Behind the Private Gates, Design, In the Garden

Inspiring Garden Design: 8 Lessons in the Snow

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Every winter I’m reminded of why I love being in Newport rather than warmer climes–it provides the opportunity to rest up, gather oneself, reflect on the past year, and set in motion well thought through plans for the new year. The timing is just right, too, as winter is the season to make final decisions about the garden–which “opens” only 2 months later–so no time to dawdle!

And one thing that helps me in making those decisions is to see the details of my garden through the eyes of another season. That first snow is both thrilling and inspiring; I can’t wait to pop outside to start photographing and marveling at new sights. Yes, without leaves on trees and shrubs one can more easily read the “bones” of a garden but also, winter’s snow exaggerates details that may not be as prominent in spring or autumn.

Additionally, snow oftentimes creates a “shades of gray” effect which plays up contrasts; it’s especially apparent in a garden like Parterre with its clipped and shaped forms. Aaaah, the lessons to learn in winter.

Look for opportunities to add accents to a setting. The variegated box obelisks fronting the yew hedge definitely dress up this scene; a secondary accent is their graduated sequence starting at the gate pillars. Those “shades of gray” I mentioned above are very apparent in these 2 images.

Always consider options when pruning a hedge. The rounded barrel shape of the Korean box in the Fountain Garden is more appealing to me than a flat surface; I also enjoy the angled curve of the yew hedge swooping down from the gate pillars.

Don’t give up! Our beloved specimen paired cherries ‘Hally Jolivette’ were at death’s door, the consequences of age and a frustrating scale issue. My wonderful gardener spent days thinning out their 22 year tangle of branches. I like to think they’ve now been guaranteed another 22 years.

You can never have enough evergreens. From box to yew to barberry to euonymus to holly…shaped and pruned, they are a winter garden’s best friend. You’ll relish your views through the window at the punctuations their shapes add (the second picture is a pair of yews, pruned to have a raised square on the front into which the initial P will soon be cut).

Create a focal point. I was struggling to create a viewscape at the end of the back courtyard where we access the garages. This cozy collection of evergreens are awaiting their turn to be shaped to tie in with the newest, and final, addition to the scene…the wooden rose trellis.

Make that splurge! I’d both expanded my rose selections and decided the cutting garden needed a more formalized western-side enclosure. Voila! A custom-designed five panel trellis crafted of kiln-dried red cedar, that has been two and a half years in the works. A most welcome Christmas present in 2020.

Go for a heart stopper. Antique iron gates with their multiple details capturing pillows of delicate snow provide one of my very favorite scenes at Parterre in the winter.

Don’t forget the front door. Yes, this pair of hornbeams is an understated, fitting accent for a French Normandy-style home but I had no idea how glorious they would look cloaked in snowflakes.

I cease to tire of reveling in the winter views of snow-covered pruned shrubs, of the lacy twigs of the specimens trees, of the arches and curves of the many hedges. And, of course, sharing it with you.

Stay warm and well! Hope you’ve enjoyed these lessons gleaned over my 22 years designing and gardening at Parterre.

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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: 8 Lessons in the Snow

  1. The sculptural quality of your garden is highlighted by the snow which keeps it interesting in the winter. This is something to consider when designing a northern garden.

  2. Beautiful gardens year long! It is a gift to appreciate the beauty in each season. Thank you for sharing thes magical photos.

  3. Your garden sparkles in winter as it does in springtime. You always add wonder and joy to each season. Thank you Bettie for such lovely photos and
    descriptive, inspiring words!

  4. I have watched those “baby bones” grow into an architectural gem of a “young man” of twenty-two and in his prime. I suspect that “prime” will last for centuries. Your unerring eye for detail in planning and execution has “raised” a garden of such carefully faceted jewelry, that it delights the eye with unabashed sparkle and subtlety and gives pleasure each season to the beholder. Four Seasons in a garden jewel box -Bettie, you are Vivaldi in a garden!

  5. Bettie,

    These beautiful black, white,
    and grey photos have reminded me of the beauty of Winter and to enjoy the details and quiet. Coming from another SoCA girl it has a special message because I struggle with Seattle grey that seems endless. Your ideas about shape and line have given me some ideas for my small garden!

  6. Your garden looks beautiful snow capped. Love to see pictures like this but I don’t want the snow here in NC.

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