Gardening With What You Have

Snow Gardening

Christine Froehlich 01/12/2017 Comments

Snow Gardening


What do gardeners do in the winter other than collect seed catalogues and tend to their indoor plants? Personally, I spend a lot of time looking out the window wishing I had planted more berrying shrubs, conifers and such to keep me entertained. There's plenty to feast my greedy eyes on from the living room windows during the summer when everything is in full tilt, but winter is another story. Days in upstate New York can be frigid, relentlessly gray and snowy. Anything green or remotely colorful can keep me from sliding into the depths of depair.  

view from dining room


I try to keep this in mind when I plant, but satisfaction in this particular garden has eluded me. The white fence sticks out like a sore thumb, it's way too green, and I long for more color.  


view from inside


It's my own fault -  in my haste to make the garden look full, I overdid it with the deciduous shrubs and perennials.  I can't do anything about it now, so I've resorted to armchair gardening, aka snow gardening. I've been pouring through my collection of garden photos for inspiration, and came across several shots I took last year on a December trip to Tower Hill Botanic Gardens in Boylston, Mass. ( The gardens are impressive, particularly in winter. It has it all - interesting forms, excellent structure, lots of texture, tons of berrying shrubs and trees, and a wide range of color. 


If you're like me,and want the wow factor, incorporating some of these these elements into your garden might do the trick.


Form and Structure:


Interesting shapes make you pay attention. Even without their leaves, these deciduous trees are commanding. The grasses in the background catch the light and add subtle color and texture. I like their verticality and the way they define the garden.


formal landscape view


Colorful Shrubs and Grasses:


I almost forgot it was winter when I walked into this part of the garden! Brilliant masses of red and yellow twig Dogwoods (Cornus alba 'Sibirica' and Cornus sericea 'Flaviramea') give it a lot of pizzazz.  The soft reddish hues of  the wispy grasses and gold and gray conifers in the background emphasize the colors even more.


bark color


 yellow twig dogwood




Plant trees with arresting color and bark. You can't walk by a Paperbark Maple (Acer griseum) without stopping to admire its weird peeling bark and rich mahogany color. 



paper bark birch


This River Birch (Betula nigra) is dramatic against the winter sky and a stunning companion alongside shrubs like this Winterberry (Ilex verticillata). 

 river birch



Berrying Trees and Conifers:


I don't think you can have too many berries. They were dotted everywhere throughout this garden. The entrance is bejeweled with a variety of Crabapples and Winterberries. Here are a couple of them paired up with an elegant weeping conifer (Chamaecyparis nootkatensis).







I didn't take any other shots of the Tower Hill garden to illustrate the use of evergreens, but they are surely a mainstay of any winter garden. Here in front of my house (one of my more successful ventures), I outlined the beds with small boxwood hedges which give them form, at least when there aren't extreme amounts of snow! Shrubs with small shiny leaves such as Boxwood, Holly and Ilex  are some of my favorites - they look so tidy and crisp when they are frosted with snow. 


boxwood in snow


For a little extra entertainment, I fill the window boxes with greens, twigs and berries after I yank out the annuals  in fall. The birds flit around them when they're chowing down at the feeder.  

 winter window boxes



I'm back to my perch by the living room window fantasizing about more berries, a tree with unusual bark and possibly more gray and gold conifers. Although my garden helpers and I used to joke about snow gardening (no gardening,ha ha), I'm starting to think it's a pretty useful exercise after all.



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