Winter Wonders

Why ignore your garden during the cold months when it can be beautiful to behold in the snow?

| Winter 2017-2018

  • Sparrows and blackbirds love the seeds of switchgrass (Panicum virgatum).
    Photo by Povy Kendal Atchison
  • Red yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora) brings color to the winter garden.
    Photo by Povy Kendal Atchison
  • The forking, furry branches of staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina 'Laciniata') are said to resemble antlers.
    Photo by Povy Kendal Atchison
  • 'Angelina' stonecrop (Sedum rupestre) has beautiful yellow foliage that deepens to yellow-orange throughout autumn and winter.
    Photo by Povy Kendal Atchison
  • Burning bush (Euonymus alatus 'Compactus'), suitable for Zones 4 to 8, adds vibrant color to winter gardens.
    Povy Kendal Atchison
  • Ornamental grasses such as this Korean feather reed grass (Calamagrostis brachytricha) are perfect for adding texture to winter gardens in the West.
    Povy Kendal Atchison
  • Sempervivums are succulents whose water-storing leaves make them cold-hardy and drought-resistant.
    Povy Kendal Atchison
  • The seed heads of coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) turn bristly in winter, adding an interesting shape to the garden.
    Photo by Povy Kendal Atchison
  • In winter, groundcovers such as speedwell (Veronica spp.) stay green, while ice plant (Delosperma 'Kelaidis'), sometimes sold under the trade name 'Mesa Verde,' turns a deep burgundy.
    Povy Kendal Atchison

  • Photo by AccuSoft Inc

The garden in winter has an altogether different demeanor than in summer: It holds light, casts shadow, and hosts color and scent much differently. A winter garden sounds like a contradiction in terms, but if you plan well, winter might become a favorite garden season. “With a little forethought and preparation, the garden in winter can hold its own peaceful and lovely rewards,” says landscape horticulturist Warren Leach, co-owner of Tranquil Lake Nursery in Rehoboth, Massachusetts.

Being There

Comfortable access to your garden in winter will determine if and when you venture out and enjoy it. Make sure the places you like to get to — perhaps a favorite bench in a wooded corner — have suitable walking paths.

Then consider where to place plants to make the most of your regional conditions and your winter habits — both indoors and out. As when planning the summer garden, consider the views of the winter garden you’ll see from indoors. “What you see from the spaces you use most — doorways, kitchen, living room, bedroom, bathroom — are opportunities for pulling your attention to the winter garden,” Leach says. Lorene Edwards Forkner, garden designer and editor of Pacific Horticulture journal, concurs. “Perhaps you take your cup of morning coffee or tea to the same window every morning to look out,” she says. “Make the most of this.”

When choosing plants for winter interest, consider evergreen foliage; strong or interesting branching and overall plant form; bark texture or color; berries, cones, or seed heads that hold up through a good part of the winter; and winter bloom and fragrance.

Colors for the Northwest

In places where overcast skies and wet conditions persist for days at a time, plant anything with a touch of gold color to brighten the darkness, recommends Lorene Edwards Forkner, editor of Pacific Horticulture. In the Northwest, parts of which are in Zones 8 and 9, the coldest months are relatively brief, but the lack of light and overwhelming rainfall make winter hard on plants and gardeners alike. “Because of our overcast weather, we have to imitate light — thus the gold,” she says. “Shots of red, orange, or white are also good.”

Forkner suggests these plants for winter interest:

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