The Garden in Winter

Think winter is an off-season in the garden? Guess again. It might not be the most productive months but it can still be an exciting time.

There is a caveat, however. You have to plan for your winter display. Just as you must for every other season in the year. Not everything happens by chance.

Know what you want in your winter garden. For me, evergreen is nice. This may seem like overkill in the Pacific Northwest but not really. Most evergreens in our region run 18-30 m (60-100 ft) tall. I need evergreens that are easily visible through my windows.

Rhododendrons and camellias are popular evergreen shrubs. Somehow insignificant during the splendour of a summer garden once the flowers are finished, they shine again in winter.

Aucuba japonica ‘Crotonifolia’ stands out for the gold flecks and streaks on leaves that veer towards lime green. This shade bounces pleasantly off the rhodos without the usual interference from the leaves on towering deciduous trees.

Daphnes. We have various types of these low to medium height shrubs scattered about the garden for the fragrance their flowers produce in early spring. An invaluable plant for luring pollinating bees as fruit trees come into bloom. But they are equally valuable for their evergreen presence in winter.

Same as the Pieris japonicas. Planted as lures for spring pollinators, their form and leaf variegation add oomph through the hibernating months.

Others on the evergreen shrub list include: osmanthus, skimmias, leucothoe, laurels, cotoneasters, boxwoods and numerous small versions of our tall junipers, cedars and pines.

Not to be left out are shrubs which shed their leaves at first frost but hang onto the berries. Small berberis berries and rosehips are great shades of red for Christmas. While not a traditional colour for this holiday season, the brilliant shades of purple callicarpa berries still shine against a blanket of snow.

Speaking of which…snow produces another wonderful design element. Those barren deciduous trees and garden structures can look truly elegant draped in white.

Grasses can still look good heading into the off season. Their wonderful form is quite lively at any hint of a breeze. And their seed heads are invaluable to the small birds which hang out through the winter.

Odd sunny days can create an eye-popping effect at this time of year, as in other seasons. All dark-leaved perennials glow delightfully when light filters through. Green- and gold-leaved ones as well.

If it is flowers you crave through the winter, there are hellebores, cyclamen, ericas, winter aconites and winter jasmine…to name a few. Variety is prevalent in all but the last one mentioned, allowing for great selection.

Lusting for fresh vegetables from the garden throughout winter? Selection is not as widespread as it is in summer but there are a number of cold-hardy crops one can grow. Providing a cover will definitely help.

The garden need not hibernate through winter. Planning ahead can create a pleasing cold-season landscape.

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