Living in Wisconsin means designing a garden that looks good with or without flowers; with or without snow. I've learned that winter is not a dead time of year outdoors; it's just a different time of year. If your garden isn't a winter vision when you look out the window, here are five ways to make it sparkle in the snow.
1. Add texture: Grasses, seedheads and fine- and coarse-needled evergreens make important contributions, but they're not the only choices. In the winter garden, dramatic tree bark — like that of river birch (Betula nigra) — is effective, especially when its pale, peeling color is seen against an evergreen hedge for contrast. Persistent leaves like those on a Korean maple (Acer pseudosieboldiana) or this threeflower maple (Acer triflorum) are another way to add texture.
2. Focus on form: The shape of a tree or shrub assumes greater importance when its branches are bare. Look for strong verticals like ginkgo, or tiered shapes such as Pagoda dogwood (Cornus alternifolia) and doublefile viburnum (Viburnum plicatum var. tomentosum), or weeping forms like the Katsura (Cercidiphyllum japonicum below). Evergreens also come in many different shapes, including drooping.
Tightly clipped elements, including yew or boxwood balls or standard lilacs that look like a lollipop, can contrast with more informal shapes. Sharply trimmed hedges perform the same job.
3. Pick a color: House color, bark, berries, fences and furniture all have a part to play. And remember, "evergreens" come in every shade of green as well as yellows and blues. Many turn shades of rust, burgundy and bronze in winter as well. Here's how they do it at the Chicago Botanic Garden.
4. Shape the space: Permanent elements like brick walks, stone walls, fences, patios and pergolas add structure and delineate garden spaces as well. Movable elements such as sculpture and furniture that can stay outside year-round add a decorative element as well as human scale to the landscape. And in a really snowy winter, man-made structures like our gate stand out even in deep snow.
5. Animate the garden: Dry grasses, bamboo, and seedheads of everything from coneflowers to hydrangeas add a whisper of sound as well as movement to the garden. In my garden, bells also play a role. They hang from trees as well under the roof that shelters the gate that goes into our neighbor's garden. A group of Arcosanti bells hang just outside the back door. Their degree of ringing lets me know how windy it is outside before I've even glanced out the window.
This post appeared in a slightly different form in The Capital Times newspaper.