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Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Digging in ‑ This month in the garden: December

by Peter Wimberg

It’s December, you look out your windows before heading to work and see, well, nothing, It’s December and dark. So you wait til the weekend when you are home during the day, look out and see a somewhat bleak and uninspired landscape. It’s easy to heap all the blame for our outdoor gloom on winter: gray skies, rain and ice make it an easy target. But to be fair, we have a lot of control regarding how inspiring, or not so inspiring, our gardens are in the winter months. 

Harry Lauder’s walking stick
The well designed garden looks good year-round. A thoughtful landscape doesn’t place all its looks on colorful flowers, delicate foliage and impeccably manicured groundcovers. A successful winter garden includes plants that have interesting structure, or what we sometimes call architecture. A thoughtful winter garden marries weeping or contorted shrubs with evergreens that go beyond the expected pyramidal shape, all planted among hardscape features like pergolas or gracefully curved stone walls.  

When designing a new landscape or breathing new life into an existing one, we often start with trees and shrubs. We know it’s these features and their unique characteristics - such as exfoliating bark, pine cones or glossy, evergreen foliage - that will carry the garden through all seasons. We look for ways to add grasses that look fabulous up until the first heavy snow fall and perennials with spent seed-heads that are almost as interesting as the blooms they once showcased. 

It’s easy to add color in the spring and fall with annuals and fresh perennials, but it takes foresight to create a garden that looks good when winter has settled in and sent our fall foliage scattering with the wind.

Beautiful outdoor winter arrangement
So how does your landscape look in winter? Do you have focal points in the garden or vignettes that draw your attention and give you something interesting to look at? Do flowerbeds still hold interest with shape, texture and varying heights or are they beds of mulch? Have trees and shrubs revealed a new winter interest such as the bark of Paperbark Maple or the amazing branch and trunk formation of a Japanese Maple?

When it comes to adding much needed color and scent in the late winter garden, Witch Hazels are a smart choice. Our favorites are those sporting yellow and orange flowers. In addition to their all-so-welcomed winter flowers, Witch Hazels have an interesting structure thanks to their multiple trunks and slightly contorted branches. 

Shrubs adorned with vibrant berries are of great value to the winter garden. I’m partial to Firethorn (Pyracantha coccinea) mostly because of its fabulous orange berries, which the birds like as well. Place this where it can be left to grow as it likes, for its thorns make it a bit of a bear to trim.  
When I want to have something that really catches the eye and is a great specimen plant, Harry Lauder's walking stick is a sure bet. I like this small tree (up to 10 feet in height) located where it can be viewed from all angles and is seen often, not tucked in the back corner of the landscape. Plant it center stage in your most prominent part of the garden. This is a collector plant, something you want to see all the time. 

Finally, ornamental objects such as urns, statues, art pieces, even a large high-quality terracotta pot filled with dry branches, can add the visual punch your garden needs this winter. A benefit of ornamental elements is they can be moved from year-to-year to keep the garden’s design fresh.

Peter Wimberg is the president and owner of Wimberg Landscaping. The company has been providing residential landscape installation and maintenance for over 35 years and has grown from just one truck and a few staff members to 30 trucks and over 45 team members.

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