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Five Ways to Enjoy Your Winter Garden

Five Ways to Enjoy Your Winter Garden

By Therese Ciesinski, GardenSMART

Do you find it hard to appreciate your garden in the winter? That’s understandable. It’s challenging to find the beauty in plants in their dormant state. That is, if there’s even a plant above ground to look at. But if you live where winter means months of bare stems and dull colors, you must adjust your thinking, or the cold months will feel like they go on forever.

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Start by taking the principles you used to design your spring and summer gardens and apply them to winter, too. Structure, mass, color, repetition, hardscaping: Draw on them all to keep January’s garden visually rewarding, even if it is no match for June’s.

Here are five ideas for doing that

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1. Plant for winter. Try to fit at least one plant into your garden that shines when all else is sleeping. That will give you something to look at and remind you of warmer seasons. Hellebores are great for this purpose, as are red- or yellow-stemmed dogwoods, hollies, and evergreens of every stripe. Whatever you choose, be sure to plant it in a spot that you can see from inside the house.

Plants with strong architectural lines, such as the topiary in the top photo, clipped boxwoods, or an upright juniper or cypress, keep the garden interesting as well.

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2. Find the color. It’s natural to want to maximize every inch of your garden with the plants you find most captivating. Who wants to give up space for a shrub that’s invisible five months of the year? So if you don’t have a lot of space to dedicate to plants that are at their most compelling in winter, then train yourself to see the color in existing plants instead.

Are there scarlet hips on the roses, orange berries on a pyracantha, or dried hydrangea flowers in soft shades of tan? The stems or foliage of many plants, such as coral bells, bergenia, and sedum, change color in the cold, turning purple, burgundy, or bronze. While the plant might not be as visually eye-popping as when it is in season, it still has much to offer.

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3. Install an archway, fence, or other garden feature. Hardscaping is a surefire way to add interest to the winter garden. It provides definition and pattern, and gives the garden shape and solidity. Try mixing materials: wood, stone, gravel, metal, brick, etc., look great covered in snow or frost.

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4. Turn the everyday into sculpture. Everything looks better covered in snow (well, maybe not the car). So don’t put away the warm weather decor or lawn furniture if they can handle winter weather. Snow cover, frost, or the play of light and shadows on a garden bench, birdhouse, or sculpture adds beauty to the landscape, even if sitting for a spell on that bench isn’t as appealing now as it is in shorts and sandals weather.

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5. If you can’t grow your winter interest, try painting it. If your gardening space is too small to sacrifice a spot to a winter interest plant, grab a bucket of paint and add some color to a shed, fence, or wall. Or buy a colorful, weatherproof pot (no need to put a plant in it) or a bright piece of garden décor. It will cheer you every time you see it.

The most pain-free way to get through the dormant season is to accept your garden for what it is. Don’t consider the winter garden a consolation prize, and don’t compare it to summer’s. Appreciate what it’s capable of giving. There’s beauty out there, if you look for it.


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