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 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.
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 your garden’s stage. A plant’s other virtues, such as winter blooming flowers, sweet scents, colorful berries, textural bark, and the structure of a plant’s form, all help your garden shine in the winter months.
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 were in their full glory during this visit, 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.
The wintersweet and viburnum are competing with the witch hazels to see who has the sweetest scent.
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 stems 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 of dogwood 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 the owners planted them at the base of their tiered front garden – such a welcome burst of winter color!
3. Berries and such
The tiny, 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 was 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 an Acer ‘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 bet 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 sights to behold once the leaves have dropped.
This is a perfect example of why you should leave dormant grasses and hydrangeas alone just as long as you can, before pruning them back in the late winter.
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 winter inspiration, and if you have any of your own winter favorites, please share!