Lucky natural landscape

Does your garden invite you to walk through it even in the cold? Are you drawn to your windows to enjoy your garden through the winter or do you place a few bird feeders in front of the glass and ignore the garden? If you only watch the birds attracted to your feeders, your garden might lack structure.

Structure is the interesting elements remaining when plants are winter dormant. These include man-made structures, trees, shrubs, and natural land variations. Some yards are situated with beautiful natural views, but most of us have our neighbor’s yard, roads, back alleys, or a commercial building to look at – not so an inviting a background for your winter view.

As herbaceous plants die to the ground the garden’s ‘bones’ or structure appears. Walkways, fences, ornaments, arbors, planters–anything built forms the unchanging structure of your garden. Trees and shrubs form the living structure. If your garden has ‘good bones,’ its skeleton remains interesting through the bleak months of winter.
Winter garden

Winter gardens are often quiet and subtle, providing simple pleasures. The focus changes from the rampant color to softer, grayer colors, and from the abundant flowers of summer to berries that persist on branches long after the first snow, interesting bark, and the pattern of shrub and tree branches.
The goal of a winter garden is for you to select plants that add interest to the structure of the garden while hiding less desirable views. Texture and shape become important. Ledges, fences, branches, shrubs, and other landscape items hold the stark white, often sparkling, snow against their darker color. If you yard held mature trees or shrubs when you move in, you were lucky — you already had structure. You can add more. Vines branches add texture to flat fences and walls. Hedges add definition, evergreen shrubs add living freshness.

Evergreens come into their own in winter. Their variations of green and blue-green color, the natural texture of their branches, their shape, and the bark on trunks of mature trees are appreciated more in winter. Be aware, however, that a wall of the same evergreen tree or shrub can be oppressive in its sameness, especially when close to a window. By mixing evergreens with deciduous plants you add the interest of contrast to your view.

As plants are added to the garden, it is important to consider their year-round qualities. Many Viburnums keep their berries well into winter. Rugosa roses develop colorful red or orange rosehips. Crabapples, junipers, hawthorns, cotoneasters, chokeberries, and mountain ash provide berries that not only add color but also attract birds.

Ornamental grasses add wispy accents to the winter garden. Light snow on the blue of Festuca glauca, and frost clinging to the plumes of Miscanthus are pleasing sights. These features may not last as after several heavy snowfalls, they often break down. If you cut them down in the fall, you miss a valuable addition to the winter landscape.

Winter gardeners appreciate the red and yellow twig colors of the dogwoods and willows, the peeling bark of river birch, or the new birch-borer resistant paper birches. These are the obvious shrubs. There are many that display winter interest.

So if your garden disappears under a blanket of snow leaving you with an uninteresting, blah view, start looking around at other gardens. Study the roadside for all the color and texture of shrubs and the interest remaining plant stalks provide. Through careful selection and placement of features and plant materials with structure you can create good ‘bones’ for your garden.