Cottage Gardener Blog

Garden design in winter

Winter Interest in the garden is a design element that is easily overlooked during the warm summer months when everything in the garden is green and blooming. Creating structure in the garden with both man made and plant elements will help define the space when covered in a blanket of snow. Planning for the winter months of snow and cold when nothing in the garden is in leaf or flower can be a challenge for any homeowner.winter_landscape_wisconsin

winter_landscape_wisconsin_9Starting with manmade elements such as a fence, trellis, or stone wall will help create a more permanent feature that will enclose the space and define the borders. Fences and walls help pull together other elements such as plants even though they may be on opposite sides of the space. Low stone walls can form a backdrop to the summer perennial garden and become a backbone in the winter garden tying larger shrubs, trees and evergreens together. This will help provide a texture or color change in a background of all white.

winter_landscape_wisconsin_8When selecting plants for the winter garden following a few simple guidelines will make the process fun and easy. Designing the winter garden uses many of the same elements as designing the summer garden. Start with your view from the windows in your house. Select plants that have interesting bark, persistent fruit, or are evergreen and can be used as a focal point or in combination with other plants. Additional elements to consider include: the actual height and width the plant will eventually grow into, how much sun or shade the plant will have during the growing season, the plant’s attributes of shape, color, and texture during winter months, the prevailing wind direction that will blow and drift snow, and the shadow lines created by sun light that is coming from a lower point in the sky. These are just a few of the factors in the selection of plants that can be used for their winter interest.


Here is a short list of plants for the lower Wisconsin and upper Illinois region with their noted Winter Interest:

  • Winter King Hawthorn (Crataegus viridis) peeling bark with an orange-tan color and red berries that hold on into early winter.
  • River Birch (Betula nigra) peeling cinnamon and white bark with dark brown branches.
  • Pagoda Dogwood (Cornus alternifolia) younger stems have a dense branching pattern and are a purple brown color.
  • Weeping Willow (Salix alba Tristis) cascading effect of yellow stems.
  • Crabapple (Malus) many varieties available with yellow, red, or purple fruit.
  • Red Twig Dogwood (Cornus sericea) several cultivars, many with red younger stems.
  • Japanese Kerria (Kerria japonica) green stems that turn bright green as spring approaches.
  • Oak Leaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) both exfoliating cinnamon colored stems and dried flower heads.
  • Seven Sons Flower (Heptacodium miconioides) exfoliating tan bark reveals cinnamon colored inner bark.
  • Boxwood (Buxus) evergreen shrub with smaller leaf that holds its shape.
  • Dwarf Serbian Spruce (Picea omorika ‘Nana’) dwarf evergreen with short blue green needles.
  • Blue Japanese White Pine (Pinus parviflora ‘Glauca’) upright evergreen with open branching and longer twisted bluish green needles
  • Native Grasses (Miscanthus and Panicum) both grasses are taller with feathery seedheads.


This is just a short list of some of my favorite plants with winter interest. Give me a call to discuss how we can help you redesign your winter garden.


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