There’s something magical about a winter garden, and I never pass up an opportunity to visit one – especially one that’s known for looking it’s best during the bleakest months of the year. While attending a family wedding in Seattle this past weekend, I had the pleasure of visiting the J. Witt Winter Garden in the Washington Park Arboretum. I can’t emphasize enough what a treat it was to see such unexpected beauty on a cold and drizzly day.
The timing couldn’t have been better either, as I’m just now finishing the manuscript for my new book ‘Creating Harmony in the Garden‘ where, among other things, I write about plants that shine brightest in the winter months. To see everything I’ve been writing about laid out before me like this is truly a sensory smorgasbord – nothing short of heavenly.
Winter is often regarded as the time when both the garden and gardener takes a much-needed rest. Which is all true, of course, but it’s also the time of year when other aspects of a plant can be best appreciated. Without the competition from all the color and activity of spring and summer, a plant’s other elements can finally take their turn on the stage; things like tiny winter blooming flowers, sweet scents, colorful berries, textural bark, and the structure of a plant’s form.
Taking a cue from the Arboretum, here are some ways you might add a little winter interest to your own garden:
1. Early Bloomers
The various Witch Hazels are in their full glory this month, making it very hard for me to have any sort of conversation with my guests as I ran from one plant to the other inhaling their delicious fragrance while taking photos. Competing with the Witch Hazels to see who has the sweetest fragrance, were the Wintersweet and Viburnum.
2. Colorful Stems
Don’t you just love the black Mondo Grass at the feet of the Yellow Twig Dogwood (Cornus ‘Flaviramea’)? And the way the fiery twigs of the ’Midwinter Fire’ inject the garden with a much needed shot of warm color? For those of you with smaller gardens, there’s a dwarf variety called ‘Arctic Sun’ which grows to a much more manageable 3-4 feet.
These weren’t growing in the Arboretum, but in a nearby neighborhood. I love how they planted it at the base of their tiered front garden – such a welcome burst of winter color!
3. Berries and such
The tightly packed snowballs of the Snowberry bush were such a delight to find, as were the cheery orange pods of this ‘mystery plant’ – anyone know what this is? It was a large beauty, growing to about 15′x15′ and covered with these charming little orange and yellow seeds/berries that birds seemed to love.Just look at the tassles dangling like icicles from this unusual variety of Silk Tassle Bush, called Garrya issaquahensis ‘Pat Ballard’. I think this is my favorite winter surprise of all.
4. Textural Trees
I dare anyone to walk by a peeling Paperbark Maple and resist the urge to pull off a curlicue strip of cinnamon colored bark. Or to maintain a steady heartbeat when your round the corner and discover the red stems of a ‘Sango Kaku’ blazing away against a blue sky.
5. Fabulous Forms
I have no doubt these trees are show-stoppers when in full leaf, but I’m betting they’d be hard-pressed to outshine their outstanding dormant winter forms. They’re like sculptures in the garden, don’t you think? Many Japanese Maples develop twisted and contorted forms over the years that are truly sights to behold once the leaves have dropped. This is a beautiful example of why you should leave the beautiful forms of dormant grasses and hydrangeas as long as you can before pruning them back. The tall, tawny stalks of the giant Hydrangea aspera ‘Sargentia’ not only add height in the garden but rustle softly with the slightest breeze.
I hope this has given you some inspiration and if you have any of your own winter favorites, I’d love to know what they are!!