Anything we can do to make our winter 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. White birch trees, however, are fine winter specimens because of their light coloured bark. But keep in mind that most varieties are now susceptible to the dreaded birch borer. Betula pendula jacquemontii (Himalayan Birch) is perhaps the most brilliant, having the whitest bark I've ever seen. New varieties are now available, like Betula `Duraheat', that are resistant to both borers and aphids. I'm looking forward to these new introductions.
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.
There is also a very new vine maple, called Acer circinaturrz `Pacific Fire,' which has outrageous coral?red winter stems.
Some of the most impressive colour, though, comes from bush dogwoods. Corpus alba `Sibirica'and Corpus stolonifera have brilliant red twigs, and Corpus 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. Corpus Arctic Sun' is a new bright yellow stemmed variety with vibrant red tips. Corpus `Winter Flame' has flickering yellow, orange and red stems that simply glow in a winter garden.
Use bush dogwoods in background areas and if possible, locate them near a reflecting pond to double your enjoyment.
Contorted willow trees are a hot winter-interest favourite, particularly the new golden and red twig forms, but because they tend to run, they need to be contained. Their cut branches are invaluable for floral work and as cut stems in vases.
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 add 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.
Perhaps the most popular winter?interest tree is the contorted filbert, Corylus `Contorta'. It's quite at home either in a container or in a garden bed as a focal point. The new red leafed variety, `Majestic Red', is a wonderful innovation and has certainly raised this plant's profile.
The addition of some of these special plants can make all the difference to your winter garden. Give them a try.