Cold temperatures and dormant plants mean most of us are waiting til spring to plan a trip to a garden for a bit of inspiration. However, there are a few special places that have been designed with even this season in mind that can provide ideas-galore to borrow for your own outdoor space. Whether you prefer an in-person trip, or to scroll through photos online here's a list of my favorite gardens for winter inspiration.
If you're lucky enough to visit the Brooklyn Botanic Garden after it snows, you'll be in for an extra-special treat. Neatly clipped hedges and the curling branches of saucer magnolia trees take on a new dimension after a light dusting – it's one of my favorite plant combinations.
Water features, like the pond in the Japanese garden with it's bright red torii (gate), offer a gorgeous contrast of movement and color to the snowy landscape beyond. Even a small reflecting pool in a home garden could impart the same effect.
The patterns within the masonry as seen above with the brick and bluestone pathways take on a new look with a bit of snow nestled between the pavers. This serves as a great reminder to think outside the box when it comes to hardscapes (I'm certainly taking note)!
Bamboo always offers a distinctive texture to the garden – especially given that it's evergreen – and snow highlights this feature even more. I love how it hugs this curving pathway as it moves upward into another part of the garden.
Vibrant is not a word one normally thinks of when imagining a garden in winter, but it's an apt descriptor for the Winter Garden within the Cambridge University Botanic Garden. Evergreen yews and mahonia are some of the better-known plantings used here for interest while dogwood shrubs (cornus sericea and cornus sanguinea) – somewhat understated plants in spring and summer – bring shocking sprays of red, orange and yellow throughout the border.
Ornamental grasses and sedges (carex ssp.) are also reliable sources of winter color and interest and mix well with many evergreen shrubs, like juniper. Miscanthus (as seen with the white, feathery seedheads below) holds up well over the winter months and carex cultivars like "Evergold" and "Everillo" give vibrant gold and chartreuse tones year-round.
Inspiration abounds at Longwood Gardens – one of the foremost botanic gardens in the country – and wintertime is no exception. Ornamental grasses (as seen above) are used artfully throughout to provide structure and movement throughout the seasons.
For a walk on the whimsical side, I love their Topiary Garden (pictured above) which takes on a new dimension with a layer of frost or snow. Pruned from evergreen yew (taxus) they are a constant and consistent feature of the gardens throughout all four seasons. While topiary may not be the right addition to your own garden it does give a good lesson on the value of evergreen structure in a space whether it's as a solid backdrop for flowering perennials, a tidy hedge, or a focal point. It also shows what feeling or aesthetic can be achieved depending on how something is pruned.
Finally, elements like the stone and iron gazebo pictured above give food for thought on how best to incorporate structures that can be enjoyed as destinations or as part of a beautiful vista (to be enjoyed from the cozy indoors).