A walk through the winter garden after a fresh blanket of snow has fallen…the angled sunlight streams through, casting shadows of the bare tree and shrub branches…a feeling of stillness and peacefulness surrounds you. A favorite view from a window reveals a distilled snapshot of simplicity, elegance and calm. Preparing for these moments is an essential consideration when creating a garden.
The winter garden has a completely different feeling and spirit than other seasons. The winter light casts longer shadows and seems to create a world apart from its seasonal counterparts. Thinking of winter as part of your overall design plan will not only extend the time you can appreciate and benefit from the garden, it creates a place of joy and serenity during a time that we can often feel blue and housebound.
Winter is a great time to focus on the core structure and basic form of your garden. Try this: slightly squint your eyes and look outside at the winter gardenscape. Is there a rhythm of shapes and mass or just a lot of emptiness? Perhaps these are areas that need additional woody plants or evergreens. How well does the hardscape, structures and/or garden ornament (i.e. stone walls, boulders, art/sculpture, trellis, arbor, etc.) add visual interest and value to the garden? How does the flow of energy and patterns of movement feel in winter? Can you easily get to or view special spots in your garden? Even if you cannot sit on those beloved benches or cherished chairs due to snow cover or freezing temps, can you see them and imagine yourself there?
Winter is the garden in its most basic form, stripped of bright color and most layers. Interesting bark, berries, evergreens with a variety of textures and/or colors are some of the greatest assets to your winter garden. For bark, trees such as Stewartia, Acer griseum (Paperbark Maple) or Betula nigra (River Birch) are great options. For color in stems, shrub dogwoods such as Cornus sericea (with yellow stems in winter) or Cornus sanguinea ‘Winter Flame’ (orange-yellow and red stems) stand out beautifully against a white backdrop. For berries consider the many varieties of Viburnums, Ilex (Hollies) or Aronia arbutifolia ‘Brilliantissima’ (Red Chokeberry). Ornamental grasses and seed heads left standing add a softer layer and dimension. These things may be overlooked or underappreciated during the summer when all perennials, annuals and everything in leaf takes center stage.
Put the garden catalogues aside and take a look outside now. We are always here to help you evaluate and improve your garden in all seasons.