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Required Reading: The Dramatic Colors of Winter Gardens

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Required Reading: The Dramatic Colors of Winter Gardens

October 5, 2017

For many gardeners, winter means a break from endless garden jobs and a swift retreat indoors to sit by a fire and ponder catalogs and planting plans. But for others, who have meticulously planned their gardens to shine in winter, the season can deliver dramatic colors, eerie textures, and mesmerizing combinations—and a reason to venture outdoors or, at least, admire the view from the fireside.

French photographer Cedric Pollet has spent nine years documenting some of the most beautiful of these spaces and has gathered them together in Winter Gardens: Reinventing the Season. For anyone contemplating adding some winter interest to a garden, it’s a must-read.

Photography by Cedric Pollet.

Winter Gardens : Reinventing the Season is £30, from Frances Lincoln.
Above: Winter Gardens : Reinventing the Season is £30, from Frances Lincoln.
Pollet’s book is helpfully split into two halves. First, it profiles 20 inspirational winter gardens across France and the UK (a temperate climate is essential for these cold weather gardens) and the second half of the book succinctly breaks down the building blocks of these designs: trees (most predominantly birches, maples, and cherries); shrubs including dogwood and willow, and then other key elements for wintry spaces such as bamboos, grasses, conifers, and flowering shrubs.

 Pollet’s obsession is bark—his debut book was focused solely on it—so it figures that trees play a starring role in his latest book and what quickly becomes clear is that the right cultivars can produce the most stunning effects.
Above: Pollet’s obsession is bark—his debut book was focused solely on it—so it figures that trees play a starring role in his latest book and what quickly becomes clear is that the right cultivars can produce the most stunning effects.

The inspiration for the book came from Jardin de Bois Marquis, Christian Peyron’s garden in the Rhone valley, and in particular a stunning planting of snakebark maples (Acer x conspicuum ‘Phoenix’) and fiery red dogwoods (Cornus sanguinea ‘Winter Flame’) a dazzling display only heightened by snow on the ground.

Dogwoods, coppiced annually to encourage fresh new wood each year, are invaluable in the winter garden and there’s a rainbow of colors from the lime green to dark purple and everything in between. But it’s the fiery red dogwoods that tend to be most popular, including Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’ which gradually turns from yellow at the base to red at the tips – that are often combined with white birches.

 The author might be a bark geek first and foremost but his enthusiasm for winter gardens means he has really thought about how to make this book useful. In the book, images of gardens in their moody skeletal mid-winterness are placed  alongside the summer view, and plants that perhaps provide a supporting role in summer such as sedums, phlomis, or hydrangeas become stars in their own right with their sculptural flower heads in winter.
Above: The author might be a bark geek first and foremost but his enthusiasm for winter gardens means he has really thought about how to make this book useful. In the book, images of gardens in their moody skeletal mid-winterness are placed  alongside the summer view, and plants that perhaps provide a supporting role in summer such as sedums, phlomis, or hydrangeas become stars in their own right with their sculptural flower heads in winter.

The incredible coppers and burnished orange tones of so many of the outstanding winter trees (Prunus serrula, Acer griseum, and Betula albosinensis are some of the best-known) make stunning and uplifting scenes in winter but of course they are only one side of the story. Just as effective are the snowy white birches (especially when planted to dazzling effect with wispy, ghoulish grasses) which is why Betula utilis var Jacquemontii has become such a winter garden stalwart.

 As in any other season, the skill is in layering and deftly combining plants.
Above: As in any other season, the skill is in layering and deftly combining plants.

Pollet offers a thorough roster of support acts too. There are winter-flowering trees and shrubs, berries, bamboos, grasses, heathers, useful evergreens, and colorful conifers.

 But the delicious colors of the witch hazels, from acid yellow to ginger to scarlet, steal the show, providing beautiful color and exquisite scent in the dead of winter.
Above: But the delicious colors of the witch hazels, from acid yellow to ginger to scarlet, steal the show, providing beautiful color and exquisite scent in the dead of winter.
 At Martine Lemonnier’s Jardins de Bellevue, which holds the French national collection of hellebores, a coppery prunus looks beautiful against a scented backdrop of Sarcococca confusa.
Above: At Martine Lemonnier’s Jardins de Bellevue, which holds the French national collection of hellebores, a coppery prunus looks beautiful against a scented backdrop of Sarcococca confusa.

Elsewhere, Pollet shows how the pretty pink blossom of Prunus mume Beni Chidori is a perfect pairing with the pink flowers of Helleborus x lemonnierae underneath.

The other great thing about winter gardens is that with a dusting of frost or snow, the garden becomes a magical space. Plant the right things and you can have structure, color, texture, and even scent through to early spring.

N.B.: See more of our favorite wintry gardens:

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