Every new gardener enters the universe of flora in the same way: through a narrow path of conspicuous performers. We fall in love with the profusion of color, bright and long-lasting, that annuals provide, and we cover every bare spot with blazing flats of oranges and purples and hot pinks. Then we move on to the pragmatic perennials, seizing the "proven winners" unique to our planting zones. It takes a while, I think, before we graduate to a more sophisticated and inclusive appreciation of all that's lovely outdoors.
When I got my first gardening book, The Well Tended Garden, by Tracy DiSabato-Aust, I was a little disappointed to see that there were hardly any pictures. And the text focused on boring stuff like pruning and planting techniques. She mentioned something called “winter interest,” as in, “Choose such-and-such a plant for its winter interest,” or “Wait until spring before removing the dead seedheads, which provide excellent winter interest.” The pictures that accompanied those statements were plain to my amateur eyes, and I suspected the very idea of “winter interest” was a lame attempt to oversell this seasonal hobby as something akin to year-round fun, much the way boating enterprises pretend our decidedly short Northeast Ohio summers stretch longer than they do.
That was a dozen years ago, and things have changed. I’ve started to thrill at such subtleties as a black and lacey elderberry juxtaposed against a succulent, lime green sedum, both plants stars for their foliage alone. And I adore my short-blooming forget-me-nots hidden in the scruffy bushes hiding my air conditioner. They are my little secret.
But mostly I’ve reconsidered that “winter interest” idea, which has stuck with me. There is a striking architectural beauty in garden structures stripped of their leafy filters, an elegance to the lonely copper wind chime attending an empty potting shed. And I finally see the comeliness of deciduous plants in their dormant state as they submit to the gracious reign of the evergreens.
I took these pictures yesterday. They are from my yard or from neighbors' yards. You can see how much snow fell in just a few hours.
How could I not start with the Redtwig Dogwood? (Cornus sericea). It is a stunner in winter. The following two pictures show it close and then closer still.
Here is my Nikko Blue Hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla). It never did well among my white pines, so I moved it to the sunnier patio and it took off! My friend cut some stems on the day I broke my leg, October 6, and put them in a vase. They remained full and glorious, albeit a Victorian faded glory, until just yesterday when I threw them away.
Is there anything prettier than a shiny white birch tree in the snow?
I have five Japanese Beautyberry (Callicarpa japonica) bushes along a fence in my backyard. They produce gorgeous metallic purple berries in the fall which linger throughout the winter.
If you're wondering why I had to use a commercial nursery photo, it's because all five of mine look like this right now:
Normally six feet tall, they are about a third of their normal size. The culprit? Deer I suppose. I am always amazed at the clean cut of a deer bite, like a little tiny saw attacked all those branches.
We have about ten white pines in the backyard, and they provide graceful winter interest as well as excellent cardinal hangouts. I still remember the day we planted them. I stood in the bedroom window and shouted down to my husband, furiously sweating as he dug holes and singlehandedly moved trees at my whim, "A little to the left," "No, I changed my mind, it was better where it was," "Oh, they're not equidistant; I think the two on the right need to be moved apart a bit."
If you like a splash of color to liven up your austere winter scenes, you can always purchase a bright blue wheelbarrow that you later discover doesn't fit into your shed. It dodges detection in the verdant summer months but flaunts its inappropriate self when the serviceberry and forsythia leaves are gone.
Tall, medium, and short grasses provide color and texture for winter interest. In fashion, camel is in this year, so embrace your tans!
I love the symmetry and formality of this little English garden, which I pass every day as I drive down the street. It looks pretty all year round.
My bunny is hardy. This little stool can handle a Zone 6 winter, so I leave it out for a little winter interest.
Hibernating trumpet vine on an arched arbor makes for a decorative winter scene.
Cold-hardy bamboo makes a great screen all year round.
I see these three beauties when I drive into my development after work. I move straight toward them before I turn left, and at Christmastime each is adorned with its own colored lights, one blue, one green, and one gold. I think of them as the Magi.
I suppose some might see this as a winter sculpture. I see it as the residue of an irresponsible 17-year-old who forgot to put away the hose after he washed his car in the unseasonably warm winter weather that lasted one day last week. It looks like a coiled green monster snake, frozen in mid-strike.
I don't know what these trees are called but I want one. They remind me of stooped, wizened, misshapen old characters in an epic fantasy world, ala The Lord of the Rings. Each has its own personality. I like most plants grouped en masse, but these are definitely specimen trees.
My jazzy frog enjoys contributing to our Winter Interest.