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Garden Design for Winter

When you look out your window how does your garden look this Winter?

It is full of colourful berries and brightly stemmed shrubs, the bark of selected winter trees, interesting structures like internal hedges and topiary plus colourful evergreens peppered amongst winter branches?

If not you might like to read on.

A Winter Garden can be a thing of great beauty. As the cold and the lack of sunlight have denuded the garden and the rich juice of Summer has retreated into roots and trunks and bulbs, the bare bones of a garden can give a deep sense of artistry and peace. We accept that things die, the twilights of winter remind us that all things come to an end, and yet life is powerful and patient.

A Good Structure

A garden no matter how small needs to have a well proportioned and interesting structure from which Spring and Summer can burst out of. As a designer I know that if the structure 

I have created looks good in Winter nothing much can go wrong with the infilling of plants later on. That’s why garden designers put most of their energy into making sure the layout works first before anything else.

A good structure can be created by many elements. Internal hedges can paradoxically make the garden feel bigger by separating areas and making smaller ‘rooms’ in which a person needs to wander and explore from space to space.

Good hedging that looks good in winter are Beech, Yew, Holly and Portuguese Laurel (please avoid Cherry Laurel. There is enough of it already in the world plus the bright green, plastic looking leaves can almost deny that Winter is here which I think is a shame.)

Topiary

Topiary doesn’t have to be just Box balls and squirrel shaped shrubs. You can ‘cloud’ prune all manner of hedges and shrubs into interesting pyramids, clouds, saucers, columns and blobs which can create a strong presence in Winter especially if you have a few of them well balanced in different areas.

Also you can choose plants that have a sculptural appearance. Imagine lots of the conifer Prunus mugo Carsten’s Wintergold placed throughout the beds.

Pots and Sculpture

Once the flower show is done, ornamental pots and sculpture come into their own in Winter and they are no longer having to compete with the effulgence of nature. If you place them in focal point locations they will lift your garden onto a different level. If at all possible, go Big with them. Even in a small garden they will get lost and look twee if too small and cheap looking.

Small evergreen plants

As well as the obvious Winter shrubs and trees that don’t loose their leaves think about combinations of a few plants dotted around together.

Some examples of perennials with striking Winter foliage are:

Cotton Lavender, Stacys bizantia, Rosmary, Bergen delavayi with its fat purple leaves, Hebes, Liriop miscarry and Tiarella Spring Symphony.

Seedheads

Seadheads are very popular today. They are good for wildlife and look great in Winter sunsets or in the morning covered in frost.

Some examples are:

Rudbekia laciniata, Sedums, Monada, Verbenba bonsariensis, Veronicastum virginicum and Phlomis plus the great slightly goofy flower heads of Hydrangeas.

Colourful deciduous plants.

Shrubs and trees with interesting colours and textures are:

Acer griseuk, Acer negundo ‘Winter Lightening’, Betula Grayswood Ghost, the twisted branches of Corylus contort, any of the Cornus especially Midwinter Fire, dwarf Willows like ‘Nana’ plus Rubus cockburnianus (this name sends giggles into any horticultural class as you can imagine)

Grasses

Half the value of having ornamental grasses in your garden is that during Winter they go a hay/ bronze colour and still move wonderfully in the wind. Grasses that really retain their shape are Calimagrostis Karl Foerster, Panicum Heavy Metal and and of the Miscanthus varieties.

Berries

Pyracantha, Catoneaster and Berberis all keep their berries way into Winter and are great cheap birdfeeds.

Fruit and Flowers

Some trees and shrubs have learnt to come on stage when for most the show is over.

Malus Red Sentinal keeps its bright red fruit on its branches almost the whole way through Winter. Mahonia Lionel Fortescue has lovely fragrant yellow, plus other flowering plants make their appearance. Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’, Helleborous, some of the Clematis, Winter Jasmine, Winter Heather and of course Snowdrops.

Water

Having water in the garden can be a really wonderful luxury but in Winter it becomes essential. It reflects the ethereal sky and emphasises the stillness of Winter. So after a day Xmas shopping and having retreated yourself from steaming at the queues, the worries that you have forgotten something and the extra mince pie you know you shouldn’t have eaten, let your Winter garden help you pare down to what is most important and beautiful in life.

Things to do in January

Time to prune your roses

All the shoots from last year’s Wysteria growth can be pruned back to two beds from the flowering spur apart from any runners you want to direct into a framework.

Apple and pear trees need reducing depending on their age

You can begin to force Rhubarb now

Greenhouses and sheds can be cleaned and sorted out

Where to visit

I was struck recently by by visit to East Dean near Levant, West Sussex. It has some wonderful Winter Structure with flowing hedges, smart rows of Vistorian greenhouses, cloud pruned Yew trees plus classical pergolas and a pool. Also their are lots of trained fruit in different shapes and Winter is the perfect time to see how they have been pruned and how the structure of the branches has been created. Well worth a trip this month.

Below are some pictures Ii took there recently.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Garden design- Looking for Structure

One of my mentors, Amanda Patton, works on the basis that the structure of a garden needs to be beautiful even before any plants are put in.

Though plants are the blood and soul of a garden if the structure is not right the space will look unformed or cluttered. As with oil painting the longer one spends getting the proportions right the easier the colours can be added, and even if the colours aren't right the picture still hangs together because of the underlying geometry. 

This integrity is vital especially in Winter as the deciduous plants are pared back to their bones and Perennials hunker down underground.

Looking for structure around me, anything can inspire the layout of a garden. I once designed a pot based on the peel of an orange, the Russian Ministry of Agriculture's front entrance gives a sense both of the majesty of an oak tree yet shows the way we harness and hold fast that power, the radial glory of a tree fern's leaves can provide a layout for a vegetable gardens and the upward pyramids of the Three Sisters in the Blue Mountains, NSW shows how a simple repetitive form can inspire myths.

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Garden Design using Dynamic Shapes

In this garden we finished in early Summer we used a way of shaping the borders reminiscent of Rudolf Steiner.

Rather than simple curves or square shapes, the shape we used blended both to create a smooth river effect yet with more dynamic sharper angles.

Doing edges this way makes a smaller space appear larger with the dynamic angles acting as portals to stronger energies, seeming to refer to a greater landscape.

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Vietnamese Garden Plants

Vietnam is home to more than 16% of the world's species despite its slender size.

Travelling around I felt like I was in a vast tropical glasshouse and it was hard to put the camera down and just be in the moment.

Below we have the very origins of a pineapple fruit, waterlilies that grow in the countless private ponds the Vietnamese raise catfish in, one of thousands of Papaya trees in a plantation that we walked past plus the enormous leaves of a water palm from the Mekong Delta, traditionally used for waterproof roofing.

 

 

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Garden Design using Spirals

My client had an extremely sloping garden that was a struggle to mow. She wanted curves and different levels to make the garden an adventure to plant up and explore rather than a single square of lawn.

We explored different shapes and lines and chose a perfect circle for the patio, a raised lawn for sun baking with a sinuous edge and a curved lower path with steps going both down and up.

 

The water feature, made of solid stone, will bubble and shine away like an oyster in this giant shell.

 

Say tuned for what we do with the planting!

 

 

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