Taking a hike by the pond, in the woods, or on the prairie, we find natural color, texture, and forms that give winter a beauty worthy of poetry. Golden Indian grass, rust-hued big bluestem, and sunny tufts of prairie dropseed with bird tracks in the snow beneath delicately-seeded heads offer brilliance amid winter's somber grays.
While winter in Barrington is not the time to plant flowers, trees, or shrubs, this unique season yields great opportunities to admire the frost-covered beauty throughout our community and plan for a glorious spring. During the past year, we've explored ways to protect oaks, garden for birds, and help frogs by removing buckthorn.
For those still clinging to the privacy afforded by buckthorn, now is a great time to behold the ugliness of this ghastly, invasive tree, and plan for a landscape that will not only impart winter beauty but also benefit native wildlife with food and shelter.
Whether you hire a landscape architect or plan to do-it-yourself, you'll want to inventory what you have (trees, shrubs, rocks, man-made amenities) and consider what you'd like to see throughout the year.
While it may be tempting to plant bigger trees for instant gratification, larger trees take longer to become established and are less likely to live as long as their younger counterparts.
"The most important thing is scale," says Tom Vanderpoel, landscape designer and owner of North Barrington-based Savanna Restoration. "You can't try to form a 7' shrub into a 4' shrub. Same thing with a big tree. You can't put an oak tree three feet from the house. If you put it at least 10' out from the house, you can mold the branches in the direction of the house."
Hardwoods (especially oaks) add interesting shape to landscape while benefitting wildlife. For those looking for privacy, Hill's oaks (Quercus ellipsoidalis) as well as some swamp white oaks (Quercus bicolor) retain leaves longer than most of their deciduous counterparts. Chickadees, downy woodpeckers, and brown creepers feast on the insects beneath their bark, while squirrels, blue jays, foxes, and crows favor their acorns.
Shagbark hickory (Carya ovata), bur oak (Quercus macrocarpa), sycamore (Platanus occidentalis), river birch (Betula nigra), Eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis), blue beech (Carpinus caroliniana), and hackberry (Celtis occidentalis) tree barks enrich the landscape with texture and color – from shaggy, furrowed, blotchy, layered, red-tinted, and muscle-like bark to bark adorned with thick mazes. Variety not only adds to interest, but also makes a landscape less susceptible to decimation by pest or disease.
For greener winter landscapes, dwarf firs, spruces, and pines are recommended over native white pines because of their more favorable proportions to most home landscapes. Properly placed evergreens can help block drifting snow, protect spring-flowering trees and shrubs from harsh winter winds, and provide valuable shelter.
Rocks, walkways, and other structures can add interest and access to an outdoor space. Strategic plantings can complement boulders and outcroppings, mask less scenic parts of the landscape, and beautify paths with layers of habitat for year-round wildlife viewing.
Once decisions about trees and rocks have been made, understory shrubs and flowers can be added to complement the plan. Pagoda dogwoods (Cornus alternifolia) add horizontal interest while attracting downy woodpeckers, brown thrashers, and Eastern bluebirds. Red osier dogwoods offer white berries for purple finches, grosbeaks, and bobwhites along with "fire engine" red stems. For cedar waxwings and other berry-eating birds, Washington hawthorns, American bittersweet (Celastrus scandens), and vibrant red winterberries (Ilex verticillata) provide food through late winter.
The stout black cone-shaped seed heads of purple coneflowers (Echinacea, sp.), elongated gray seed heads of yellow coneflowers (Ratibida pinnata), brown cone-shaped seed heads of black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia sp.), and ball of seeds produced by western sunflowers (Helianthus occidentalis) yield nutritious food for finches, sparrows, and other small seed lovers in prairie gardens.
Growing in full sun to part shade, beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis) adds touches of burgundy to the edge of the woods while shade tolerant Christmas Fern (Polystichum acrostichoides), marginal shield fern (Dryopteris marginalis), and intermediate wood fern (Dryopteris intermedia) adorn the woodland floor.
Home landscapes should provide habitat for wildlife and beautiful spaces for people to spend time outdoors year-round. Does your landscape reflect what you love? Does it have colors, sounds, shapes, and textures that make it a refuge from the stress of every day life? Winter is a great time to make plans. Visit Wild Ones at www.wildones.org to learn about native plant use in the home landscape, Barrington Area Conservation Trust at 847-387-3149 for Conservation@Home landscaping tips, or contact a local landscape firm that works with native plants.
Get ready for deer: protect young, smooth-barked trees such as serviceberry, quaking aspen, blue beech, basswood, and red oak from deer rubs with small fences and/or winter wrap.
Other ideas include:
April Anderson is a freelance naturalist and writer who can be reached at: email@example.com.