BY DANÉE MARIE LAMBOURNE & JOHN CONNORS
It’s winter, or the “off-season” as the gardeners in Victoria, ‘City of Gardens,’ often refer to it.
In just a few months, our flower beds will be brimming with life and colour, but for now they’re looking a bit, well … bleak. Taking some time to observe ways in which you can call attention to them is a worthy investment of your time and an exercise in mindfulness and appreciation for the passive influence of a well-planned garden tapestry.
Garden designers are often tasked with creating spaces that have year-round appeal. The challenge lies in helping onlookers appreciate and embrace the magic of browning blades, bare branches and messy seedheads; adding wonder and appreciation for nature’s gifts.
Winter interest gardens are whimsical in the way they stimulate the senses through sound, sight and rhythm. A well laid out tapestry offers a change to the way a specimen contributes to movement, texture and form in the garden during dormant months.
It offers places of refuge for birds and animals to feed and burrow, bringing a sense of liveliness and innocent pleasure to a garden space under these darker skies and shorter days.
We’ve captured just a few ideas for you to consider:
Winter Flowering Plants
The Pacific Northwest climate allows for a surprising number of shrubs and herbaceous perennials that offer dazzling pops of colour and interest in the winter months.
Camellia ‘Yuletide’ and Rhodo ‘Christmas Cheer’ provide glossy evergreen foliage and vibrant blossoms in late winter or early spring.
Deciduous shrubs such as Witch Hazel and Winter Hazel are noted for their unique, fragrant winter flowers and elegant unique branching form.
The hard-working winter Hellebore is one of the longest blooming perennials in my collection.
Their blooms open as early as mid-winter, and continue right through the spring, along with a bouquet of stunning leaf forms ranging from deep greens, to speckled or mottled white, heavily toothed and glaucous green.
Plants with decorative winter berries
Enjoying our comparatively temperate coastal climate are shrubs that feature a colourful display of berries during the winter.
Some of the more popular and colourful choices include Winterberry, Beautyberry and Coralberry. Winterberry, a deciduous form of holly, showcases holly’s customary bright red drupes (berries) but borne on bare stems.
Beautyberry features vivid, almost metallic purple berries throughout the cool season, while Coralberry, or Pink Snowberry, lends a splash of candy floss pink to the winter landscape. As an added bonus, these berries can also attract birds to your yard at a time when food for them may be scarce.
Plants With Colourful or Interesting Stems
And let’s not forget the bones of a well-planned garden! These are your vibrant or dramatic branching varieties of evergreens that hold their form and act as year-round soldiers, creating form.
Most of our great Dogwood (Cornus) shrubs have vividly coloured winter bark ranging from yellow through orange to red. Similarly, the Coralbark Japanese Maple reveals coral pink bark once its leaves….leave.
Shapes and patterns can be as eye-catching as colour, as proven by the contorted filbert tree, otherwise known as “Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick.”
Its gloriously twisted branches are exposed in winter after the leaves drop. Also, this species looks amazing when illuminated from below.
Seedheads and Grasses
Sometimes our showiest flowers can be pressed into duty even once their color is gone and their petals have fallen away. Seed heads and spent flowers from many perennials and some deciduous shrubs lend structure and a stark beauty to an otherwise blank space.
Shrubs like hydrangea and perennials such as echinacea, verbena, phlomis or any other cone or umble-producing specimen fit the bill. Ornamental grasses can contribute a textural contrast to a winter landscape, provided they’ve not been flattened by the snow.
There are countless plants and combinations that create breathtaking or contemplative awe through the colder months in ways you wouldn’t immediately consider as inspiring to behold. When a layered garden functions as shelter and habitat for wildlife, the garden fills with songs and activity.
Garden ornaments and structures command attention if situated in view and capable of carrying the weight of snow or ice, dressed in a “new look” in the landscape layout.
Boulder placement, densely leaved buxus or ilex and decorative rock create interesting patterns and textures when blanketed by snow.
Next time you’re out for a walk, take a minute to look over nearby garden composition. Check out one of the many show gardens or parks when at home or travelling.
While most of us homeowners don’t have the space to dedicate an entire space to winter interest, combining one or more of these elements into your mixed borders can produce a landscape with year-round appeal.
Danée Marie Lambourne is the Founder and Creative Director, while John Connors is an Associate at EDEN Projects, a landscape design, build and renovation firm operating out of the Greater Victoria area, designing gardens across Vancouver Island.