Gardens for Winter Beauty

Meleah Maynard
Master Gardener

I know people who love winter and I think they’re weird. Yes, fine, winter has its good points, like fires and s’mores, but as a gardener who loves to be outdoors, all that white-on-white iciness gets to me after awhile. Happily, there are plenty of landscaping strategies for people like me (and you, too, if you’re nodding right now) who want to keep our yards from turning into a scene from a Coen-brothers film every winter.

If you think about it, since many plants wither in cold temperatures, winter is largely about silhouettes against the snow. While it’s fine to cut back your perennials in the fall, I find that my garden looks much more interesting if I leave sturdy things like ornamental grasses, Echinacea and Black-eyed Susans standing until spring.

As you add new plants to your landscape, try to include a tree or two with interesting branching patterns, such as the pagoda dogwood or river birch. Evergreen trees and shrubs add color and texture that will help soften the appearance of concrete walls and sidewalks, which become more prominent when there’s nothing outdoors but snow. Deciduous shrubs and small trees, which lose their leaves in winter, also look beautiful in winter’s light. Weeping varieties are even more interesting. I’m a big fan of the Weeping Arctic Blue Willow and the Weeping Siberian Pea Shrub.

You can add color and help out some hungry birds by including a few shrubs that bear fruit in the fall and hold it well into the winter. Some good choices include : English Holly, Bittersweet, and ‘Autumn Magic’ Chokeberry. One last thing to consider is hardscape (the stuff that’s not plants). What may look like just a rock in the garden in summer will seem much more stunning against a backdrop of snow. Vertical elements like arbors and trellises add architectural interest and give a stark winter garden a sense of place and shape.

That’s a lot of suggestions, I know. Never fear. You don’t need to go for a whole-yard makeover. Trying some of these things in just one spot will be a big help come February. In fact, February is a perfect time to start thinking about what you’d like to do with that yard of yours. Start by looking out some of your windows, take in the view (be sure to look away before you start shrieking about why you live in Minnesota) and then consider what you’d really like to see out there (besides the ocean).

Meleah Maynard is a master gardener and Minneapolis freelance writer.

Read Up

Wonders of the Winter Landscape:Shrubs and Trees to Brighten the Cold Weather Garden, Vincent A. Simeone, Ball Publishing, 2005.

The Garden in Winter: Plant for Beauty and Interest in the Quiet Season, Suzy Bales, Rodale Books, 2007.

The Winter Garden: Create a Garden that Shines Through the Forgotten Season, Val Bourne, Cassell Illustrated, 2006.

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