Winter is a great time for assessing your garden, and I disagree with many Canadian gardeners I have met who think planning a winter garden is a waste of time. During the winter months you can see your garden's bare bones: the patterns made by paths, gates, decks, fences, flower beds, shrubs and trees. As perennial plants die back and the leaves fall from trees and shrubs, the spatial relationships of plantings and objects become clear.

Another benefit of planning at this time of year is that you are more aware of the need to add winter colour and interest to your garden design than you would be in the spring. Remember too, that during the winter, you will be viewing your garden from inside your house, so you want the window views to be especially attractive in the winter. As you gaze out the window, reach for a pencil and paper and start making notes.

When drawing up your plan for a new garden, or for a renovation of an existing one, decide how much lawn you want, where trees and tall shrubs should be placed, and where the vegetable and ornamental gardens will be located. Once you've done this, pretend that no other season than winter exists. Then ask yourself, "What will keep me interested in my garden?".

One source of pleasure will be the shapes and textures of the plantings; another will be wildlife, especially birds. Many plants that provide the background for showy annuals and perennials are barely noticed in spring and summer. In the winter, however, these background plants - usually shrubs, trees and vines - take on a feature role with their bark, berries and shapes. Views that were hidden by foliage during the growing months suddenly burst into prominence.

These can be endless - fountains, statues, sculptures, bird feeders, decks, patios, paths, walls, berms, pergolas, trellises, gazebos, gazing globes, and benches. Where will they be placed? What will they be made of? This is a good time to remember the fine line between restraint and exuberance - don't overdo the garden decorations!

I leave ornamental grasses and tall perennial seed heads standing through the winter. Ornamental grasses provide movement and texture in the winter garden. Songbirds are attracted to the seed heads left on perennial plants. While the birds are enjoying the food source, you will enjoy the beauty of both the plants and the wildlife they attract.

Supplement natural food sources with a few bird feeders, and a bird bath with an electric de-icer as a water source. The sound of birds in the garden will draw you outside on calm winter days and keep you coming to your favourite windows to enjoy the view.

Winter interest in the garden is not dependent on snow cover. Select shrubs and trees with interesting bark colour and texture.

My Favourite Deciduous Plants for Winter Interest

  • White Paper Birch (Betula papyrifera) - A deciduous tree that grows up to 60 feet (18 metres) tall. Valued for its decorative bark that is coppery-brown when young, turning white with age. Hardy to zone 2.
  • Pin Oak (Quercus palustris) - Great fall colour with leaves that turn bronze or red. This oak retains its leaves through the winter. Hardy to zone 4.
  • Red Osier Dogwood (Cornus sericea ‘Cardinal') - Deep red branches are a great winter accent. Grows best in rich, moist soils in full sun to part shade. Hardy to zone 2.
  • Yellow Twig Dogwood (Cornus sericea ‘Flaviramea') - Dogwoods can be grown in full sun to partial shade. When grown in full sun, the colour of the bark is brighter and more intense. Golden yellow branches add interest to the winter garden. Hardy to zone 3.
  • Paperbark Maple (Acer griseum) - Copper-coloured peeling bark is decorative year round. Grows well in sun or part shade. Hardy to zone 4.
  • Burning Bush (Euonymus alata ‘Compactus') - Also known as Winged Euonymus because of the ‘wings' that flare out from the bark on the branches. Burning Bush is well known for its striking red leaves in the fall. Hardy to zone 4.

Evergreen PlantS for Winter Interest

  • Boxwood (Buxus) - A great choice for a low hedge, or use a single specimen for green accent in the landscape. Boxwoods tolerate annual pruning in formal settings. Hardy to zone 5.
  • Euonymus (Euonymus fortunei) - There are several evergreen varieties of Euonymus. These shrubs are very easy to grow and have many uses. Grows best in full sun to part shade. Hardy to zone 5.
  • Cotoneaster (Cotoneaster sp.) - Hardy, fast growing shrubs with interwoven branches. Bright red or orange berries add interest from autumn through winter. Hardy to zone 4.
  • Emerald Cedar (Thuja occidentalis ‘Smaragd') - An upright evergreen shrub that retains its bright emerald green colour throughout the year. Hardy to zone 3.
  • Purple Wintercreeper (Euonymus Coloratus fortunei) - A dense, broadleaf evergreen available in a variety of forms. Often grown as a trailing ground cover. Versatile plant for sunny or shady locations. Hardy to zone 4.­

• Mark's Choice suet bird feeder 5453-649
• bird bath 5052-031
• bird bath de-icer 3284-920

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