By Shauna Dobbie
If you long for colour outdoors in the winter garden, don’t despair. Study your garden over the next few months from the comfort of a window seat and resolve to add some winter interest to the bare patches when the ground is warm and workable this spring.
A shrub that produces berries will bring both colour and birds. Even the hardiest evergreen hollies can be a risk in an exposed location, but the native holly known as winterberry, which loses its leaves, produces big bunches of red berries. Viburnums and chokeberry are other berry-laden shrubs that are hardy enough to survive our winters. Some roses have attractive hips, particularly Rosa glauca and R. rugosa, which persist into winter.
Interesting or colourful bark is another sight for winter-weary eyes. Slender white birch clumps provide contrast in summer but lend a sophisticated tone-on-tone vertical feature when the snow flies. Dogwoods—red osier and the yellow-twigged Siberian—are well known by professional landscapers for their winter colour.
For form, the repeating wavy lines of the smooth sumac can be awe-inspiring; you will need plenty of room for this aggressive spreader, but the conic clusters of red fruit can persist well through winter, so the birds will be grateful.
“Winter blues” gets a whole new meaning if you plant a Colorado blue spruce. Leave a wide area for the tree to mature; it doesn’t necessarily need any companions to look absolutely fabulous in winter anyhow.
Of course, evergreens like pine and spruce are the traditional favourites. Not only do they offer dependable shape and colour, they also catch and hold snow quite beautifully. They have the added benefit of giving shelter from cold winds, and planted to the north of your house, they can noticeably lower your heating bills. Add horizontal interest with evergreens like spreading junipers.
Pay attention to non-plant features as a way to add colour to the winter garden. A grey, pavement walk may do nothing for the eye, but replace it with crushed red brick and prepare to be dazzled, particularly with a light dusting of snow: snow on the brick tends to melt first, deepening the colour with wetness and contrasting beautifully with the surrounding whiteness.
A single bench or a garden shed can make a real statement if painted in a strong colour like poppy red, cobalt blue or lavender. A bright colour is a bold move that takes some real nerve… and quite possibly more than one attempt to get it right. But when you succeed, the effect is striking enough to melt even the coldest winter heart.