Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Designing The Winter Garden – Creating All Year Interest in the Landscape

Welcome to the world of winter gardening.  As a landscape designer the three major aspects I look at when designing any landscape are structure, form and function. Even though all three are equally important the structure and form of a garden especially come into play during the wintertime. When designing for winter interest it is important to look at the backbone or framework of the garden. An assortment of evergreens along with deciduous trees and shrubs can help to accomplish this task. An important factor to consider is the branch structure of your trees and shrubs. There is nothing more beautiful than the gentle touch of a winter’s first snow on the branches of trees. Form and structure of trees and shrubs in the landscape offer the most interest when they are unusual in some way. For instance the crooked shaped curly branches of a Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick or Corkscrew Willow are most prominent once their leaves have fallen and each attracts a lot more attention for their unusual structure during the winter than any other time of the year.

The first step in designing a winter garden is to plan for a backdrop of evergreen trees, which will catch the winter snow and show a continuum of green throughout the winter months. Evergreens that show nice winter interest with deep evergreen coloring and bright red berries include hollies such as Ilex ‘Nellie Stevens’, Ilex aquiparynl ‘Dragon Lady’, Ilex crenata ‘Fastigiata’ or ‘Chesapeake, Red Oakleaf Holly or any of the blue Hollies such as Ilex meserveae ‘Blue Maid’. Other evergreen trees that serve as winter interest include Eastern White Pine, Japanese Cryptomeria, Blue Atlas Cedar, Blue Spruce, Western Arborvitae, Arborvitae ‘Emerald Green’, Golden Oriental Spruce, Norway Spruce, Weeping Alaskan Cedar, and Vanderwolf’s Limber Pine.

Much of the color in a winter garden comes from fruiting trees and shrubs. Along with members of the holly family, fruiting shrubs such as barberry, nandina (heavenly bamboo), callicarpa (beauty bush), vibernum, red chokeberry, winterberry and yew add interest to the garden and supply a food source for birds. Deciduous shrubs such as hydrangea and spirea also add much interest with their full branching structure and left over flower heads that glisten when frosted over. Ornamental grasses when left intact offer color to the winter landscape as well and act as a food source for birds.

Branching deciduous trees such as Crepe Myrtle, Magnolia, Birch, Weeping Cherry and Wisteria have an interesting layered branch structure that adds form to the winter garden. Known for their bark Coral Bark Maple (Acer palmatum 'Sango-kaku') and Red Twig Dogwood (Cornus sericea Stolonifera’) come to mind. The striking pinkish-red bark of Coral Bark Maple and bright red bark of the Red Twig Dogwood are an eye-catching display of color during the cold months of winter. Another shrub form of dogwood, Cornus sericea ‘Flaviramea’ or Yellow Twig Dogwood offers showy bright yellow stems that are pronounced against a snowy backdrop. River Birch with its cinnamon colored bark in winter is also an excellent highlight. Other shrubs and trees known for their interesting structure include Weeping Japanese Maple, Weeping ‘Youngi’ Birch, Harry Lauders Walking Stick and Sycamore. There are even shrubs that bloom in winter such as Witch Hazel with its yellow blooms.

When it comes to structure different hardscape items can be used to add interest and dimension to the landscape. The use of strategically placed boulders for example can add some drama and impact to an ordinarily flat landscape. I often use a boulder border on chosen garden beds to add height to an area or add a large rock surrounded by low lying plantings so that in the winter there is added interest. The use of walls, fountains, birdbaths or garden art can add to the winter landscape as well and capture interest all year round.

The possibilities in the world of gardening are endless and a garden can be designed for all seasons. I hope you have found this information useful and that you too can add some winter interest to your landscape.

Author: Lee @A Guide To Northeastern Gardening Copyright 2010. All Rights Reserved.


  1. Nice post, winter interest sure is a challenge.

  2. Thank you-glad you enjoyed. Winter interest is a challenge and we have several months of cold weather here!

  3. I just found your blog and I am so glad I did! I have many hours of reading to help pass the winter here in Pennsylvania! Thank You!


Thank you for visiting. I love reading your comments and knowing you have been here, and will try to reciprocate on your blog. If you have any questions I will try my very best to answer them. As always...HAPPY GARDENING!


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