In the Garden:
New England
September, 2004
Regional Report

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Place ornamental grasses where they are backlit by the sun early or late in the day.

Plan Now for Winter Garden Gazing

Your garden that's now an explosion of color will slip into sepia tones in another two months, a time for using a different lens to view your landscape. There's beauty in the dormant season -- the horizontal branching of a dogwood tree, red berries on the crab apples -- if you've selected plants that have something to offer then. Although we have to lower our expectations a bit during our relatively long winters, we can still find pleasure in what we see outside our windows.

Think Shapes
Without the distraction of bright colors, shapes take on even more importance. Plants that might fade into the background during summer can be standouts in winter. A row of anything -- tall poplars, hemlocks, apples trees, willows -- catches your eye. They might form a hedge or backdrop for other plants during the growing season but they become a focal point when they stand alone. You can achieve the same effect with rows of perennials that have attractive seedpods in winter.

Circles of plants also are pleasing. Surround a birdbath with black-eyed Susans or echinacea or other eye-catching perennials with seedpods, and the circles will show up best once the leaves fall.

Ornamental Grasses Are a Must
No plants capture my attention year-round more than tall ornamental grasses swaying in the wind or covered with a fresh dusting of snow. They enunciate the perimeter of a garden and the sides of a path. You can plant them to enhance natural contours, or combine grasses of different heights to create the illusion of contours. They are beautiful all through the winter until spring when I cut them to the ground before new growth begins. I'll never be without Karl Foerster grass (Calamagrostisx acutiflora 'Karl Foerster'). I thought it a bit too much of an upright sentry when I first planted it, but the mature plants are tall and full and graceful. Another favorite is silver feather miscanthus (Miscanthus sinensis 'Silberfeder') with its silvery plumes that shimmer in the sunlight. Grasses are especially lovely when backlit by the sun.


Bare Bones
Trees with peeling or otherwise distinctive bark are just made for winter viewing. I crane my neck every time I drive by a certain enormous sycamore (Platanus), whose smooth, grayish brown bark has peeled off in large patches to reveal gorgeous, creamy white inner bark. Other trees with noteworthy bark are paperbark maple (Acer griseum), 'Heritage' river birch (Betula nigra 'Heritage'), Korean stewartia (Stewartia koreana), and American persimmon (Diospyros virginiana).

In addition to bark color and texture, some trees are simply beautiful in silhouette because of their network of branches. Horizontal branches are especially appealing because they catch the snow. Pagoda dogwood (Cornus alternifolia) and sargent crab apple (Malus sargentii) are two of my favorites. Other dogwoods have distinctive bark color. Redosier dogwood (Cornus sericea) shows off bright red twigs, and yellow-twig dogwood (Cornus sericea 'Flaviramea') has yellow bark. Plant these in a border row or in groupings for a more dramatic effect.

It's the Berries
Bird-watchers know to plant berried shrubs for birds to feed on in winter. I still haven't gotten over the thrill of seeing two pairs of bluebirds feasting on my winterberry shrubs (Ilex verticillata 'Red Sprite') in January. Winterberries are in the holly family, so you need both a male plant and a female plant in order to get fruit. 'Jim Dandy' winterberry is a good male pollinator for several female varieties. 'Sparkleberry' is a heavy-fruiting knockout that's small enough to fit in most any garden bed.

Chokeberries (Aronia arbutifolia and Aronia melanocarpa) have red or black fruit, most viburnums have showy fruit, and crab apples are spectacular for orange or red fruit that hangs on sometimes well into spring. (Be sure to select varieties resistant to apple scab disease.) 'Winter King' hawthorn (Crataegus viridis 'Winter King') has both horizontal branches and red berries to give it a high winter ranking. Place some of these plants within view of your windows so you don't miss avian snack time.

Pot Them Up
You can enjoy colorful twigs and berries near your front door by gathering twigs from your yard (or from the garden center) and placing them in winter-proof containers, such as the insulated, faux-clay planters. Fill them with greens and decorative branches, and weave some tiny lights amidst the branches to welcome you home.


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