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Winter Interest

February 26, 2017

snowy woodsThere’s a great deal of discussion in gardening circles about what gardeners can plant in their gardens to provide “winter interest.” I wonder if this is primarily a concern of those who live in climates where winter dormancy is combined with a bleak winter landscape and drab, gray winter days.

Where I live in northern New England, winter is itself interesting – and beautiful. Winters here are normally snowy. The primary winter interest in my garden is provided by the white of snow contrasting with the deep green of conifer trees that grow around the edges of the garden. What’s more, the low pressure areas that bring us snow alternate with high pressure areas that bring blue skies and dazzling snow-reflected sunshine. New-fallen snow transforms almost everything that it touches into a thing of beauty.

The weight of the snow gave this tall spiky seed head of Liatris aspera its graceful arc. liatris snow arc
milkweed pods in snow A backdrop of white enhances the subtle silver and gold shades of exploded milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) pods and renders them beautiful.

lavender in snowI think of the beauty that snow brings to the garden as mostly visual, but this winter surprised me with a different kind of winter interest – provided, improbably, by snow shoveling. As I shoveled the narrow walkway through the Lavender Walk after each storm, I would uncover the grayed foliage of lavender (Lavandula augustifolia) that edges the walkway. As my shovel brushed against it, the disturbed foliage released its aromatic oils, suffusing the air with a swoon-inducing scent in this fragrance-deprived season.

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16 Comments leave one →
  1. February 26, 2017 7:28 pm

    I never bother with winter interest, either, since snow is the winter interest in Maine. Last year was different, but it was an oddball year… That is really interesting about the lavender scent.

    • March 3, 2017 9:50 pm

      Harriet, I was both surprised and delighted by how much the lavender keeps its scent through the winter.

  2. February 26, 2017 10:38 pm

    I’ve always thought that snowy scenes have a particular kind of beauty too (not that I have any hands-on experience with them). There’s a calm and peacefulness to a snow-covered vista that seems impossible to replicate in my own environment.

    • March 3, 2017 9:52 pm

      Kris, I think snow is one of those elements like water (which, actually, is what it is) that you can’t replicate with something else. I know those raked sand Japanese gardens are supposed to be replicating water, but they really don’t do it for me.

  3. February 27, 2017 8:44 am

    I like your way of thinking about winter interest, Jean.

    • March 3, 2017 9:53 pm

      Pat, Our snow has been melting quickly. I now have some patches of bare ground here and there under the trees — and I find myself thinking, somewhat impatiently, about spring.

  4. February 27, 2017 12:04 pm

    Your photos are beautiful Jean! Even though I live in SC, I also think about winter interest in the garden. This year we are enjoying an early spring with daffodils already in bloom. But, most years I rely upon the array of evergreens, including camellias that bloom in the winter, along with the seed heads of sedums, rudbeckia, liatris and iris in the garden. The birds and chipmunks like them, too.

    • March 3, 2017 9:55 pm

      Kathy, I think your environment, where many plants do go into some period (however brief) of winter dormancy, but where snow is rare, is exactly the place where it makes sense to think about winter interest in the garden.

  5. February 27, 2017 9:45 pm

    You nailed this Jean! I love what the snow does to my gardens in the winter. How sweet to have your lavender scenting your way through shoveling. Most of our snow has melted these last days and I have some green poppy leaves emerging on the south side of the house. It feels like spring.

    • March 3, 2017 9:56 pm

      Brenda, I also have some bare ground along the foundation and in patches under the trees. I haven’t seen any signs of new spring growth yet, though.

  6. debsgarden permalink
    March 5, 2017 8:50 pm

    I am surprised that even under a winter blanket of snow your lavender retains its fragrance. How nice! The fact that lavender flourishes so well in your climate may explain why it usually perishes in mine. Your snowy landscape is gorgeous, and i agree you need no further winter interest. Our winter tends to be brown, drab, and mushy. i am glad it is now drawing to a close.

    • March 10, 2017 9:12 pm

      Deb, The lavender was a delightful surprise. My well-drained (with a vengeance) glacial sand is well-suited to growing lavender. The challenge of growing it here is finding varieties that will survive our winters. Two varieties of Lavandula augustifolia are widely recommended as winter-hardy — ‘Hidcote’ and ‘Munstead’; I have both growing along my Lavender Walk.

  7. gardnersmelbourne permalink
    March 11, 2017 12:57 am

    Snow is the most beautiful thing in this world, and when this snow joins the garden, then it would be like an icing on the cake. The way you describe the winter interest is amazing. Thumbs up!

    • March 12, 2017 9:56 pm

      Well, by this point in winter, I think the most beautiful thing in the world would be new green foliage and flowers! 🙂

  8. March 12, 2017 12:39 pm

    Hello Jean, winter is definitely drab and grey in the UK and definitely not crisp and snowy. Winter interest for me is more about having plants that can flower through winter and so join the previous season into the next. The “mild” winters here allow for honeysuckle, jasmine, Camellia, witchazels, viburnums and many other plants to fill winter with scent if not showy flowers. This way the dull grey matters less as the nose takes over from the eyes as the primary sense.

    • March 12, 2017 9:59 pm

      Sunil, The mid-Atlantic region of the United States, where I taught for many years, has winters more like yours — lots of gray skies and rain along with some snow. The reward is a long, lovely spring. New England has much snowier and much sunnier winters — so, although the winter is longer, it is also more enjoyable.

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