Cover story: Keeping the winter landscape interesting

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While many homeowners gladly embrace the joy of gardening in spring and summer, many turn their backs on the outside of their house as the weather cools. It may not be as easy to surround your home with colorful flowers and greenery in the winter, but landscape designers and home remodeling experts can recommend ways to improve the appeal of your grounds even when they are hard with frost.

Popping a few annuals into pots and garden beds can make a big difference in warm seasons, but options are more limited in winter. Instead, experts recommend planning for the season in advance.

“When we’re in the planning stages for a property, we try to look at all 12 months and all four seasons to create a landscape that doesn’t disappear for half the year,” said Scott Brinitzer, owner of Scott Brinitzer Design Associates in Arlington. “I’m not a fan of decorating a yard with a few pansies to make it look better. I think that just looks sad. It’s much better to have evergreen plants that become more visible after other plants lose their leaves.”

Mr. Brinitzer particularly recommends evergreen plants with glossy leaves, such as hollies, laurels and camellias.

“Up north you get more snow, so you can get the reflection of the sun off the snow,” Mr. Brinitzer said. “We get a lot of 40-degree gray weather, so it’s nice to have glossy leaves to reflect what little light we get. Glossy leaves look brighter and work well with the low angle of the sun.”

Gina Benincasa, a landscape designer with D&A Dunlevy Landscapers in Poolesville, said mixing a variety of evergreen plants improves the look of a yard in winter.

“It’s important to have not only the trees with needles like spruce and pine, but to have a variety of textures and leaves like magnolias, rhododendrons and hollies,” Ms. Benincasa said. “You should also have ground cover and perennials that stick around like vinca and ajuga.”

Ms. Benincasa also suggested looking for plants with different colored stems and bark as well as interesting shapes, such as river birch trees, crape myrtle and burning bush.

“You can create movement, too, with ornamental grasses because some of them last into January or February,” she said.

Mr. Brinitzer recommended layering plants, shrubs and trees so different leaves will be visible in different months.

“Once you have the basic principles in place, you can have a big stone planter of pansies, but those pansies can’t do all the work if nothing else is interesting,” he said.

Jim Rill, principal of Rill Architects in Bethesda, said architectural pots that can be filled with plants in every season work well to add color in winter.

“Pots are easier to take care of, especially in the winter, and you can even move them around to bring them into the sun or closer to the house for extra warmth,” Mr. Rill said.

In addition to choosing the right plants, homeowners can improve the look of their grounds with architectural elements. Mr. Brinitzer said stone and brick walkways become even more important in winter because they are more visible.

“It can be pleasing to look at a winding path out the window and to see evergreen plants drawing your eye to the back of a property,” he said.

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