As the days grow shorter and temperatures dip, landscapes across the Hamptons prepare for winter. The landscape sheds the finery of its summer flowers and brilliant autumn foliage and reveals its bones – the framework of its stems and branches. If you take the time to observe the forms of the trees and shrubs on your property, they become living sculptures. And some trees have beautiful bark that you might not notice in summer but which becomes a focal point in winter.
Evergreens that keep their foliage all year play a more important role in winter – we notice their shapes, and how the color changes in some of them, from rich green to bronze-toned, or from blue-green to more silvery blue. Some evergreens are valued for their varied shapes – from narrow and columnar to conical, pyramidal, rounded or low and spreading. Others have colorful berries that last well into winter and provide food for winter birds. And some trees have beautiful textured bark that you might not have noticed in summer.
Here are some ways to use trees and shrubs to bring beauty to your winter landscape.
Combine different shapes. Trees and evergreen shrubs come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and you can group them in a bed or a border around the edges of your property to provide privacy as well as visual interest. Pyramidal shapes can provide volume and height, rounded forms add density, narrow columnar shapes supply vertical accents and low, mounded and spreading plants visually anchor the plantings. Those with drooping, weeping forms add movement. For added interest in a bed, especially near a contemporary home, include a weeping tree whose branches arch over toward the ground, perhaps a dramatic blue Atlas cedar. For vertical line consider columnar plants such as Sky Pencil Japanese holly or Green Spire Leyland cypress, or Fastigiata Atlas cedar. To anchor your composition of evergreens, add some lower, spreading varieties such as creeping juniper, whose silvery blue foliage will spread out on a slope or over the ground. There is a weeping form of our native eastern red cedar; look for the variety Pendula. Bring a bed or border to life with a touch of whimsy with a corkscrew willow such as the variety Golden Curls, or Tortuosa, whose fanciful branches twist and twirl into space, or the contorted hazel that’s known among plant aficionados as Harry Lauder’s walking stick, in honor of a Scottish vaudevillian who carried a curvy cane.
Add some berries. The berries we love to eat come in the summer. But berries can decorate the landscape in fall and winter, and provide food for birds and animals. Hollies are classic, their red berries essential ingredients in Christmas wreaths and arrangements. In the landscape, American holly has the quintessential notched leaves and bright red berries. Another type of holly, called winterberry, has red berries that attract birds and provide color in winter gardens. The variety Winter Gold has berries of orange-gold. Inkberry, a medium size holly with oval green leaves, can be seen in plantings on commercial properties on the East End; as the name implies, its berries are black.
Look for decorative bark. Winter is the time to appreciate the many textures of bark on trees and shrubs, and some are truly lovely. The Heritage river birch has white bark that peels back to expose cinnamon or grayish inner bark. Paperbark maple’s brown bark peels away in plates to expose light inner bark in a patchwork pattern. Cryptomeria, or Japanese cedar, has reddish brown bark that peels in long strips. Crape myrtle, beloved in many East End landscapes for its spectacular, long-lasting wands of bright pink or white flowers in late summer, has smooth gray bark that exfoliates to reveal inner bark that’s gray and brown. The climbing hydrangea vine that’s so magnificent in summer in winter displays its shaggy, russet-brown bark.
This winter take time to look at your landscape and discover its quiet beauty. Then start planning how to make it even better next year.