Winter colour in the garden is now easier to achieve than ever before. No longer restricted to a palette of dark and glaucous evergreens with maybe heathers and a few berrying plants, the range of shrubs and small trees with coloured stems increases all the time.
Within the genera of Salix and Cornus alone there is a wide variety of colour available, from subtly bronzed greens to vibrant reds, acid yellows and deep reddish blacks. Careful combinations can yield brilliant effects, especially near water, where these plants thrive, and the range can be extended with the waxy white-bloomed stems of the ghost brambles, Rubus cockburnianus and R. biflorus.
Add in the jazzy barks of the snakebark maples and the gleaming mahogany of Prunus serrula and you have the possibility of creating effects at least as colourful as those of summer, and given that we welcome anything bright in these darkest, coldest months, you may be given the licence to let rip with something truly psychedelic. The effect has to be well-planned, however - these are big plants, needing to be viewed en masse and preferably at sufficient distance to haze the individual stems into a more general block of colour. Across water, where the late, low sun can reach them, the combinations can be made dazzling, and if the planting is properly maintained, with old stems removed each year to allow vibrant new growth through, you are assured of fireworks for many years. See the list of winter plants for some suggested varieties.