Winter used to leave a huge hole in my garden. Containers that were once jammed with vibrant annuals were reduced to pots of old potting soil. Flower beds that had hosted brilliant orange marigolds and salmon-pink petunias had become boring expanses of brown dirt. At least I covered the soil with a layer of mulch—shredded leaves, dried grass clippings, pine needles—but it all looked so depressing.
Not any more. A spontaneous trip to the Denver Botanic Gardens last March gave me the inspiration I needed to make my winter landscape far more interesting.
I’ve always chosen trees and bushes for their interesting bark color and texture. I love Red Twig Dogwood, and the exfoliating bark on some crabapples (such as ‘Brandywine’). I’ve written about the attractive seedheads that adorn many perennials. But what about the places filled with annuals during the growing season? Not many annuals look very pretty once they’re dead.
If you grow your own cutting garden, as I do at times, you’re used to swapping summer’s fresh bouquets for winter’s dried flowers—statice and baby’s breath, grasses and seed pods. Many people cut branches from evergreens such as juniper and fir to bring inside for wreaths during the holidays. Why not do the same things to fill those empty containers outside? Try using plant materials that look great in winter to create everlasting arrangements for your garden.
One easy example is to take small pine branches and fill an empty flower bed. Add some pinecones, berries, and maybe another type of greenery (holly would be great if we could grow it here!), and you’ll have a festive look that lasts far beyond the holiday season.
Another idea is to use the seedheads and pods from your perennials to decorate your empty containers. Of course, you don’t want to decimate your perennial border, but there are usually plenty of extras, especially from the back where no one will miss them. Follow the same principles as you would if you were using live plants—taller stems in the center, shorter pieces in front, vary the colors and textures.
The photos here were all taken at the Denver Botanic Garden, and they’re just to get your creative juices flowing. If we can accomplish this much with our limited plant pallete, think of what gardeners in more benign climates can do.
Soil should never be left uncovered over the winter—nature would be appalled. Mulches are a great start, but put some ingenuity into it, and you’ll be surprised at how attractive those bare spots can be.