Gardening fever begins in late winter when plant and seed catalogs start to fill up the mailbox. It ends in late fall, when garden chores are done. Before winter, beds must be weeded, trees and shrubs must be watered thoroughly, and perennial gardens must be mulched. After the first frost, it is over. The final garden chore is to clean up frosted debris. The season is finished until spring. Or is it?
The Garden in Winter
- FORM Plants that are little noticed during the growing season may become the focal point of the winter landscape. Silhouettes stand out now. Branching habit is obscured by summer leaves, but who hasn’t admired the rugged strength of a solitary Burr Oak standing sentinel over a frozen field? The native Pagoda dogwood’s beautiful tiered branching adds a touch of elegance to the otherwise barren woodland border. Conifers provide endless interest and beauty while flowering plants sleep. Some, like the unique Nootka Cypress, are never more breathtaking than when covered in ice and snow. Even Spruce and Pine whisper and sway in winter winds, buffering our homes and defying the bitter cold.
- COLOR Other trees, like the River Birch, Paperbark Maple, and Amur Chokecherry sport colorful, glistening, or exfoliating bark that stands out in bright winter sunlight. Colors and textures that are lost in the busy excess of summer provide warmth and textural interest to a winter landscape.
- FRUIT Many trees and shrubs carry persistent berries well into the winter, adding a splash of color and attracting hungry birds and wildlife. The ‘Prairiefire’ crab-apple and red chokeberry hold their fruits the longest, and are beautiful in bloom as well.
- SEEDS Even some apparently dead perennials keep performing through long winter months, due to beautiful seed heads. Many ornamental grasses are classified as “four-season perennials”, standing tall and dancing in winter winds, glowing golden when backlit with the low-slung winter sun. Try clump-forming Miscanthus or the ever-popular ‘Karl Foerster’ Feather-Reed grass for four-season screens, hedges, and beauty. With careful planning, the winter garden has a charm that rivals any season.
- PERENNIALS If that were not enough, some perennials flower before meteorological winter ends, reminding us that spring will soon be here. One such is hellebore (common name Lenten Rose), a genus of plants hardy in southern Wisconsin that offer evergreen foliage and late winter bloom. Many new hybrids of hellebore are flooding the nurseries. They are easy to grow and reliable bloomers.
- BULBS Most gardeners include tulips, daffodils and crocus in their gardens for spring color, but many other, lesser-known, care-free bulbs light up even the late winter landscape. For example, winter aconite is a self-sowing groundcover that blooms a bright cheery yellow as early as February, and disappears in the garden as summer approaches. Snowdrops, English favorites that come in innumerable subtle shades and forms, are frequently seen pushing back later winter snows.
Lets get out the mail order catalogs.