Winter Garden Guests

I’ve always been intrigued by a method employed in some Japanese tea gardens to help guests see the space around them in new or interesting ways.  These gardens block some paths to guests and open others, so that the guest will be sure to delight in an element of their garden that they have not experienced before.  While most small, backyard gardens don’t have the luxury of several separate paths, you can rearrange some elements of your garden to reflect the changing seasons and highlight new beauties in your space.

You may be covering your flower beds or removing many dying plants, but that doesn’t mean your garden must be shunned and never shown until late spring.  Whether you have already experienced a lasting snowfall or your trees still cling to the last of their turning leaves, your space is undergoing a large transformation that can and should be celebrated.

Not only does this cluster of birches have an interesting structure, the subtle color change of the bark from coppery brown to white will stand out against the snow.

Instead of being a riot of color, the most beautiful aspects of your space are now the deep contrast between just a few colors and the underlying form of both your plants and your artificial elements.  Create pauses for your guests at particularly lovely spots, such as a stand of birches, a curling grapevine still on a trellis or wall, or around your water feature.    Add a bench or even just a few well-sanded stumps with interesting crooks to let your visitors rest and take in each highlighted element.

Moss and Lichen wonderlands

You can also make use of any irregular stones and old stubborn tree remains, either by arranging them in attractive forms or by encouraging different species of moss and lichen to cover them.  Both moss and lichen will survive over the winter and can add a startling burst of color against a drab brown background or bursting out of the white snow.  In order to start your moss garden you can buy a patch of moss at a nursery or cut a square from any wooded area.  Since there are no roots to moss, it is simply a matter of cutting through the moss and lifting it.  If you would like to transplant the patch of moss as it is, paint your rock or log with mud and lay the moss on it.  However, for a more natural look, you will want to blend your patch of moss with water and yogurt.  Since moss is a group of microorganisms this won’t harm it, just break it apart.  The yogurt will feed the moss and encourage it to multiply and knit together and the water will keep it moist and alive.  Simply pour or paint your mixture over your rock or log or spread it over tightly packed soil.  This is also a good way to cover any bare spots that potted plants or summer sun may have left in your space.  For lichen, you will want to paint your rock or log with a thin layer of yogurt or liquid fertilizer.  Since lichen is a spore in the air, it should naturally begin growing within a few weeks. 

“Green the whole year ’round”

Planting evergreen shrubs and trees in your space can give you a depth of color and shadows.  Make sure to space them throughout your space, instead of clumping them.  This is also true of trees and shrubs that hold onto their berries throughout the winter, such as Acers which keep bright red berries or like this subtle snowberry vine that stands out against dark backgrounds like tree trunks, stone or deep bracken, even in deep snow.

Animal Attraction

Don’t forget to appreciate the animal life in your space as well.  Create a rest stop around your feeder or bath, but make sure it is far enough away to not frightened the birds.  Birdwatching adds not only color and movement to your garden but also lovely sounds that, in a winter setting, can be scarce.  A covered gazebo can be excellent for this, affording your guests some protection from the wind and camouflage for bird watching.

Your idle garden structures can also be used to create pleasing shapes, and even sound in your garden.  A chiming trellis or gazebo hung with bells will bring a sense of life to your garden even if the birds and squirrels are away.

this bell trellis can stand alone in your garden or inhabit colorful pots for double the impact. We got ours from


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