Designing for Winter Interest

Roadside Garden in Summer in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Roadside Garden in Summer (photo credit: Kathy Diemer)

Whether novice or experienced, we all strive for gardens that look good no matter the season.  And that is indeed a challenge.  What can we do to maintain some structure and color when the temperatures hover in the single digits and all signs of plant life are but a pleasant memory? The answer is incorporating evergreens and deciduous shrubs into your landscape.

'Hameln' and 'Zebrinus' in Winter in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

‘Hameln’ and ‘Zebrinus’ (background) in Winter (photo credit: Kathy Diemer)

When I first started my gardens, I went to the nursery and loaded up on every perennial that looked good at the time.  I soon realized my mistake when, by mid-summer, there was absolutely nothing going on.  Ghost town in the garden, so to speak. From there, I began searching for perennials that bloomed longer (such as rudbeckia) and later (fall anemone).  But, once winter arrived and snow covered the ground, you still couldn’t tell where the lawn ended and the garden began.  That’s when shrubs and evergreens came into my life; solving the seasonal interest conundrum as well as providing a little less work overall.

Weeping Larch in Autumn in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Weeping Larch in Autumn (photo Kathy Diemer)

The trick to using shrubs, evergreens and dwarf trees in the garden is to carefully consider each plant’s attributes and how they will impact your overall theme during each season.  And if you haven’t thought about an overall theme, you may want to start there first.  For example, do you want a lot of gold and chartreuse foliage in a particular bed?  If so, you may want to consider adding perennials with contrasting colors like rich burgundy, bold pink or bright yellow.  Editing your selections so that the harmonizing colors are sprinkled throughout symmetrically will be imperative to the garden’s overall cohesiveness.

Evergreen & Deciduous Garden-Summer-in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Evergreen & Deciduous Garden-Summer (photo credit: Kathy Diemer)

Going further, you will want to choose architecturally interesting deciduous shrubs and texturally appealing evergreens that will complement each other while making a statement during the dormant months.   Form, height and spread are important considerations when deciding on plants and placement.  For structural element in one bed, I selected a dwarf blue spruce and under planted it with a weeping larch, low growing sedum and ground cover junipers.  In close proximity is a crimson red twig dogwood, a dwarf white pine and an upright gold edged juniper, all looking marvelous during winter months.  The palette changes in spring when the dwarf lilac’s fragrant violet blooms pair up beautifully with the frosty blue needles of the dwarf spruce.  In summer, the gold edged spruce is flanked by the creamy white variegated leaves of the twig dogwood and bringing up the rear is a purple smoke bush with  leaves that reflect the sun’s rays in dazzling shades of crimson reds and fiery orange.

Rudbeckia with Hoopsii Spruce in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Rudbeckia with Hoopsii spruce (Photo credit: Kathy Diemer)

If you would like to start simply, many trees can stand alone in the landscape and are quite happy to have all the attention to themselves.  Colorful evergreens like the pale blue ‘Hoopsi’ spruce light up the landscape like a Christmas tree-without the lights, while ‘Cripsii’s’ golden color stands out like a beacon.  Stewartia, metasequoia and river birch are not to be missed for fabulous bark and trunk coloring.  Even alluring Magnolia stellata has merit with a strong grey trunk and branches embellished with furry silver buds.

Driveway Garden Winter in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Evergreens & deciduous shrub combination-Winter (photo credit: Kathy Diemer)

Creating seasonal interest is an ongoing process as our plantings mature and we evolve as gardeners.  Designing and implementing your ideas is both challenging and rewarding.  You may have successes and disappointments, but over the course of time the outcome will be well worth the effort ♥


  1. And we thought that gardening died off in the winter months!

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