By Cynthia 'Meems' Glover, author of Hoe and Shovel
and Troy-Bilt Saturday6' blogger
One of the most exciting aspects of living in the tropical state of Florida is the pleasure of enjoying our gardens all year long. Growth does slow down for a couple of months with the onset of cooler nighttime and daytime temperatures by late December. Many of the tropical plants we depend on to create summer lushness like Alocasia, Caladium and Ginger have fallen asleep for a brief hibernation until they return in spring.
Even though our winters are moderate we are at risk for an occasional frost. They rarely last for long but potentially can extend for enough time to cause damage to perennials and shrubs.
In recent years I've purposely altered some details in my garden to help it hold its structure even better during the winter months. That simply means that even if I lose some of my ordinarily reliable plantings to sporadic weather, my garden retains its shape through the foundational elements set in place. No matter where you live, planning for a winter garden is worthy of consideration.
Here are a few tips that will work in any garden and any climate.
1. Start with trees. While I have some deciduous crape myrtles here and there it is my mature live oak trees that create the basis of structure for developing the rest of the garden. Massive, deep grey trunks with texturally rough bark and elongated branches fill up the background, adding character and depth to almost every scene. Trees should be scaled to the size of your garden.
2. Determine where to effectively include hardscaping. Bricks, gravel, concrete, pavers and wood in the form of pathways, walls, patios, pergolas; each turn into an instant focal point in the midst of a weather-worn winter garden. Even my meandering pathways constructed with pine straw flooring are a warm, soothing view on a shivering cold day. If you don't live in Florida, picture the beauty of a snow-laden arbor or seating arrangement in a garden and you get the idea.
3. Strategically place evergreens for the tried-and-true plants you admire with deeper affection during harsh winters. It's true; Florida remains exceptionally green all year long. But plants like coontie (Zamia pumila), Japanese privet (Ligustrum japonicum), Confederate jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides) and irises become the stalwart and sturdy varieties we appreciate more fully when their neighbors have taken a winter beating. Do a bit of research to find out which ones work best in your region.
4. Utilize cold hardy plants like mondo grass (Ophiopogon japonica), Flax lily (Dianella tasmanica 'variegata'), or Aztec grass (Liriope muscari) to outline planting beds. It will create definition and continuity for all seasons. But when winter arrives, and our more tender plants have succumbed to frost, a continuum of a border edged with like-plants gives the perception the garden has not perished after all.
Creating a framework that stabilizes a winter garden and offers pleasing highlights no matter what the weather brings is well worth the time and energy we spend on developing the foundational elements. Every feature that builds on those is like icing on the cake.