Winter - the very word induces a long sigh and slows the breathing. As a gardener in a cool climate, it’s a season of reprieve. Open fires fill long evenings. Garden demands are low. What you can’t get done today can be put off until next week, or even next month.
But it’s also a season of peculiar, pared-back beauty. The garden retreats to its bare bones, and bones can be very beautiful indeed. Hedges, in particular, come into their own in winter, with their rich, green architecture taking centre stage as deciduous trees shed their leaves.
Those same trees acquire a skeletal, sculptural charm in winter, their long limbs stretching up into cold blue skies. Diverse trunk and bark colours emerge, with stark white birches sitting alongside the scarlet branches of red-stemmed dogwoods or ‘Sangokaku’ Japanese maples.
Summer and autumn flowering perennials lose much of their bulk and verdancy, but develop a totally different charm as winter progresses. Seed heads and stems bleach or fade to gold, black or silver, stripping them back to pure texture, which is transformed further when rimed with frost, and backlit by low morning sunshine. Then there’s the perennials that really perform now - the hellebores. Their nodding, star-like blooms of pink, yellow or apricot, cleanest white or deepest black hover over evergreen, fingered foliage.
Winter is a season of profound quiet, particularly in those rare occasions when there’s a dusting of snow, so that you feel like you want to tip-toe around to sustain the silence. It’s the perfectly timed and welcome counterpoint to summer’s colourful craziness. And the garden calls us, gently, to savour every silent moment.
Take a look at your winter garden, and:
Reassess the balance of evergreen and deciduous plants in your garden. Too much deciduous content leaves it feeling underdressed in winter, while too much evergreen can make it feel stodgy and bloated.
Consider adding elements specifically for their winter appeal, such as red or yellow stemmed dogwoods.
Avoid getting too tidy, too soon in the season. Frost or snow-dusted perennials are much more appealing than bare soil.