Far beyond the heavy evergreen of Taxus and Pinus there is a softness of colour and structure to be found in a whole host of plants.
15 December 2015
On a recent studio trip to a particularly special garden, we were struck by how beauty and interest can last even in the midst of a long cold winter. Far beyond the heavy evergreen of Taxus and Pinus there is a softness of colour and structure to be found in a whole host of plants.
So much of winter interest is about what hangs on through biting cold, wind and rain; the visual survivors of the season. Long gone are the reds of autumn, but a bright vermilion crab apple hanging on to a Malus ‘Evereste’ and tails of thistle-down falling from a Cynara cardunculus are testament to some innate tenacity.
Seed heads provide much of this residual interest, with many even improving on their summer look. Monarda ‘Violet Queen’ – a brash purple in summer, become tall, elegant lollipops providing height and shape to perennial borders. Meanwhile the softness of Phlomis is transformed into crisp pom-poms strung up tall throughout the winter. Another favourite is the Eryngium, which remains stately even in the harshest of winters and contrasts so well with almost all grasses, especially pennisetum. The beauty is in the transformation of such plants, from the fleshy green of summer to a harder, duller, but no less beautiful skeleton in the winter.
The revealing nature of winter is important here. Stems and branches, hidden by a modesty of foliage in summer, provide crisp shapes and colour when their leaves have fallen. Fire tones from Cornus and Salix, and the ghost white of a Betula punctuate a palette of neutrals and browns.
Although we focus on what remains from seasons past, there is new growth to be found too, Hellebores crouched in the shade, and the spidery yellow flowers of the Hamamelis which show in the darkest days of the year.
There may not be the same visual diversity as warmer seasons bring, but a good winter garden can be no less beautiful. It is a calmer, more elegant beauty, one that requires a sensitive approach to both create and understand.
- Elizabeth Tyler