Look out your favorite window in mid-Winter, and what do you see? If you see a pleasing assortment of architectural shapes and interesting textures, with occasional splashes of color, you have a beautiful winter garden. The subtle winter aesthetic can be just as refreshing as the showier summer garden, and it's easy to achieve and maintain.
The winter garden should live in the back of the gardener's mind throughout the year. Landscaping with winter in mind will render delightful results. Trees and shrubs that produce berries will often attract winter bird activity. Evergreen plants offer a wide variety of winter colors, from relaxing blue-greens to vivid reds and deep purples. In our area, hardy palms are great for adding architectural shapes to a winter space. Selecting different forms, sizes and bark colors of deciduous trees will also add interest, even after the leaves have fallen. Many ornamental grasses can be left untrimmed (until early spring) to provide sound, motion and texture to the winter garden, as well.
To improve the winter look of your garden, you can photograph your beds in winter. Those photos will serve to remind you of which plants remain, and of their winter shapes, textures and colors. You can then add, replace and move plants in order to create a better winter view. You can also take advantage of warmer winter days by getting out to parks, etc, and noticing how different plants look in the winter. Very few plant catalogues offer winter photos, so a little exploration will payoff well.
East Texas winters are relatively mild; we can escape to our winter gardens most days, even if only for a cup of coffee. With a short gardening to-do list, no biting bugs and little threat of sunstroke, there is a lot to be said for the winter garden. Inside, the summer sun no longer begs us to keep the draperies drawn, so we can let in the light, and enjoy a beautiful "picture" of winter.
Rhonda Rholes, Smith County Master Gardener
Texas AgriLife Extension Service