Winning At Winter Garden Design

Taking assessment of a barren winter yard can bode well for a bounty of color with thoughtful planning and action.

When winter is upon us and the garden goes quiet, it’s the perfect time to reflect on the successes and mistakes of the previous year.

Once you’ve finished pondering your wins and losses -– ideally with a slice of pie and hot coffee in your hand -– it’s time to plan for the future. I love to do that by thinking about garden design.

Take a bird’s-eye view of your garden and assess its potential. Are you making the most of your landscape? If not, it’s best to go back to the basic principles of garden design. I have 12 principles I return to year after year to refine my garden.

Unfortunately, I don’t have room to dive into all twelve, but here’s a quick overview. I hope you find them helpful.

Layering is not just for keeping you warm in the garden on cold days. It also provides depth and interest to your landscape.

1. Start with Structure:

Consider the basic form of your garden. If you’re starting from scratch, map out the walkways and paths. Where will you sit and reflect? What is the best and most efficient path through your garden? Think about dividers, like tall shrubs, lattice or trees, and consider the views you’d like to accentuate or block out completely. Aim to create a few lovely focal points to draw the eye.

Once you have a map of the garden, start with evergreens or other shrubs to line your paths or segment your garden. Consider standards like boxwood, yaupon holly or even flowering shrubs like viburnum. These are the “bones” of your space, and they will serve as the foundation for what’s to come.

2. Plan Seasonal Highlights:

I would consider this the fun part of garden design – choosing the flowers! With so many beautiful flowers in the world, the options can be overwhelming, but it gets easier when you break it down by season. Because ideally, you’d have something blooming throughout the year. To get started, make a list of what’s currently in your garden and when it blooms and sort your list by spring, summer and fall. Do you see gaps in the seasons? If so, it’s time to add more plants! Make a list of favorites to incorporate into your garden and start shopping.

3.  Consider the Pollinators:

Don’t forget about birds and pollinators! Make sure you have plants that will attract birds, bees, butterflies and other garden helpers. These will be especially beneficial if you’re growing edibles nearby! Yes, it’s soothing to watch butterflies and bees flit from flower to flower, but our food supply depends on pollinators. Gardeners can help by increasing the food supply for these insects, ensuring their – and our – survival.

Some bee-friendly plants include aster, coneflower, geranium, bee balm, poppies, Black-eyed Susans and clover. Butterflies love borage, fennel, hollyhocks, milkweed, nettle and thistle. You could also add feeders for hummingbirds or a birdbath to collect rainwater and give these insects something to drink.

4.  Layer Up:

Layering is another way to ensure you have visual interest throughout the year and add thickness and depth to your landscape. Layering and combining plants can fill in space and bring a lush look to your garden that will make it the envy of your neighborhood.

For example, plant ground covers like Asian jasmine, lantana, verbena and petunias under taller perennials.

Next, you can plant bulbs between your annuals. This is another way to ensure you have something blooming through the entire growing season. One example might be daylilies, which bloom in summer, fit well between hostas, which are at their peak in fall. Another trick is to plant delicate vines, which will grow over your evergreen shrubs and provide additional interest. Vines like clematis or firecracker vine work well and are not too invasive. It’s like getting a two-for-one deal on your planting space!

Lastly, layering is a great way to block weeds. If you have a full garden bed, weeds have no place to grow.

I hope these ideas will inspire you to plan for 2017. To find a more in-depth presentation of garden design, visit If you’re seeking even more inspiration, consider a visit to Moss Mountain Farm in Roland. We’d love to show you these principles in action during a lunch tour. Visit for more information.

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