As winter approaches, the idea of enjoying a pleasant winter garden seems highly unlikely; however, a garden in winter is not only possible but can be beautiful as well. The most important design features to consider when planning a winter garden include shapes, textures, colors and contrasts.
The most dramatic change within the garden comes when trees begin losing their leaves. Once flowering bulbs and other plants begin to fade, the intense shades of leaf color, which range from yellow and orange to red and purple, can create a stunning display. This color can be further enhanced among a background of evergreens. Japanese maples and witch hazels are commonly seen in fall gardens providing brilliant foliage; however, they offer further interest during winter as well. In fact, the blossoms of witch hazel are not only intriguing but extremely fragrant, and its aroma is stronger during winter.
Trees and shrubs provide more than just color; they can also create various forms and texture to your winter garden. When choosing trees and shrubs, you should consider the interesting characteristics offered from their exfoliating bark. Bark that peels or is patterned with intriguing twig color can be quite captivating during even the most gloomy winter days. River birch and paper back maples provide appeal with their peeling bark while the colored bark of red-twig dogwoods and mahogany-colored crabapples fill the winter garden with an additional splash of color.
Among the best evergreen shrubs for winter are mountain laurels and azaleas. Evergreen plants such as lirope, rhododendron, vinca, juniper, boxwood, and yucca provide excellent winter contrast and color as well. Shrubs that bloom in winter include heathers, hardy cyclamen, and andromeda. Shrubs can offer other points of interest too. For instance, hydrangeas often hold the remnants of flower heads as do the browned snippets of sedums, rudbeckias, and coneflowers. The same is true for many flowering grasses, and many ornamental grasses provide additional structure. While ornamental grasses generally reach their peak during fall, they can also add texture, volume, and color to the winter garden. Many of these develop seed heads as well after their flowers have faded, whereas their foliage turns golden-brown.
Various perennials bloom during autumn and provide added interest throughout winter such as asters, chrysanthemums, and goldenrods. Although the majority of flowers may be scarce during winter, berries are abundant. Hollies are rich with berries and provide additional interest from their silky leaves. Many viburnums keep their berries throughout early winter. Berries supply color and interest with shades of red, purple, and yellow. There are many groundcovers available which produce berries and have colorful leaves as well.
While plants can offer unique beauty within the winter garden, adding garden accessories such as benches, water and stone features, urns, statues and other ornamental objects will enliven and draw attention as well. Weather-resistant accents make strong statements in winter; however, these features should be used sparingly to avoid a cluttered appearance. Additionally, the placement of outside lights within the landscape can also offer further enjoyment while highlighting these focal points. Gardens need not be restricted to spring and summer; a winter garden filled with interesting design elements such as characteristic tree bark, colorful shrub foliage, seedheads, berries, and unique ornamental accents not only add natural charm but offer uplifting beauty as well.