Design a Winter Garden that Combines Toughness, Color & Texture
For winter garden strategies, we turned to horticulturist and garden designer Adrian Bloom, an expert in winter color at his family’s Bressingham Gardens and Foggy Bottom Garden in Norfolk, England. In addition to designing for the notoriously gray winters of Britain, he has lent his skills to four-season, cold-conscious gardens such as the Bressingham Garden at the Massachusetts Horticultural Society in Wellesley, Massachusetts.
Low-growing plants provide a lush carpet, allowing the silverwhite bark of Betula apoiensus ‘Mount Apoi’ and the fiery stems of Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’ in the background to shine. Front left: golden leaved Abies nordmanniana ‘Golden Spreader’; between the birch are winter-flowering heathers Erica carnea ‘Vivellii’ and ‘Springwood White’.
In addition to selecting plants and combinations that marry toughness, color, and texture, Bloom offers these tips:
- Consider views from windows and along outdoor walkways.
- Select plants that provide both summer greenery and winter blooms.
- Look for attention-grabbing stems or bark to provide winter interest.
- Provide contrast with dark branches, golden or variegated foliage.
- Convey a feeling of serenity with monochrome palettes, such as a row of white birches in a blanket of snow.
- Offer year-round color and interest with evergreen varieties that change with the seasons.
- Ground your design, with low-growing plants and grasses.
Abies lasiocarpa var. arizonica ‘Glauca Compacta’ is a slow-growing (about 3 feet every 10 years) form of Rocky Mountain fir with silvery blue needles and a dense, tubby pyramid shape that supports and lends gravity to the plants that surround it—here, Erica carnea f. aureifolia ‘Foxhollow’ (foreground) and Erica carnea ‘Myretoun Ruby’.
Ultimately, design for the winter garden depends on simplicity, elegance, and smart design. “You don’t need a vast range of plants to provide interest and change,” Bloom says.
A small south-facing area is lit up by the orange winter color of the grasslike New Zealand Libertia peregrinans ‘Gold Leaf’. It grows amidst Bergenia ‘Bressingham Ruby’ (behind) and Erica carnea ‘Myretoun Ruby’.
A winter garden is about light as much as it is about plants. Here the sun shines through the Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’ as it contrasts dramatically with sturdily shaped Picea glauca var. albertiana ‘Alberta Globe’. Heathers (Erica carnea ‘Foxhollow’ and Erica carnea ‘Pink Spangles’) and blades of Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Little Bunny’ stand in front.
Layering color adds depth to the winter garden. Here, Hamamelis ×intermedia ‘Pallida’ with Acorus gramineus ‘Ogon’, Erica carnea ‘Myretoun Ruby’, and Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’ in the background.
Betula utilis var. jacquemontii ‘Grayswood Ghost’ is a centerpiece all year long, but the smooth, ghostlike bark and unusual texture personify winter. In the foreground, Bergenia ‘Bressingham Ruby’ brings leafy contrast while Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’ echoes the tall, slender shape of the tree. Here, they’re shown against a canvas of Cupressus arizonica var. glabra ‘Blue Ice’.
Get more winter plant recommendations from Adrian Bloom.