Choosing Plants For The Winter Garden


In the depths of mid winter our thoughts often wander to the gardens of summer but there can be pleasure found in the winter landscape.
Having had time to assess our winter gardens it is time to start considering new plants to purchase that will enhance our winter scene. Winter is a good time to design a garden because colour steps aside to let the designer concentrate on other design elements such as shape, texture, balance, contrast.
The location of garden, soil conditions, amount of sunlight and available moisture must be considered. Fortunately gardeners in Northumberland County are able to choose a number of plants that lend themselves to the winter landscape.

Like summer gardens, the beauty of the winter garden is in the eye of the beholder. What one person likes another won’t. I am going to share some of the trees that I am particularly fond of, both coniferous and deciduous. My favourite weeping conifers are Weeping Spruce – Picea abies ‘Pendula’ and Weeping White Pine – Pinus strobus ‘Pendula’. Others to consider are Weeping Serbian Spruce – Picea omorika ‘Pendula Bruns’, a very narrow spire like tree with pendulous branches and Weeping Douglas Fir – Pseudotsuga menziesii ‘Graceful Grace’, a rounded form with weeping branches. Weeping deciduous trees of interest are Weeping Mulberry – Morus alba ‘Pendula’, Waterfall Japanese Maple – Acer palmatum dissectum ‘Waterfall’ and Weeping Purple Beech – Fagus sylvatica ‘Purpurea Pendula.

Every garden needs some dwarf conifers. Fortunately, the number of available dwarf conifers has increased significantly in recent years. There are too to list them all. I suggest you visit the website for dwarf conifer pictures and information.

While gardeners can create a beautiful winter garden of conifers, I suggest that you include deciduous trees, shrubs and perennials will in order to add contrast and variety. Deciduous trees add to the picture with their various shapes and sizes, and sometimes colourful bark. Two smaller, slow growing trees, Paperbark Maple – Acer griseum and Stewartia – Stewartia pseudocamellia have coppery orange exfoliating bark that contine to be attractive in winter after the leaves have fallen.

The winter garden shows off the shape of deciduous shrubs, some rounded, some vase shaped, some twisted. They also sport coloured bark and seed pods. An old standby is Burning Bush – Euonymous alatus. The bright red fall foliage is followed by small bright red berries. Red Osier Dogwood – Cornus sericea or Cornus stolinifera with its bright red winter stems is a common road side shrub in Northumberland County but can be cultivated in the garden. Two relatives are Cornus sericea “Flaviramea’ with yellow stems and Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’ with bright orange stems. Corkscrew Hazel – Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’ looks stunning when its twisted branches are dusted with snow.

A favourite small shrub in my garden is Japanese Spirea – Spiraea japonica. These come in a wide variety of sizes and cultivars but all are compact rounded shrubs with strong stems bearing flat umbel shaped flowers that turn a rich brown and collect the winter snow.

If you have room consider some hydrangeas either the PeeGee – Hydrangea paniculata or Annabelle – Hydrangea Arborescens ‘Annabelle’. Both have large brown flowers heads that contrast beautifully with the green of conifers and the white snow covered ground.

Tall grasses are a must have for the winter garden. Although their winter colour is often tawny they provide bulk, stature, and movement. Three to consider are feather reed grass – Calamagrostis acutiflora ‘Karl Forester’, silver grass – Miscanthes sinensis and big bluestem – Andropogon gerardii. These stay strongly upright all winter.

Perennials for the winter garden are a little harder to choose because their winter survival depends on location and growing conditions. Those grown in drier, poorer soil develop shorter, thicker stems that keeps them upright in winter. Perennials that seldom fail are Autumn Joy sedum – Sedum ‘Herbstfreude’ and sedum Matrona – Sedum telephium ‘Matrona’. The flat dried flower heads look delightful with a dusting of snow. Coneflowers – Echinachea purpurea and Rudbeckia – with brown button seed heads look good too.

Creating an attractive winter garden requires much experimenting but your efforts will be rewarded. As you visit Garden Centres next summer take time to consider what that tempting plant will look like next winter.

For further reading and inspiration google/research Piet Ouldolf on Designing a Winter Garden

This entry was posted in Garden Design. Bookmark the permalink.