The importance of garden structures in a winter garden cannot be over emphasized. In the dormant season the lower sun and overcast skies dull the limited colors of the landscape.
Winter also tends to confine people to a view of their landscape from inside their house thus making interesting details of plants often too distant to see. Last but not least small shrubs, ground covers, and even the details of larger plants are often covered from sight by snow
Structures can provide the bones of the garden that stand out during this season. They can also provide subtle or not so subtle color in the winter.
One of the first steps in planing any garden is deciding upon which type of garden structures will be included and where.
Natural Materials for garden structures
In Japanese and other nature inspired gardens, the preferred building materials for structures are those from nature, such as wood, bamboo and stones. Wood is often naturally decay resistant such as cedar or cypress. Pressure treated timbers are often used for structural pieces to maximize life of the structures.
Bamboo is not used for structural purposes, but is instead used as decorative or functional purpose such as the screening portion of a fence. Stones are often either in natural shapes such as granite boulders or cut stones such as bluestone or flagstone.
There are several types of structures that are appropriate for most residential gardens. These include:
Path garden structures
Gate – These act either as an entrance to the garden or as an entrance to a different part of the garden.
Arbor – These can serve the same purposes as a gate, but can also support a flowering vine. In Japanese gardens the traditional choice would be wisteria. Certainly you are free to choose whatever plant you would like. Other choices could be a climbing rose, or my favorites Jackmanii clematis and Sweet Autumn clematis.
Bridge – If your garden has an appropriate sized water feature such as a creek or pond or even a dry creek bed, a small bridge can be a wonderful focal point for the garden year around.
Gathering garden structures
Bench – It does not get much simpler than a garden bench. Whether made of metal, a log, cut wood or any combination, every garden needs at least one bench. Not only to sit on, but also to look at when the cold winter winds keep us inside.
Gazebo – While the main purpose of a gazebo should be as a gathering place for being out in the garden, don’t overlook their value as a focal point to view from the home during the winter season. Style, size and scale in relation to the rest of the garden need to be carefully considered for maximum impact.
Viewing platform – These typically serve the same function as a gazebo just in a smaller sized package. Their smaller size makes it more economical to add special details to maximize their impact. An example of this would be a hand peeled long as a post.
Whether it is a simple structure such as a single bench or something more elaborate such as a bridge over a pond leading to a gazebo, every winter garden needs a man made structure to show the connection between the garden and it occupants.
For a related post, see Adding winter interest to your landscape.
If you prefer some bolder colors to your structures, see this article on painting garden furniture and structures for some helpful tips.