Add winter interest to your gardens

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As you look out your windows onto a wintery scene are you missing the colors, shapes, and forms of your summer garden? 

No need. If you want to be delighted rather than depressed with your views, plan now to add some winter interest to your garden with color, texture, and form.

Crape myrtle’s exfoliating bark adds textural interest. 

Let’s start with texture. Adding plants with interesting bark textures ratchets up the “wow” factor in a landscape. Personal favorites are the shaggy bark of river birch and the mosaic bark of crape myrtles. Both have striking multiple trunks and crape myrtles range from 3 to 30 feet to fit any landscape. Other trees have smooth bark, furrowed bark or bark like an elephant’s trunk. Mix it up. The excellent book, “Dirr’s Hardy Trees and Shrubs,” includes bark photos in each plant profile.

With needles short or long, spiky, clustered or drooping, evergreen trees boast appealing texture. Seeing Norway spruce’s kimono sleeves dusted with snow makes you really, really want one. 

But trees aren’t the only plants that tout texture. Think shrubs, ornamental grasses, and perennials. I can’t walk by a leatherleaf viburnum without stroking its coarse, deeply veined leaves. Ditto for holly’s glossy leaves. 

The seed heads of ornamental grasses and perennials also can add striking texture. The snow-capped seed heads of coneflowers and Brazilian verbena look especially fine. 

Now, let’s pop some color into your winter garden. You’ll find it in the crimson branches of red twig dogwood and the berries of hawthorns, hollies, and winterberries. But red isn’t the only color you can cultivate. 

Winterberry adds bright color to the winter landscape

Some junipers tinge purple in the winter or hold onto their summer blues. Tan ornamental grasses contrast well with snow and add movement when stirred by the wind.

Crabapples dangle yellow, orange, and red fruits while viburnums show off berries of red, purple, black, or blue. And most evergreens are, well, green.

Mother Nature stocks her palette with softer colors. Grey rocks sport green lichen. Wood ages from brown to grey. Use natural materials to add color and beauty to walkways, benches, fences, and accents. 

Suffuse your garden with your favorite colors. In the European garden Kiftsgate, the owners carefully placed splashes of bright blue. It adorns a bench, garden gate, and more to perfect effect. So grab your paintbrush. 

Now, let’s talk form. Mixing shapes creates a well-designed landscape, but those shapes are most noticeable in winter when deciduous trees have dropped their leaf dresses. What do the bare bones of your landscape tell you? Look for shapes – round, square, triangle, oval, pillar, vase, and teardrop – and add what’s missing. 

If your landscape is filled with lollipops – round balls on sticks like maples – then add something layered and wider like a dogwood, triangular like a spruce, or columnar like an arborvitae. Weeping forms improve every garden.

When garden designers tell us to plan for the view, they mean the views from both the inside and outside.  So look out your windows and imagine what you want to see. Then make it happen.

By Annette Cormany, Principal Agent Associate and Master Gardener Coordinator, Washington County, University of Maryland Extension. This article was previously published by Herald-Mail Media. Read more by Annette.

This article was previously published by Herald-Mail Media.


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