Darlington Designs

Winter Landscapes – Part 1

It’s official; we’ve got winter in the Delaware Valley, marked by the first snowfalls of the season with production work disrupted for the crews mobilizing for snow removal and treatments. Many people think the landscape season is over once winter begins. But this is not true. Winter landscapes can be very beautiful and exciting—it just takes a bit of thought and planning, good reasons to work with design/build professionals. This blog will be in two parts: the first will discuss design and structural aspects of the winter landscape; the second part will be about plants that add winter landscape interest.

More than ever, our homes and landscapes are inter-connected. We have patios and covered porches that help extend our interior spaces to the outdoors. We also have NanoDoors that can open the interior spaces to the outdoors providing connection as well as increasing our interior views. Now that we’ve created these great spaces, how can we make the winter landscape more exciting?

Let’s talk about views. Views can be framed, concealed, and the “borrowed” in the landscape. When we consider framing views, it’s just as important, or maybe even more important, to direct desirable views for the winter landscape. This can be accomplished by perhaps a path that ends at a sculpture, a group of evergreens punctuated by a decorative gate between them that provides a contrasting color tone to the solid evergreen. It might even be accomplished with a specimen tree or plants with winter interest (more on this in Part 2 of this blog on the Winter Landscape). Unfortunate views are revealed in the winter landscape since foliage has dropped, allowing winter to be a good time to take a discerning eye to views like utility areas, sheds, or derelict vehicles. Good ways to screen less-than exciting views are to plant bands of tall and wide evergreens, better still if they are part of a mixed border or solid privacy fencing. Lastly, we have views in what are called the “borrowed” landscape. A “borrowed” landscape is what we see which lies outside our own specific property lines. For some of our clients, this might be a farm field, filled with tawny stems or it might be your neighbor’s magnificent old beech tree. It might even be a lake or pond that is concealed all season that comes to view once leaves drop. Bottom line: we want to screen the undesirable views and enhance the desirable ones with our design and planting decisions. It’s important to be discerning about our choices so we don’t make a bad situation worse. For example, in our desire to screen a neighbor’s old RV, planting a hundred-foot-long stretch of the same kind of evergreen shrub makes a for a boring wall and a missed design opportunity for something better, which would be a variety of evergreens with different shades of green and different sizes, including some specimens.

Another design feature that really adds to the winter landscape is the use of landscape night-lighting. Night-lighting is beautiful on the garden in the season, but in many ways, it’s even better in the winter. Branch shadows, empty of foliage, are striking silhouettes against architecture. Lights on specimen trees, for example, on our native river birch, really accentuates the bark. Up-lights on winter landscape features like arbors or sculpture, especially if they are snow-capped, make winter focal points. Snow fall on the illuminated winter landscape, added to all the other benefits of night lighting, add up to a great landscape investment. Lastly and importantly, night-lighting illuminates stairs and walkways to help make a safer passageway, even more beneficial when these areas may have a coating of ice or snow.

In our next edition, we’ll talk about what kind of plants are great for your winter landscape.