Sparkling Texture & Dramatic Structure: Creating A Beautiful Winter Garden …

December 18th, 2011 § 2

The Entry Garden at First Light in Early December, After a Dusting of Snow

I often wonder why I bother to mourn the end of autumn when there’s so much magic and beauty to be found in the garden during this quiet time of the year. As we near the winter solstice, I find myself every bit as enchanted by the garden as I am during the spring and summer months. My morning walks are cold —no doubt— and my finger tips burn a bit as I run them over the frosty stone walls. But the rich, visual rewards of those nippy strolls at first light make every shiver worthwhile.

Frosted Viburnum setigerum (Tea Viburnum) Fruits

Some gardeners prefer to cut back the perennials in their beds and borders in late autumn and early winter. And there is an argument to made for this approach. Certainly, there are places within the garden where I fuss over tender plants; protecting them from cold with mounds of compost or blankets of evergreen boughs. But by and large, I prefer to leave perennials standing throughout winter; that I might enjoy both the bold and delicate textures and how they sparkle with snow and ice after storms. Vertical lines, relief and pattern, both in the garden’s hardscape as well as in the more ephemeral plantings, are key to creating structure and beauty in a winter garden.

Seed Pods Provide Food for Birds and Beauty for Human Eyes: Rudbeckia hirta and Solidago with Sparkling Frost and Snow

Textural Grass Catches Light, Snow and Ice in the Quiet Season. Switch Grass (Panicum virginicum ‘Heavy Metal’) with A Light Morning Glaze…

Climbing Hydrangea (H. petiolaris) Adds Texture and Color to A Grouping of Boulders, and Provides Nooks and Crannies for a Dusting of Fresh Snow…

I often talk about the “bones” of a garden when I discuss design with my clients. This framework, or skeleton, is what gives the landscape shape throughout the year. Walls, fences and arbors, trellises and obelisks, benches and chairs, sculpture and boulders are all examples of objects that add to a garden’s hardscape and structure. Living plants, particularly dramatically shaped trees and shrubs are also helpful in creating a season-spanning garden design. In terms of defining outdoor space, hedges —both formal and informal— alles, espalier fences, and other features are useful in building permanent trans-seasonal walls.

Sculpture and Lichen-Covered Stone Catch Snow: Here, the Guardian Stands Sentry at the Edge of the Forest

The Rusty Color and Grid-Patterned Seat Make this Bench a Valuable Winter-Garden Object

Perennials May Fade at Autumn’s End, but Dan Snow’s Stone Seat and Evergreen Conifers Remain (Young hemlock: Tsuga canadensis)

Here in New England, field stone has long been a popular material for dividing garden spaces, and it will always be my personal favorite. From retaining walls and steps, to formal and free-form sculpture, I am most fond of this natural and versatile material. Throughout the seasons —but especially during the quiet season of winter— Dan Snow’s stonework is the central architectural feature and design element in my garden. Because Dan’s walls are comprised of subtly colored and textured rock —often softened by blueish lichen and emerald moss— they seem quite alive, even though they are technically inorganic. Whats more, the arrangement of the stonework itself —whether stacked horizontally, vertically, or arranged in dramatic and shifting pattern— adds artistry to the garden’s bare architecture in winter.

Steps and stairs —though they can be constructed from a wide variety of materials— must safely function and enhance a garden throughout the seasons. What we call “hallways” in our homes are the “pathways” in our gardens. These frequently-traveled spaces are as important outdoors as they are inside the house. Stepping stones, pea stones and gravel all add texture to the garden throughout the year. And in winter, walls, pathways, steps and other architectural features become highly exposed design elements. As crazy as I am about plants (and we all know that’s pretty crazy) my primary focus when designing a garden is always on the underlying structure. Build your garden before you decorate it with plants –and build it well, for it will hold, protect and exhibit your botanical treasures as your house contains, shelters and displays all of your worldly possessions! In winter, outdoor rooms are as stark as an empty house. And usually, the more attractive the garden’s architecture, the more beautiful the winter garden…

Stone Wall and Juniper Line the Winter Garden Walkway. Dan Snow Added both Candle Niches and Seats within the Wall, Creating Opportunities for Rest and Display Throughout the Seasons…

Stone Steps by Dan Snow Look Beautiful with a Dusting of Snow, and the Varied Height of the Sloped Setting Makes a Lovely Display for Frost-Proof Pots and Evergreen Plants…

Winter is a Fine Time to Enjoy Works of Art —Both Large and Small— in the Garden. Dan Snow’s Fire Sculpture Looks Particularly Beautiful in the Snow…

Structural elements and textural interest provide nature with a three-dimensional canvas for wintery works of art. And although it’s possible to spend a fortune on architectural details and plants, keep in mind that even the humblest cast-aways —flea market benches, unwanted boulders, simple fences and wire cables, twig teepees and homemade works of art— are just as effective when it comes to creating spaces and adding tactile elements in the garden. The rusty surfaces and cracked edges of second hand and found objects often enhance a snowy landscape. Set things out in the garden and move them around until you find a spot that feels right. Begin by using what you have on hand and playfully experiment with the beauty of the winter garden…

The honey-colored remnants of Golden Hops Vine (Humulus lupulus ‘Aureus’) add beautiful texture to a simple cable rail along a deck in winter. Be on the look-out for perennials and vines with persistent papery, dried flowers and seed heads -these textural elements are key to winter garden detail…

A Mass Planting of  Flame Grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘purpurascens’ ) Forms a Season-Spanning ‘Screen'; Adding Texture and Color to the Garden Throughout the Seasons, in Addition to Providing Enclosure and  Natural Transition to the Meadow and Mountain Tops Beyond

Old wire chairs, even if they are no longer functional, provide endless interest in the garden throughout the seasons. In winter, this ivy-patterend chair casts a gorgeous shadow in the snow…

At the Garden Entryway, the Texture of Juniperus horizontalis and the Natural Stone Ledge Both Stand Out with a Dusting of Snow and Create a Backdrop for Other Plantings Throughout the Seasons…

Boulders —Remnants from Site Excavation— Make a Pretty Vine-Covered Grouping at Garden’s Edge (Hydrangea petiolaris)

Dan Snow’s Stone Steps Dusted in Snow

This design article was adapted from a previously published post which appeared on The Gardener’s Eden 12/2010

All Stonework Featured Here is by Vermont Artist Dan Snow

Garden Design by Michaela Medina

Photographs and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All photos, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions) are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

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The Art of Fire: Creating a Glowing Garden Atmosphere on Chilly Evenings…

September 9th, 2010 § 4

Dan Snow Fire Sculpture – Peter Mauss photo courtesy Dan Snow

Though September’s noontime hours may still be warm and humid, the clear, cool nights of late summer hint at things yet to come; glowing embers, wool blankets, and velvet skies filled with stars. On chilly evenings, my garden comes alive with pops, cracks and sparkles from Dan Snow’s beautiful fire sculpture, pictured below. Radiant heat from flame-shaped backrests makes this dramatic garden-feature the perfect spot to snuggle up with a glass of hot mulled wine (or cider) and a good storyteller…

Dan Snow’s Lit Fire Sculpture at Ferncliff – Photo ⓒ Michaela at TGE

A handmade fire-feature, such as a stone sculpture or bowl, is of course the ultimate way to experience the art of fire in a garden setting. Vermont artist Dan Snow has created many spectacular dry-laid stone installations —including remarkable fire features— for his clients over the years. This word-renowned master craftsman and author also offers popular workshops —throughout the US and occasionally abroad— for those interested in learning age-old, dry-laid stone techniques. Building a fire pit of your own would be a wonderful early-autumn project; a work of art to be enjoyed throughout the year. Earthy and natural, stone is the perfect material for creating safe, beautiful fire features in the landscape. Adding sculptural drama to my garden by day, Dan’s fire feature becomes a warm and luminous gathering place by night…

Dan Snow’s Dramatic Fire Sculpture Still Manages to Conjure Flames, Even in the Daylight Hours at Ferncliff – Photo ⓒ Michaela at TGE

For situations where inset features are impractical, carved stone fire-bowls and vessels, such as the ones featured here by Stone Forest, are a great alternative to permanently-installed fire pits. Stone Forest —based in Santa Fe, New Mexico— offers a wide variety of movable fire features in carved stone and steel/stone combinations. Lovely surrounded by gravel, and spectacular when combined with water, these hand made pieces make a stunning focal point – night or day…

Helios Fire Vessel – Available at Stone Forest

Saturn Fire Bowl available at Stone Forest

Suspended Fire Vessel available at Stone Forest

Taking the idea of portable fire one step further, is the chiminea. The Blue Rooster company manufactures dozens of chiminea models. The three shown directly below (priced from under $200- just under $400) would add a touch of the medieval, or perhaps even a bit of Tim Burton-inspired fantasy to the garden…

Blue Rooster Charcoal Gatsby Cast Aluminum Chiminea

Blue Rooster Prairie Cast Aluminum Chiminea in Charcoal Black

Blue Rooster Etruscan Cast Aluminum Chiminea

Movable fire pits and bowls are available in a wide range of prices and styles. Options linked below start just below $80 (some of the linked online retailers offer free shipping) and vary on upward with prices usually based upon material type and fabrication. For a modern style garden or patio, I would choose a minimalist fire-feature design, such as one of the three pictured below. The revolver fire pit (second and third photos below) transforms from garden cocktail/side table to fire feature in a flash. Then, once the ash has been emptied —just like Superman— it goes back to its mild-mannered day-job. I love multi-purpose pieces like this one – particularly on steel balconies and small terraces…

Terra Outdoor Fire Basket

Solid Base Revolver Fire Pit w/ Wooden Table-Top

Solid Base Revolver Fire Pit w/ Wooden Table-Top

Blomus Outdoor Fire Pit (free shipping)

For a rustic garden setting or country atmosphere, I might choose one of the more industrial/farm-style fire bowls. Screens and grills offer protections from sparks, but all fire features should be surrounded by a wide buffer-zone of inflammable material, such as stone, brick, steel, concrete or gravel. When considering a fire-feature for a garden design, always check on local zoning and codes in your city or town before proceeding with your plans. Some areas may prohibit fire features entirely, and others will require permits, both for installation and for burning…

Savannah Black Firepit

A New Day Large Fire Dome Set

For a classic, elegant garden design or stone terrace, I might choose a copper fire bowl with iron accents, such as this one…

Copper Fire Pit and Screen Set – 40″

Portable Outdoor Fire Bowl (24″ diameter) from Exterior Accents – See Link Below

See more affordable freestanding fire pits, sale-priced between $79.95 (model above) and $399.95 (plus free shipping) at Exterior-Accents.com…

Special:  Click here to get 10% OFF

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Article and photos (exceptions as noted and linked) are ⓒ Michaela at TGE

The Gardener’s Eden is not an affiliate of Dan Snow or Stone Forest. Product image links to these sites are provided for reference and reader convenience only.

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