|Northern mockingbird with red cedar berries. Photo: Getty Images|
WSJ, Oct. 29, 2015
WINTER IS THE great forgotten season in the garden. Flowers have turned brown and crispy, as have leaves that mere weeks ago launched their fall-foliage spectacular. Time to light a fire and click on Netflix.
The off-season yard doesn’t have to be desolate and sleepy. “When I design a space I begin with winter,” said Lynden Miller, creator of public gardens in Manhattan, including Central Park’s Conservatory Garden. “Who wants to look at an empty brown ugly bed” in a part of the world “where winter is five or six months a year?” she asked.
A strategic cold-weather garden offers brilliant red and orange berries of hollies and firethorns when you need them most: When skies are gray and the earth is barren or buried in snow. Bare branches have their own beauty. At my house in upstate New York, viburnum trees stretch horizontally like giant bonsai while bright crimson twigs of a dogwood shrub gleam against white.
And yes, some plants bloom in frigid weather: In my yard, witch-hazel trees’ branches sprout blossoms and snowdrops push their flowers as early as January.
Though it might seem odd to plant now as sunlight grows scarce and temperatures drop, “fall is an ideal time,” said Peter Zale, curator and plant breeder at Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pa. The roots of most trees, shrubs, bulbs and perennials continue to grow in the typically cool, moist soil, he said. “Plants can get a head start on the spring season,” and you can enjoy their display this winter and those to come. Bonus: Most plants are heavily discounted at nurseries and online now. Get them in before a hard freeze.
|Photo: Getty Images|
Berry-producing trees and bushes bring much-needed color as well as birds to the garden. The profuse yellow, orange or red fruits of firethorn shrubs (Pyracantha) pop against both bark and snow. Variegated hollies such as Ilex aquifolium ‘Argenteo Marginata,’ with green leaves edged in white, are handsome year-round. And Ken Druse, author of a dozen garden books, suggests snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus), a bush whose clusters of plump white berries brighten bare branches. Juniper shrubs hold on to their silvery-blue needles all year and produce dusky blue berries (actually very fleshy seed cones) that emit an astringent scent (yes, they are used to flavor gin).Sometimes fauna win out over flora. Don’t get me wrong. I love birds. I keep a full feeder. But by Thanksgiving, the critters denude my winterberry shrubs of their brilliant scarlet berries. Peter Zale, of Pennsylvania’s Longwood Gardens, suggests ‘Red Sprite’ and ‘Aurantiaca,’ whose large berries “birds may have trouble fitting in their mouths.”
Bright-colored or unusual branches save a garden after perennials have given up the ghost and trees and bushes are leafless. A twiggy dogwood called Ivory Halo (Cornus alba ‘Bailhalo’), a favorite of landscape designer Lynden Miller, produces showy, white-outlined leaves in summer and, in winter “has wonderful red stems” 5 to 6 feet tall that stand like sentinels in the snow. Said Mr. Zale, “There are lots of trees I prefer once the leaves fall off.” Stewartia, for instance, is better known for its white, camellia-like summer blooms, but winter reveals the mottled brown, beige and orange bark. Another recommendation: paperbark maple (Acer griseum), which, after a classic autumn flash of brilliant orange-red leaves, shows off cinnamon-colored bark that peels in long, curled strips.
For grasses and other winter beauties, see full article: