6 Garden Features for Winter Interest

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The view outside our windows can feel dreary in winter, so we took a moment as February begins to brainstorm botanical features that combat garden gloom. Added to your landscape, these unexpected elements offer color, texture, and beauty year-round. Read on to learn more about our favorite berries, barks, blooms and more for winter interest, plus a list of gardens where you can see these cold-season features. 

1. Winter Blooms: A surprising number of flowers can be found in the garden during the winter months, like the delicate asters shown above. Their periwinkle petals appear in late autumn as most of the garden winds down. We also love Lily of China (Rohdea japonica), hellebore, camellia, and galanthus for winter blooms.

2. Evergreens: Offering color and texture on a large scale, evergreens provide ample winter interest in even the coldest climates. We spotted this Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus 'Nana') during a recent tour at the Scott Arboretum in Swarthmore, PA. 

3. Berries: A favorite snack for birds as temperatures drop, berries also provide some of the brightest colors in the winter garden. Available in shades of red and orange, winterberry (Ilex verticillata) is a classic option for the landscape or when included in a cut arrangement. Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) is another gorgeous berry variety, with clusters of vibrant, purple fruit. 

4. Dried Pods & Flowers: Even after fresh blooms and foliage fade, dried seed pods can add architectural interest in the garden. The fluted pods of Philippine lily (Lilium philippinense) are one of our winter favorites. Echinacea and hydrangea also offer long-lasting texture in the landscape. 

5. Budding & Flowering Trees: Colorful witch hazel (Hamamelis mollis) puts on a show with vivid yellow flowers after autumn leaves have fallen in the woods, and can continue to bloom through the winter. Paperbush (Edgeworthia tomentosa) also enlivens the garden with a profusion of silvery buds, which emerge in button-like clusters during late winter. More classic trees for cold-season interest include colorful dogwoods and budding willows. 

6. Bark: Revealed after autumn leaves have dropped, bark is an often-overlooked source of winter interest. Above, crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia) shows off during the coldest months with shedding, red-tinted bark that's especially striking against the snow. Other trees with remarkable trunks include paperbark maple (Acer griseum), American sycamore (Platanus occidentalis), lacebark pine (Pinus bungeana), and Tibetan cherry (Prunus serrula). 

Our favorite winter gardens: The gardens and arboretums near our home office in Philadelphia are providing lots of winter interest as we wait for spring's arrival. Longwood Gardens is home to a beautiful selection of trees with unusual bark, flowering witch hazel and camellia, and early-blooming bulbs. Trees and shrubs, including paperbush and witch hazel, take center stage at Tyler Arboretum and Jenkins Arboretum this time of year, along with blooming skunk cabbage, snowdrops, and winter aconite. For early spring ephemerals and native winter blooms, we love Bowman's Hill Wildflower Preserve, as well as the Albright Winter Garden at Ambler Arboretum. Each of these gardens also offers an abundance of seasonal seedheads, pods, and berries for a beautiful winter walk. 

Image credits: 1-4. Terrain; 5. Wendy Cutler; 6. JR P

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