The Challenge Of Winter Interest-Work Not Luck

It cannot just be left to luck. It just won’t work. It just won’t happen.

The human must interfere, add some spice to the soup, make the effort. Wishing and blinking isn’t enough.

Winter interest can be obtained, but it will take research and effort, wanting it is not the same as making it happen. But it is possible, even where there is reliable snow cover. It begins with taking note of things that remain pleasing to the eye after the cold has sucked away the life from leaf and flower. Look around your garden and think about what looks good to you. If you can’t find anything there, go on a road trip, drive around your neighborhood or go visit public parks, arboretums, fancy housing developments that have been professionally landscaped. Go out into the countryside and really look at the wilderness created by Nature.

Snap some photos of what is the most attractive to you.

There will be few, if any flowers blooming, but there can still be dried seedheads full of beauty. Look for bright berries of any size, shape or hue. Look at bare branches that might be colorful or graceful.

Notice the conifers and broadleaf evergreens. Buds of promise for next spring can be appreciated now and in the future, as well.

Don’t forget the lowly grasses.

Hardscape and hedges, pathways and walls, they all contribute to the grand design of an attractive winter garden. Empty containers turned upside down, posts with weatherproof toppers, birdfeeders and birdhouses, they all add up to winter enchantment, snow covered or bare. You can do it. You can make it happen. We believe in you. Onward.

The How To Have Winter Interest series of posts:
How To Have Winter Interest With Non Green Evergreens
How To Have Winter Interest -Garden Grasses
How To Have Winter Interest-Seeing Green
How To Have Winter Interest-Shrubs Small And Large
How To Have Winter Interest-The Big Guys
How To Have Winter Interest-Hardscape


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17 Responses to The Challenge Of Winter Interest-Work Not Luck

  1. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    Your garden looks so pretty with a light dusting of snow. I can see that you have worked quite a bit for that much appreciated winter interest. Loved the dogs choir. Have a great week Frances.

    Hi Lisa, thanks. Of course working in the garden is not really work, rather it is a pleasure. You too have a wonderful week! December goes by so fast.

  2. Layanee says:

    I have long admired that holly. ‘Winter Gold’ is it? Why don’t I have several in the garden right now? You are so right about winter interest. It takes planning. Love the scalloped boxwood border. Lovely.

    Thanks Layanee. That is Winter Gold backed by Sparkleberry. Everyone that has room and the right conditions should be growing these native hollies. The berries are brilliant, especially against snow. It took some time to get that scallop on the boxwood hedge, about a year. I believe it is all grown in now and is just a matter of light trimming twice a year.

  3. Carol says:

    You are right, winter interest doesn’t just happen by chance, although sometimes if the snow is deep enough…

    Thanks Carol. We so seldom have reliable snow cover, but that certainly makes everything beautiful with less work!

  4. Gail says:

    Dear Frances, I so agree that winter interest is a combination of plants, hardscape and artfully placed items. As I was looking at a garden magazine with all the tempting and pretty pictures I thought how beautiful the evergreen sedges would look tucked in here and there. I will be moving those native sedges that pop up in my wayback to the front gardens this week. Don’t you love a Zone 7 winter with 50F+ days. xoxogail

    Hi Gail, thanks for adding in. I was looking at those same sedges here and thinking they needed moving all together, maybe some to the Asheville house, too. Thanks to you for helping me realize what they were!

  5. michaele says:

    I’m quite a winter interest enthusiast also, and have been known to cheat a little to help Mother Nature along. I grow some clumps of the old fashioned generously berry producing nandina and then will cut berry laden stems and create a false cluster of them in an area that might be reserved for annuals during the warmer temps. Or I’ll stick the stems in pots that lead to my entry way. I especially love the bright red this time of year…it looks so Christmasy.
    Your blue bottles are so pretty and the white of the snow really sets them off…a real eye catcher!
    I live outside of Knoxville, TN and would you believe I have a tall bearded iris in bloom. It’s a white rimmed with purple and I put a small pot of my nandina trick right near it so my eye is drawn to both.

    Hi Michaele, thanks for joining in the winter interest conversation. We are lucky to be in Tennessee where plenty of things still look lovely. Your iris sounds amazing! I have had one bloom in November, but not in recent years. You must be doing something right. The nandinas are everywhere in my neighborhood, even though they are on the invasive list, most of my neighbors are not aware of it. The birds love the berries and they are welcome pops of red right about now. Your trick might lead to future baby nandinas, too. That has happened to me.

    Frances, you are so right about the overly generous (shall we say pest) reseeding aspect to the domestic nandina. I do keep an eye out for this and only let them settle in where I have invited them. However, since I can’t control the birds, I am probably contributing to some possible invasiveness out of my control. I do so love the bright red berries. When we moved down here from New England some years ago, I had never seen a nandina and, hence, thought they were very enchanting and mysterious. I keep my clumps well cut down so they stay full looking and don’t get all skinny and straggly.

    It is the bird’s doing, for sure, HA! I remember trying to grow nandina in my Pennsylvania first home, it grew in my parent’s Oklahoma yard. It was not hardy and I was sad. Those red berries are wonderful and I like the flowers too. Shhh, don’t tell the invasives police!

  6. Leslie says:

    It is easy to see how you have worked for that winter interest. You are so good at noticing the beauty in nature.

    Thanks Leslie. You are sweet to say so.

  7. So true dear Faire. I’m afraid my garden could use a lot more winter interest. I will think about that this year. Thank you.~~Dee

    Thanks Dee. Sometimes we are too busy to even think about winter interest in the garden. I had many years of gardening under my fingernails before discovering there even was such a concept. But it is possible, in any climate, to have some of it.

  8. Nell Jean says:

    Inspiring post, Frances. I admire gardens with ‘bones’ that show up under snow.

    Those of us who don’t get snow take another look at what is missing in the winter garden. More meatballs? Some wattle? Garden chairs? Copy that garden bench and box scallops? Add grasses?

    Next year’s buds are among my favorite garden features. Dogwood! Beautiful in bloom, berry or bud.

    One more thing — sometimes judicious subtracting will help a winter garden. When summer shrubs and perennials lose their leaves, some obvious wrongs show up.

    Thanks Nell Jean. I am all for meatballs, actually, especially after seeing them used well in England. And don’t get me started about the wattle. Why can’t we find that here? I agree completely about the buds, so full of promise. Once they have bloomed, it is all downhill! Losing the lush green does help us see the chaff.

  9. You’d think that, living in a northern climate, I’d have spent more time focusing on my winter landscape. But, nope. I’m working on it, though. Nice post, Frances, and I admire your parterre.

    Thanks Helen. Yours would be a different kind of interest, more structures and different shapes and sizes of evergreens would be wonderful.

  10. Cindy, MCOK says:

    Winter interest is so different here. The last few years, our weather has been wildly variable from December through February. Right now I still have a lot of blooms. It could all go horribly pear-shaped at any moment!

    Thanks for adding in here from the warmer climes of Katy, Cindy. I remember well the winters of that part of Texas. The native Youpon hollies and their red berries were a great love of mine, more than the blooms, actually. I even cut one to bring it inside as a Christmas tree. Bad move, the berries dropped and made permanent stains on the carpet! HA

  11. Lola says:

    You have a beautiful garden even covered with snow. Not so lucky here to have all that beauty.
    Rainy today & cold.

    Thanks Lola. It wasn’t luck that made the garden, it was work and lots of thought about how to have winter interest.

  12. A lovely symphony of foliage, form and texture. Iced topping to lard these leaves.

    Thanks Catharine, what a lovely idea, the frost as larding the leaves. I adore that!

  13. Love the photos! Are the fruits in the first photo varieties of malus? Do you know what varieties they are by chance?

    Hi Green Bench, thanks. The first photo is of winterberry hollies, Ilex verticillata ‘Winter Gold’ and

  14. This is something I need to work more on. I think a good exercise in the next few weeks would be to walk around and photograph some of the more lack-luster areas here, and take those photos with me next time I’m out looking for plants. Sometimes I forget which areas lose their pizzazz until winter rolls around again. A graphic reminder might be the motivation I need to fix it!

    Hi CV, thanks for joining in here about winter interest, or looking for it. Your photo idea seems like a good one. You might take photos of public settings that are appealing to you, as well, to see which plants might work in your less than exciting spots. The hunt will be on!

  15. You have great winter interest. My favorite are the winterberries. I have two small females, but ‘Mr’ Southern Gentleman looks dead 😦 Will cross my fingers for some evidence of life come spring. If not, will need to find another quickly.

    Thanks Janet. That is strange about your male pollinator, my daughter Semi and I have both lost males while the females have done well. Apollo and Jim Dandy both have succumbed, most likely to droughty conditions. I need an escort for two Berry Heavy bushes, they have no berries, again!

  16. I have been working on winter interest in my garden for the past two years….slowly but surely. Great idea to look around in other gardens to find inspiration! I need to add some more evergreens and grasses.

    Hi Karin, thanks for visiting. Evergreens, grasses large and small and some berries will give plenty of winter interest. Evergreen perennials help, too. I concentrated on the slope that is the view from where I usually sit inside the house. It is still a work in progress.

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