Many garden do not look their best in winter. Bare branches, or perennials which die down completely in the dormant season, can leave you with some rather grey and flat spaces. There are however, plenty of plants which look their best in winter and while you may not have the space or the inclination to create a dedicated winter garden such as those at Anglesey Abbey, you can certainly brighten up a shady corner or a dark chilly patio with some large containers full of winter colour.
The bare red stems of Cornus sanguinea 'Midwinter Fire', above, provide a vibrant framework for this container which is full of warm colours. The amber-bronze winter foliage of Euonymus fortunei 'Emerald and Gold' complements the fiery stems and the soft yellows of Primula vulgaris add a cooler tone. The fern, Blechnum spicant, adds contrasting texture to the display and the snowdrops - Galanthus nivalis - complete the woodland vibe. There are also bright yellow aconites in here which will be pushing upwards and flowering within the month.
These plants are all happy in shade and so this is a display which would be happy in a dark corner of the garden. Once the season is over, you can plant them out in the garden: the snowdrops and primroses will spread over time to give you bright ground cover at a time when the ground can be a bit bare.
Other possibilities for this container, following the colour and texture themes, could be a Mahonia eurybracteata 'Soft Caress' with its fine foliage and yellow candle-like flowers, or a small flowering Hamamelis (witch hazel).
The silvery notes in the container above combine the dwarf Pinus mugo with Helleborus niger with its pure white flowers, lavender and Hedera helix 'Glacier', a variegated trailing ivy. This can bring light and texture to patio space and will be happiest out in the open. You could also add some white cyclamen to the planter, which also has Fritillaria meleagris in both its distinctive snakeskin purple and white flowered forms just pushing through the soil surface now to flower in early spring.
Other variations on this theme add white-flowered Hebe or Festuca glauca to accentuate the blue-grey notes of the lavender and ivy. Given a large enough containers,these plants could be grown all the year round in the pot, or replanted in the garden once the flowering season is finished.
Cornus sanguinea 'Midwinter Fire', as in the container at the top of this post, is used extensively in winter gardens such as those at Anglesey Abbey, above, the avenues of flamecoloured stems creating a dramatic display. Anglesey Abbey also has impressive stands of bright white birch trees and at this time of year, the ground is carpeted with snowdrops. Red- and purple-stemmed Cornus will also give the same effect - see the winter garden at the Cambridge Botanical Gardens, below.