The current cold and snowy weather has garden bloggers ranting and raving about "winter interest" in the garden. Elizabeth Licata, a Buffalo gal like me, says it's a myth. Evelyn Hadden, who left Minnesota for warmer climes, says we just need to get out into the winter garden to love it. Beth, an Iowan who blogs at Garden Fancy, looked at the books on the subject and the realities of cold weather for those of us who garden in the Upper Midwest. As she says, where we live the cold can kill you!
Readers of this blog know that Mark and I moved to this property specifically to creat a garden. We spent a lot of time looking out the windows the first winters we lived in our house, well aware that we'd be seeing snow for a good part of each year. We looked forward to an annual break from garden work but we didn't plan to turn our backs to the garden in winter. Certainly not given the expanse of glass that brings the outdoors into our house.
We read all the books that Beth mentions on her blog, like "The Garden in Winter" by the late Rosemary Verey, and a number of others. Currently I own seven books on the subject. They all had something valuable to say and we listened. Here's our take on winter interest.
We added art to the garden that would be visible even in deep snow, including this lantern and a sculpture of Buddha that sits on the deck. We also added a number of very large rocks.
We emphasized the sloping terrain in our garden with steps and walls and berms to give us a more dynamic scene.
We were lucky to have some big evergreen trees on site but we added lots more: Pines, Spruces, Yews, Arborvita, boxwoods to name a few. They offer a variety of colors, textures, forms — and size.
These apple branches mark the edge of paths in the summer and provide a graphic punch in winter.
Our deck furniture stays outdoors year round adding pattern and a bit of color.
Fences, gates and sculpture all add drama. This view has always reminded me of the garden shadows cast by a fence in Rosemary Verey's book (Pg. 24 if you have a copy).
This bell is too heavy to blow in the wind, but the smaller bells right outside our back door always alert us to the weather.
More sculptural drama in the front garden.
The grove of River Birch trees is in front of an evergreen hedge to highlight their pale color and peeling bark. Each tree was placed for viewing from inside the house.
These weed trees make a mess with berries in the summer but their bare trunks are gorgeous at this time of year.
The ivy looks great even though it's dead by now. I pull it down when the snow melts and let it start climbing again.
Every gardener knows about 'Autumn Joy' Sedum and grasses for winter interest. But my favorite is this Carex greyii which provides a touch of intergalactic glam.
When I realized we had planted trees that had persistent leaves, I was completely bummed. But after a few years I came to love their warm color and papery texture, so at odds with the season.
We did not think of Carolina Silverbell as a winter interest tree when we planted it. But it holds its seedpods which is a bonus. We just added a second one in a more visible location.
This is my lolipop lilac coated with ice and buried in snow right up to its crown. This is planted next to the driveway where we can enjoy it every season.
I am so in love with this view of the garden that I have a framed photograph of it. It's currently sitting out next to a picture of my sister's house in Vermont in winter. They both have white mats and white frames making them even more wintry.
Beth in Iowa says that you should include winter interest in your garden under these conditions:
- If you enjoy being outside in your winter
- If you garden in zone 7 or higher
I haven't been outdoors in five days and I garden in Zone 5a, so clearly I don't meet her criteria. But I can't imagine how long and dreary and downright disastrous I would find winter without my garden to cheer me up.
This year I was able to walk in the garden in December and cut branches to bring indoors just like the Brits. Some years I've had snowdrops in February, though March is the month they usually appear; definitely not on the same schedule as English snowdrops!
I believe winter interest in a garden in the Midwest is not only possible, it's necessary. I want to look out the window and see something beautiful in January, February and March. It's the only way I'm going to make it through the snow season. Though I love my flowers, I guess I like pattern, structure and green even more.