Banish winter woes with a vibrant snowy landscape

By Nan Fischer
For Taos News
Posted 1/16/20

As I look out my window this morning in the new year, the gardens I did not clean up in fall are outlined with frozen fog. Backlit by the early morning sun, flower stalks, tree branches and wire fences seem so delicate they would break if touched.

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Banish winter woes with a vibrant snowy landscape


As I look out my window this morning in the new year, the gardens I did not clean up in fall are outlined with frozen fog. Backlit by the early morning sun, flower stalks, tree branches and wire fences seem so delicate they would break if touched. Just yesterday, leaf blades of yuccas and the tops of fence posts were capped with several inches of snow.

What do you see when you look outside this time of year? A winter wonderland of interesting shapes and lines, or a humdrum expanse of white?

Landscape design needs to provide year-round interest, not just showy and fragrant flowers in summer. A garden should be pleasing to look at in any season. And a winter garden warms us without any of the accompanying maintenance of a summer garden.

Now that we are in the midst of winter, assess the views out your windows, and visualize what you'd rather see. Start planning spring and summer projects, and vow to add pizazz to your off-season yard with a variety of plants and hardscaping.


Because a winter yard can be dreary, use line, form, texture and color to make it more cheerful.

Your yard should be interesting to look at after trees and shrubs drop their leaves in fall. Trees with dark or colored bark contrast with a snowy background. Gnarled and weeping shapes stand out against our wintry skies whether they are brilliant blue or stormy gray.

Trees and shrubs make arresting patterns as they cast long shadows on snow, walkways and patios. Fences, arbors and trellises also catch the light at different times of day throughout the season. All of them collect snow, which emphasizes their unique lines and shapes.

Colors change with the season and as the sun moves across the sky during the day. Some junipers and sedums turn to purple or bronze in the cold weather. Others such as red twig dogwood have brightly colored bark when they shed their leaves. Blue fescue is a low-growing, blue-green ornamental grass that holds its color all winter. When the sun is low in the early morning and late afternoon, colors are especially saturated.

Landscape boulders make a dramatic impact as borders or focal points for flowers beds and lining the pathway to the house. They contrast beautifully with the snow that tops them, and their crannies also collect snow and water. The lichen that covers them changes color with precipitation.

Large colorful containers perk up a main entry when placed on either side of the front door. They can be filled with dried plant material, ornamental grasses and evergreen boughs for a variety of heights and textures.

Even a cleared serpentine walkway winding its way through the snow is an eye-catching contrast.

Look out your windows

Kitchens tend to be gathering spots. We spend a lot of time there cooking, eating and socializing. Let the views out the windows add to the memories.

Do you linger at the table after a meal? Is there anything to look at outside? A colorful painted fence along the property line acts as a focal point all year and adds cheer to a winter landscape. Use several bright colors in a botanical or whimsical theme or use up paint leftover from other projects for an abstract. Frame it with snow-catching evergreens on each side. Observe the shadows and colors at different times of the day.

If you have a window over the kitchen sink, be sure it looks out on something interesting. Take the boredom out of the tedious tasks of washing dishes and scrubbing vegetables. Honeysuckle and currant berries or crab apples will brighten the landscape and feed the winter birds, who will entertain you as they dine. Pyracantha and cotoneaster are evergreen shrubs with orange and red berries through winter.

What do you see out your bedroom window when you wake up? Something tall with lasting seedpods, such as Maximillian sunflowers or hollyhocks, will help you start your day beautifully. Look out your bathroom window, too. Evergreens offer beauty and privacy in winter.

Snowy views out any window can be framed with trees, shrubs or perennials that add to it and not detract from it.

Outdoor living areas

Many people in Taos have a walled courtyard with a flagstone patio encircled by a stuccoed adobe-style wall. Most of these have small flower beds and are often the only garden in the yard. Being visible from the living room, and sometimes the bedroom or kitchen, makes them the perfect area to design a winter garden.

Use perennials with interesting shapes and seedpods. Do not prune anything back in the fall. Try yarrow, rudbeckia, gaillardia, Russian sage and penstemons. Add a dwarf evergreen and delicate shrubs for variety. Yuccas, with their stiff leaves and stout seedpods, never fail to show off after a snowstorm. Vines can soften the edges of the wall and add texture as they climb up the exterior of the house.

Add a fountain, garden sculpture, wrought-iron bench, birdbath with a heater or bird feeders. Think 3D. If there is a gate exiting the yard, paint it a standout color.

An outdoor living area can also be a ramada or gazebo, both of which collect snow and cast shadows. Vines, such as clematis, woodbine, honeysuckle and wisteria, draped over them add even more visual interest while creating shelter for birds.

If your yard is a pathway through the sage to a vegetable garden and a shed, it can still be dressed up for winter. Plant tall sunflowers and leave the stalks standing. The birds need to food, and a snowfall will show the stalks off and add height to your yard. Even the weedy wild sunflowers are welcome for their winter beauty.

Leave trellises and supports for climbing plants as well. A tangle of pole beans with a few errant seed pods hanging catch the light, casts shadows and looks beautiful in a layer of snow.

Paint a mural on your shed. Place weatherproof outdoor seating where you can see it.

There are things we don't even see until the snow falls. Wire fencing and brown seed heads of grasses appear and perk up the view. Even the invasive kochia is attractive when it's draped in snow.

Dramatic outdoor lighting will make your winter garden visible after dark. And it's fun to watch the snow fall at night.


Now is the time to make a plan for spring and summer landscaping projects. Look out the windows and take notes about what you might want and where. Don't forget your entryways. A pleasing entrance with interesting color, line and texture will brighten up your winter every time you come home.

Make a plan and a budget. Decide what to work on yourself and what to hire out to a landscape company. Even doing a little bit this year will cheer you up next winter at this time.


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