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.