The Beauty of Decay: 10 Perennials to Add Structure to a Winter Garden – Gardenista

Grasses provide some of the most dramatic moments in the winter garden. Some, including bronze-leaved Carex and Panicum virgatum Shenandoah, hold their sleek, sharp foliage well over winter. Many pennisetums with their fluffy tips also look wonderful, especially on frosty mornings. Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’ provides stark columns of pale buff foliage while the billowing influoresence of miscanthus cultivars looks stunning in the low, soft light of winter.

A final consideration is where to plant gasses to get the most from them. They need to be planted where the winter sun can reach them. Backlit against a rising or setting sun they look spectacular, so it’s worth spending some time to ensure you’ve placed them in the perfect spot.


Many umbellifers with their long stems and clusters of flowers, have curvaceous skeletons to provide fantastic winter structure whether they are planted in groups or as occasional accents.


Taller umbellifers including fennel and eupatorium add dramatic height and will normally stay standing even in the most adverse conditions.


Shorter umbellifers such as sedum also add dramatic silhouettes in the winter garden, especially when they are planted en masse.


Planted in drifts, echinacea is a stunning late summer perennial, but in winter its elegant seed heads look exquisitely beautiful dusted with frost; they also provide birds with welcome seeds.


Beyond echinacea, other members of the daisy family – with similar forms – such as heleniums, asters and rudbeckia will also often look great through winter or until they are defeated by snow.


Although alliums are spring bulbs they retain their shape throughout the year and some of the more sculptural cultivars including A. cristophii and A. schubertii look amazing if left untouched.


‘Buttons’ such as the seed-heads of poppies, the tiered bobbles of phlomis, the blackened spheres of sanguisorba can all create eye-catching focal points in planting schemes and dramatic silhouettes in the low light of winter.

N.B.: For more frosted winter gardens, see:

Finally, get more ideas on how to plant, grow, and care for various perennial plants with our Perennials: A Field Guide.