Winter Gardening: Thinking Outside of the Cold Frame

January 30, 2011 by


Winterberries offer bold color in winter.

“Winter is a fascinating season, a time to closely watch changes in plants. It is when I have seen miracles and been confounded by mysteries. Everything has a story to tell and secrets to reveal, from the design of a snowflake and the patterns of frost, to the first flowers piercing the cold ground, their blooms resting on a snowy pillow.”
Suzy Bales, author of The Garden in Winter

While many of us long for spring, already tired of the snow and cold temperatures, we still have another six weeks of winter. That does not mean the garden needs to be ignored while we do nothing but sit by the fire pining away for warmer weather. Suzy Bales, author of fourteen books, and frequent host of a series of garden spots on Good Morning America, will offer insights and ideas about maintaining and enjoying your garden in winter when she speaks February 15 at the Mount Vernon Hotel Museum and Garden in New York City. A cocktail reception will follow this lecture where Ms. Bales will be signing her book The Garden in Winter.

I spoke to Ms. Bales to see what inspirations and tips she could offer Urban Gardens readers.

What winter gardening tips can you offer us?
What rooms do you spend the most time in in winter? Design a view out these windows with plants that are at their best in winter–shrubs with berries, evergreens, winter bulbs, and early blooming perennials.

Plant golden conifers. Golden foliage warms up the garden, especially on cold dark days. It invites the sunshine in.


Viburnum x. bodnantense ‘Dawn’ (Adoxaceae) flowers in the snow. Photo: Brent Miller.

The simplest planting is to gussy up your grass with a patchwork of winter blooming bulbs–snowdrops, crocus, glory-of-the-snow, scilla, winter aconite, and dwarf iris.


Lily seedheads remain for feathered friends.

Leave attractive dried seedheads to feed the birds and to catch the snow. My favorites include: black-eyed Susan’s, sunflowers. astilbe, and sedumn ‘Autumn Joy’.


Coral Bark Maple, a colorful beacon amid a blanket of white.

What are some of your favorite plants and cultivars for use in winter?
Since winters generally reduce the landscape to black and white, I look for anything that will add color. Winterberries, hollies and Japanese berries all have colorful berries. Nandina ‘Wood’s Dwarf’ has red foliage, arresting in the garden and long lasting indoors in a vase of water. Witch Hazel, winter hazel and Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’ flower even when snow is on the ground. Early blooming blulbs are favorites both in the garden and in the vase.

Do you have suggestions for integrating what’s outdoors with the indoors?
Some of my favorite combinations include: Pieris buds and hellebore blooms, snowdrops and dwarf iris, oregon grape holly and hellibores, and assorted witch hazel in orange, yellow and red. There are many more combinations, too numerous to mention. Check out my new book, Garden Bouquets and Beyond for ideas of what can be brought indoors. There are all kinds of winter arrangements on my website, too.


Grasses in winter. Photo via GardenWeb.

I love how my grasses look in winter. Some thoughts on grasses and perennials?
Grasses glisten when frosted and dusted with snow. The cold emphasizes the translucency of the foliage and the seed heads, and as the blades bend in the the wind, they seem to clasp the rays of sun and lead the rays in a sparkling dance.


Red Twig Dogwood boldly piercing the snow.

What about containers? Bring them inside or can you leave them out in winter?
I resort to tried-and-true tricks to fill up many of the all-weather containers that sit in the garden year-round. Otherwise the empty pots make winter all the more gloomy. I snip a mixture of greens and berry-strewn branches and simply poke them into the soil in the pots. I aim for a variety of textures and colors. The containers last all through the winter and add to the beauty of the garden. I even fill hanging baskets on the porch with greens to decorate the entrance. Empty urns left out have the opposite effect, drawing attention to what is missing.

Do you have some favorite plants that provide welcome color and texture in winter?
Mother nature showcases her subtle works of art in the textures and patterns of different barks. Learning to recognize a tree by its bark makes a relationship with Mother Nature closer.


Red Twig Dogwood rising like fire in the snow. Photo: Minnnesota Public Radio.

As deciduous plants nap, conifers move to the forefront, flaunting myriad shades of green, as well as silver, gold, and blue. Group a few conifers together to form a colorful tapestry. Red twig dogwood and coral bark maples are stunning in the snow.


Coral Bark Maple. Photo: Ken Slade.


Photo by Amanda Wheeler

Mount Vernon Hotel Museum & Garden Plans for Spring
Although the garden at the Mount Vernon Hotel Museum & Garden is covered with snow and the ground is frozen, the Garden and Grounds Committee and the newly formed Garden Circle of horticulture afficionados are in high gear preparing to begin the revitalization work in early spring. Excavation will begin as soon as the ground softens. In early March, the museum will begin pleaching five large Plane trees and pruning other trees and shrubs. “After that,” says the Garden and Grounds Committee, “we will put on our garden gloves and get our hands in the soil.”

Suzy Bales Lecture, Book Signing, and Cocktail Reception
Mount Vernon Hotel Museum and Gardens
February 15, 2011, 6 pm
417 East 61st Street (between First and York Avenues.)
New York City
$25 per ticket

Photos, unless otherwise specified, contributed by Suzy Bales.

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  • https://www.gardenyourcity.com Barbara

    Nice post – ornamental grasses, cotoneasters, pines, and boulders (!) peeking out from the snow are personal favorites.

    Pleaching London Plane trees? I’d rethink that choice.

  • http://gardenglamour-duchessdesigns.blogspot.com gardenglamour

    Lovely, lovely post. Beautiful to look at. Inspiring to read. I have an arbor of coral bark trees, fronted by red twigged dogwood (bordered by Lady in Red hydrangea and red roses for the summer) and the arching red branches in the white snow is stunning. I adore Suzy and her garden art perspective. Enjoy her talk. She is always terrific. Cheers

  • Audrey Svensson

    This is really beautiful. Why couldn’t I think of these ideas? I guess because I am not Suzy Bales! I really enjoyed this. Audrey

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  • http://www.moonpublicrelations.com Nancy

    Enjoyed it, very inspiring, and colorful! Makes me really love winter!

  • Geralyn

    So very beautiful! There is truly beauty in the garden all year ’round and you have captured it masterfully.

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