Winter Garden

How to create interest in your garden after the plants die down

Winter is like the final exam in the garden—a time when you can evaluate your design and the appointments you’ve put in place. In spring and summer, lush foliage and lavish floral displays can disguise a wealth of design problems, but once the foliage falls and the flowers fade, the true structure of the garden is there to see.

1. Start with Strong Bones
The secret to having an attractive winter garden is to start with good “bones,” meaning the paths, steps, hedges, walls, fences and other elements that define the shape and form of your garden. If they are strong, your garden will continue to please the eye after the plants have gone to ground.

Once your garden has a pleasing basic structure, you can turn your attention to garden accents. A garden accent can be anything from a special plant that’s used as a focal point, to statuary, birdbaths, birdhouses, benches, gazebos, arbors, man-made bridges and ponds.

2. Add Some Accents
Maintain color and interest in a cold-season garden with colorful plantings such as evergreen trees, Colorado blue spruce and Ornamental grasses such as fountain grass, maiden grass and ribbon grass.

Many deciduous trees and shrubs have multicolored bark that stands out dramatically in a winter landscape once the distraction and screen of leaves is gone. These include red-barked dogwood trees and the hybrid Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’.

3. Look for Interesting Profiles

In the deciduous realm of plants, choose ones that have fascinating silhouettes once the leaves have dropped such as a Japanese maple or Harry Lauder’s walking stick, named for the bent, gnarled walking stick that was a trademark of the Scottish comedian Harry Lauder.

Berry-bearing shrubs and trees are a delight in a winter landscape, too. Hollies, nandina, cotoneaster and pyracantha all hold their berries into winter.

4. Choose Some Winter Blooms
There are even a few plants that flower in winter or very early spring. Hellebores are wonderful for their winter charm. For blooms beginning in early winter and continuing to early spring, opt for the Christmas rose. The Lenten rose starts flowering later in the season, but continues well into spring.

Winter can be a hard taskmaster. But with a good basic design that includes trees, shrubs and all-season grasses, accented with man-made features, such as gazebos and arbors, your garden can pass the winter final examination—pleasing the eye and promising fresh wonders in the coming spring.

For the full article, see the January 2003 issue of Log Home Living