Northern Shade Gardening

Changing to Winter in the Garden

Sunday, November 11, 2012 Category: Garden Design

The garden has transformed from late fall colours to a mostly monochrome winter white. The conifers, Picea (spruce), Pinus (pine) and Taxus (yew) are what provide most of the colour now.

October fall garden collage

October fall garden collage

In the middle of October, the Hydrangea paniculata flowers still had tinges of pink, the Phlox paniculata were white and purple, while the leaves of Tiarella and Heuchera were providing decorative patterns in the garden. The various Campanula were mostly still sporting pretty blue flowers, for an almost summer look.

late October snow in garden collage

late October snow in garden collage

Then at the end of October, the garden had a light frosting of white. It decorated the leaves of evergreen plants, like Cornus canadensis (bunchberry), Tiarella (foamflower), Heuchera (coral bells),  Helleborus (hellebores) and Epimedium (bishop’s hat). The snow etched the edges of the birdbaths, but there was still water for the birds to visit.

deep snow in garden collage

deep snow in garden collage

Now, we have over 30 cm (a foot) of snow, enough to cover the low perennials, and beat the taller perennials to the ground. The birds will have to bring a snow shovel if they want a bath. We’ve changed to winter, and the plants that take centre stage are the tall conifers. They will remain the stars for the next 5 to 6 months. The large spruce and pine, so prevalent in the Boreal Forest just north of here, easily withstand the weight of snow on their branches. It collects on their outstretched branches, and then eventually rolls down the sloping boughs of the spruce, or sifts through the widely spaced needles of the pines.

tall conifers with snow

tall conifers with snow

Here are some tall Picea (spruce) in my front yard showing their best trait, which is to upraise piles of white snow with their long green boughs. These living sculptures are a wonderful antidote to the blandness of winter. The conifers are over 35 years old, so they are imposing on the landscape. Although I live on an average sized lot in the suburbs, they create a forest atmosphere. Wildlife appreciates them, too, all year round.

Pinus mugo with snow

Pinus mugo with snow

My tall Pinus mugo (mugho pine) has multiple stems. It’s a rangy forest pine, rather than one of those cute little mini mugho shrubs for the mixed border. I’ve been wanting to add a more compact mugo to a different garden area, but this large one is a match for the spruce trees here. In the garden underneath there are lots of Tiarella (foamflowers) covered up for winter.

animal tracks under evergreens

animal tracks under evergreens

Here is where a pine and spruce meet in front of my house. You can follow the animal tracks under the trees to a cozy conifer cave.

animal tracks under spruce tunnel

animal tracks under spruce tunnel

More tracks lead under some spruce branches that are about 60 cm (2 ft) off the ground. There are many short perennials planted under these trees that are buried until spring. The snow helps insulate the Heuchera (coral bells), Tiarella (foamflower), Brunnera, Hosta, dwarf Aruncus (goatsbeard), Epimedium (bishop’s hat), Asarum (wild ginger), Hepatica (liverleaf) and others in the garden here. In the summer I’m always looking down to see the perennials, and don’t notice the evergreens as much. In winter it’s the conifers, twice the height of the house, that catch your attention, and force you to look up.

snow on railing

snow on railing

We’ve transitioned from late fall into full blown winter. Snow is piling up on every surface, and last night it was -19° C (-2° F). Instead of hunching over, and staring at the snow as I rush from car to house, I can look up at the sparkling conifers and the blue sky. When the sun shines, and the snow glistens, it can be enjoyable to be outside and delight in the winter sights.