Winter strips the garden of any pretenses and reveals its fundamental structure. The stark season exposes a garden’s layout. While there are fewer colors and less foliage to work with, consider it like playing with a whole new set of cards. The minimalist color palette of greys and browns really showcases the landscape. Here are a few tips for designing a garden with winter in mind plus a short list of plants that add interest during winter and early spring. Reds and greens will be your primary colors.
Evergreens are the bones of a garden in winter. Hedges create garden rooms year round, but shine in winter as they stand alone. They line walkways and give the eye something to follow. They form the frame of the garden. Regardless of whether you meticulously clip them or let them grow shaggy, your evergreens are critical. Winter is their opportunity to take center stage. Well-placed evergreens maintain the garden’s appeal, hide eyesores and give shelter to wildlife during these bare months.
Boxwoods are a great shrub to use for definition. You often see them planted in straight lines to contour homes. I use them as walls for many of my garden rooms, especially at my City Garden Home to make the outdoor rooms feel as big as possible and maximize the space. Arborvitae is a classic evergreen. The tree displays a narrow-pyramidal shape with dense foliage. This slow-growing cultivar may grow up to 8 feet in the first 10 years and mature to a height of 15 feet.
Berry Nice® winterberry (Ilex verticillata) produces tons of tiny red berries during the fall and winter. It’s lovely and a very cheerful-looking winter plant that adds powerful visual interest to the garden. You can also use the berries in floral arrangements, wreaths and tablescapes. To produce berries however, you will need both male and female plants.
Arctic Fire™ red twig dogwood showcases its sensational red stems. I’d suggest this dwarf variety that reaches 3 to 4 feet in height. Cornus typically grow 8 to 10 feet, so this variety is well-suited for residential areas. It adds color to holiday arrangements.
Japanese camellia (Camellia japonica), sometimes called the rose of winter, flowers very early in the spring. This shrub works wonderfully in mass plantings and as a hedge.
As far as flowers go, you’ll need to pick late-fall and early-spring bloomers, such as pansies and violas. These plants thrive in winter’s cold and low-light conditions. Flowering bulbs are another great option. Pick early-flowering daffodil and crocus varieties and snowdrops.
Images courtesy of P. Allen Smith