Details of Foliage Left Uncut in a Winter Garden

Hydrangea flower heads in winter

Many gardeners cut back perennials during the winter, but we don’t have to. RHS Bridgewater has left their extensive tall prairie style plantings essentially uncut as you can see from these pictures, taken at the end of January.

Empty seed head in winter
Empty seed heads left standing for wildlife

By not cutting back the plants, the garden can provide shelter for insects and food for birds during the coldest months. The lines and textures provide plenty of interest for humans too.

Asclepias incarnata in winter
Asclepias incarnata

I doubt that this style of planting is as low maintenance as it looks: gardeners were working in the garden artfully tending the dead stems.

Foliage darkened by winter at RHS Bridgewater
Foliage darkened by cold weather

The plants chosen are overwhelmingly North American natives which jostle amicably with each other for space.

Seedheads of Vernonia arkansana 'Mammuth'
Vernonia arkansana ‘Mammuth’ (Ironweed)

Few concessions are made to January visitors in the form of flowering plants so the eye quickly gets accustomed to comparing and contrasting shades of brown.

Iris 'Silver Edge' winter foliage
Iris ‘Silver Edge’ (left) with ornamental grass

After half an hour, I smiled to see my sweetheart enthusiastically dart towards a patch of iris foliage exclaiming, “That’s a pretty brown!”

Remnants of flower stem in a winter garden
Remnants of a flower stem

The walled garden has a calm, reflective atmosphere in summer when it is packed with flowers and allowing the plants’ foliage and seed heads to stand helps the mood persist into the winter.

Anaphalis tripnervis 'Sommerschnee'
Everlasting flowers: Anaphalis tripnervis ‘Sommerschnee’

It must be a treat for staff to watch the sun rise or set there in fine weather for even on a dull winter day at noon there was a quiet sense of glory.

37 Replies to “Details of Foliage Left Uncut in a Winter Garden”

  1. I don’t like mushy mulchy leaves much, but individual plants like hydrangea can look majestic in their winter state, and grasses and seedheads can be wonderful as the light catches them.

  2. It’s interesting to see plants in their winter-wear. I never would have recognized the Asclepias, for example. I wonder, too, if certain cultivars do better for this purpose than the native plant: the ironweed, for example. It certainly would take knowledge and experience to know which plants will continue to look as beautiful as these — although the hand of a gardener certainly helps!

    1. The Asclepias had the most artistic decay. The specific varieties will have been very carefully selected. This has been fashionable in the UK for at least a decade, so designers will have had plenty of chance to experiment elsewhere.

  3. I smiled as I remember admiring the many shades of greys and browns in my northern landscape. In Michigan the interest lasts until about the middle of February and then everything turns drab and dull until the spring greens start to sprout.

    1. I know what you mean. I’m ready for spring colour when it comes our way. There are areas of green in the garden and in context I marvelled at some of the plants that look exactly the same all year – rosemary for example.

      1. I have some sedums (hens & chicks) that remain the same throughout the year and when the snow melts the new shoots of other sedums are visible. In the north I always look for those little signs of new life coming.

    1. I leave my little garden uncut until the bluebell leaves are well up. The Japanese anemones last really quite well, although I won’t say there aren’t days when I think it looks a bit messy.

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