma. ‘Perfume Princess’ is a firm favourite with gardeners and is available in pink or white.

Tip: Keep in mind that this small evergreen shrub can’t abide wet, heavy soils.

In late winter the first freesias will start blooming, filling the air with their fresh citrus scent and garden beds with their delicate blooms. And before you know it, spring will have arrived.

: Yellow, ‘Wintersweet’ flowers in bloom on tree branches

To add colour and texture to your garden...

Check out our range of plants online or in-store.

Photo Credit: Getty Images, GAP Photos, Alamy Stock Photos

Health & Safety

Please make sure you use all equipment appropriately and safely when following the advice in these D.I.Y. videos. You need to be familiar with how to use equipment safely and follow the instructions that came with the equipment. If you are unsure, you may feel it is safest to consult an expert, such as the manufacturer or an expert Bunnings Team Member.

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