Winter Interest

Hydrangea flower heads are delightful in winter. Photo by Laura Mathews

Gardens get the most love in warm months.  In winter, many of us hunker down and stay inside.  We experience our gardens less in December through March.  Still, during the deepest freeze, we gaze at our gardens through our windows.  Folks who love being outdoors suit up and head out regardless of the weather. Our gardens greet us when we arrive home from work in winter, just as they do when they are greener and the temperatures are warm.

Henry Lauders walking stick (yes, that's it's name) adds twisted delight to winter

For those reasons, consider ramping up the winter interest of your gardens and yard.  It’s peaceful and visually stimulating to experience plants in their winter form.  There are a many ways to do this.

Planting trees and shrubs with interesting bark or interesting form provides nice contrast to the white of snow or the gray sky.  Barks can be colorful, patched or exfoliating.

Colorful bark? Think of the way  the pale and multi-toned sycamore bark of that regal tree captures the spotlight in wooded settings.

Exfoliating bark refers to a shedding or peeling quality.  (It sounds gross but it’s lovely!)  Weeping or twisting shrubs and small trees create wonderful patterns that change as they hold snow or darken in rain.  Two of my favorite examples of this concept are Acer griseum or ‘Paperbark Maple” and Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’ or Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick.  There are a slew of plants that rock the winter garden.

Nandina or Heavenly Bamboo can add heavenly red to the winter landscape. Make sure to choose a variety that reddens due to cold.

Hardy camellias have that fab glossy green leaf all winter... then send crazy beautiful blooms out to adoring audiences in spring.

You can also add structure and function to you winter garden by leaving perennial foliage up for the winter.  This is the winter interest option that I’ve exercised most in my garden.  The standing foliage supports fluffy snow.  Foliage color – though muted compared to spring – is ever present.  My perennials sport gray-blue, yellow, and browns, though out the winter.  The function I mention? Allowing plant structures and seed heads to stay put in the garden provides food and shelter for wildlife.  Yes, biodiversity!

Below are some images of the winter interest I found in my garden today.

Broad-leaved evergreens, like this native PA Mountain Laurel, sport fancy, waxy deep green leaves all winter. Come spring, they steal the show with a profusion of bloom.

Lacecap hydrangeas are charming year-round

I'm blessed that this is the view from my kitchen window. Notice the interest added by seedheads and the dark tree silhouettes

Ornamental grasses are the gold of winter.

Lavender becomes a spiky blue-gray carpet

A delicate Nepata softens a rock wall

We all have autumn flowering sedum. Look how beautiful it is topped with dallops of snow.

Trees provide wonderful presence and structure to the winter garden

Pieris japonica. Don't fret dear plant. We shall all soon fall in love with you again. How could we not?

Best winter interest of all? Kids snowboarding down your back yard.

All of the large snow images are mine.

Thanks for body copy photos to for the Henry Lauder walking stick photo

Thanks to for the camellia image!

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About the Author

Laura Mathews

Laura is a garden writer and photographer. She writes online content for gardening websites, writes for gardening publications and blogs for three gardening blogs. Her interests are local food, organic gardening, backyard homesteading and native plants. She assists gardening related clients with social media. And occasionally, she'll offer a solicited opinion as a garden coach.

One Comment

  1. I love some of your shots capturing the way snow lays so beautifully on plants in the landscape. We have not had any opportunity this winter for shooting snow.

    # Posted on January 31, 2011 at 3:07 pm by compostinmyshoe

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