You'll Thank Me Later: Planning For A Winter Garden

You'll Thank Me Later: Planning For A Winter Garden

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Tess Wilson
May 26, 2011

I know nobody wants to think about winter yet— it's almost June and spring is still taking its sweet time getting to much of the country— but however much we'd like to think we got winter taken care of last year, checked it off the list, another one will come eventually. And won't winter be a bit more bearable if your garden is full of lovely berries and seedpods, and the birds who love them?

Winter in San Francisco can't properly be considered winter (blooming magnolias in early January, for example) but if your neck of the woods gets any kind of frost or real cold, you may find yourself desperate for any kind of color or visual interest in the winter garden. As you plant your basil and sweet peas and other summer gems, just remember how welcome hellebores will be at the beginning of March…

There are some excellent winter-garden guides out there, in no particular order:


  • The New York Times did an interview with garden designer Piet Oudolf of the Netherlands. The interview is good, but the slideshow of winter garden images is fantastic, surreal, otherworldly, and inspiring.

  • Garden Design Magazine polled their favorite experts for tips on keeping gardens beautiful and protected during the winter months.

  • Martha Stewart Living did a thorough feature on flowering winter shrubs this past January. Listen to this: "Although these attractive shrubs add much-needed interest to the winter landscape, they aren't widely grown, largely because no one visits nurseries during the gloomy months, when the shrubs are at their best. And when the time comes for spring planting, they sit unnoticed beside the showy bloomers that shoppers love." A good lesson for all of us!

  • Margaret Roach of A Way To Garden has tons of winter garden wisdom, from vibrant winterberries (shown in the 2nd photo above), the colorful branches of the "winter flame" shrub (4th photo), and first-to-bloom hellebores (3rd photo) to how her love of birds inspired her to create a year-round garden.

  • Finally, I bought the delightful little guide "Winter Weed Finder" from Prairie Collective. It covers native plants in the Midwest and Eastern areas of the US. I foresee some fun, snowy sleuthing, but it's also a useful way to plan ahead: if you know what plants will look like in the winter, you'll be better able to plant them in attractive ways now! While it's sunny and not-winter!

Images: 1. Richard and Adrian Bloom for Garden Design Magazine 2., 3., & 4. A Way To Garden, 5. Tess Wilson

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