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The Garden in Winter - Winter Gardening

Winter is the perfect time to inspect the underlying structure of your garden and make any necessary changes to enhance its appeal. This structure is often called the "bones" of the garden. It includes permanent architectural elements such as walls and fences as well as the forms of trees, shrubs and woody perennials which add form, texture and color when deciduous plants are bare of leaves.

The Bones of the Garden

Architectural elements should be chosen carefully for season-less appeal. Of course, existing walls and fences already contribute, but arbors and trellises have an appeal of their own. During the growing season, they provide support while hidden beneath climbing plants, adding height to the garden. In winter, their forms are revealed as defining structural elements in contrast to the winter colors of carefully chosen plants and shrubs.

Your garden doesn't have to become a brown sodden mess in winter if planned carefully. There are many plants whose contrasting forms, textures and colors add winter interest. Though their beauty may be more subtle than the riot of color that is your garden in spring, they are still extremely important. Evergreens, trees and shrubs with interesting bark or brightly colored stems, bushes covered in bright berries, and the graceful forms of twisted limbs serve to create varying textures, colors and shapes which come into their own at this time. During the warmer months, they serve to anchor the garden and become an elegant backdrop for blooming perennials and annuals.

One of our favorites is the Golden False Cypress. Its hair-like foliage and strong golden color are quite striking in the winter garden, adding an unusual color and texture. Its golden mounding form is especially elegant when dusted with snow. Golden False Cypress  
Another great asset to the winter garden is the Paperbark Maple. It's subtle multicolored bark and deep texture create lots of interest, especially when paired with plants with brightly hued leaves such as those of Burning Bush, or when contrasting with the dark green of an evergreen shrub as seen here. Paperback Maple  
Deciduous shrubs and trees with unusual forms are planted for the interest and structure they provide to the winter garden once their leaves have dropped. The most popular of these are the contorted Pussy Willows that have curly stems and branches in a bronzy-red color and the contorted hazelnut, popularly known as 'Harry Lauder's Walking Stick'. This slow grower will spread over time, and should be pruned back occasionally for form, but there is nothing like its curling branches when covered in a layer of snow. Pussy Willow
Plants with brightly colored berries add great texture and color to the winter garden and provide a much needed source of winter food for songbirds. There's the bright orange glow of Pyracantha, the shocking reds of the Hollies and Nandinas, and the subtle steel blue of the stately Juniper. The evergreen leaves and needles of these plants are the perfect foil for their bright berries, bringing green hues and textures that offset them well. Nandina Holly
Some perennials known for their flowers and scented foliage during the growing season are beautiful in the winter garden too. The evergreen foliage of Lavender 'Munstead' gives off a subtle silver sheen in summer when topped by its spires of violet blooms. Once the blooms are gone and the weather grown cold, the silver glows against the dark of the surrounding soil. Another silver beauty is Russian Sage. Even though the plant dies back to the ground in winter, it's dead branches and stems add silvery threadlike shapes to the winter garden if it is left uncut until spring. Lavender 'Munstead' Russian Sage
The popular Burning Bush is not the only shrub planted for its red color in winter. Another very popular plant, and another of our favorites, is the Red Twig Dogwood . Its bright red stems contrast sharply with the dark surrounding soil and any evergreen it is combined with. Another beautiful shrub that reaches somewhat larger proportions is the Red Tipped Phontina. It is one of the few evergreen garden plants with ovoid leaves making it a wonderful foliage contrast to the spiny, needle-covered conifers. Red Tipped Phontina Red Tipped Phontina
The conifers themselves come in a wide variety of colors and shapes. They vary in hue from gold to dark green to blue. Their forms have an even wider range from enormous heights to groundcovers with weeping, globular or columnar shapes. Some varieties are green in summer and turn golden in winter. Varieties of Arbor Vitae such as the globular Thuja 'Rheingold' have golden tipped branches in summer which turn a beautiful bronze in winter. 'Emerald Green' is another, more columnar, Arbor Vitae that also takes on a bronze hue in the colder months. Thuja 'Rheingold' Arbor Vitae 'Emerald Green' Arbor Vitae
Last, but far from least, are those lovely plants which grace us with their blooms in winter. The Lenten Rose, probably the most popular of the hellebores, blooms in late January to early February bearing clusters of light green bell-shaped blooms atop mounds of fan-like foliage. It is a must in the winter garden, bearing the promise of spring to come. The thrill of discovering it has bloomed while out strolling can brighten the darkest of winter days. Lenten Rose  
In the more southern climate zones, Camellias are the roses of winter. Various varieties bloom from December to March in shades of red, pink and white. The blossoms can vary from single to semi-double to double in form. There is sure to be one or more you'll find invaluable additions to your winter landscape. Camellias  

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