During winter, the garden takes on a different character with the play of light and shadow. It is also a time when the unique features of certain plants are highlighted. Witch-hazel, to the left, is a small tree that blooms in February. It’s a wonderful native specimen to showcase during a time when there are few things in flower. Camellias also flower during the winter, but be careful to protect their broad evergreen leaves with an anti-transpirant to reduce wind burn. These do best in a more sheltered area such as behind a windbreak or near a building.
In addition to flowers, there are countless
varieties of trees and shrubs with interesting forms, bark, berries, cones and evergreen color to animate the winter landscape. Berries provide food for birds during the winter as well as color for your garden. A mature Japanese Dogwood or Crape Myrtle (at right) both have multicolored, exfoliating bark that stand out in any landscape. The reddish color of the Crape Myrtle’s bark is a striking contrast in a winter landscape. A Montgomery Spruce has beautiful blue needles all year (shown in bottom picture with the granite wall).
Grasses, whether evergreen or perennial, can give you good groundcover all year long. Green liriope doesn’t get a haircut until Mid-March. Acorus only needs a light raking. Dwarf fountain grass plumes usually last though early winter if there hasn’t been a heavy snowfall. Grasses like this should be cut down as soon as they start looking messy, but don’t cut them down based on color. The brown plumes add a feathery, light look to your landscape and contrast well with blue skies and white snow.
Hardscape elements, such as paving, boulders and walls, stand out. Structural elements such as sculptures, pergolas and gazebos enliven an outdoor space all year but in winter they can take center stage. A patio heater or fire pit can make an outdoor space usable on mild winter days. Warm drinks like cocoa, tea and coffee can extend your stay outdoors but remember to dress warmly and to extinguish the fire before returning inside. Just because it’s cold outside doesn’t mean you can’t have fun. An arboretum like Planting Fields in Oyster Bay is a great place to explore year round and there aren’t as many people in the winter so you can relax more and take your time to enjoy everything. They have numerous trails through the woods on the grounds but they also have greenhouses to explore if it is too nippy outside.
Exterior lighting schemes can highlight unique landscape elements like the Westchester granite wall to the right. The light picks up the bits of mica in the stone and makes it glitter. During the summer, plants might cover most of this wall, but in the winter when the perennials die back it has a chance to shine. Winter is a time to showcase textures and elements not seen in the summer months when brilliantly colored flowers take center stage.