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In Barb's Garden

a winter garden to delight the eye
by Barb Foster
by Barb Foster


Inspired to nuture, Barb Foster took up gardening over a decade ago. She has a particular passion for this areas hardy perennials.

Barb collects her own seeds, grows seedlings in a greenhouse and has 500 sq ft of growing beds plus numerous perennial flower beds in her Zone 1b garden in Chetwynd, B.C.

Barb writes weekly for the Chetwynd Echo.

March 1, 2009

In Chetwynd we enjoy at least six months of winter. This means that for six months few flowers bloom outdoors, the leaves of many plants disappear, and gardens fade from sight.

However with careful planning a winter garden could delight the eye. Colourful berries, ornamental tree trunks, evergreen trees and shrubs, colourful birds, rock work, ornamental structures, and statuary, can be combined to create a lovely winter scape.

Select evergreen trees and shrubs that are hardy to at least 'Zone 2'. Plan for at least one third of the landscape to be evergreen. Place the evergreen trees or shrubs in odd numbered groupings. Combine several shrubs of different shapes, textures, and colours to create a garden that is rich with interest. When planting evergreens keep in mind their ultimate size and leave plenty of room for growth. Choosing dwarf evergreens could allow for closer planting and a more finished appearance.

Evergreen trees and shrubs listed as hardy for 'Zone 2' include: Bristle cone Pine (Pinus aristata) a tree that can live up to 5000 years, it is slow growing and can attain a height of only 13 feet; Mugho Pine (Pinus mugo) varieties growing from 3-15 feet tall and spreading from 3 to 10 feet; Bakeri Spruce (Picea pungens 'Bakeri') colourful deep blue needles, growing up to 13 feet tall; Colorado Green Spruce (Picea pungens) green in colour and grows to 35 feet tall; Colorado Blue Spruce (Picea pungens 'Glauca') blue in colour and grows to 35 feet tall; Globe Blue Spruce (Picea pungens 'Globosa') blue dwarf, globe shaped grows to 5 feet tall; Hoopsii Spruce (Picea pungens 'Hoopsii') blue with pyramidal shape grows to 30 feet in height; Koster Spruce (Picea pungens 'Koster') silver-blue grows to 30 feet tall.

Of course the selection of evergreens is far greater if you choose to risk using Zone 3 hardy plants, one should weigh to cost of replacing less hardy shrubs should we experience an especially hard winter.

It can be an entertaining winter watching birds at a feeder. Set up feeding stations where they can be comfortably viewed from a window. Avoid placing feeders over garden beds, the black sunflower seed is toxic to some plants; especially Lilacs. Birds tend to drop a lot of seed on the ground. If you where to hang a bird feeder over an ant hill the dropped seed could cause the ants to move out. Try to place the feeder out of reach of cats. A good bush or tree near by will help encourage birds by providing shelter.

A covered feeder will help keep the seed dry. Hopefully flocks of colourful birds will stop at the feeder on their migratory trips and the birds who are resident over winter will have a ready source of food.

Some shrubs will produce berries that are food for birds and other shrubs will produce berries that birds do not care to eat. Growing an abundance of each will help feed the birds and give colour to the winter scape. The dark red berry clusters of the Hawthorn (Crataegus ssp.) are very attractive throughout winter but not eaten by birds. The red fruit of the Showy Mountain Ash (Sorbus decora) on the other hand is a feast to birds. Western Choke Cherry (Prunus virginiana melanocarpa) bears small black fruit that birds eat, as does the Mayday Tree (Prunus padus). Nanking Cherry (Prunus tomentosa), and the spiny Prinsepia Cherry (Prinsepia sinensis) both produce red fruit. The Saskatoon (Amelanchier alnifolia) produces blue fruit that is rarely seen ripe because the birds favour it so much. Snow berry (Symporicarpos albus) produces white berries that are not particularly attractive to the birds and thus remain in the garden over winter. The spiny silver leafed Buffaloberry (Sheperdia argentea) produces red berries on the female plant.

Cotoneaster acutfolius grows 10 feet tall and 10 feet wide it give a good show of red foliage in the fall and produces black coloured berries. Again these are Zone 2 hardy shrubs and trees. I know very well there is a beautiful old Crab apple tree growing near the Stagecoach Inn that is covered with bright red crab apples. Look also at the red rose hips of the Rugosa and other hardy shrub roses for winter colour.

Ease the monotony of the snowy blanket with the attractively coloured trunk of the Native Birch Tree, some native willows produce bright red winter stems that could be used in the winter scape. Some hardy perennial plants will produce attractive seed pods that can be left in the garden for winter. My favourite is the Globe Thistle (Echinops ritro). Goldenrod (Solidago ssp.)stems hold up nicely in the snow as do the seed pods of Iris, Lamb's Ear, Oriental Poppy, Echinacea, and Yarrow.

Stone work such as the low rock wall along the back of our pond create an attractive view in the snow. The wood structures of lattice screens, arbours, and trellis work can give relief to the snow cover. Benches and carved wood and stone figures stand out in the winter scape.

Decorative lighting is an asset in this area when the winter nights are so long.

Enjoy planning improvements to your winter scape and be sure to make notes so that you remember what to change when the snow is gone and the ground is thawed.

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