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The Outdoor Beauty of Winter

by Jane Bath

Someone said recently, “Don’t come over to my garden now, it is winter and bare.” That should not be. As a designer, I had to see sites in all seasons. Sometimes in summer I would remark, “Your landscape must be quite bare in winter.” The response was always, “Yes, this is a big problem because it is so depressing. But how did you know.”  Because the elements of a beautiful winter landscape were not there. Perhaps there are lots of evergreen surrounding the house, but beyond is vacuous.


I would guess that some evergreens would be the first element to add. One might look out over a beautiful forest and maybe onto a lovely golf course (which now has brown sod). Of course, the first reaction is not to block the view. But I would not be suggesting a hedge of evergreens. Instead determine where you sit or stand in your home for your vista and make sure your evergreen additions are staggered here and there to give depth but not block the view. Or maybe the evergreens are added to block an unwanted view, which in summer is not noticeable!


Some of the big evergreens in bare woods are of course Emily Brunner holly, magnolia grandiflora and sweet bay magnolia, anise (Illicium parviflora) (sun or shade) and I. floridatum (shade only) and camellias and sasanquas. I have had great luck with Canadian hemlock along our creek sited far apart because of the known disease problem.


One can add azaleas (big leaf might be best with deer), Lenten roses (Helleborus), autumn and Christmas ferns, some evergreen viburnums like ‘Canoy’ and V. pragense,  Sarcococca – sweet box and Daphne odora.  Plants to avoid are mahonia bealie and nandina domestica, although ones without berries are good. They have become invasive.


But elements Number 2 and 3 are also vitally important and should be dealt with BEFORE adding your evergreens. Number 2 is getting rid of invasives like privet, Japanese honeysuckle, Chinese wisteria and the like. This is getting rid of trash that ruins any view. But the Number 3 element is often missed.


Number 3 is looking at your woods and taking note of all your trees. Some might be old and diseased, badly injured in storms, or just an over abundance of some trees that if allowed to continue to grow only crowd the space. Hire a tree person, mark those trees, and be shocked how your forest comes alive with this thinning. More light comes in; trees and shrubs that had been struggling are now thriving.


Now you are ready to plant in a space opened up for some real beauties – both evergreen and deciduous. You now have a garden. So add a chair or two for a sit down in the afternoon when out walking in your new space.

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