The night is freezing fast,
Tomorrow comes December;
K. E. Housman
The final leaves of autumn have fallen and while winter does not officially begin until December 21, everyone knows that winter begins the day after Thanksgiving. But instead of turning our backs on winter, hoping only that it will be short, let’s celebrate it by creating gardens that are beautiful year-round, including winter.
Several books and many magazine articles have told us what to plant in our gardens for ravishing winter displays; but again, they have been written by people who live in warmer climates with different soil, and are, therefore, useless to those of us who live in the Midwest.
We think first (and usually, only) of coniferous (cone-bearing) evergreens. We plant a green mustache of yews round the foundation of our house, then we install the ubiquitous Colorado Blue Spruce somewhere on the property–its peaks reflecting , not our prairie, but the mountain peaks from where it came, wildly out of balance as it grows taller and wider, dominating the entire landscape.
But interesting, lively landscapes and gardens can be created, using native trees and shrubs with interesting shapes This is a Redbud (Cercis canadensis). Those of us in DuPage, northern Kane, and northern Cook counties are are at the northern edge of Its range. Be sure to buy only Redbud that is grown locally; those from further south may not be hardy in the northern area. Underplant it with Carex hirtifolia, C. jamesii, C. rosea, Wild Geranium, American Bellflower, and Blue-stemmed Goldenrod.
But wait! It gets better!
Large pea pods decorate this Redbud all fall and winter–a stunning view outside my studio window.
Persistent berries decorate many plants in winter. These belong to Illinois Rose (Rosa setigera). In nature, Illinois Rose is found in woodland edges and woodland clearings. It has an affinity for limestone; Jens Jensen used it extensively, many times in conjunction with limestone outcropping and ledges on slopes–a fine way to use it. It can also trail along a fence or climb a trellis(with help).
Colored, exfoliating, or textured bark are noteworthy, as well. This is Red-osier Dogwood–oops! Its new name is Red Sticks–love it! ( Its scientific name has also changed, from Cornus stolonoifera to Cornus sericea). It’s found in low, wet areas in the wild.
In addition, prairie grasses and forbs have showy seed heads and pods that are ravishing in the snow. This is Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea).
Various amenities such as birds, animals, water/ice, and man-made structures, such as fences, gateways, trelliage, and stone walls or pillars provide more enchantment.
I’ll be exploring these possibilities with you all winter plus lots of other subjects, such as my book list, the Arts and Crafts movement, sustainable living, occasional recipes, garden design, and whatever else is topical. So keep on logging in and join the conversation.
My book Design Your Natural Midwest Garden makes a wonderful Christmas or holiday gift and you can order it right here.