NOV. 02, 2022
Another lovely autumn is drawing to its close. As I look out to my garden, I reflect on all the beautiful moments I’ve enjoyed for months on end—the glowing flowers, the choruses of songbirds, the lush greens of summer, and reds of fall leaves. And, there’s no reason my winter garden can’t be equally memorable and satisfying in its own, lovely way. So, here are my suggestions for encouraging our winter gardens to be as captivating as possible.
There are three components to consider when we discuss winter gardens. The first is aesthetics, what we consider beautiful and pleasing to our eyes in wintertime; the second is surveying what’s at hand, considering what to encourage in the garden this winter; and the third is planning for the future.
Let’s get started. Aesthetics, our principles of beauty in the garden, probably includes colors, shapes and/or structure, and balance or compatibility. Surveying the garden now, as leaves are falling and branches and stems are emerging, what shapes and proportions become apparent? Evergreens are often strong elements in the winter garden. Walls and fences, too, are dramatic shapes. As for colors, consider these same structures as sources of color:
• multitudes of green in yews and cedars • a white picket fence • your gray or brown garden wall • a Nandina or sacred bamboo, which will soon be heavy with grape-like clusters of red berries• holly trees sporting tiny clusters of red amongst its shining green leaves • grasses—don’t lop them off, leave the fronds to sway in the winter sunlight
Looking a bit more closely at your gardens’ winter assets, do you have any of the following beauties growing there? If you do, now is a great time to prepare them for their winter début.
Viburnum: lovely bushes and small trees that bloom early. Consider planting for the future, Viburnum tinus which produces lush, pink blossoms through January and February.
Bulbs: There’s still time to plant some early bloomers in your garden. Those dear crocus, narcissus, and snowdrops always delight. Don’t forget the Hellebores with their flouncing leaves and showy late winter blooms in shades of rose, pink, yellow, green, and white.
Furnishings: You may not want to stow away that graceful wrought iron table and chairs there on the patio; they will be lovely under a dusting of snow. (Do take in the cushions, however; they’ll suffer from a harsh winter.)
Feeders: What about those birdfeeders? Are you putting out snacks for your songbirds and squirrels? You may want to clean and repair the feeders, even move them away, just a bit, from their locations near the house and patio. Set them out from the house so you don’t have to contend with “dirty snow.” You’ll still have the songbirds and furry gymnasts to entertain you through the winter months. Is there anything lovelier than a scarlet Cardinal against the white snow? And there are lots of chuckles ahead as those plump squirrels hang by their toenails attempting to stuff one more kernel of corn or one more peanut into those cheeks on a winter’s morning.
Once you’ve assessed all the options you have for your winter garden this year, you might want to take it a bit farther and begin planning for changes and additions to your garden that will reach their beautiful potential in winters to come. Late fall is a great time to plant shrubs and even trees.
For added winter color, you may want to plant:
Dogwood: You can find beautiful choices in bark and blossoms.
White birch: Once the spindly tree takes root, you’ll enjoy the lovely bark, with its texture of curls, and pretty, tasseled blossoms in the spring. Caution: Birches need lots of moisture, preferring to grow near creeks and bogs.
Winter honeysuckle, Witch hazel, and Japanese apricot are three lovely vines and bushes that offer lush fragrance that wafts on winter winds—intoxicating with the promise of approaching spring.
Camellia: For showy blossoms in shades of rose and pink, add a Camellia to your garden. The shiny, dark green leaves make a perfect setting for the large, gorgeous blossoms that open in late February or early March.
Here are some other flowers that handle winter weather and provide early spring color:
Semi-hardy: China aster, Lobella, Petunia
Hardy: Pansies, Sweet alyssum, Flowering Stock
Vegetables: If you’re among the hardy souls who are willing to tackle vegetable gardening, here’s a review of the types of vegetables that produce throughout the winter:
Semi-hardy: Swiss chard, Leaf lettuce, Arugula, Carrots, Beets, Rutabaga, Radicchio
Hardy: Radishes, Turnips, Broccoli, English peas, Leeks, Kale, Spinach, Collards
Finally, just a few reminders if you decide to experiment with serious winter gardening:
Plant now: Give your new plants sufficient time to take root and settle in before serious winter weather arrives. You’ll be more likely to have tasty onions, peas, and Bok Choy if the dears have settled their roots into your welcoming garden.
Consider watering: You may not need to do very much watering if the winter is fairly cold and some snow arrives. However, if the winter is mild and there is less than normal precipitation, prepare to occasionally carry water to your vegetables and flowers.
Monitor freezes: The flowers and vegetables I’ve discussed in this article are hardy souls. They won’t be bothered by some frost and snow. But, if the predictions are for “hard frosts” and/or snowstorms, plan to cover your plants. Usually, old bedsheets will be sufficient, but if the weather grows extreme, there are “fluff covers” that will protect your lettuce and leeks from frostbite or the heavier piles of snow.
Don’t forget to take some photos of your winter garden in its special glory! They’ll be fun to look back on when spring arrives.