Winter Interest in Your Garden

Winter Interest in Your Garden

Winter Interest in Your Garden


Rather than ignoring your garden—because, after all, it’ll soon be winter—let’s take a look at what can create interest, even in the coldest of weather!


First, consider broadleaf evergreens and evergreens because they are the bones of your garden. They draw interest year-round, especially in the winter when everything else is under snow, brown, and not looking so great. This is when beautiful broadleaf evergreens and evergreens can spruce up your garden.


Here are the forms that they come in:

  1. Pyramidal are tall, pointy at the top, and very broad at the bottom.
  2. Conical is more upright like a Greek column, 3–6 feet around, and straight up.
  3. Mounded just looks like a big mop head.
  4. Weeping can be very interesting and unusual and can be trained.
  5. Spreading are horizontal or just hugging the ground.


Secondly, we’ll consider shrubs which give you either colourful branches or berries:


  1. Dogwood shrubs come with brilliant red stems or yellow stems, and then there’s one called Arctic fire which has orange, yellow, and red all together—like a sort of ombre that starts off yellow, then goes gradually to red—just to name a few.
  2. Kerria has lime green stems that are very “up and arching” and willowy looking.
  3. Witch Hazel actually blooms in late winter or very early spring and blooms without any leaves, so you have the bare stems with really cool spidery-like flowers. They can come in yellow, orange, rust, or red. They’re really quite unique and can spice up an otherwise dreary February!
  4. Berries throughout the winter are a great food source for birds and also gives you lots of interesting colour.
  5. Nova Scotia Holly (Ilex verticillata) is one of two different kinds of holly we can grow in Nova Scotia. It loses its leaves, showing the berries which can be orange, red, or there’s even a yellow one.
  6. American Holly (Ilex opaca) has pointy green, traditional, holly-like leaves and red berries. On occasion you can find a really cool one that has yellow berries, but not very often. For both of those hollies, you have to have a male and a female plant. Only the female will produce berries. You can have one male for every five or six females, and they’ll all get pollinated and produce berries. Both male and female must be of the same variety in order to produce berries. In the American Holly, you can sometimes get one that’s called the “royal couple” with a male and female in the same pot together. Half the plant would have berries and the other half wouldn’t.
  7. Cotoneaster is a great ground cover. Some of them hug the ground; some are about 18 inches; others are up to three feet. They all have really nice orangey-red berries of various sizes and are covered in berries for the winter.
  8. Viburnum is a huge family with many varieties of berries and quite a range of colour. The berries can be black, blue, pink, or red depending on the variety. A lot of the viburnum varieties are actually native to Nova Scotia. Some of them can have pink and blue berries on the plant at the same time. They’ll be pink when they’re not quite ripe, and then they’ll turn blue when they ripen. This viburnum has really shiny foliage which is quite interesting. Some of them look like a maple leaf; some very sleek looking. So there’s lots of interest year-round.
  9. Ornamental grasses are at their best this time of year and into the winter months. They have amazing seed heads, and they turn this beautiful buff colour. There’s so much movement that sometimes they look like the waves of the ocean. A lot of people cut them off this time of the year so they don’t have to clean them up in the spring, but if you leave them, they’ll have that beautiful silvery-white glistening on a frosty morning. After a light snow, they’re really pretty. If we have a heavy snow, they will lay down really flat and then as the snow melts, they’ll just stand right back up again.


Thirdly, consider some trees that have some winter interest:


  1. Flowering crab apples are often ignored as a winter interest but a lot of them, especially now with all the new varieties, keep their fruit until February. When the cedar waxwings come back in the spring, the first thing that they look for is the flowering crab apples, and they will just pick them clean.
  2. Birch, with its pure white trunk, are beautiful all season.
  3. Mountain Ash, with huge clusters of orangey-red berries
  4. Paperbark Maple, a smallish maple, but the bark peels off like a birch. It is a very pretty coppery-red colour in the fall.
  5. London Plane Tree, a huge, underused tree whose bark—as it ages—looks like camouflage with greens and creamy colour.


Lastly, colours in winter gardens can definitely add to the interest level! They can either be blue, green, yellow, red, or even bronze, and some plants will have berries. Colours can be very cheery in the wintertime because you’re looking at all that white. Here are some colorful examples:

  1. Boxwoods would be green.
  2. Spruce can be green or blue.
  3. Pine trees are green, but there’s actually one that has some yellow in it.
  4. Pieris japonica is a very nice foliage plant because the new tips can be fiery red and the rest of it is green.
  5. Euonymus can be white and green, yellow and green, or just plain green. Sometimes the green ones will turn a really deep, vibrant red in the fall and winter.
  6. Evergreen Holly would have red berries and be very prickly.
  7. Yews come in various sizes and shapes, and sometimes they will have an orangey-red berry.


When thinking of winter interest in your garden, don’t forget—it’s not too late to get your fall bulbs planted. Arbors, pergolas, and concrete statuary can also draw your attention at this time of year and keep your interest in your garden. So don’t quit now! Keep thinking garden!