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Georgia Winter Garden Design

Winter for many gardeners is a wait and see time. We eagerly anticipate spring, yearning to see the pretty green leaves and perennials popping up everywhere. And hoping that everything comes back from the hard freezes (My fingers are crossed)!

Right now, though, most landscapes may seem unspectacular. Very little blooms in the winter. What remains from the growing season are evergreen trees, shrubs, and sticks (from deciduous woody plants or perennials) with a very limited color palate. This is where landscape design comes into play. The texture, color and form of shrubs, perennials and trees can help create interest.

Color

Color, as I have often said, does not only come from blooming flowers. It appears in tree bark, leaves, and berries. It plays an important role in the winter landscape.

Image 1: On a dreary winter day (hence the dormant Zoysia grass), the tree’s red bark brightens the yard scape. Coral Bark Maples (Acer palmatum ‘Sango Kaku’) are beautiful even in the winter.

Yellow Junipers and other conifers also brighten up a yard and create visual interest and texture.

Image 2: Gold Lace Juniper (Juniperus chinensis ‘Gold Lace’) is a spreading coniferous shrub with flat deep green needle-like foliage that emerges bright yellow and intensifies to gold in fall. It can grow 4 to 5 feet tall and spread across an area of 6 to 8 feet.

Texture

Texture in a plant is visual as well as tactile. It comes from the structure of the plant including its leaves. Bold, coarse texture can be found year-round from many shrubs, trees and perennials such as Lamb’s ear (Stachys byzantine).

Image 3: Lamb’s ear is an easy-care perennial with velvety soft, wooly evergreen leaves that are silver to gray-green in color. The foliage is similar in shape to that of a real lamb’s ears, hence its name.

Finely textured plants such as grasses are interesting in the winter, especially on windy days. They are some of my favorites for winter interest.

Image 4: This Muhli (Muhlenbergia capillaris) grass after a frost creates a frothy wave of texture in the landscape. Note also, the trunk of a Crape Myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica) in the background, the bark of which has subtle texture and color.

Other grasses that remain attractive all winter are Acorus gramineus (Image 5) and Carex morrowii (Image 6).

Image 5: Also known as Miniature Sweet Flag (Acorus ‘Minimus Aureus’) is moisture-loving and forms showy mats of stiff, narrow bladed leaves. This is an easy to grow perennial with nice foliage, that slowly spreads and is long-lived. 
Image 6: Carex morrowii is a sedge that typically grows in a dense, grass-like clump to 1-2’ tall. Grasses planted next to hardscape elements, such as rocks or concrete, create textural contrast between the hard, inanimate surface and the live, pliable surface.

Form and pulling it all together

Form is the shape of the plant – round, oval, weeping, conical. In Image 7, most of the plants are rounded, but the designer created some interest with the height of the plants. Including the tree and the river rock ground cover, there are five different heights in this grouping. 

Image 7: The background of taller plants are coarsely textured Hydrangeas, the finely textured grasses appear to be Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’. The perennials in the front are Walker’s Low Catnip (Nepeta racemose ‘Walker’s Low’), an easy care, strong blue bloomer from spring to fall.

On a drive back from visiting my Dad in Virginia, Jason and I stopped at a shopping center. I am always on the lookout for interesting designs or plants and was excited to see the grouping in Image 7. How unusual to see a planting that looks well thought-out in a shopping center! It is something that will look good throughout all the seasons. The designers (and I am sure a designer had a part in this) used a combination of form, texture, and color to create this grouping.

Image 8: Perennials and smaller shrubs offer contrast. In this image, the vibrant green thyme sets off the color of the evergreen shrub and establishes textural contrast to the stone.

As you look forward into the new year, remember to also look towards next winter and consider how form, texture, and color can be cultivated in your landscape. Art of Stone Gardening is available to answer questions or work with you to envision and bring that winter landscape to fruition.

This is Miscanthus (Miscanthus sinensis) looks good in contrast with the Green Giant Arborvitae (Thuja ‘Green Giant’) Unfortunately, the Miscanthus grass is now on the invasive species list but this photo shows how well it stands out with a dark green background.

Don’t forget to leave seed heads both for the birds and for the plant composition.

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