The Landscape in Winter

As I look out my office window on this blustery February day, I notice a few things that don’t normally stand out during the warmer months. The landscape looks much different this time of year, in some ways rather barren due to the lack of leaf and flower, but in other ways more beautiful in its austerity and stillness. The perennials and groundcovers are mostly out of view, covered by layers of snow. The visible now include evergreens, stone work within the landscape, and deciduous tree trunks reaching towards the sky. Just outside of my window reside several interesting elements that enliven what is otherwise an expanse of white powder. A Coral Bark Maple’s bright red branches provide a stunning contrast to the snow, and with the color lasting throughout the season, makes for an excellent addition to almost any landscape. Just to the side of the maple, a drilled stone column water feature bubbles all year long, providing motion in the landscape and a constant source of fresh water for resident birds. Native Eastern Red Cedars round out my view, the subtle color of their needles ranging from light green to russet to purple as they stand tall and do their best to protect the office from the wind. The view from my office window is actually quite interesting this time of year, and that is intentional, as a well designed landscape contains visual elements for all seasons.

There are two main factors to consider when evaluating a landscape in the colder months: winter interest and winter wildlife.

Winter interest, as the term implies, involves selecting plants that provide something visually interesting in the winter months. Examples include ornamental grasses, winterberry hollies with their clusters of red berries, red stem dogwoods, and the conifers that prove to us with their green needles that all is not dormant in winter.  Now is the perfect time to look out of your home’s windows and think about spaces that could use some visual interest or color to contrast with the snow.

The other consideration is winter wildlife, and by that I mean considering where all of the creatures that inhabit the garden are going to shelter in the winter months, and how they are going to sustain themselves. The ecology and food web of your landscape are important factors in determining how much wildlife your landscape can support, and the diversity of species you will see throughout the year. Conifers provide shelter and protection from the wind and the cold during the winter, and also provide bird nesting sites in the summer. Vibernums, Virginia Creeper, and White Oaks all hang on to their fruit during the winter and can be a critical food source when heavy snow blankets the ground. Water features that run all year provide drinking water for birds and animals when many other sources of water freeze. The bubbling stone feature outside out side of my office window is regularly visited by our resident winter birds.

Keeping these factors in mind, a landscape can be designed or modified to provide year round interest along with being an important part of your neighborhood’s ecological diversity. Think about your landscape the next time you look out the window, and if you would like a few ideas to liven it up, don’t hesitate to give us a call.

For more information on landscaping with birds in mind:


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