Gardens in winter have their own kind of beauty.
One of the most enjoyable challenges of gardening is working the landscape with an eye toward winter. There's nothing more dispiriting than looking out a window on a cold blustery day only to see snow blowing every which way. Especially if nothing out that window catches your interest. But with a little ingenuity, that same view can turn into a wonderful winter panorama.
Usually all our concerted gardening efforts focus on color and intrigue for summer pleasure. However, many plants noted for adding texture and shape to gardens during the warm months can also prove gratifying during the winter as well. You want to look out that window and see a delightful feast of contour and form.
It was Ralph Waldo Emerson who said: "The leafless trees become spires of flame in the sunset, with the blue east for their background, and the stars of the dead calices of flowers, and every withered stem and stubble rimed with frost, contribute something to the mute music."
It's the skeletons of winter that become the armatures for winter sculptures. With hoarfrost and ice clinging to bare deciduous branches, all kinds of designs will appear—and change as they melt and freeze again.
Against the sky, the dark outline of a leafless tree can also look like intricate pen scratches, providing long moments of attentive gazing. Some of the more common deciduous trees for planting in the western region that show great arrangements of bare branches include maple, willow, elm, alder, aspen, poplar, cottonwood and all the fruit trees.
Of course evergreen foliage always breaks up a bleak view, and in the harshest of winters pines, junipers and cedars withstand long drying winds. They are most resilient. How delightful to spot icicles dripping from tufts of needles. Then when snow lands on the feathery branches of cedars, it often looks like delicate lace filigree. Some great conifers include the Austrian Pine, Colorado Blue Spruce and Pinon Pine.
Junipers provide good winter foliage also with a more popular one being Blue Chip Juniper.
Ornamental Grasses Provide Winter Interest
Then a little closer to the ground are the ornamental grasses. If you don't cut back dead blades and shoots, they'll continue waving in the winter winds. Some of the grasses that naturally drape toward the ground will often sweep delicate designs in new powdery snow like they do in the sands of dunes.
From tufted and short to upright and arching, grass heights range from one to fourteen feet and are often used for ground covers, erosion control and screens. But if you've ever seen frost caught on the heads of pampas grass, you'll want them in your garden just for winter viewing.
The list of ornamental grasses in the west is numerous. Following are some of the more common types.
"Silver Feather Maiden Hair (Miscanthus sinensis 'Silverfeder'); Hardy Pampas (Erianthus); Prairie Sky Switch Grass (Panicum virgatum 'Prairie Sky'); Blonde Ambition Blue Grama Grass (Bouteloua gracilis 'Blonde Ambition'); Boulder Blue Fescue Grass (Festuca glauca 'Boulder Blue') and Mountain Mist Grass (Blepharoneuron tricholepis Mountain Mist Grass).
Some of the semi-evergreen grasses include: Sea Urchin Blue Fescue (Festuca ovina 'Glauca'); Blue Avena (helictotrichon sempervirens); Tufted Hairgrass (Deschampia caespitosa) and Autumn Moor Grasses (Sesleria).
Finally, beyond the grasses are the weeds—those nameless things we all try to get rid of and out smart. But you just might want to leave a fringe of them on the outskirts of your garden. Again, with frost and snow clinging to branches and twigs these normally irritating wild things can look just fine through a long winter.
Often the dried leaves and stems of perennials and annuals add a subtle color to the barren landscape. So why not leave them until spring? And of course instead of deadheading spent roses, allowed the fruit to form into rose hips. These can be a source of food for birds during the winter as well as adding attractive color to winter landscapes.
Certainly, some people will argue that the open space of a dormant garden is attractive. But for the rest of us who want something a little more enticing while looking out on a bleak winter day, a garden planned with winter in mind is just what we're hoping for.
Text by Cindy Bellinger
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