Tips for a Beautiful Winter Garden

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, which means I receive a small commission if you make a purchase using these links.


Last week, I promised that my next post would be about organizing. But the project I had in mind has snowballed, as they often do. And as I type this, the paint still has not dried on what promises to be a . . . well . . . unique little project.

But that’s okay, because this blog has not gone outside in a long time, and I have missed writing about gardening.  So grab your jacket and let’s go look at ways to give a garden some winter interest.

A Serene Urban Garden

We are heading over to a wonderful little garden: The Woodland Park Rose Garden in Seattle.  It was opened in 1924.  This photo from the 1950s highlights its classic, formal arrangement.

Photo courtesy of Seattle Municipal Archives, image no. 18349-1, 1953
Photo courtesy of Seattle Municipal Archives, image no. 18349-1, 1953

In summer, when everything is blooming, this garden is strikingly beautiful.

Rose Garden reflecting pool lily

And in winter, it still has a quiet allure.

Winter garden - reflecting pond

rose garden - winter garden

Rose garden - winter garden

I asked myself what gives this garden its winter appeal.  And I realized that the ways to a wonderful winter garden are easy to remember because they all begin with the letter “s.”


To have a garden that looks good year round and not just when flowers are blooming, you simply must have structure.  Structure is the visual framework that holds the garden together as the seasons change.

Structure can provide points of interest that catch the eye, or it can unify an entire garden.  Structure can be natural or man made.

Natural structure can be achieved with manicured and unmanicured plants and trees, large rocks, boulders, berms, and natural streams and ponds.

Man made structure includes gazebos, sheds, greenhouses, fences, garden walls, large pots and urns, statues and other art, pools, ponds, fountains and other water features, terracing, retaining walls, patios, and walkways.

In this photo, natural and man made structure work together.

winter garden - rose garden

The whole look here is structure.  A charming gazebo serves as the focal point.  It is flanked by large manicured shrubs and well-kept boxwood hedges.  In the foreground, we have beds of dormant rose canes adding their own stark beauty and structure.

And here the large repeating cypress trees give the garden a timeless dignity.  They also draw the eye down to the beautiful branching of a huge tree.

Winter garden with water feature


While symmetry is not a must for a beautiful winter garden, and is certainly not for every garden, it is something to consider.  I love the formal balance that symmetry gives this garden.

Visitors to the rose garden are greeted at the entrance with the beauty of symmetry.

Rose garden entrance

And it continues throughout the garden.

Rose garden - winter garden


Scale becomes important in winter when other eye-catching features of the garden have gone dormant and we are left looking at the garden’s bones.  And “bones” are more interesting to look at when they are of varying heights and widths.

The huge evergreens behind the gazebo and the shorter manicured conifers give this setting its impact.  They make the gazebo look small and protected, tucked away.  Without them, the gazebo would not be as interesting.  And without the gazebo, this setting would be simply a backdrop.

Rose garden gazebo

Seasonal Interest

How do we get seasonal interest in winter?  Well, it can be as simple as moss on a tree.

Rose garden - winter tree

And sometimes, seasonal interest is not about what you add for the season, but what you don’t take away.

Rose garden - sedum border

This flower bed is bordered with crimson colored sedum blossoms that bloomed in late summer and have now gone to seed. The seed heads are left for the birds to eat and for us to enjoy. Lavender and boxwood add to the beauty.

And sometimes, shrubs that are easily overlooked in summer become winter’s superstars.  Here a striking golden euonymus sits atop an art deco retaining wall.

Rose garden retaining wall

It’s interesting to visit nurseries in winter and see which plants and shrubs have real winter appeal.  I look for berries, colorful branches, interesting shapes or structures, or colorful leaves.

Just a few of my winter favorites (for my local hardizoness zone 8a) are:

  • Perennials:  Sedum ‘Autumn Joy;’ Corsican Hellebore.
  • Shrubs: Lemon Cypress (also called Wilma Cypress); Golden Euonymus; Red Twig Dogwood; Yellow Twig Dogwood; Purple Beautyberry; and, for grooming into short hedges, Boxwood.
  • Trees:  Coral Bark Japanese Maple, Aspen, Birch.

I hope you have enjoyed coming along to visit the Woodland Park Rose Garden.

You might also enjoy:

Linking up with: