In December we tend to focus on preparing for the festive season rather than gardening, especially as the days are shorter and colder. However, there are many shrubs, trees and evergreen perennials displaying colourful bark, flowers and/or scent at this time of the year. If planted near the house, these can be regularly enjoyed, by looking out of the window, or when leaving and entering the house. Here are ten of the best plants for December gardens winter interest.

1. Cornus sanguinea (dogwood) ‘Midwinter Fire’

The bare, colourful stems of dogwood cultivars really come into their own at this time of year. The leaves have fallen, and the cheerful coloured stems shine out, brightening up the garden until spring when new leaves emerge. ‘Midwinter Fire’ is one of the brightest varieties with orange-yellow-red tipped stems. Keeping the intense colour of the stems is simple. Cut them all back to just above the ground in February and new stems will be produced during the year that will end up bursting with colour.

  • Flowers in summer
  • Fully hardy
  • Grows to 2m tall
  • Moist but well-drained or well-drained soil
  • Full sun or partial shade
  • Exposed or sheltered

2. Tiarella cordifolia (foam flower)

It’s good to have low growing, evergreen, ground cover plants. Not only do they protect the soil during the winter months, but they also provide interest. This pretty, little woodland plant grows in a dome shape and produces pretty, small, star-like, white flowers during late spring, early summer. Another bonus is that the leaves turn shades of red during autumn.

  • Flowers in summer
  • Hardy
  • Grows to 30cm tall
  • Moist but well-drained or poorly drained soil
  • Partial shade or full shade
  • Sheltered
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3. Mahonia x media (Oregon grape) ‘Winter Sun’

There are several varieties of mahonia to choose from. Most of them produce honey scented, yellow flowers during the winter months. They’re evergreen and tough which makes them easy to grow in the winter garden without having to worry too much about maintenance. All that’s needed is pruning them to size when necessary. ‘Winter Sun’ is no exception, with slender spikes of scented yellow flowers appearing from early winter until early spring. Give it space to spread and you’ll end up with a wonderful architectural focal point for a shady part of the garden.

  • Flowers in winter
  • Hardy
  • Grows up to 4m tall
  • Moist but well-drained or well-drained soil
  • Full shade or partial shade
  • Sheltered or exposed
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4. Acer palmatum (Japanese acer) ‘Sango-kaku’

Japanese maples are slow growing, low maintenance, elegant trees that are relatively easy to care for. They grow best in a sheltered position and appreciate water regularly. This cultivar has leaves which start pink/yellow when they appear in spring, turning to green during the summer months and finally yellow in the autumn. An added bonus is the beautiful coral-red branches which look particularly beautiful at this time of year.

  • Interesting foliage throughout the year
  • Hardy throughout relatively mild parts of the UK
  • Grows up to 6m tall
  • Moist but well-drained or well-drained soil
  • Full sun or partial shade
  • Sheltered
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5. Acer griseum (paperbark maple)

Another slow growing tree with winter interest is the paperbark maple. The cinnamon-coloured peeling bark is an attractive feature at all times of the year, but especially so during the winter months. The bark peels away in thin layers, hence its common name. The autumn colour of the leaves is outstanding, turning bright shades of scarlet and orange before falling. The tree keeps its shape well, but if you need to prune ensure you do so during the winter when the tree is dormant. This is because acers can ‘bleed’ sap if pruned whilst in active growth.

  • Interesting foliage throughout the year
  • Hardy
  • Grows to 10m tall
  • Moist but well-drained or well-drained soil
  • Full sun or partial shade
  • Sheltered
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6. Bergenia (elephant’s ears) ‘Eroica’

Tough, evergreen perennial plants are few and far between, which makes this choice a good one because their large, rounded leaves are especially good for edging borders and suppressing weeds. This cultivar produces magenta pink flowers on stout, tall, red stems in spring. Then, in autumn, the leaves turn a cheerful rich shade of red.

  • Flowers in spring
  • Fully hardy
  • Grows to 45cm tall
  • Moist but well-drained or well-drained soil
  • Full sun or partial shade
  • Exposed or sheltered
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7. Coronilla valentina subsp. glauca (bastard senna) ‘Citrina’

This shrub pumps out pretty, sweetly scented, lemon-yellow flowers from now right the way through to mid spring.  It’s evergreen too, with small blue-green leaves, and is a great choice for planting near a pathway where its wonderful scented blooms can be appreciated.

  • Flowers in winter and spring
  • Hardy
  • Grows to 90cm tall
  • Well-drained soil
  • Full sun
  • Sheltered
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8. Lonicera fragrantissima (winter-flowering honeysuckle)

Another plant for December gardens is winter-flowering honeysuckle, another sweetly scented winter flowering shrub, which carries its scent in the air. It flowers before the leaves appear and tends to produce more flowers when grown in front of a sunny wall. It can grow fairly wide and is therefore best pruned immediately after flowering, removing approximately one third of the flowering stems.

  • Flowers in winter
  • Fully hardy
  • Grows to 2m tall
  • Moist but well-drained or well-drained soil
  • Full sun to part shade
  • Exposed
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9. Liriope muscari (big blue lilyturf)

This strap leaf, evergreen plant will grow well in a range of different conditions, including dry shade. In autumn, at a time when most other plants are finishing flowering, it produces long flower stems with clusters of small deep violet flowers running along its entire length. A very useful edging plant for year-round interest.

  • Flowers in autumn
  • Hardy
  • Grows to 30cm tall
  • Moist but well-drained soil
  • Full shade or partial shade
  • Sheltered
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10. Chimonanthus praecox (wintersweet)

The last plant for December gardens is wintersweet which is a vigorous deciduous shrub. Although it takes a few years before it starts to flower, the wait is worth it. The scent from the small, very sweetly scented, sulphur-yellow flowers is exquisite. Bring a cut stem with flower buds into the house to fully appreciate its beautiful aroma. It can also be grown against a house wall.

  • Flowers in winter
  • Hardy
  • Grows to 4m tall
  • Moist but well-drained or well-drained soil
  • Full sun
  • Sheltered
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Through December, there’s no need to have a dull garden, instead it can be filled with delightful plants that look and smell great. What better way to get you into the festive spirit than by transforming your garden into a winter wonderland?

Find out more about adding texture to your garden:

Adding texture

Or check out my Pinterest board for more ideas:

Pinterest