by BRIAN MINTER
December 30, 2005
At this time of year anything we can do to make our landscapes more visually attractive really does make a difference in the amount of enjoyment we get from our gardens. Even if we only sit at the kitchen table and look out, a colourful winter garden can give us a lift, and with just a little creativity, we can create a lot of winter colour.
Let's start by taking a look at the bark and form of some special trees. At this time of year most deciduous trees are bare and brown. birch trees, however, are fine winter specimens because of their light coloured bark, but keep in mind that some varieties are more showy than others. Betula pendula jacquemontii (Himalayan birch) is perhaps the most brilliant, having the whitest bark I've ever seen. Betula chinensis septronalis (Chinese Paper birch) is also a magnificent specimen with brilliant pink peeling bark. It's a 'must have' for any connoisseur's garden! Please realize, however, that while there are many varieties of birch, all with varying shades of white bark, you must wait a few years for the trees to mature before their true colours appear.
Clump birch, where two or more stems grow together, makes a nice feature too, and this is where being a little creative can really make a difference. If you have one feature plant in your garden, try to complement its shape or colour with another feature. For example, large white or even light grey stones make a nice companion to white birch. The lighter colours work well together to create a mood as well as a bright spot in your garden. Be sure to use stones that are large enough to create an impact. Once these larger stones are in place, plant something that will flow over the stones to ali a little softness. Red-berried cotoneasters and colourful winter flowering heathers, growing up and around white rocks, look very impressive in winter.
One of my favourite winter trees is the flowering cherry, Prunus serrula. I keep recommending it year after year, but hardly anyone plants it! Once this cherry matures even a little, its winter bark becomes a brilliant shiny burgundy - it is truly spectacular. There are also some Japanese maple trees, like Acer griseum, Acer aoyagi (a maple with pea-green bark) and Acer 'Sango Kaku' (a coral barked maple) that are very beautiful in mid-winter.
Some of the most impressive colour though comes from bush dogwoods. Cornus alba 'Sibirica' and Cornus stolonifera have brilliant red twigs, and Cornus stolonifera 'Flaviramea' is a striking yellow-twigged dogwood. A newer variety, called 'Midwinter Fire', has orange and yellow stems and is truly breathtaking in winter. Use bush dogwoods in background areas and if possible, locate them near a reflecting pond to double your enjoyment. There are many other trees that have colourful winter bark, so why not do a little research?
The form of many trees can be particularly beautiful in winter. Again, some of the most ideal forms are found in the birch family. Betula pendula 'Youngii' trails down to create a nice umbrella shape. Other pendulous trees, like Fagus sylvatica 'Pendula' (Weeping Beech) and weeping flowering cherries are very attractive in winter. The new weeping form of pussy willow, Salix caprea, is simply beautiful. With a light shining on it at night, it shimmers like a shower of silver catkins.
More and more berried weeping plants are now available. The many grafted forms of cotoneaster create unique winter focal points. Used in containers or as the centrepiece in a landscaped area, these plants not only ali interesting colour and shape, but they also provide nourishment for birds when snow covers their regular food.
One thing to remember about weeping trees is the fact that their form forces your eyes to follow their branches to the ground. Underplanting around pendulous trees further enhances their attractiveness in winter. Depending upon the type of tree, you may wish to use colourful foliaged evergreens like Euonymus 'Emerald n' Gold' or even winter-flowering heathers. Miniature azaleas or rhododendrons that change foliage colour to deep bronze in winter might be a consideration, as might evergreen perennials like variegated arabis. The point is to complement your weeping tree form with plants that are colourful in summer and winter.
Something we never really notice in summer is a tree's branch formation. In winter, however, branch forms can ali real interest to your winter garden. Among my favourites are Japanese maples and flowering cherries. If you already have some in your yard, next time you prune them keep their shape in mind and encourage branches which will further enhance their lovely form. You can also make tree forms more visible by placing them in front of a light coloured fence or lattice.
The aliition of some of these special plants can make all the difference to your winter garden. Give them a try.