Behind the Private Gates, Design, In the Garden


Inspiring Garden Design: 7 Key Points for Creating Winter Interest

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One of my most anticipated seasonal occurrences in Newport (and another reason not to flee to Florida in the winter) is a hoarfrost, which deposits a dusting of soft ice covering every inch of the plants, trees and garden’s architecture. A perfect and even deposit is almost a phenomenon! Think of it as the difference between powdered sugar and thick frosting.

Just a few days ago, the weather gods performed their magic. I awoke to everything covered in a thin layer of white, just stopping short of true snow. But it doesn’t last long either! I threw on a wool bathrobe, slipped into rubber boots (you get the picture?) and scurried outside with my cell. As they say, “timing is everything.” Here were images that would make a perfect post…a version of “before and after,” contrasting Parterre’s winter “dressing” with her summer counterpart.

What better topic to begin my annual “Inspiring Garden Design” series than the importance of designing a garden with winter in mind. One of the beauties of hoarfrost is that it doesn’t disguise details. Quite the opposite! It accentuates them. You can indeed enjoy the gardens “bones” (which in horticulture jargon means read the design). Details are evident, while summer’s leaves and flowers can often cloak them.

7 key points for designing a garden with winter interest:

1. Use evergreen shrubs liberally (i.e. euonymus, berberis, holly, box). A selection of these plants under the 4 cherry trees allow us to enjoy the overall design of the Orangerie parterres year ’round.

2. Don’t overlook the merits of accessories as part of the overall winter scene. Both containers and plants, used in tandem, echo and support each other.

3. Consider the winter aspects of a tree. Is it any wonder that my first choice of an arborial form is weeping, or “pendula?”

4. Snow highlights the strength of a design. Geometric elements, so important to a formal garden like Parterre’s, are exaggerated with frost on their curves and angles.

5. Winter provides another perspective from which to consider plant selections…the draping 60’ long rose garland adds a very welcome note of contrast against the sharp angles of the back courtyard’s architecture.

While the sharp points of the pair of yew “posts” in the Winter garden provide interest when silhouetted against the south side of the house.

6. The diversity and success of pruning options are played up with a light layer of frost on their shapes.

7. Make thoughtful plant decisions and you can enjoy color even in the winter months!

This is why I love Newport in the winter — for the dreamy appearance of Parterre’s garden and the design truths it speaks through bare limbs and branches. Worthy images for any gardener to reflect upon.

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Bettie Bearden Pardee

About Bettie Bearden Pardee

Author of Private Newport and Living Newport, garden furniture designer (The Parterre Bench), national lecturer, and entertaining expert. An honoree for the second year on "The Salonniere 100 America's Best Party Hosts", she was also the host and creative producer of "The Presidential Palate: Entertaining at the White House".

10 thoughts on “Inspiring Garden Design: 7 Key Points for Creating Winter Interest

  1. I don’t often comment but I always enjoy your beautiful posts, especially of your gorgeous garden.
    I have been catching up on past episodes of the podcast “Stuff You Missed in History Class,” and was delighted with TWO episodes on André Le Nôtre, who designed the gardens at Versailles, the Tuileries and Vaux-le-Vicomte, as well as the Champs-Élysées. You would love it.

    1. Wonderful to hear from you, especially with such an interesting pass along. The title of that podcast certainly gets one’s attention…and I’m a BIG fan of Le Notre.
      Have you seen the movie, “A Little Chaos?” If not, do be sure to watch!! Happy New Year, xB

  2. These side by side comparisons are very impressive. I think right now I would love a hoarfrost. I keep reminding myself that the garden is sleeping and much is happening beneath the surface. We have daffodils beginning to make their appearance. I have to say I’m not quite ready for winter to end. A nice fire, a cup of tea and a good excuse to just do nothing for a change can be a good thing.

  3. Wish I had hoarfrost in Atlanta. Those views are delightful. The snow is like Christmas wrapping and in spring one can open the “boxes” to see the surprises “inside.”

  4. Thank you for the “garden architecture” post, Bettie. I’ve never heard of a hoarfrost, but I live on the west coast of California, so it’s probably not something we experience here. Your garden is always an inspiration.

    1. So glad that Privatenewport could introduce you to this winter phenomenon.Stay tuned for the next post…and do look at our Instagram account, @privatenewport. xB

  5. Your garden is gorgeous in every season! I cherish all the seasons because each has their own beauty, as shown in your photos. Because our area is thick with green during the summer months, it can hide many lovely homes, ponds and little stone bridges over creeks that become a joy to see when winter arrives. There is just something magical about curling up with a good book in front of a roaring fire–just not the same in months other than winter. Thank you for posting your lovely hoarfrost garden.

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