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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Understanding "Winter Interest"

2009_0115image0020 Last year Carolyn Gail over at Sweet Home and Garden Chicago whipped up a plan for my front garden that I wanted to redesign but had no idea what ought to go there. If you don't remember, the only thing in those beds were big overgrown Yews and Junipers, which I hated. I had them all yanked out and vowed to never plant another evergreen in the front of my house - it was my attempt to assert my individuality over my neighbors who only seem to have evergreens in their front gardens.

So, I was bummed to see that Carolyn had included an evergreen in the plan she did for me. I argued back and forth with her over why I needed the evergreen considering that I sort of hate them and she just kept saying "you need it for the winter interest." Well, I'm stubborn and a know-it-all so I decided that I knew more about this than Carolyn (a professional landscape designer) and did not plant any evergreens. I had decided that the evergreen would simply take up space where another better, prettier shrub could be planted, and, after all, during winter we gardeners are simple waiting it out, right? Well, now I get it! When I removed the established evergreens I immediately hated the front of my house more than ever. Quite frankly, it looked like a mobile home to me. Well guess what? That's what it has looked like all winter.

We've had a lot of snow in Chicago this winter and for months I've been driving by all the houses with the big evergreens I once scoffed at, now envious that their house doesn't look like a mobile home and mine does. All of a sudden I am mesmerized by the way the heavy snow sits atop these evergreens totally changing the shape and looking all cool.

I'll probably be rethinking this whole "winter interest" thing this spring. The trouble is that now I've used up all my shrub space in the front garden so if I want some "winter interest" it will only be at the sacrifice of some other shrub that's already planted.

Lessons learned: listen to the experts, even if you do not understand or see their vision.


  1. Can't you squeeze in some very fastigate thing at the corner, like a 'Skyrocket' Juniper or one of the columnar Yews? Of course plants other than evergreens can provide winter interest. I almost thing the Pagoda Dogwoods (Cornus alternifolia) look better in winter with the snow highlighting their branch structure. Maybe it will look fine once everything gets to a substantial size and isn't completely buried by snow.

  2. i hate evergreens too and to my horror my husband planted one in my back yard right where i wanted something else. i know he heard my plans for that spot but did what he wanted anyway....
    since you don't like evergreens you could try a holly bush. i have one in front of me house.

  3. Cute story and lesson learned. You come up with something great I bet.

  4. Dear Queen of the Doublewide : Just park a pickup in front and you could win 'Redneck yard of the week. "

    When in doubt, doing nothing is a good thing until you discover what you do like. I simply can't understand folks who don't like evergreens :-) In the right size and place they are the bones of the garden.
    The foundation plantings of overgrown yews and junipers seen almost everywhere has been responsible for their dislike.
    I was at a Chicago Botanic garden lecture and a famous English landscape designer said that Americans don't use enough yews in their gardens. I saw more than a few roll their eyes at this but I was in complete agreement.
    Like a true Southern gal you sure give new meaning to the word 'fixin' and 'aiming. '
    Keep in mind that if you don't like conifer evergreens then you can substitute broadleafs such as Holly, Rhododendron, Pieris Japonica and Azaleas.
    It won't be difficult to move the shrubs that you've planted to your back garden, Gina and establish a foundation planting which will anchor the design.
    Don't hesitate to let me know if you have any other thoughts or comments for your frontyard landscape.
    Just because I'm a landscape designer it doesn't mean you have to listen to everything I say. I love rebels :-) ; people who think for themselves and have a concrete idea of their likes/dislikes.

  5. It doesn't need to be an pine type evergreen to add winter interest... witch hazel is lovely and blooms in late Jan./Feb - flowers in the dead of winter - imagine that! You can have your cake and eat it too if you study up a bit on what's interesting and "green" all year long. Or you could consider some shrubs that have red branches that are interesting to look at once the leaves fall off... and remember too that you can move those planted bushes in the front to the back if you need to!

  6. LOL at you saying your house looks like a mobile home.

    I almost spit out my drink when I saw Carolyn call you the "Queen of the Doublewide."


  7. Oh Gina - thanks for tweeting the new post - too bad you had to learn the hard way that Tiggers do like evergreens.

    Like Carolyn I just love my evergreens - had lots of dwarf conifers in IL and down here we have so many kinds a person can go a little wacky with them. Good luck at getting some interest for all seasons.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  8. I'm with you, Gina. I ripped out my yews, but my landscape guy insisted on some of those little gold junipers along with a bunch of other stuff and they're Ok.

    I do think plenty of deciduous plants can provide "winter interest." For example, grasses are the prettiest plants in winter, much more so than many evergreen shrubs.

  9. How about a red-twig dogwood, if you don't like evergreens. Their red stems are lovely against the snow...or would be if we ever got snow in NC!

  10. Being teachable is always a good thing. :-)
    I agree with David...I love my Red Twig Dogwood.

  11. I've not been wild about juniper myself... but I'm all for winter interest. My house also has a tendency to look like a mobile home. I have a ton of arborvitae (mostly as a way to block out my neighbor's ramshackle garage) but not in front of my house. Still, even deciduous shrubs can add a BIT of winter interest near the house, as can tall ornamental grasses and decorations on or near the the house. Check out this entry if you want to see my mini improvements over time.

  12. Hi Gina, all those overgrown and unnaturally pruned yews and junipers give evergreens a bad name!

    I often imagine what I'd plant in their place if I'm ever able to convince my husband to let me rip out our 40-year-old overgrown, ugly yews. Your post and the comments have given me food for thought.

  13. I'm sure your yard will look great in the spring though. Evergreens just feel like such a commitment so I can see why you were hesitant.

  14. I love this blog! I tend to be a Homicidal Horticulturist in denial. I grew up in Mich and kill everything I plant in Oklahoma - But I keep trying and I keep learning. My husband grew up in Chicago, and I grew up in Michigan. I want evergreens - and he refuses. Holly can be great interest bush - if you don't mind the nasty stickies - they look nice. I really like the witchhazel suggestion. Bloomingwriter has those and I'd never heard of them before this year.

  15. One more idea on this - have you thought of Varigated Red Twig Dogwoods? the leaves are cream and green in the spring and summer with which flowers, then red berries. In the winder the stems 9which are skinny) are this really cool shade of red.

  16. Here's a super skinny evergreen for you that grows in my Wisconsin garden so it should work for you: CHAMAECYPARIS 'GREEN ARROW' It will be about
    15'-20' tall x 3'-4' wide in 10 years. A real winter exclamation point!