The Wonderment of the Winter Landscape

2016 Winter Neighborhood Landscape – Stowe, Vermont

A leisurely stroll through the neighborhood this morning to view the evolving landscape proved well worth the effort. Luckily, our Stowe office is in a central location to some of the town’s most updated and modern landscapes and provides optimum opportunity for observation, study and reflection. Winters in northern New England are known for spurring seasonal depression and one undeniable factor contributing to this is the seemingly dying landscape. Hopefully this post will provide an alternative perspective into the underlying beauty  and life of the Winter landscape as we discuss common themes that contribute to successful, cold-season garden design.


Possibly the most obvious indicator of solid Winter garden design is the choice to use plants that persist in a variety of ways. Persistent fruit, like that of the Winterberry (Ilex verticillata) shrub stands out in the Winter landscape and is quite striking when used in a massing.

2016 Winter Neighborhood Landscape - Stowe, Vermont

Evergreen plantings are the obvious choice when looking to retain foliage that holds snowfall throughout the Winter. But some deciduous plants such as the Pin Oak (Quercus palustris) retain their unique bronze foliage throughout the entire winter and are referred to as being marcescent . Other extremely hardy deciduous tree types are capable of this as well but are more dependent on immediate environmental conditions rather than their length of history within the particular environment.

2016 Winter Neighborhood Landscape - Stowe, Vermont
Pin Oak

Thus, it’s possible to anticipate certain environmental conditions and plant accordingly in order to achieve retained foliage. Though not guaranteed to work like the Pin Oak and American Beech, it’s certainly worth a try. This morning I witnessed a Sugar Maple on the South side of a commercial building and adjacent to a parking lot having about as much foliage as the Pin Oak shown above! The persistence in the landscape reminds us of the abundance of life soon to follow and helps to ease the mind while confronting winter’s gloom.                                                                                                                                   

Snowfall’s Impact

2016 Winter Neighborhood Landscape - Stowe, Vermont
Karl Foerster Reed Grass

With every Winter there is sure to be snow and how snow impacts the overall structure of your cold-season landscape can range from an intended highlight to an unforeseen catastrophe. Anticipate the impacts of snowfall and plant accordingly! Three quarters of the year, Karl Foerster Reed Grass’ form in the landscape is  thought of as rigid and sturdy, but once hit with a bit of snow and below freezing temperatures it changes in both color and form, reminding us of the current season and the change it has embraced.

2016 Winter Neighborhood Landscape - Stowe, Vermont
Japanese Maple

The mature Japanese Maple above has its unique, horizontal branching form underlined by the powdery precipitation. You’re sure to take note of this popular garden plant in every season.

Bark Color

2016 Winter Neighborhood Landscape - Stowe, Vermont
Red-Twig Dogwood

Being familiar and aware of the colors and textures of a resulting deciduous winter plant is an easy way to help your Winter garden stand out from the rest. How many colors can you see in this single stemmed Birch trunk? How about that texture?! Cornus sericea is a shrub form of Dogwood that comes in yellow, green and red twig form. Bark color may be the most common technique used in the attempt at successful Winter garden design.

2016 Winter Neighborhood Landscape - Stowe, Vermont
Paper Birch

Evergreen Standouts

The evergreen is a plant, unlike the deciduous trees and shrubs that light up from Spring to Fall, are almost forgotten during that time of the year. Without close inspection and to those not educated in plant identification, evergreens all sort of, blend together.

2016 Winter Neighborhood Landscape - Stowe, Vermont
Norway Spruce

However, come snowfall it’s their time to shine and show their true individuality. How an evergreen will show how special it is largely depends on the branch and needle structure and whatever that may be will be mimicked once the snow has flown. Notice the thick, conical branches and needles structure on the Norway Spruce above and how the snow sets upon its limbs. Likewise, the fine needle structure and weaker wooded nature of the Eastern White Pine below gives off a feathery, delicate appeal.

2016 Winter Neighborhood Landscape - Stowe, Vermont
Eastern White Pine

We hope you’ll take some time to enjoy the subtleties of the Winter landscape. It’s likely closer than you realize.