Winter Wonders: Plant a Winter Garden

How to maintain beautiful gardens during the cold months.

| November/December 2006

  • Coneflower’s (Echinacea purpurea) seedheads turn bristly in winter, adding interesting shape to the garden.
  • Ornamental grasses such as this Korean feather reed grass (Calamagrostis brachytricha)?are perfect for adding texture to winter gardens in the West.
  • Burning bush (Euonymus alatus compactus), suitable for USDA plant hardiness zones 4 to 8, adds vibrant color to winter gardens.
  • Sedum ‘Angelina’ has beautiful yellow foliage that deepens to yellow-orange throughout autumn and winter.
  • The forking, furry branches of staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina ‘Lacinata’) are said to resemble antlers.
  • In winter, groundcovers such as speedwell (Veronica spp.)?stay green, while ice plant (Delosperma ‘Mesa Verde’) turns a deep burgundy.
  • An elegant ponderosa pine stands over creeping juniper (Juniperus procumbens) at the southwest entrance to the Denver Botanic Gardens’ Japanese garden.
    Photography by Povy Kendal Atchison
  • Sparrows and blackbirds love the seeds of switchgrass (Panicrum virgatum).
  • Red yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora) brings color to the winter garden.
  • Sempervivums are succulents whose water-storing leaves make them cold hardy and drought resistant.
  • An elegant ponderosa pine stands over creeping juniper (Juniperus procumbens) at the southwest entrance to the Denver Botanic Gardens’ Japanese garden.

A solitary walk along the perennial border gone to seed, the sight of a snow-covered evergreen from your kitchen window, the soft angled sunlight through wheat-colored grass stalks, the shadow of a tree's branching silhouette.
Fleeting moments such as these make a winter garden worth the effort.

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 horticulturalist Warren Leach, co-owner of Tranquil Lake Nursery in Rehoboth, Massachusetts.

Winter is a time of serenity, pause and perspective, when gardeners rejuvenate while their plants are dormant. We're less harried by minutiae and detail work, less distracted by color and blossom, and more attuned to structure and form.

Being there

Comfortable access to your garden in winter will determine if and when you venture out and enjoy it at all. 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 owner of Fremont Gardens in Seattle, 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."

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