Plant a landscape that's lively even in the dead of winter
Most people think of winter as a garden's downtime. And it should be - at least work-wise. But the best plots look beautiful year-round, even when the snow starts to fly. Twombly Nursery in Monroe, Connecticut, has one of them. In fact, the acre-sized garden has earned a measure of fame because it actually peaks during the colder months. We sat down with one of the nursery's owners, Tom Bodnar, who shared the main elements of any successful winter landscape - structure, texture, color-and some of the species that work best. He also sketched a modest planting plan that's primed for the cool season and reproduced on the following page. So read on, then get out there and plant. Soon you'll want to retreat indoors until spring. And won't it be nice to settle into a favorite chair and do nothing but stare out the window at your new winter wonderland.
START WITH STRUCTURE
Compared to a landscape in full spring swing, a winter garden risks looking barren. The generous use of evergreens which retain their leaves all year long can change that. "They really anchor the garden and give it weight," says Bodnar, "just be sure to vary sizes and shapes.
This means, for example, planting a tree with a pyramidal growth habit and openly spaced branches - say, an Iseli's foxtail blue spruce-next to a rounder, bushier specimen like golden Japanese red pine. Besides providing much needed dimension, evergreen silhouettes serve as a solid, dark backdrop that will set off finer, lighter specimens, such as deciduous trees and shrubs.
Choose these plants for their interesting branch patterns-the only thing left on display after their leaves drop. Classic specimen trees with tangled crowns like Japanese maple and crabapple make a great centerpiece. Consider also the arching Katsura tree, weeping willow and contorted beech which features corkscrewing limbs.
Uncut, post bloom perennials can also get in on the act. Dusted with snow, the withered plumes of ornamental grasses and the spent stalks of sedum and black-eyed susan provide a garden with ever changing forms and elevations.
PLAY UP TEXTURES
Because there's less "stuff" in a winter garden - few leaves and ever fewer flowers- it's important that the material that remains carry its weight. The plants that do best have interesting textures, particularly in their foliage. Pines, for instance, typically have long, soft needles, white firs and spruces tend to have shorter, sharper ones. Species like false cypress even have fanlike arrays. "But don't get stuck on the conifers," says Bodnar. "There are broadleaf evergreens too." He is referring to tough flowering shrubs like azaleas, mountain laurels and rhododendrons which are perfect for a
winter garden because when the temperature drops, their leaves don't. Whether thin and fluttering or edged with sturdy horns like holly, they're the perfect counterpoint to specimens with narrow needles.
Plants can also contribute texture via interesting bark. Patio peach sheds its foliage to reveal a knotty black trunk, white the peeling bark of the river birch gives the tree a shaggy appearance. Other exfoliating plants include climbing hydrangea, japanese stewartia and the cinnamon-skinned paper-bark maple.
Flowers aren't the only things that give a garden color. Foliage can provide it too. Semi-evergreens like purple spurge and spiraea are known for their warm often wine-colored foliage as are many evergreen azaleas and rhododendrons. For cooler tones, turn to conifers such as the many-hued Leyland cypress with varieties that range from 'Castlewellan Gold' to 'Hagerston Grey' to 'Naylors blue.'
Even without foliage, plants can still paint the garden red or purple or pink. Tibetan cherry is sheathed in rich maroon bark, the coral-colored drupes of green hawthorn offers a vibrant substitute for holly berries and the persistent petal-like bracts of seven-son flower give its branch tips a striking pink glow.
And if you can't bear a garden without flowers? Consider the Witch Hazel 'Arnold Promise.'
The spindly tree unfurls delicate yellow flowers that resemble pom-poms just as winter turns the corner into spring. Says Bodnar: "When you see those buds opening, you know the rest of the blossoms aren't far behind.