Friday, January 9, 2015

Winter Window Views

The view outside my library sliding glass door. The boxwoods on the terrace are filling in, and I hope the evergreen trees and shrubs in the new West Island, below, will survive the winter and grow larger so they can be seen more easily from inside.

In my last post, Winter Interest in the Garden: Does it Exist?, I somewhat grumpily pooh-poohed the idea of "winter interest" in the garden for those of us living in the colder parts of the world. My main reasons:

  1. There are no such things as "winter blooming" plants for us, unlike for gardeners living in Zone 7+ areas. Even the earliest flowers rarely appear before mid-March in Iowa, and we hardly even have any green foliage showing by then. The entire landscape, even the grass, looks dead until March, and March isn't winter. 
  2. Small-scale winter details like bark texture, colored twigs and berries must mostly be viewed from close-up. Unless trees are planted right next to the house (which can cause foundation problems and loss of sunlight -- important to have in winter), this means that the viewer must travel outside, and I think I established in my prior post how not fun it is for many of us to spend time outside in the sub-freezing, windy conditions that we have nearly every day in winter here. 
However, I want to be clear that I don't think our gardens should simply "go away" during winter, and leave us with nothing to look at outside our windows -- perhaps I didn't make that clear enough in my post. I was mainly referring to the idea of planting certain plants because of their winter details or early blooms, which, other than planting evergreens for structure, seemed to be the main idea of most of the "garden in winter" books that I discussed in my last post.

A number of readers, including Linda, who wrote a good post about the topic on her own blog, Each Little World,  responded to my post that they need to look at interesting things outside their windows during the winter. I absolutely agree; I too look out my windows numerous times each day during winter (and every other time of year) and need to see something happening, the progression of winter, the slow coming of spring, the masses of flowers I hope to see in summer. This is one of the main reasons I live in the country: for the views.

My first view every single morning, from my upstairs bedroom window.

And I mentioned in my prior post that the view is more interesting if there is something outside your window besides a perennial bed that has been cut down to the ground, lying flat under the snow. Planting evergreen shrubs and leaving some perennials standing over the winter definitely yields more interesting views from inside, which is the only place most cold winter residents experience their gardens from for four months of the year.

This new garden area still needs more work. There is a small tree that I hope will survive and grow (planted right-center, near the far edge of the garden) and I have considered adding a bench, a statue of some sort and perhaps a few boxwood shrubs, which are common to most of my beds, to add year-round structure to this area.

But I don't really consider garden structure to be for winter interest. Garden structure should look good year-round. Hardscape elements such as paths, benches, pergolas and sculpture make the garden more interesting during every season of the year, as do evergreen shrubs and trees that retain their leaves and form all year.

The same view in early October, when you can still see that it's the Yellow Garden. The stepping stone path provides an interesting pattern on which to focus during all seasons (except when it's covered with heavy snow). Again, I will try to add more hardscape detail to this area, but I think it's not bad for being six months in age.

Gardens should be designed to be seen from strategic points inside the house, no matter what the season. I feel certain that the beautiful view in Linda's last photo of her blog post looks just as breathtakingly beautiful throughout the year, not only in winter, because her garden, like many gardens of Japanese influence, has such a strong structure.

Another reader, Larry at Conrad Art Glass Gardens, commented that he enjoys watching birds out his windows. Many people do; I would love to put up a bird feeder, but the same dog that allows me to garden virtually deer-free also insures that our property is largely bird-free. I wouldn't want to tempt birds into a dangerous situation by providing food for them close to the house, and Puppy would likely scare them away from a feeder anyway.

The frost on the upper halves of these windows almost looks like a tone-on-tone damask fabric, and the greatly enlarged snowflake shapes on the curtains are obviously related. The picket fence outside is an important part of my hardscape, whether when contrasting with the emerald grass and multicolored flowers of summer or in the white-on-white with winter snow.

It's not that I don't think we should try to find interest in our winter landscapes, only that "garden interest" means foliage and flowers and fragrance, as well as garden structure, to me. The writers of those "garden in winter" books clearly think so too, because aside from recommending a good structure in a garden, they otherwise concentrate mostly on early flowering shrubs and bulbs, which is understandable. It's flowers and lush foliage that delight most of us -- why most of us started gardening in the first place -- not interesting bark, twigs or dead stalks standing in winter. I'm not saying there's no beauty in those things, only that they compare so poorly that I find it hard to get too excited about them.

An ice sheet forming on my bathroom window has a similar shape as the conifers in the windbreak outside, and also echoes the edges of the window treatments. 

This is a very interesting topic and I've loved reading what everyone has written about it. Many people have heartfelt opinions about "the garden in winter" and winter is just the time we need a bit of "heat" in our discussions! Thanks again for reading and for your comments, which I feel privileged to receive. -Beth


  1. Hi, Beth!

    I love looking out your windows. It's such a brave new world. That's why I search for blogs like yours that are in a whole different part of the country. I've been looking at the weather forecasts there to see how cold it is. Interesting (to me) frost patterns and ice sheets. Never heard of ice sheets on windows before. You are educating me!

    Wishing you warmth!

    1. Hi Jane, Most of the windows in this 1924 house were replaced with double pane ones by previous owners, but for some reason two of them on the north side of the house weren't, including that bathroom one. The single pane windows can ice up in particularly cold weather, particularly if a humidfier is used in the house, which we do because the air becomes horribly dry in winter. One of the interesting, non-functional things about old houses... :-) I'm glad you find Iowa weather interesting -- I'd look at your weather forecast too, except I might become prostrate with envy if I did! Thanks for reading -Beth

  2. Lovely winter views from your house. We have not had very cold winters for the last few years and with double glass windows we have no frost patterns on them anymore. On one side a shame because it´s so beautiful in the morning.

    1. Hi Janneke, I agree, the frost patterns can be very beautiful -- but having winters mild enough to take walks outside is also very nice. I hope you've been enjoying the winter interest in your Holland gardens this year. Thanks for reading! -Beth

  3. Well, the heated conversation at least gives us something to do during winter :) My neighbor actually has a lovely grouping of varying evergreens contrasting with a couple deciduous bushes with interesting forms which looks lovely during winter as well as the rest of the year. I do think more winter interest books should show more things like that - anyone know of some good winter interest books that cater to Northern gardeners? The ones that focus on blooms are definitely impractical for zones 6+. But yes, I find it hard to focus on planting evergreens and the like, when less structural plants in plant nurseries seduce me with their gorgeous flowers :)

    1. Hi Indie, yes, I have the same problem you do: the flowers are so much more tempting to buy. I just ordered several more inexpensive books on winter gardening from amazon, and Taylor's Weekend Gardening Guide to the Winter Garden seems like it would be most suited to cold winter climates. I'm looking forward to reading it. You're lucky you neighbor has such a nice collection of evergreens; can you see the trees well from your windows? Thanks for visiting! -Beth

  4. I have winter disinterest in my garden. My garden is a boring brown blob of blah right now. It's a three season garden and I'm ok with that. I'm at work all day but enjoy watching the birds/squirrels when I get home. :)

    1. Hah! That's funny: "winter disinterest." I'd have to say that I have the same here. I guess the garden is more like a three-seasons porch.... Thanks for reading! -Beth

  5. What a great view from your bedroom window - in all weathers and seasons I am sure.