If you’re coming up to the cottage this holiday season, it’s a good opportunity to do some landscape planning. There’s mounds of fresh, fluffy snow across Muskoka and a well-designed garden looks fantastic in all seasons. So cast a critical eye across the landscape and ask yourself whether it looks fabulous. If not, let’s start planning now for work that will improve things next season.
A summer garden is all about shape and colour; the same goes for a winter garden. Sure, the winter scene is dominated by white, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have some splashes of colour. In fact, winter is a time when colours can really pop.
Evergreens are a natural place to start. But don’t think of green as just a single colour: conifers come in every conceivable shade of green, from bright limes to somber forest greens. There are also yellows and blues, silvers and purples that have just a hint of green to them. Any of these can make a dramatic statement against the whites and purples of the snowy landscape, particularly on a sunny day when the sky is icy blue.
Bark can also be used to make a dramatic colour statement. Red osier dogwood is a native species that really stands out in winter – a large stand of thin red stems is dramatic and eye-catching against the snow. There are also a number of Japanese maples with stunning red bark. Most aren’t hardy in this region, but some will grow here with a little extra care and protection.
The green stems of some bamboos can look stunning in winter, giving the eye an unexpected treat.
Plants with brightly coloured seed heads are another asset in winter. Winterberry is a hardy native that produces masses of bright red berries each fall. The birds will come in and feed on them in winter, after they’ve eaten all the more succulent fruits. Staghorn sumac offers a similar benefit. Although the reds aren’t quite as dramatic, a mature stand of sumac can have amazing visual structure.
Mountain ash berries are stunning in winter, although they can’t be counted on – if a roving flock of evening grosbeaks finds your tree, they may strip it before they migrate (giving plenty of entertainment and colour as they do, so it isn’t a total loss!) If the berries last into winter, they’ll attract chickadees and other winter residents. Despite the name, mountain ash isn’t a true ash tree, so it is immune to the emerald ash borer that is currently wiping out most of our ash trees.
Structure is the other component to consider when planning the winter garden. Plants that stand straight and strong in the fall can look stunning when dusted with snow. Cattails look amazing in winter. So, too, do many ornamental grasses – miscanthis grass is one of our favourites. Hydrangeas, will retain their shape through the early part of winter.
Some of these plants are typically pruned back in the fall, but if we know that you’ll be up in the winter we can leave some standing to provide visual interest.
Winter is also a great time to enjoy some human-made structures. From gazebos and pergolas to trellises and even ornamental fences, everything takes on a different look when the summer foliage has died back. You may even consider locating some structures purely for winter enjoyment – a sculpture can be largely hidden by summer foliage, only emerging for viewing in the winter.
Most of us think of the cottage gardens as purely a summer retreat. But if winter cottaging is part of your routine, it’s well worth designing some visual elements to delight your eyes when the snow comes down.