I’m totally obsessed with winter gardens. The thing is though, by spring, just like everyone else I get caught up in the sexier spring and summer seasons and completely forget to plant for winter. This year I’m going to try and change that.
Most hope that permanent structures and some evergreens will be enough in winter, but I’m more interested in other elements that are unique to the season that will be as interesting and visually satisfying as other seasons. There are plants beyond evergreens that add to the winter garden, but they require skill and maintenance to look good throughout the season. Evergreens create bones and a backdrop and help to make things work in March and early April when just about everything else looks really crappy. They, along with interesting and exfoliating bark, sing when there is snow.
Heptacodium miconiodes and evergreens in snow
As a designer, what I’m really excited about is creating a neutral and textural garden story for winter that combines plants with structural elements and shadows to create a complex and interesting space. I don’t need a lot of color in January like I do in June. For me, winter is fairly neutral. The flat, blue quality of our eastern winter light with its long shadows lends itself to thoughtful color and texture juxtaposed with shadow play.
Winter Grasses and Stone Wall
Although the climate and light are different there, a visit to the Denver Botantic Gardens spurred my interest in pursuing winter garden design even further. Above, the neutral color palette makes this swath of mixed grasses have even more drama than it would have at the height of the summer. Too many people cut grasses down too early. Wait until the end of February for that chore and reap the rewards. Snow can make them look a bit untidy, but white and tan is an beautiful color combination.
Shadow play on Stone
Shadow ‘allee’ at New York Botanical Gardens
Two ways to consider structure in the winter garden are as a canvas for shadows created by the long low light (above) and as as structural focal points (below).
Columns providing structure
A third, more fleeting way to add cold weather structure is to actually incorporate opportunities for ice to form, or to use it in big chopped up chunks as a winter feature where there was water in warmer weather. When I lived closer, I used to make a pilgrimage to see the huge and jewel-like ice crystals on the Delaware River in mid and late winter, but I never actually considered this idea for a garden until I saw the two examples below, both at the Denver Botanic Gardens.
Monumental ice formations on a water feature
Inspiration is everywhere…even in January.
For more inspiration, try these ideas from the other Garden Designers Roundtable blogging designers:
Scott Hokunson : Blue Heron Landscapes : Granby, CT
Lesley Hegarty & Robert Webber : Hegarty Webber Partnership : Bristol, UK
Jocelyn Chilvers : The Art Garden : Denver, CO
Jenny Peterson : J Petersen Garden Design : Austin, TX
Douglas Owens-Pike : Energyscapes : Minneapolis, MN
Deborah Silver : Dirt Simple : Detroit, MI
Christina Salwitz : Personal Garden Coach : Renton, WA