Landscaping for winter

Photo by Karen Cox

Everything’s in bloom now, but take a moment to consider how your property looked last winter. A little bland and white, perhaps?

Not to worry. There are lots of ways to add elements to the garden that look great in summer and add remarkable visual interest when the snow is deep.

The first thing to remember about the cottage garden in winter is that Muskoka gets a lot of snow. Really, a lot! The average snowfall in Muskoka is 333 centimetres, or 11 feet; last year we got more than 400 cm, and in 2007-08 we had 559 cm (over 18 feet) – the highest in the province.

Even though all that compacts down to a depth of three to five feet, that still means that by late in the season, everything except trees and larger sculptural elements are buried.

But it also means that the winter landscape changes: the garden in November or December, with a light dusting of snow, looks very different than the same landscape in February when nearly everything is buried.

For the first few weeks of the snowy season, you can enjoy the sight of year-round perennials and grasses. This is the season to enjoy those low-growing plants that hold structure, or even colour, and look amazing with an inch of snow on them.

Look for late-blooming perennials that have strong stems and interesting seed heads – not only will they hold up under the snow, but the seeds will also help feed birds and other wildlife. Echinacea (purple coneflower), rudbeckia (black-eyed Susan), and some sedums are all good candidates. Some annuals, like sunflowers, are also excellent in winter.

Let us know that you’ll be up in the winter, and we can leave certain plants in place when we prepare the beds for the season.

Grasses are another perfect early-winter plant. In fact, many look their best once there’s no competition from brightly-coloured blooms – suddenly you notice their shape, texture, and structure in a way you didn’t in August.

For later in the season, you can count on shrubs and trees to give you visual effect. This is when bark is of particular interest. The bright red bark of dogwood, or the ‘burnt cornflakes’ texture of a black cherry looks amazing against a snowy backdrop. Birches also really shine when the snow is glistening around them.

Trees and shrubs that hold their fruit are a great asset to the winter garden. Not only do they look lovely, they also serve as a natural bird feeder, drawing wildlife into the winter garden. Crab apples are hardy and long-lasting. Native species like the well-named winterberry, high bush cranberry, mountain ash and staghorn sumac all sport reddish fruit that lingers well into the season.

Consider the shape and structure of trees, as well. A stand of balsam trees in summer can be a bit ordinary and unimpressive, but view those same trees with heavy wet snow on each branch and they’re suddenly stunning.

Finally, winter is the time when garden art can really come into its own. Some pieces change their purpose once the snow falls. A gazebo or pergola may provide shade in the summer, but in winter it can be a snow-clad sculpture. The same goes for some garden furniture – the right pieces are worth leaving in the snow rather than bringing indoors, because they look wonderful with snow on them.

Or maybe you’d like to install a specific piece of sculpture. To be enjoyed in winter, it should be large and sturdy – think human-sized or bigger. Stone, wood, and steel are all excellent choices for custom artwork in the garden.

You can even place some pieces so that they’re barely visible when the summer foliage is in place, but emerge as the leaves fall and the snow arrives, providing a bit of a peekaboo garden surprise.

If you’ve got a piece in mind, or are simply looking for some suggestions, let us know: we can help source the right piece, and then design the garden that will show it to at its best.



Posted in In the Garden.