Designing for Winter Interest

Winter LandscapingIn Northern Illinois, it’s easy to think that our landscapes are only relevant during the warmer months. While there may not be blooming flowers or water moving through fountains right now, there’s a lot of beauty to be had in the landscape in January. Our skilled landscape designers will always consider the winter habits of plants when creating a landscape plan. Some plants have unique seed heads that show beautifully against the snow. Similarly, some trees have exfoliating or cinnamon-colored bark that deserve the spotlight after their leaves have fallen. Incorporating winter interest with our plant choices maximizes the cost of landscaping and gives you lovely views through the window as you stay cozy inside.

Perennials are More Than Just Pretty Flowers

The first thought most people have when choosing plants for landscaping is flower color. Sure, we consider the different shades of purple, blue, pink, and yellow that make up the palette of colorful perennials in our landscape designs, but we also think about how the plant looks when it’s not blooming and even how the plant appears when it has died back for the year. Sun-loving perennials like Coneflower (Echinacea), Aster, and Sedum stay upright in winter, their dried seedheads collecting snow and inviting songbirds like Goldfinches to snack on their seeds. Clematis vines, with their showy summer flowers, often have some of the prettiest seedheads that look elegant lined with frost or snow. Ornamental grasses, so vibrant and lush during the growing season, still offer movement in the outdoor landscape when the winter wind blows. Their dried leaves – sometimes tawny brown, sometimes russet in color – rustle in the slightest breeze, providing their own music in an otherwise still and quiet landscape. Even the low-growing groundcover Pachysandra adds some green to winter (it’s evergreen!), though you may only notice it once the snow has melted from your landscape.

Your Shrubs Can Do Double Duty

Imagine if your entire landscape were made up only of evergreen plants. Sounds boring, right? When we design with variety and multiple seasons of interest in mind, the landscape holds our attention through each season. Gone are the days when the only option along a foundation was a row of needled evergreen plants like Yews or Junipers. The large, showy flowers of Hydrangeas dry to a warm brown and look lovely against a sparkly fresh snow. While in bloom, you might not even notice the shaggy, shedding bark of Oakleaf Hydrangea in your outdoor living area, but it quickly catches the eye (and the snow) in winter. Broadleaf evergreens such as Boxwood (Buxus) present a different texture and a rich green that beautifully compliments the various browns and auburns found in deciduous garden plants. Witch Hazels (Hamamelis) have (apparently) delicious seeds that attract birds all season long. The spring-blooming, or vernal, Witch Hazel has tiny, fragrant flowers whose petals unfurl like ribbons on sunny, warm winter days (even as early as January or February). Our expert landscapers can also include Burning Bush (Euonymus alatus)which stops traffic when ablaze with red fall leaf color, then doubles its value in winter with corky, thick stems that look stunning when lined with snow.

Trees: The Anchor of Every Winter Landscape

While there’s certainly an argument to be made in favor of the beauty of trees without their leaves, as landscape designers we know that incorporating trees with some showier winter features will appeal not just to us but to homeowners as well. The Paper Birch (Betula papyrifera) reigns supreme for striking winter interest, but its persnickety cultural requirements make it a poor choice in northern Illinois. A more tolerant substitute for our area is River Birch (Betula nigra). Though its bark is more creamy than white, it does have the striking exfoliation of its cousin and shows beautifully against the snow. The queen of winter interest is the Paperbark Maple (Acer ginnala) with its rich, cinnamon-colored trunk and papery exfoliating bark, which we believe is a perfect addition in any winter landscape. More diminutive in size than Sugar Maples (or other shade trees) and with smaller leaves, the Paperbark works beautifully as a small ornamental tree in the landscape. A well-placed evergreen tree such as Spruce (Picea), Pine (Pinus), or Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis), offers the perfect backdrop for snow and serves as a welcome accent with other deciduous plants in the landscape. Weeping forms of these trees gives us even more options when we want to add a graceful element to a design. Deciduous trees with persisting fruit, such as Crabapples (Malus) also make excellent choices for winter appeal and often attract birds looking for food, adding additional life and color to your winter landscape.

A thoughtful landscape design should include elements that take center stage during the otherwise dreary winter months. Although, we may already be trained to notice things like interesting bark, seedheads, and structure, we know that even clients with no knowledge of plant names or cultural requirements will appreciate the winter loveliness of well-placed trees and shrubs. Trust the experts at Bruss Landscaping to ensure that your landscape maintains its beauty even during the winter season. Schedule a free consultation today!