Darlington Designs

Winter Landscapes – Part 2

In the last edition, we spoke about design elements and features that enhance the look of your winter landscape. In this edition, we will talk about some of the best plants that can be incorporated for further enhancement. And not all of them are evergreen!

One design “rule,” is that landscapes “should” be about one third evergreen. Not because we want to be design rebels, but there are exceptions to rules. The reason for this “rule” is to help create color in the garden and landscape in winter, to have a garden that is more than gray and brown twigs. However, it always stands that the best way to a successful and beautiful landscape is to choose plants that will thrive in the environment where they will be planted. In some cases, there may be few evergreens that can work. Some of our Mullica Hill clients have properties that are open to strong winds and exposure, an inappropriate environment for just about every broad-leaf evergreen. Needle evergreens fare better in these conditions since they have less leaf surface exposed to desiccation. Many needle evergreens grow quite large, so careful design and planning is important. Some great evergreen choices for our area are our native hollies, Japanese Black Cedar varieties including a small form called ‘Black Dragon,’ and the globe version which is a great choice instead of a broad leaf boxwood. (Boxwoods are better suited to more protected sites). It’s hard to beat trees like Hemlock, especially weeping varieties, and Deodara Cedar, whose graceful branching, especially when holding snow, look like they are draped with a fur cape. On the smaller side, shrubs like Mugo Pine and Nest Spruces are sturdy and can hold up to snow loads very well. Surprisingly, there are even a few evergreen ferns that look great in the winter landscape: Christmas Fern and Tassel Fern have a great lacey texture in addition to being evergreen.

Non-evergreen plants with great winter attributes include:

  • Plants with Berries. Winterberry Holly has bright red berries on otherwise bare branches. Varieties such ‘Red Sprite’ and ‘Berry Heavy’ are two to choose from. Our native evergreen holly is a bird magnet in winter and the cut branches make great decorations for the holidays. Be sure to wear gloves and gauntlets or long sleeves when cutting! Wintergreen is a low-growing, ground cover plant, also a native for us, that is evergreen, suitable for shade, and is deer-resistant, all while covered with berries. Bayberry, yet another great native plant, is semi-evergreen with a blue-green foliage and a small, dark blue berry. Bayberry grows very quickly, prefers sandy, well-draining soil, and is suitable as part of a planted border.
  • Oakleaf hydrangea. Our beautiful native hydrangea sports a paper-y, exfoliating bark that is a dark parchment color. It also has a unique twisted branching habit that makes it a striking feature when its structure is exposed in the winter landscape.
  • Colorful-stemmed plants. Red twig dogwood shrubs turn on their color in the winter, bringing pops of red to the planted borders. This dogwood shrub has the best color on new stems so older stems should be pruned out for best show. Also available is a yellow twig variety and one called, ‘Arctic Fire.’ Another plant with red stems is the Coral Bark Maple Tree, a beautiful specimen for a more protected area, the red most showy in winter.
  • Winter bloomers. Yes, there are several plants that do bloom in winter! Winter Hazel starts the season with a large pink bud, opening to bell-shaped yellow flower. Witch Hazel is another flowering shrub for winter. There are few varieties available: ‘Arnold’s Promise’ is a yellow bloomer and ‘Jelena’ blooms in a coppery shade of orange. Both are highly and wonderfully fragrant, reminiscent of the fragrance from a carnation. Look for these to bloom late winter. A perennial that blooms in winter is Lenten Rose, an overall great plant for the landscape with flower colors that range from a variety of pink shades to a variety of yellow shades. Prefers shade and is a great plant companion for the Tassel Fern. Hellebore is a surprisingly sturdy evergreen perennial with a dark, serrated leaf, and deer-resistant. No shade garden is complete without this plant.
  • Trees. Mentioned in the last edition of this blog, our native River Birch is a tree that’s hard to beat for winter landscape interest. It has bark that peels in large, papery sections, often revealing a rosy color below. The branches have an arching habit with fine branch tips which is more noticeable in winter. Linden trees also have an arching branch habit that is revealed in winter. Another bonus to a Linden tree is the “S” shaped pattern on the bark of the tree that is more pronounced as the tree matures and is a dark contrast against the snow. As winter comes to an end, we can begin to see buds swell on trees, especially early blooming varieties like dogwoods, adding both to winter interest and helping us look forward to springtime.
  • Ornamental Grasses. A matter of preference, some clients like to have their grasses left up over the winter instead of cutting them back as they provide shelter for small birds and a blond vertical element in the winter landscape. When winter winds blow across a sweep of grasses, the motion is compelling and striking. Some sedges have good color all winter, especially the bronze sedge groups, look like tufted ground covers and provide interest on the ground level.

Now that you have a whole bunch of great ideas for your winter landscape, winter is the best time to start planning your projects for the 2018 season.