Cold Comfort - Design Basics / November

Don't let Jack Frost freeze out the beauty of your garden. Enliven the scene with evergreens, colorful berries, interesting bark, and even some winter flowers'

BY P. ALLEN SMITH, Gardening How To, Nov/Dec 2006, p.48-9

Savor Winters Quiet Beauty - When compared to the bright, festive colors of autumn, it may seem tame. But that's no reason to drop the curtain on your garden until spring. As the backdrop changes, the show can still go on. Dress up your landscape with a host of intriguing shapes, varied textures, colorful barks, bright berries, and subtle blooms, then sit back and enjoy the performance. Here are some ways to add visual interest to brighten your winter landscape:

Build on what you have - Once Jack Frost has plucked the last leaves from your garden, what remains is its framework or "bones"- permanent structures such as pathways, fences, buildings, and arbors, as well as structural plants like evergreens, grasses, and trees. Together, these elements create a three-dimensional outline that keeps the garden from disappearing into the cold. Take an inventory of these items in your garden and consider adding more. During the winter, you view your garden from inside your home, so add new structures and plants with that in mind.

Don't be too tidy - Leave seed heads, ornamental grasses, and some perennials in your gardens until spring. They'll provide interesting winter forms, hold snow in place to moderate soil temperatures, and give food and shelter to birds. One exception is diseased foliage. Remove any leaves, stems, and seed heads that could harbor diseases through the winter and create problems next spring.

Add more plants - There's a delightful array of plants that can jazz up your winter garden. Overshadowed in spring and summer when colorful annuals and perennials capture our attention, they wait in the wings for their opportunity to take center stage. Here are some winter­ worthy plants and characteristic to look for:

Evergreens - Often acting as a neutral backdrop for more colorful flowers, evergreens blend into the background in a summer garden. In winter they take on more prominence, adding a reassuring shade of green to an otherwise stark landscape. Both needled and broadleaf evergreens add substantial mass and form. They come in a variety of interesting forms, from tall, columnar giants to creeping ground covers.

Bark - Concealed behind a veil of green foliage during the spring and summer, shrubs and trees with unusual bark stand out once leaves fall. Brightly colored branches and unique textures add eye-catching appeal.

Berries - Berries are the "flowers" of winter. They not only add color to the garden, but also provide food for wildlife. Like bright ornaments adorning trees and shrubs, they come in a variety of colors, from deep purple to scarlet and orange.

Blooms - Cool-season bloomers such as pansies and violas may keep on flowering as they peek out in your winter landscape after shaking off snow. And early-blooming plants such as hellebores will start to appear after the New Year.

Invite wildlife neighbors – Few things add more winter cheer than lively squirrels and colorful birds feeding in the garden. Place feeders where wildlife will feel safe and you can watch them from inside. The safest locations for birds are about 10 feet from a dense tree or shrub. Set up several feeding stations in different areas of the garden to help disperse the activity and prevent overcrowding.

Decorate the Garden - Colorful banners, garlands, door baskets, and entrance containers brimming with seasonal accents enliven outdoor areas. As an added attraction, adorn wreaths or trees with suet ornaments, strings of cranberries, dried fruit, and pinecones covered in peanut butter and rolled in birdseed. Be sure to include children in the creation of these wildlife­ friendly decorations.