When snow blankets our gardens, it’s time for the architectural qualities—shapes, colours and textures—of plants to come into their own. Moreover, wildlife must survive outdoors by finding both food and shelter during the season of bitter winds, plunging temperatures, snowstorms, freezing rain—and brilliant sunshine.
What architectural qualities contribute maximum interest to our frozen landscape? And, what plants best serve wildlife?
Whether it’s a chubby evergreen or the branches of a deciduous tree or shrub, shape adds interest to the winter garden. Limbs cast varied silhouettes on the snow, from the stately bulk of a pine, cedar, fir or spruce, to the filigree shadows created by oaks, maples and other trees, as well as or honeysuckles, mock oranges and shrubs.
Weeping mulberry and corkscrew hazel shrubs have delightfully twisted, slender limbs and stunted stature, which add year-round interest to gardens.
Other plants have very specific shapes either naturally or when pruned. Old-fashioned topiaries are fascinating to create, for instance, where dense evergreens such as yews or cedars are trimmed into animal shapes. Remember photos of Victorian gardens boasting menageries of elephants, peacocks and horses? Note to self: try creating a topiary next year!
Not only do fruits add colour, so does bark. Consider white (silver) birch with its gleaming, sometimes chalky-looking “skin,” or the shiny, dark-chestnut-brown of young pin or choke cherry trees. Weeping willows sport flexible, drooping, bright golden-yellow or chartreuse branches that sway in any murmur of breeze.
Shrubs? Dogwoods feature glorious, often crimson stems. Consider the Midwinter Fire Stem Dogwood. Its stems are a brilliant red throughout winter
And the berries! Consider vermillion clusters of rowan (mountain ash) trees or of deciduous holly (aka winterberry), or the scarlet, chubby (but spreading) hips of rosa rugosa varieties of extremely hardy roses.