Potters Fields seed heads

Photos by Bonnie Alter

Winter gardens are best seen from the window on a winter's day. They take a special kind of planning and planting. As one garden writer said, "Dilettante gardeners love the spring and summer, real gardeners also love the winter."

England provides the perfect opportunity for this special kind of gardening because it doesn't snow too deeply in most places and there are lots of cold and clear days.

Potters Fields, this award winning park, was designed by Piet Oudolf. Its sweeping expanse of grass, whispering trees, quiet walkways and colorful herbaceous garden are a perfect example of his style. It works in all seasons.

leaves in Potters Fields

There are several components to the successful winter garden.

Strong vertical elements: Hedges, walls and trees are key and remain the same each season of the year. But since there is little color in winter, these elements become more important.

Architectural details such as paths, walls, steps and terraces play a greater role in winter. So in winter the walls that may have been hidden by vines in summer are visible and become a feature. Shapes and patterns on paths stand out, and even the kind of material is important. Likewise for patios and terraces.

Plant choice is key. Some plants look great under snow. Winter reds in the bright red berries of Pyracantha Coccinea, Lalandei look wonderful and festive. Cornus alba, Sibirica, a dogwood, has dark red stems which look beautiful against the white snow. The elegant hellebores (Helleborus niger and Helleborus x hybridus) are a pale pink and white flower that blooms in winter or very early spring. Evergreens such as box and yew provide contrast and borders.

Potters Fields trees

Because temperatures are so much milder, tubs and containers can flourish during the winter. Clipped holly looks good all year, as does Euonymus and honeysuckle.

Many plants should not be cut down. Their foliage looks wonderful and provides a home and shelter for winter birds and animals. Grasses can be used as clumps or as a whole bed. They move in the wind and their soft colors look wonderful in winter.

Potters Fields garden

Frost on plants changes their color and look. The heads of sedum, ivy leaves and seed heads change to silver. Everything has a different light to it.

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This story was originally written for TreeHugger. Copyright 2011.