Most persons who are the owners of gardens seem to be under the impression that we must close the summer volume of Nature’s book at the end of the season, and that it must remain closed until the spring of another year invites us to a re-perusal of its attractive pages. In other words, that we are not expected to derive much pleasure from the garden for six months of the year.
There is no good reason why the home-grounds should not be attractive the year round if we plant for winter as well as summer effect.
True, we cannot have flowers in winter, but we can secure color-effects with but little trouble that will make good, to a considerable extent, the lack of floral color. Without these the winter landscape is cold, though beautiful, and to most persons it will seem dreary and monotonous in its chill whiteness. But to those who have “the seeing eye,” there are always elements of wonderful beauty in it, and there is ample material at hand with which to give it the touches of brightness that can make it almost as attractive as it is in June.
If the reader will carefully study the two illustrations accompanying this chapter, he will have to admit that the winter garden has many attractive features that the summer garden cannot boast of. These illustrations are summer and winter views of the same spot, taken from one of our public parks. The summer view shows a wealth of foliage and bloom, and is one of Nature’s beauty-spots that we never tire of. But the winter view has in it a suggestion of breadth and distance that adds wonderfully to the charm of the scene, brought out as it is by the naked branches against the sky, and glimpses of delightful vistas farther on, which are entirely hidden by the foliage that interferes with the outlook in the summer picture. Note how the evergreens stand out sharply against the background, and how clearly every shrub—every branch—is outlined by the snow. It is one of Nature’s etchings. Whatever color there is in the landscape is heightened and emphasized by strong, vivid contrast. There are little touches of exquisite beauty in this picture that cannot be found in the other.
Most of us plant a few evergreens about our homes. Sometimes we are fortunate enough to locate them where they will prove effective. Oftener we put them where they have no chance to display their charms to good effect. They do not belong near the house—least of all in the “front yard.” They must be admired at a distance which will soften their coarseness of habit. You must be far enough away from them to be able to take in their charms of form and color at a glance, to observe the graceful sweep of their branches against the snow, and to fully bring out the strength and richness of color, none of which things can be done at close range. Looked at from a proper and respectful distance, every good specimen of evergreen will afford a great deal of pleasure. But it might be made to afford a great deal more if we were to set about it in the right way. Why not make our evergreens serve as backgrounds against which to bring out colors that rival, to some extent, the flowers of summer?
Have you never taken a tramp along the edge of the woodland in winter, and come suddenly upon a group of Alders? What brightness seemed to radiate from their spikes of scarlet berries! The effect is something like that of a flame, so intense is it. It seems to radiate through the winter air with a thrill of positive warmth. So strong an impression do they make upon the eye that you see them long after you have passed them. They photograph themselves there. Why should we not transplant this bit of woodland glory to the garden, and heighten the effect of it by giving it an evergreen as a background? Its scarlet fire, seen against the dark greenery of Spruce or Arbor Vitæ, would make the winter garden fairly glow with color.
I have seen the red-branched Willow planted near an evergreen, and the contrast of color brought out every branch so keenly that it seemed chiselled from coral. The effect was exquisite.
Train Celastrus scandens, better known as Bittersweet, where its pendant clusters of red and orange can show against evergreens, and you produce an effect that can be equalled by few flowers.
The Berberry is an exceedingly useful shrub with which to work up vivid color-effects in winter. It shows attractively among other shrubs, is charming when seen against a drift of snow, but is never quite so effective as when its richness of coloring is emphasized by contrast by the sombre green of a Spruce or Balsam.
Our native Cranberry—Viburnum opulus—is one of our best berry-bearing shrubs. It holds its crimson fruit well in winter. Planted among—not against—evergreens, it is wonderfully effective because of its tall and stately habit.
Bayberry (Myrica cerifera) is another showy-fruited shrub. Its grayish-white berries are thickly studded along its brown branches, and are retained through the winter. If this is planted side by side with the Alder, the effect will be found very pleasing.
The Snowberry (Symphoricarpus racemosus) has been cultivated for nearly a hundred years in our gardens, and probably stands at the head of the list of white-fruited shrubs. If this is planted in front of evergreens the purity of its color is brought out charmingly. Group it with the red-barked Willow, the Alder, or the Berberry, and you secure a contrast that makes the effect strikingly delightful—a symphony in green, scarlet, and white. If to this combination you add the blue of a winter sky or the glow of a winter sunset, who can say there is not plenty of color in a winter landscape?
The value of the Mountain Ash in winter decoration is just beginning to be understood. If it retained its fruit throughout the entire season it would be one of our most valuable plants, but the birds claim its crimson fruit as their especial property, and it is generally without a berry by Christmas in localities where robins and other berry-eating birds linger late in the season. Up to that time it is exceedingly attractive, especially if it is planted where it can have the benefit of strong contrast to bring out the rich color of its great clusters. Because of its tall and stately habit it will be found very effective when planted between evergreens, with other bright-colored shrubs in the foreground.
There are many shrubs whose berries are blue, and purple, and black. While these are not as showy as those of scarlet and white, they are very attractive, and can be made extremely useful in the winter garden. They should not be neglected, because they widen the range of color to such an extent that the charge of monotony of tone in the winter landscape is ineffective.
The Ramanas Rose (R. lucida) has very brilliant clusters of crimson fruit which retains its beauty long after the holidays. This shrub is really more attractive in winter than in summer.
It will be understood, from what I said at the beginning of this chapter, that I put high value on the decorative effect of leafless shrubs. Their branches, whether traced against a background of sky or snow, make an embroidery that has about it a charm that summer cannot equal in delicacy. A Bittersweet, clambering over bush or tree, and displaying its many clusters of red and orange against a background of leafless branches, with the intense blue of winter sky showing through them, makes a picture that is brilliant in the extreme, when you consider the relative values of the colors composing it. Then you will discover that the charm is not confined to the color of the fruit, but to the delicate tracery of branch and twig, as well.