Designing a Winter Wonderland

It’s all very well knowing that for a garden to look good in winter it has to have “good bones“. But what do you do when a foot or more of snow turns those bones into a lumpy graveyard? Seriously – since when do white lumps look like anything other than just white lumps? When I went to bed last night there were just a few flakes falling gently. We woke abruptly at 4.30am to the sound of our frozen sump pump singing its last grating swan song, followed shortly after by our 1 year old puppy, Molly, growling at the deep blanket of snow that had fallen overnight. I couldn’t wait to get outside (in daylight) to take some snowy pictures of the pristine landscape. That idea was quickly abandoned as Molly tore outside with glee, snow-surfing, jumping, sliding, and running. And eating the snow. Which she then threw up – together with her breakfast – as soon as she came back inside. Clearly the serene aspect of any images I might take were lost. One coffee later and suitably bundled up, I headed out into the moonscape. But what to take pictures of? I let my camera do the talking, drawing me to vignettes that told a story even though in that moment I didn’t really understand what that story was about. Until I got back inside and looked at the images on my computer. I then quickly realized that my best snowy scenes were those that featured color, texture and/or form – elements that stood apart from the amorphous white blanket.

Color

Turquoise containers and a colorful glass sculpture create a dramatic counterpoint to the white backdrop

I have both blue and orange containers in my garden and they look stunning in the winter landscape – far more dramatic than the charcoal grey or rustic green ones I also have. This glass sculpture by Jesse Kelly is not hollow so is weather proof in my PNW climate. Colored dogwood twigs would be another way to add color to a snowy scene but you would need a significant grouping of these to stand out. The colored bark of trees such as coral bark maple (Acer palmatum Sango Kaku), Bihou Japanese maple (Acer palmatum ‘Bihou’) or Pacific Fire vine maple (Acer circinatum ‘Pacific Fire’) would be sturdier and be easier to see. (Incidentally my white barked Himalayan birch trees (Betula utilis  var jacquemontii) only stand out marginally in the winter garden when they are backed by tall evergreens. They are more eye catching in summer and fall.)

Textured bark

River birch (Betula nigra ‘Heritage’) have become one of my favorite trees for year round interest. The peeling bark is outstanding. I have a clump of three multi-trunked specimens at the back of our home. In summer they mark the entrance into the meadow. In winter they stand as sculpture, perfectly framed by our back patio doors. The warm mahogany bark of the paperbark maple (Acer griseum) is a close second favorite, seen above adjacent to our little garden cabin.  This is the scene we look out onto every day from the kitchen. The cabin porch is lit at night making it seem utterly magical. Notice how the blue cabin door stands out in the vignette also – unlike my golden conifers, blue conifers and broadleaf evergreen shrubs, which are all here but buried under snow. The cabin itself is a wonderful focal point, a reminder that structures can also be used as scene setters in the winter garden.

Form

This triple arbor anchors our island border. As a structure it stands out, but also its vertical and arched forms contrast with the surrounding garden which is mostly comprised of mounding or vase-shaped shrubs and trees. It clearly establishes a focal point and an invitation to explore.

If you’ve got snowy weather, grab your camera. You might be surprised at what you capture.

Behind The Scenes

video set up

What was I thinking?! Back on a cozy winters evening, glass of wine in hand, it seemed such a good idea. “Let’s film a short online workshop to help people get creative with their spring containers,” I said. My long suffering husband (aka roadie, book sales assistant, pot mover, and videographer) readily agreed. After all,…
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Seed Selection Made Easy

It’s still a bit early to start sowing seeds here in Seattle – but it’s not too early to order them! Looking out of my office at the still snow-covered garden, I need a promise of spring, and poring over seed catalogs with tempting images of juicy vegetables and a rainbow of flowers gives me…
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Designing a Winter Wonderland

It’s all very well knowing that for a garden to look good in winter it has to have “good bones“. But what do you do when a foot or more of snow turns those bones into a lumpy graveyard? Seriously – since when do white lumps look like anything other than just white lumps? When…
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Gardens of the World – come for FREE!

It’s that time of year when Seattle-ites go into season-denial. Sure it may be snowing or raining outside, but within the walls of the Washington State Convention Center the sun is shining, the birds are singing and the air is perfumed with the heady spring time mix of hyacinths, daphne and sweetbox (Sarcococca). It’s Show…
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Planting Blessings – Lessons from Childhood

Little girl tasting her first iced lolly in her nana's garden

Born in Ballymena, 30 miles north of Belfast, my Nana never lost her Irish brogue, even after moving to England as a young woman. By today’s standards she didn’t have much. She left school at 11 to look after her siblings “just as we were starting to learn long-division”, married the boy next door, lived…
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Gifts for Garden Lovers

If your list is long but your time  is short, these ideas are for YOU! All these gift  recommendations are based on my own experience and use. For the Homesteaders We all know someone who keeps chickens, has bees, or grows vegetables – check out the many useful and fun gifts that Stumpdust has to…
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Creating Sensational Indoor Containers for the Holidays

  For several years I taught this workshop at my home, teaching guests how to design festive indoor containers. They were always a hit – and sold out quickly, as we could only get a limited number of folks around the table. But the bigger problem was that only those who lived within an easy…
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Deer-Resistant Spring Bulbs

Using a cabin as a focal point in a large island border of deer-resistant plants

I’m not sure if it was a wild game of Touch Rugby or Tag, but either way, the five deer that were playing in my front garden yesterday left it looking as though a stampede of  elephants had been having a party. Forget a rake- I need a brush hog to smooth out the beds…
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A Low Maintenance Garden that Celebrates Fall

Heart-shaped, golden leaves of a katsura tree in fall

It’s a truly glorious fall here in the Pacific Northwest – blue skies, incredible foliage color and warm temperatures that have me still wearing T-shirts rather than polar fleece. It’s a joy to be outside on days like this and spending a day “working” in the garden is both fun and easy. Can you say…
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Designing Fall Combos

Pathway covered in leaves from red maple in October

It’s that time of year when I’m dodging rain showers in the garden and preparing for cooler days ahead while enjoying the rich colors of autumn that still have me reaching for my camera. The best fall gardens are those which celebrate the season with bold combinations and dramatic vignettes. Here are some tips to…
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Welcome to My Garden Adventures

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I'm a serious plant-aholic. In other words I'm usually covered in a layer or two of soil, I drive everywhere with a large tarp for impromptu plant purchases and I'm truly passionate about sharing the joys of gardening.

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