Choosing Winter Plants for the Garden – Part 1

by Allen Quay

in Design Ideas

When it comes designing with winter plants, it’s hard to compete with the English. In this part 1 video, Head Gardener Phil Stigwood uncovers the techniques used in creating the winter garden at the Wolfson College in Cambridge, England. When you watch the film you’ll soon see why the British churn out some of the world’s top landscape designers!

Watch the video or read what Phil has to say below:


Hello, I’m Phil Stigwood head gardener here at Wolfson college.  

This is a short film was designed to tell you more about the gardens here at Wolfson college which is much less known than many older colleges in Cambridge. However, we’ve been restoring and replanting the gardens over the last eight years introducing many new plant varieties some of them quite rare and using them in interesting planting combinations. These have made the Wolfson college gardens quite colorful and interesting.

  [pullquote]One of the nicest evergreens in Wolfson college gardens in my opinion is the Pittosporum ‘silver queen’.[/pullquote]One of the nicest evergreens in Wolfson college gardens in my opinion is the Pittosporum ‘silver queen’. It has beautiful glossy leaves and dark stems and of course year round color being an evergreen which gives us interest and structure throughout the winter months. These gardens are very relaxed and naturalistic and are much less formal than many of the other colleges in the area. The college also has individual garden rooms, we have the winter garden that is full of winter plants. We also have courtyard gardens and a Chinese garden which is linked to the Chinese hall.

So here we are in the winter garden and we’re looking at a wonderful tree called the Tibetan cherry (Prunus Serrula). This small tree adds great value to our winter garden because of the beautiful red colored bark. It feels smooth and has a wonderful polished appearance. It’s used not so much for its foliage or flowers but purely for its bark.

Here we are in the front court with the Wolfson college in the background. We’re here to talk about the lawns which we are very proud of at Wolfson college. [pullquote]The key to our green lawns is our regular feeding program…[/pullquote]The key to our green lawns is our regular feeding program which is applied in the spring and again in autumn and sometimes in the middle of the summer if we have a lot of rain. Another key is not to overfeed the lawns, if you overfeed them, you encourage disease and will encourage a lot of dead grass  or thatch to build up in the lawn. We use as an organic slow release feed to keep them in tip-top shape.

The college also has quite a few non-native trees. We have giant redwoods which are from California. We even have birch trees from China which have a spectacular autumn leaf color and has a very interesting bark. So we have a wide spectrum of trees here that are both large and small.  Many of our trees color up in winter and provide great interest throughout the year.

So that concludes the short film of the Wolfson college gardens. I hope that wets your appetite to learn more. Please come and visit and have a look at the garden’s not just in the summer when it has plenty of color but also in the winter months to look at the winter garden which is truly spectacular.

Thank you for watching and goodbye.


I just love the way color was used in the planting beds with the backdrop of large clipped hedges. Don’t you? As Phil mentions, the winter garden does truly look spectacular as you’ll soon discover in our upcoming part 2 video.

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