Through the Winter Window: Planning for Beauty all Year

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  • 07 February 2017
Image of tree covered in snow during winter.

As I write this, it is 11 degrees outside with a wind chill of -1 degree. People often ask me, “What do you do in the winter?” I always smile, pause, and respond with some rendition of “attend conferences, work on designs, read, revisit projects and process to evaluate what worked and what didn’t, implement improvements, update my website, log CEUs …” But what I really mean is… “stay inside!!”

While I realize most do not have the winter off, this illustrates an important design element that I always use: Plan for Winter. Here in NW Ohio, we spend at least four months inside our home looking out. Your winter landscape can be beautiful. But its design must plan for the fourth season. Don’t treat it as an afterthought , or a time you want to ‘just get through’.

O course Winter is not the belle of the ball; that would be Summer.

She comes riding in on Spring’s ribbons , all sunshine and laughter. Who cannot wait to greet her? Seducing us with brightly colored flowers, warm glaring sunshine, late night outdoor fun. She’s an exciting visitor we’ve all been waiting for. Anticipation runs high all Spring; when Summer arrives, the elation is palpable. Let the party begin! We jump in with both feet and pull out all the stops. We know Summer won’t stay as long as we want, so we do our best to enjoy every minute. As the time draws near for her departure, which is always too soon, we are immediately downcast and start longing for her return again next year.

We begin to see, hear, and feel The Change. We know the end is near. Fall does its best to gives us one last dance. Like the grand finale of fireworks, the fuse is lit at both ends and we brace for the explosion of dizzying colors, the harvest of the land, and the crunch under our feet..…but, As the colors drain, we lose motivation. It’s colder, it’s darker, and we are getting tired.

Many people dread brooding Winter; he’s cold, grey, and damp. While this is true, he is also quiet, understated, and restful….I think he is misunderstood.

Lacking the exhilaration of Summer, cloudy Winter silently showcases the architectural beauty of branching trees who have now shed their leaves. Where we once sought solace in their cool shade, we can now appreciate the beauty of their bark. Rippled, striped, or peeling- we didn’t notice this detail in the frenzy . Evergreen trees and shrubs, which merely provide the backdrop to Summer’s show, now assert that they are not all just green, but every subtle shade of green, grey, and blue. Some are even variegated – how did we not notice that before? Even those that are intentionally hedged into rows or spheres provide structural relief to the natural disarray of Winter’s garden. Once Summer’s confetti of petals have fallen and Fall’s fireworks have blown away , Winter reveals a quite barren grace, but it is up to us to notice. Summer shouts, Winter waits.

Even water that once sparkled and laughed in summer’s bright light is hazy and quiet, the shape of its confinement more important than the water itself. Walkways and patios, once just the means to get somewhere, are now geometric forms of scale and proportion. Their texture, color, and shapes become clear and pleasing to the eye. Pots that were just props can now be filled with evergreens to last beyond the holidays. Dust them with frost and they sparkle all the more. Winter is the moment the supporting cast of Summer gets its due.

So if the views from your winter window are less than satisfying, pledge to resist Summer’s call: “Winter is gone, play with me now!” Take time out from the mania to prepare for winter. Resist her temptation, just for a moment, and plant a tree, some shrubs, or a few evergreens, for Winter. Then you can go back and play.

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