Planning an Enchanting Winter Garden

For those of us living in Massachusetts, the winter garden begins in November, when most trees drop their leaves, and persists until almost the end of April, when the majority of trees leaf out again. We view our winter landscape for five months out of each year.

Winter is the perfect season to study your garden and plan its future, because the garden is at its simplest and starkest.

Jot down what you like and what is missing, and note changes to make in the spring. Start with the plantings near the house. Look at the views from your windows. Use a camera to record your views and thoughts.

What makes winter unique from other seasons?

When you are planning for winter, think of yourself as a set designer. Unlike spring and summer, when the garden goes through many scene changes, the winter stage is not going to change rapidly. The overall composition is a static one, but it does not have to be boring, as you can see from this winter scene.

Winter sun

The changing light is one of the most wonderful aspects of winter. Bright and glittering when skies are clear, it can soon become dark and brooding with the threat of rain or snow. The angle of the sun in winter is low, and the result is that it picks up and reflects light on glossy leaves and shining bark.

In open, sunny aspects, the light will bounce off large-leaved evergreens like hollies and laurels. In contrast, some areas of the garden will be in deeper shade in winter, as the sun fails to get over a fence or hedge.

On a clear, sunny day, it’s delightful to take a walk through the winter garden. All the evergreens that add quiet beauty to the garden throughout the year become the main focus in winter, when the perennials have vanished underground and the deciduous shrubs and trees have lost their leaves.

ome winter days are unrelentingly gray, and for these, small splashes of color are what is needed: colorful conifers, a mass of snowdrops, or the buds of the ‘Valley Valentine’ pieris pictured here.

Snow and Ice are prominent features of the winter garden.

Snow outlines the filigree of a garden gate, the arching branches of a climbing rose, or the geometric pattern of a porch lattice, adding intricate patterns to the winter landscape. The delicate textures of shrubs and perennials are highlighted with a sprinkling of snow.

Frost has a magical effect on the garden, altering the appearance of foliage, stems and fruits. Dried seedheads take on an ethereal quality. The sharp edges of frost highlight the leaves of an azalea, bring these wild strawberry leaves into crisp definition, and make berries shimmer in the sunlight.

Where should you situate the plants for winter interest?

Front gardens are particularly well suited to winter plantings. Plants can be observed at close quarters and scents appreciated by everyone coming and going from the house.The house wall often provides extra protection for tender shrubs, and eagerly awaited little bulbs can be enjoyed just as soon as they emerge.

You will want to plant late winter bloomers in entry areas where you will pass them frequently or see them from your window as their charming blossoms signal the beginning of spring.

Through the window

The view from the windows of the house keeps you in touch with your garden at all times of the year, but especially in the winter months, often providing the only picture of the garden during bad weather. Careful placing of plants and objects results in a changing scene as winter advances. Views from upstairs windows will show aspects of the garden not seen at ground level. Are there rooms in the house that you use more in the winter than in the summer? Create a lovely winter view by choosing plants with four-season interest.