Creating winter interest in the garden

After last year’s snowy winter and the blah days that followed, I made the decision to work towards giving my garden more winter interest. It is an ongoing project, but I have made good progress.

The basics were in place. 

I have fencing and a mature tree that provide structure and framing.   I have had boxwoods growing in containers for several years. Part of the plan was to move them from their longtime containers to continue growing in the ground. Because of their size, I knew I would need some help.

Project Winter Interest began in June, and since I would have help digging and moving, I devised a plan for other projects. I recruited a few very strong, very polite young men to help. We moved a cement bench to a remote and neglected corner. This is a sunny area, and the bench will anchor a bed of sunny perennials and containers of annuals.   

Transferring the boxwoods from their containers to the ground was quite the project. First, just getting them out of the containers was difficult. They need a wide and deep hole to accommodate their size, so lots of digging and thank goodness for strong helpers. After digging the hole, we added compost and were careful to break apart the roots so they could be encouraged to spread into their new home. This was another reason for digging a wide hole – it gives the roots room to grow outward and create stability for the plant.

The boxwoods were placed in the middle of the bed, not in a solid row, but separated through the length of the bed. This will create winter interest but not interfere with the spring, summer, and fall perennials already at home in this garden.

I have fallen in love with Red Twig Dogwoods and added three to the back row of the garden bed. We placed them behind and in between the boxwoods. Although they are fairly nondescript in the summer, they shine in the winter months when the twigs turn red.

The traditional varieties often grow up to nine feet tall and eight feet wide. This is a big shrub. 

I have one friend who calls her Seymour because of how fast and tall it grows. She trims it back about a third in the late winter/early spring. This maintenance schedule helps her manage the size. If not trimmed each year, “Seymour” would take over her front garden.

I planted the more compact variety Artic Fire. They will reach about four feet tall and three feet wide, much more manageable for the little house on the big hill gardens. Because the color fades on older branches, thinning the shrub every few years will keep the winter stem color vibrant. Use those trimmed branches in your winter wreaths and arrangements.

This is also a good way to propagate the bush. This is a tale of do as I say, not as I do. Trim a branch close to a bud. Then dip in a rooting hormone and place in soil. Keep the pot protected through the winter. In the springtime, move it outside to the sunshine and watch it grow. It may take a year to produce a sapling ready to be planted in the garden. But have faith. These are easy to root.

I got lucky. On a whim about three years ago, I stuck two twigs in the containers on a winter day. That’s it. Nothing more. When spring came, one twig had not survived, but one was sprouting tiny leaves. I left it in the pot, and it continued to grow. Finally, I felt it was strong enough to be transferred to the garden, and it was part of my June planting.   

Although smaller than the ones purchased from the nursery, it will catch up in a few years. And I love that little sapling’s story.

Because of the work, I started in June, I have enjoyed my winter garden more than before. I have more ideas to put in place this summer, one being a structure, a trellis, arch, or ornate plant stand that looks when snow-covered. That’s the great thing about a garden; it’s constantly changing and evolving with the surrounding. I just try to nudge it’s changes to fit my design.