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Designing a Winter Garden

Winter can be a time of looking out on the frozen world as a bleak and cold place. Or it can be a time of enjoying your winter garden from the window and bundling up to go “walking in a winter wonderland” to cop a line from an old song. With some planning ahead of time, you can battle the “winter blahs” with a properly designed garden that has taken winter interest into account.

Many landscapes are planned with the flowers and colors of spring and summer in mind, but a good design also takes into account how your garden will look in winter when most of the leaves and all of the flowers are gone.

A winter garden relies largely on texture and contrast, with surprises of unexpected color here and there. In winter, the sun shining on feathery dried grass plumes sparkling with frost, the boldness of a white birch trunk against a drab background, or a stand of red twig dogwood in the snow has a beauty all its own, and can bring joy to the heart.

Following are some of my favorites for winter beauty, among the many choices.  Remember, if you want a professionally planned, cohesive design that has beauty in all seasons, consider calling one of our talented landscape designers at 860-378-0071.

   Variegated holly

Evergreens, plants that keep their leaves all winter, are necessary to give contrast, color and lushness to the winter landscape. Hollies, such as ‘China Girl’ and ‘Blue Princess’ will provide glossy green leaves and red berries for the birds. Cultivars of pine such as Japanese black pine ‘Thunderhead’ and Pinus mugo ‘Slowmound’ offer a spiky, bold texture along with their greenery. Rhododendron, pieris and mountain laurel will bring broad, flat evergreen leaves for big texture against conifers and bare winter twigs.

The white birch offers a strong vertical anchor, an impressive slash of white in both the summer and winter landscape. River Birch (Betula nigra) also has peeling bark, offering great texture. The ‘Heritage’ variety is especially nice, with its white-to-salmon layers.  For a non-peeling white that really glows, try the ‘Jacquemonti’ (Betula utilis).

 White birch with red twigs

The red twig is a shrub form of dogwood with green or variegated leaves and white flowers. Once the cold weather hits and the leaves have fallen, the stems take on their sanguine winter hues. ‘Cardinal’ has twigs that start out yellow at the base, and then change to orange, pink and red as they go up. ‘Ivory Halo’ has twigs of bright cherry red, plus the added feature of variegated foliage during the growing season.  There are also yellow-twigged dogwoods. Use red twig in groupings for best effect.

Dogwood red twig ‘Cardinal’

 

 Miscanthus sinensis

After ornamental grasses produce their majestic plumes, they can be cut down in fall – or they can be left standing for a soft, ethereal winter texture. The plumes (really the flowers of the grass) come in various shapes from foxtails to barely there, c loud-like poufs, and all are nice, but Miscanthus sinensis produces full, feathery fronds that can stand up under a cap of snow. Try ‘Adagio for a shorter, 4’ cultivar, ‘Gracillimus’ or ‘Morning Light’ for a stately 5-6″ height.

  Coral bark maple in winter

The coral bark Japanese maple, Acer palmatum ‘Sango Kaku’ is a smaller ornamental tree reaching approximately 20′ high. The stems turn an unbelievable coral color in the cold months. For winter “pow” you can’t beat it as a focal point in the landscape.

 ‘Baby Blue Eyes’ spruce

Seeing the Colorado Spruce in the snow, you can almost imagine yourself up in the Rocky Mountains. Its silver blue needles and pyramidal form provide height, color and contrast. Cultivars such as ‘Bizon Blue’ or ‘Baby Blue Eyes’ are slow, semi-dwarf growers.