Changing to Winter in the Garden

tall conifers with snow

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.

53 thoughts on “Changing to Winter in the Garden”

  1. I don’t envy you the snow;( Neither temperature. But I must admit that is very beautiful on the conifers:)
    It was one of those ordinary indoors begonias I bought:)
    Have a nice day/Monne

  2. So many great pines and spruce trees you have in your garden. When trees are so old it is a great size for them. Beautiful carvings you have on them. There was a lot of snow! Here we had snow several times, but now everything is gone. But it’ll come soon I guess.
    Great photos you’ve taken!

  3. It’s good you have that attitude toward snow!! I don’t welcome it so much but after the horrible drought, heat & fires this summer, I think I should switch my attitude! It seems early for a foot tho? We’ve had a couple snowstorms but it’s warmed up quickly afterwards & melted it. Stay warm!

  4. Even if I don´t like snow so much, I must say that your photos from your garden look very nice. All the big trees, animals hiding under them, your perennials – so nice. But I wish that wintertime should be a little bit shorter than it is.

    1. Törnrosa, I have to say that by February I grow very tired of it too. Plus, it is much easier to appreciate the snow when the sky is blue and sunny, than in the middle of a snowstorm while you are driving.

  5. NS: You’ve captured the transition beautifully. Now it is all lines and texture. Like you, I am so glad the previous owners in this older neighbourhood liked conifers.

    1. Ms S, when I chose this house, one of the features that I liked best was the mature trees. There are always birds and squirrels, and once a very lost porcupine came through.

    1. Sadun blogi, I’m located at the 53° parallel and inland, so our weather can be cold in winter. I was still in the gardening mood until the snow came, and would probably still be planting bulbs if the season hadn’t come to such an abrupt end.

      Pauline, I have a few books on animal tracks and enjoy identifying them, as well as trying to figure out what they are all doing. It’s especially fun in the mountains, where there is a good variety. Mine tend to be the usual suburban suspects. I would love to have a longer gardening season, and seeing my snowdrops in January would be such fun. Sometimes I force bulbs indoors to tide me over until you can smell the soil and see the growing tips again.

      Anna, although we routinely get a lot of snow, it can still cause chaos on the roads when it comes all at once. I enjoy the tall trees, and feel fortunate that my neighbourhood has trees to attract wildlife and enliven the scene. Many of the newer neighbourhoods have very few, and you just see a sea of roofs.

      Landbohaven, thanks, everything looks so much prettier when the sky is blue, and the sun makes the snow dazzle.

      Mariana, we usually get a reliable snow cover, which helps insulate the perennials. Last year we had less snow, and even a few melted periods in the middle of winter, and I lost a few more plants.

      Rose, it’s surprising how such large trees, the elephants in the garden, can fade into the background in summer.

  6. -19, that is cold, I think the coldest we have had here was -15! Its nice to know that your plants are all safe under their duvet of snow for a few months. Do you identify your animal tracks so that you know who has been visiting? I’m sure they must be cosy under your pine branches. We have only had snow once in the 22 yrs we have been here, by the middle of January the gardening year starts once more with thousands of snowdrops, so no rest from gardening, must get everything ready for them!

  7. Brrrrrrrrrrr – it certainly looks as if winter has arrived with you. Can just about imagine a foot of snow but it’s been a long time since I’ve seen that amount. Here autumn is still holding on and although some parts of the UK have had their first snowfall I hope that it stays away from here for some time to come. We are just not geared up to it and even a relatively small amount causes absolute chaos. Those magnificent trees must be like beacons for you in the long cold.

  8. Such beautiful winter scenes–they almost make me wish for snow… but I think I can wait for some here:)We have quite a few white pines on our property, and I agree–during the summer I don’t pay much attention to them, but coated with snow in the winter they are magnificent. Hope you are staying warm!

  9. being one from a land of rain .. not snow .. but having lived many years in snowy place, i thoroughly enjoyed your photographs .. i love how the snow interacts with the landscape .. and then there’s the blue sky and sun days that we don’t have so much here on the coast ..

  10. Thanks for your nice comments on my blog! I´m reading your blog, and can see that the real winter has come to you already…I´m not a lover of winter, as you perhaps understand…
    But very beautyful fotos!
    Have a nice sunday!

    1. Lena, in the middle of a snowstorm I’m not as fond of winter either, but on the nicer days, when I’m dressed warm, it can be fun to be outside, and I especially love skating when the outdoor park ponds freeze over.

      Anette, that’s why I plant so many of the earliest spring flowers, so when winter is over, the garden will burst with lots of colour.

  11. Danke für deine netten Worte auf meinem Blog.
    So viel Schnee, ich kann es kaum glauben. Fünf Monate Winter sind eine sehr lange Zeit, auch wenn alles wunderschön aussieht. Besonders gut gefallen mir die alten Nadelbäume.
    Gruß Anette

  12. I know you have a longer winter than I do .. but wow! the snow on the trees is so beautiful .. and seeing the little paw prints so so interesting.
    It is beautiful there .. and the snow will eventually protect your garden .. us on the other hand, well the weather is playing a dangerous game with my plants .. a hard frost and no snow cover to protect it .. I never know what plants are going to make it through with conditions like these.
    Warm in the day .. cold hard frost in the night .. the garden doesn’t know what to do any more !

    1. Joy, a snow layer is especially important if you are having freeze and thaw cycles, as that is the hardest on plants. It prevents them from defrosting during the day, as well as freezing too cold at night. I hope your perennials make it through okay.

  13. Beautiful conifers of the North all draped in snow is my idyllic vision of winter. However, I can’t imagine winter lasting 5 or 6 months! Maybe I could get used to it, with scenes like that and some very warm clothes!

    1. debsgarden, it does help if you have warm layers, so you can enjoy being outside. Also, you need something that you look forward to in winter. I look forward to when the ponds freeze over, so I can skate outside, which I do most days. The times when I was skating outdoors at night, and the northern lights were flickering across the sky are some of my favourite winter memories.

  14. Thank you so much for your visit and your comments!
    I enjoyed your beautiful pictures and was very surprised to see that it is so much winter already in your place!
    Have a nice day, Monika

    1. Dagmar, we do have a short gardening season. That’s why I really appreciate plants like Heuchera, because they keep their gorgeous leaves for so long, and provide good colour, when the other perennials are going dormant. The evergreens earn their space in the garden, too, by keeping it green for the half of the year when other plants have given up.

  15. Hi,

    Such a transformation! One I know I couldn’t handle… I love the snow, well, that is when I’m inside and don’t have to go to work! Here it just causes far too many problems because we don’t have the infrastructure to deal with snow deeper than 1cm. Plus, living in a hilly city just means I can’t get off my road if it snows. OK, so I refuse to attempt it as I don’t fancy careering down the hill and crashing at the bottom.

    But yes, I do agree that it is beautiful, especially when the sun is shining off it and there’s glorious blue skies.

    1. Liz, for the most part the city is well prepared. For this storm, they had around 200 graders and sanders on the road to clear and sand the icy areas. I have a larger selection of snow shovels than garden shovels.

  16. I like the pause a good covering of snow can bring to a garden. It gives the gardener (and the plants) time to rest, refocus and plan for the eventual melt and renewal. I find the white palette of winter also makes the search for colour in the landscape more intense – an evergreen that looks black at a distance transitions to gorgeous green the closer you get. The subtle colours in the first picture are beautiful in their own right.

    1. Kim, the other evergreens I like are the little Taxus (yews). In the perennials beds, they provide the height and colour right now. Their needles are particularly attractive.

  17. Hi.
    You can imagine a fantastic garden under all that snow. Btw thanks for the great tips for creating woodland in my garden. I may find out if the plants you suggest, fit in the area I live and I hope my inspiration remains when spring comes .. :)Outherwise I have a project waiting …

  18. Our first snow came and went in less than 24 hours – tomorrow it’s scheduled to be 13C – ridiculous, almost as ridiculous as -19C – but will give me the opportunity to get the last bulbs in. The evergreens are grand this time of year aren’t they. Always reminds me to stretch my back and look up to the sky. B

    1. Barbarapc, that’s great that you can still plant bulbs. I’m glad I managed to plant all of mine by October, because there would be a lot of extra digging and soil defrosting needed now. I would probably be picking up more bulbs and planting more if the snow hadn’t brought down the curtain on gardening season. We are stuck at frigid temperatures of around – 15 C and seem to get another cm or two every day, so the icing layer is getting deeper.

  19. Just last week we have joined you on the snow scene. I keep telling myself how beautiful it looks ( I was meant to live on a tropical island ). That’s OK, Christmas is near and Santa is sure to bring a few new gardening books. Enjoyed your winter pics!

  20. Feb9th – Zone 2 – two feet of snow on the level (lots more in drifts) in north-eastern Saskatchewan. First snow if October with ground frozen hard by early November and lots of -25C days and down to low 30’s by night. With wind chill often seems like -40’s. Last frost towards end of May and first frost often early September. I grow almost all of the perennials you list on your page and a few you haven’t. I’m blessed with a 16ft X 20ft greenhouse attached to my back door which I keep heated all winter and just about live in most days. Don’t really enjoy the winter but tolerate it and wait for spring. Love your photos and comments. Happy gardening to all!! len

    1. Len, it sounds like we have similar growing conditions and length of season. I really appreciate perennials with evergreen leaves to extend that season as long as possible. Your greenhouse is a fantastic way to make it through the winter. I’ve got some bulbs growing indoors, while waiting for the outdoor bulbs to begin again.

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