Lee Burkhill's Christmas plants & shrubs for winter cheer

Our resident gardening guru Lee Burkhill aka The Garden Ninja has selected 5 of his favourite plants to bring seasonal cheer to your garden during the winter months...

With Christmas around the corner, we gardeners tend to look indoors for our festive greenery and growing ideas. We are inadvertently turning our backs on the garden to focus on the warmth of our living rooms. Whether this is putting up the Christmas tree, filling the window sills with red Pointesetia or making wreaths to hang on doors to celebrate life and family.

The festive season wants to draw us inside, to welcome people into our warm homes. These festive decorations may look gorgeous but can also end up in landfills and create significant waste when coupled with single-use plastic. As an ethical gardener, you may wonder what the sustainable alternative is for your homes and gardens.

This dilemma got me thinking about how to bring the festive spirit of Christmas to your gardens on a more permanent and environmentally friendly basis. Why do we only focus on the Christmas spirit inside the house? What if we flipped it around and focused this year on the outdoor experience of Yuletide? Providing a Christmas wonderland, we can observe from inside looking out.

This guide will show you 5 plants for your gardens that will bring seasonal cheer during the winter months and return year after year, helping save money and reduce unnecessary waste over the Christmas period. So, let's turn our armchairs around and bring Christmas outside this year!

1. The Christmas Rose (Helleborus niger)

The Christmas Rose (Helleborus niger)

This delicate-looking specimen will blow your winter socks off when it blooms in mid-winter. The Christmas rose's snow-white flowers are more reminiscent of summer than winter. Nicknamed the Christmas Rose, it's not a rose at all but a Hellebore. Its large voluptuous flowers, usually white, call out from the bleakness of the garden and shine a light during the colder months. The evergreen foliage of large pedately lobed (feet-shaped) leaves offers rich greenery to the garden. Its ability to withstand winter's chill makes it a symbol of hope and resilience. They can take a few years to establish so best to buy a mature container-grown specimen. Keep well mulched after flowering for this plant to come back with hope year after year.

2. Winterberry Hedge (Ilex verticillata)

Winterberry Hedge (Ilex verticillata)

Holly is usually a prickly character. It is seen in wreaths all over the land but very often celebrated. It can be seen as a bit of a dull blobby shrub and mainly used for hedges to ensure clear garden boundaries. But what about its cousin which has no spikes and offers a pop of blood-red festivity in winter? Known for its brilliant red berries that persist throughout the winter, this deciduous holly (which unusually loses its leaves compared to the common evergreen species) adds a splash of colour to the winter landscape. 

Winterberry is a native plant to North America and is a favourite among birds during the colder months. It will happily live here in the UK and tolerate a frosty winter, making it a perfect hedge specimen. Like other hollies, Winterberry requires both male and female plants for true berry production due to pollination. Ensure you have at least one male plant for every three to five female plants. If you're in a small garden with only space for one why not gift your neighbours one each also so all of your gardens can benefit from the berries? Tis the season after all!

3. Japanese White Pine (Pinus templehof)

Japanese White Pine (Pinus templehof)

Next up, it's how to bring that Christmas tree feel to your garden; after all, it's not festive without a tree we can decorate! It may be tempting to plant regular Pines, Firs or Spruces in the garden to represent Christmas, but who wants to follow the crowd? Especially when you could go left field and plant something truly spectacular, which is where the Japanese White Pine comes in. Its common name is confusing as nothing is white about this evergreen. It's actually a glauca (blue) specimen Pine tree with steely blue needles and brown cones in winter. 

This is my oriental version of a Christmas tree and a real wow for the garden. Use this evergreen tree as a focal point in the garden. It is super hardy and requires very little pruning. This is a wonderful specimen for any Christmas garden. Deck it with winter twinkly lights and your outdoor Christmas tree is ready to bring that festive cheer to the garden!

4. Dogwood (Cornus sericea)

Dogwood (Cornus sericea)

One of the easiest-to-grow winter shrubs has to be the dogwoods or Cornus. They will grow pretty much anywhere and can survive brutal, hard pruning every few years. Cornus sericea, red osier dogwood, brings flame-red stems in the winter once its leaves drop. These bright red stems make excellent additions to indoor displays if cut for flower displays or left in situ outside, can be brought to life with some solar lights underneath for the Christmas season. These shrubs make great filler plants for the back of borders or to replace gaps in hedges. They can be clipped to keep them neat or left to grow tall and wild. 

Dogwoods are super easy to propagate from hardwood cuttings, making them a cost-effective plant if you need to bulk up your borders or advance your plant propagation skills. Take 15cm cuttings off this year's wood, pot it up into free-draining gritty compost and by springtime, you'll end up with more dogwood. The generous spirit of Christmas lives on in the cuttings, and you can then gift these to friends and family members, spreading the dogwood cheer! The Cornus family come in additional colours of vibrant oranges, yellows and lime green, so why not cause a stir with a mix of dogwoods around the garden?

5. Mistletoe (Viscum album)

Mistletoe (Viscum album)

It wouldn't be Christmas without some love under the mistletoe, would it? This semi-parasitic plant (one that feeds off another) is synonymous with New Year's Eve and finding love in the winter. I'm not going to lie, it is a difficult plant to grow and propagate yourself. It needs seeds that have been usually excreted by birds or scarified (abbraised by us) and needs to be carefully applied to a suitable tree where it can root and then parasitize the specimen. It's a wonderful plant when you spot it in the wild, usually growing high up in trees carefree!

However, it can be easily bought from farm stores and garden centres and then simply draped over your favourite shrub or tree. Then if you want to try and collect the seeds have a try, but if you fail, it is composted at the end of the season. So rather than trying to grow this one year-round, use it in place of cut flowers. The white berries will sing out from your garden and remind you to find someone you love to share a festive kiss maybe!


Christmas is the time for sitting back and taking stock of all we can be fortunate for. This year, rather than focusing all of our efforts inside this Christmas, with plastic decorations and tinsel, what's stopping you from looking outside to the garden for a more sustainable approach? These specimens, once established, will return year after year and remind you that our gardens are very much alive and active in the colder months. I believe that this year, we could all benefit from a little less indoor 'clutter' and reconnect with our outside spaces with some long-term Christmas cheer in the form of perennial plants. Besides, once our Christmas guests walk down to our warm homes, they will be met with the true spirit of Christmas with these garden gems. Whilst giving thanks to Mother Nature, the seasons and personal growth for all.

Merry Christmas Ninjas,


About Lee

Lee Burkhill aka The Garden Ninja

Lee Burkhill aka the Garden Ninja is a multi-award-winning garden designer, horticulturist, garden blogger, vlogger, TV Presenter and YouTuber. Hailing from the North West of England, Lee has an infectious enthusiasm for helping gardeners all over the world. The Garden Ninja is his garden design business and online gardening blog, and he was recently voted one of the Top 10 Gardening Bloggers and Garden Vloggers in the UK. Lee is also part of the BBC Garden Rescue Team, which you can watch on weekdays at 3.45 pm on BBC One or on BBC iPlayer. Here at Lazy Susan, we’re looking forward to sharing his exclusive horticultural tips, tricks and advice on our blog.

Follow Lee      

Share this article
Please enter these characters in the following text field.

The fields marked with * are required.