The importance of trees in winter garden design can easily be overlooked. In summer they are part of the scene, making masses of leafy growth, but in winter, when the bare branches are revealed, they often have a majestic beauty.
Trees need to be looked after as much as small plants to give their best. The best trees have either colored stems or create wonderful silhouettes against the light. Mature trees might well need thinning at some stage if they are to be effective. Lopping off branches lets light get to the ground, where there are bulbs, and also makes sure that the tree has an open, striking outline. It is also important to make sure that any twiggy growth sprouting out of the base of the trunk is removed, giving a clean look.
When you are planting trees in your winter garden make sure that they fit in with the rest of the scheme. At ground level this might include a sensational spread of a white-flowering Erica carnea (Winter heath), creating an effect like snow. To this, add rich, glossy, shiny greens, deep purples and variegated yellowish leaves. With just a few choice colors a large part of the winter garden can be given an astonishing make-over.
It is also important to make sure that trees are integrated by working down from (or up to) their great height. Provide adjacent hedges and shrubs, in different shapes and colors, so that each stratum is clearly visible. The bare-stemmed Cornus alba and Cornus stolonifera, and their different cultivars, add a range of blackish-purple, bright red and yellow-green vertical stems that strikingly reach for the sky.
There are also plenty of small trees for medium-sized gardens. The most important thing is that every plant has its own space, and that each ingredient blends without jarring.
left: Cornus alba ‘Elegantissima’, bottom left: Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’, right: Acer palmatum ‘Sangokaku’
White and pinkish Erica carnea