Design School: Winter Landscaping for the Five Senses

Stripped bare of summer’s leafy, flowery finery, the garden in winter has its own sort of quiet magic. Yes, it’s cold, icy, and there will be slush, but also fresh coats of snow, birds and animals chillin’ in the trees, and all sorts of sounds and scents now amplified by the quiet of the season.

There are lots of ways to make the garden “show” in the snow–from arches coated in the white stuff to windswept vistas that sparkle in cold winter light. But what if you could have a winter garden that tickles all of your senses and makes you want to stop and linger outside?

Let’s consider the five senses–sight, sound, touch, taste, smell–and play with ways that small elements added to your garden can delight and inspire.

Here are few of our ideas. We’d love to hear yours!

A few of our craftsmen’s favorite winter garden moments:
“A conifer branch holding four inches or so of new fallen powder snow.” –Sabrina
“Intricate crystals of frost, found only if you bundle up and wander the garden.” –Sandy
“The smell of winter is the best. Ozone and wood smoke and snow.”– Sara
What’s your favorite? Share below!

SIGHT

Adding elements that contrast with all of the white can help to create interesting focal points. Bring in color with painted elements such as fences, gates, arches, or arbors. Look at how blue this blue is against all that white! Other ideas:

SOUND

The sounds of winter in the garden are a bit mystical–sometimes amplified, sometimes muted by the snow. Try these to bring this sense to the scene.

  • Leave ornamental grasses in place where they’ll be stirred by wintry winds. (Whoosh! Swoosh!)
  •  Plant dense evergreen shrubs that provide shelter and birds will wing and sing in your yard. (See below.)
  • Get that satisfying crunch of boots on snow by creating a snowbound destination.
  • Close your eyes and listen……you’ll notice an absence of sound. Revel in the stillness.

TOUCH

It’s tempting to race from the car to the house, but take a minute to play with the tactile pleasures of the winter garden.

  • Resinous conifers such as pines that you cut for branches leave you with that sticky sap that lingers for a bit.
  • Branches are often coated with glittering ice. Gently crunch a few branches for some snap, crackle, pop.
  • Leaving a bench or table in place overwinter allows you the joy of punching your hand elbow deep into soft, new fallen snow. (C’mon, it’s fun and you know it.)

TASTE

Hips, needles, berries–there are all sorts of edibles in the winter garden.

  • Rose hips can be transformed into everything from teas to soups.
  • Pine needles can be steeped into a tea said to help a common cold. Most pine needles are safe to consume (avoid Yew, Norfolk Island pine and Ponderosa pine).
  • Of course, tasty treats for wildlife are part of the winter garden equation. More about berries for birds.

SMELL

You probably already know this from being outside, but there is science that backs up the fact that winter air smells different. Incorporate a few of these for some winter aroma therapy:

  • Highly fragrant conifers such as firs, pines and cedar that scent the air when you stroke the branches.
  •  Winter-flowering fragrant shrubs like this witch hazel or viburnums that bloom early and often in colder zones.
  • Pluck a frozen crabapple from your own tree, warm it in your hands, and breath in the sweet fruity smell. There’s nothing like it!

AS PROMISED, DENSE EVERGREENS TO SHELTER BIRDS IN WINTER

Golden Duke® Eastern Hemlock
Zone: 4 – 8

A superb new evergreen with glowing golden-yellow foliage on graceful, upright arching branches. Dense foliage for nesting birds. Partial to full sun.

Roseum Elegans Rhododendron
Zone: 4 – 10

Perhaps because they’re often planted close to a house and benefit from reflected warmth, birds like to next inside of these shrubs. Partial sun.

Berri-Magic® China Holly Combination
Zone: 4 – 9

The prickly leaves of plants such as evergreen hollies provides an extra layer of protection for birds hunkered deep inside. Partial to full sun.

Bruns Serbian Spruce
Zone: 4 – 8

While some birds are fine with lower shrubs, others prefer getting out of the weather much higher up. This tree is tall and narrow–useful for you to! Full sun.

Thank you for taking this little sensory journey into the winter garden. Please do leave your comments and questions below. Here’s one final thought…

“Nature has undoubtedly mastered the art of winter gardening and even the most experienced gardener can learn from the unrestrained beauty around them.”—Vincent A. Simeone

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