I was on a hike in Bronte Creek Provincial Park on the weekend and couldn’t help but pull out the camera and snap a photo of this colony of staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina). This is one of my favourite plants in the natural landscape (it’s suckering habit is a little too aggressive for the average garden). Aside from the beautiful scarlet-red that radiates from their foliage in fall, winter is also a time for this plant to shine! The fuzzy red fruits (which are a food source for wildlife and edible for humans) are a great contrast to the snowy landscape and hold the snow in a way that is ‘picture perfect’.
Upon reflection of this winter wonderland, it’s hard to deny the fact that winter is an important, beautiful (and sometimes long and overlooked) season. Our gardens are certainly able to capture this beauty with a little bit of planning. Gardens, after-all, should have 4 seasons of interest!
How do we accomplish this?
It is important to realize that it is not just evergreens that provide winter interest in a garden- although they can certainly be an important ‘backbone’. Similarly, the branching structure of deciduous trees can help provide a nice winter framework. For example, winter is a great time to show off the beautiful horizontal branching structure of pagoda dogwood (Cornus alternifolia) or the wonderful cascade of branches on a weeping cultivar of Japanese maple (Acer palmatum). Branches of certain plants such as red osier dogwood (Cornus sericea) or flame willow (Salix alba ‘Flame’) can also help provide colour to the winter landscape- especially when planted en masse.
Aside from branches, there are other plant features that should not be overlooked when it comes to visual appeal in the winter months. Exfoliating bark on plants such as paperbark maple (Acer griseum) can provide a unique texture that may go unnoticed when a garden is in full bloom. Dried foliage/flowers/seedheads on perennials and shrubs can also add an assortment of textures to the winter landscape- each capturing the frost and snow in their own way (while, in some cases, providing food sources for wildlife). Sometimes all it takes is some restraint with the clippers during the autumn months to allow plants to persist into the winter. Ornamental grasses, and perennials such as asters (Aster spp.), beardtongue (Penstemon spp.), coneflowers (Echinacea spp.), astilbe (Astilbe spp.), blazing star (Liatris spp.), tickseed (Coreopsis spp.), (just to name a few that are in my garden) can provide valuable winter structure and texture. Plants such as these create endless photo opportunities, and help bridge the aesthetics of the garden until the signs of spring emerge.
So- with another cold week ahead, it’s time to look out the window and assess your garden- are you happy with what you see? If not, what can you do next year to create a yard that truly shines year round? Happy planning!