The Winter Garden
By Nikki Phipps
While the idea of enjoying a pleasant winter garden seems highly unlikely, a garden in winter is not only possible but can be beautiful as well. The most important design features to consider when planning a winter garden include shapes, textures, colors and contrasts.
The most dramatic change within the garden comes when trees begin losing their leaves. Once flowering bulbs and other plants have faded, the garden takes on another dimension with stunning foliage displays ranging in shades from yellow, orange, and red to purple.
The various shades produced by evergreens also enhance the scene. While trees and shrubs are common elements in fall gardens due to their brilliant foliage or late blooms, they can also offer additional interest during winter as well. In fact, the yellow blossoms of witch hazel are not only intriguing during fall but extremely fragrant, and its aroma is even stronger during winter.
Trees and shrubs provide more than just color or fragrance; they can also create various forms and texture to winter gardens. When choosing trees and shrubs, you should pay attention to the interesting characteristics offered from their exfoliating bark. Bark that peels or is patterned with intriguing twig color can be quite captivating during even the most gloomy winter days. River birch and paperback maples provide interest with their peeling bark, while the colored bark of red-twig dogwoods and mahogany-colored crabapples fill the winter garden with an additional splash of color.
Various perennials bloom during autumn and provide additional interest throughout winter. Evergreen plants such as liriope, rhododendron, vinca, juniper, boxwood, and yucca provide excellent winter contrast and color as well. Among the best evergreen shrubs for the winter garden are mountain laurels and azaleas. Shrubs can offer other points of interest too. A
lthough the majority of flowers may be scarce during winter, their berries are often abundant. Hollies are rich with berries and provide additional interest from their silky leaves. Many viburnums keep their berries throughout early winter. Berries supply color and interest with shades of red, purple, and yellow. There are many groundcovers available that produce berries and have colorful leaves as well.
Another aspect of shrubs in the winter garden comes from interesting flower heads. For instance, hydrangeas often hold the remnants of flower heads as do the browned snippets of sedums, rudbeckias, and coneflowers.
The same is true for many flowering grasses, with many ornamental grasses providing additional structure. Although ornamental grasses generally reach their peak during fall, they can also add texture, volume, and color to the winter garden.
While plants can offer unique beauty within the winter garden, adding garden accessories such as benches, water and stone features, urns, statues and other ornamental objects will enliven and draw attention to it as well. Weather-resistant accents make strong statements in winter; however, these features should be used sparingly to avoid a cluttered appearance.
Additionally, the placement of outside lights within the landscape can also offer further enjoyment while highlighting these focal points.
A winter garden filled with interesting design elements such as characteristic tree bark, colorful shrub foliage, flower or seedheads, berries, and unique ornamental accents not only add natural charm but offer uplifting beauty as well.
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