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Garden Topics: Design Ideas

The Winter Garden

Gardening can be a four-season activity, but winter is often disregarded as an important gardening season. As for myself, I truly enjoy my homes winter landscape. (Above, Mikes Garden) The season provides a wonderful opportunity for unique garden appreciation. It can begin with you by choosing to garden for winter interest..

When planning for winter interest you should imagine how the same plants will look with a covering of frost, ice or snow. (Picture Right)

On cloudy, gloomy days the brown and plain foliage of dead flowers, grasses, and shrubs may not be super beautiful, but a winter storm will transform the garden into a brilliant, magical wonderland. Dreary brown plants will be transformed into shimmering, diamond-encrusted works of natural art.

Gardening for winter interest has a few basic steps. First is the selection of appropriate plants. Selecting plants whose physical structure can stand up to strong winds, freezing weather, and heavy snow allows the winter garden to exist. Choose plants with sturdy stalks, flowers heads, and branches. Plants that offer height above the blanket of snow and ice are better than low plantings that will be covered and unappreciated. (Picture Right, Sedum Autumn Joy) Sunflowers, Coneflowers, Sedums, Yarrow, Heliopsis, and Kniphofia offer great scaffolds for the natural ice and snow sculptures of winter.


Think about the different kinds of plants you have in your yard already. A lot of trees have interesting bark that can really catch your eye during the winter with a contrasting blanket of snow. Some of my favorites are the birch, particularly river birch; Serviceberry; Sycamore; European Hornebeam; Persian Parrotia; Japanese tree lilac; and the Coral Bark, and Paperbark Maples. Japanese Stewartia is another tree that provides a splash of color and texture in the winter landscape. (Picture Right) Some trees produce fruit that hang on into the winter months. A number of crabapples have small, colorful fruit that provide the added benefit of attracting birds and other wildlife to your yard. Some other fruit-bearing trees to consider are winterberry and hawthorn. Impressive branch structure is evident in some species such as our native dogwood, black gum, and Dawn Redwood (Pictured Left). Many deciduous trees provide striking outlines in the winter snow as their trunks stretch upwards and their arms stretch outwards.

Coniferous And Other Evergreen

Plants help to keep some green in the landscape as well as adding interesting cones to contrast with the snow. Evergreens are not just green; they're available in yellow, such as Gold Thread false cypress and Dragon - eye pine. Striking blues can be found in dwarf blue spruce and several junipers. Spruce, juniper and pines are the most common evergreens, but even some of these add an extra spot of color, such as the patterned bark of Lacebark pine. Arborvitaes are another evergreen that adds a change of texture to the landscape with its flattened needle-like leaves and tiny brown cones. Even the classic green pyramid of an eastern white pine or a Fraser or balsam fir becomes statuesque at this time of year, and a whole row of junipers or Colorado blue spruces (Picea Pungens) will create a sense of enclosure or hide an unsightly view. Evergreens are really important for a winter landscape, and they make good focal points all year-round.


Shrubs also have great-looking bark, and some have really beautiful berries. Even tiny bits of color make a great impact in the gray months. That's why hollies and their berries are so popular. Think of the bright red (Picture Right, Red Twigged Dogwood) or yellow stems of dogwood and how they would stand out against a snowy backyard. Young stems have the brightest color, so regular renewal pruning to remove the oldest stems and encourage fresh, bright new growth will improve the show. Ninebark has interesting, exfoliating bark. Fiveleaf aralia, chokeberry, burning bush, Mahonia, sumac, beauty berry, snowberry and viburnum all have interesting, colorful fruit (Cranberry Viburnum Fruit Pictured Left) that will often last into the winter months. Include a few ornamental grasses for your winter garden. They can also give you color and texture becoming stalwarts of the winter garden, even under a cover of snow. Simply cut them down to the ground in spring, and the display will start all over again.

Birds and Wildlife.

Consider birds and their reliance on fruits and seeds for survival. Also, consider critters that make your landscape home, or insects that may design to camp out and hibernate all winter long. Anything that holds seeds throughout the winter, will be beneficial to the creatures that call your landscape home. And, while you're at it, why not add a bird feeder or two?


You certainly don't need to settle for the sad, curled-up leaves of a scraggly rhododendron as your only source of winter greenery. Plant an evergreen hedge to give yourself color and structure that you'll value in these bare months. Use it to outline a flower bed, follow the line of a hill, or delineate an outdoor room. Precisely clipped or loose and shaggy, it will define your garden and give shelter to wildlife. Yew, arborvitae, boxwood, and barberry will all make lush, thick hedges. If you're working on a small scale, put in assorted dwarf conifers to create a low landscape in green, gold, and russet tones.


Longing for blooms? Push the season with hellebores, whose hanging cuplike flowers range from deep maroons to greeny whites. They're among the first to bloom, even in the snow. (Picture Right, Hellebore in bloom) Witch hazel is one shrub that blooms very early in the year; its pale yellow flowers are sweetly scented. Also, there is nothing quite like a tiny little bloom popping up from amidst the drifts of snow. Great choices for early bloomers include chionodoxa (glory-of-the-snow), snowdrops (pictured), hellebores and the familiar crocus.


Keep an open mind, the solution to enhancing your winter landscaping might not be plant related. Consider the addition of hardscape. A trellis, a bench, a statue an arbor, a fence or wall could be really essential. Even bare, the shapes add structure to your garden all year. (Example Pictured right above)


Should also be considered. Adding art in the garden is another way to ensure there will be solid interest in the garden when the perennials have disappeared under the earth and flowers are a long-lost vision. (Pictured Left)


Adorn your window boxes, hanging baskets, winter-hardy containers: All are indispensable for winter landscaping. Miniature dwarf Alberta spruce and broadleaf evergreens, such as Japanese Andromeda, holly and rhododendron, are perfect for wintertime, though they all have to be watered during dry periods. As an alternative try fill containers with evergreen boughs of different textures and colors and interesting twigs Anything with color will look good. (Pictured Below Right)

To begin next year's winter garden, look for any spots that is glaringly bare and lifeless in your winter landscape. Now open your eyes this winter to the see those plants that really stand out in your city and neighborhood. Make a list of those that impress you the most, those that could do most to beautify your garden. If we simply select plants based on how they will look in winter, and then leave them to compose their own beauty, nothing more is needed to create a garden with great winter interest. Like with any of your garden needs, questions and help, stop in or give us a call.

Mikes Garden Winter Evergreens - The winter garden Sedum Autumn Joy - Winter Garden Stewartia Tree - Winter Garden Dawn Redwood Tree - Winter Garden Evergreen - Winter Green Red twigged dogwood - Winter Garden Cranberry Viburnum Fruit - The Winter Garden Winter Hedges Hellebore in bloom chionodoxa (glory-of-the-snow), snowdrops (pictured), hellebores and the familiar crocus. Winter Sculpture Winter Container - The Winter Garden

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