The palette of Cape Cod’s landscape has a surprising beauty in the winter, both in perennial gardens and in our natural and cultivated landscapes.
In the flower gardens, beauty remains when some plantings are left to dry naturally. Blue Hydrangea blossoms turn first a soft pink as the fall season passes, then fade to a golden cloud of flowers that add a fragile laciness to snow-covered gardens. Masses of sturdy perennial Sedum turn a warm rusty rose. Slender stalks of bright pink Coneflower dry with a stark, almost architectural gray elegance. Spikes of Sea Holly stand above velvety Lambs Ears, erect sentries against waving fronds of graceful beach grass. The feathery mounds of Heather turn brassy red, golden yellow, and silvery green. It is a picture full of movement and beauty, attracting birds and providing those of us who visit and live here year-round with something lovely to look at during the Cape’s long quiet season.
Your winter landscape can stay vivid and beautiful with evergreens, boldly shaped and barked trees and shrubs, and even a pleasant scent or two.
In the surrounding landscape beyond perennial garden borders, we often find evergreen trees and shrubs with intricate foliage, pinecones, and berries such as those found on the fragrant Blue Juniper and our abundant native holly. Stately Arborvitaes, Hinoki Cypress, and native Eastern Red Cedar provide soft green backgrounds for deciduous trees with boldly patterned bark like the Paperbark Maple, the Plane tree, and that quintessential New England favorite, White Birch.
Unexpected drama can be added with outcroppings of Red Twig Dogwood, the shrub’s slender crimson stems a bright splash against snow-covered grounds, or plantings of the Harry Lauder Walking Stick shrub with thin corkscrew branches curling wildly in a graceful dance. Winterberry, a deciduous cousin of our native holly, drops every leaf, but graceful erect stems are covered in startling red berries, a favorite with the birds who winter over. Lovely Hellebore flowers in lime, cream, soft pink, and purple suddenly appear in February, surviving cold nights, stinging sea winds, and even blankets of snow.
The foliage of Rhododendron, the mainstay of many a Cape Cod landscape, turns silver on frosty mornings, next spring’s buds sparkling in winter light giving a promise of the beauty to come in May and June. But we are content to sit inside and wait for summer, our most famous season, surrounded by the understated beauty of Cape Cod in winter.
- Sea Holly
- Lamb’s Ear
After the first frost, the foliage and flowers of some perennials can be left in your garden, providing visual interest to lifeless landscapes as well as food for birds and small animals.
Sea Holly is a lovely iridescent blue perennial in summer gardens and thrives in Cape Cod’s sandy soil, even in salt-exposed locations. The dried cone-shaped flowers are beautiful in winter gardens and you can save the seed to start new plants in the spring.
The foliage of some perennials, like silvery Lamb’s Ears, survive for a long time in winter gardens and look especially beautiful twinkling with frost. Hellebore’s pristine flowers break through frozen ground in February and will survive frosts and snow storms. “Autumn Joy” Sedum are a mainstay in fall gardens and the plant’s dried foliage adds airy texture to winter beds. Delicate, but hardy Heather keeps blooming even after the snowflakes fly.
- Eastern Red Cedar
- Juniper (Native)
- Juniper (Imported)
- Blue Spruce
The soft hues and fine foliage of evergreens provide both tranquil backgrounds and important focal points in every Cape Cod landscape, especially in the winter.
Eastern Red Cedar are prolific Cape trees that grow 20 to 30 feet tall with picturesque fan-like foliage and red berries, much loved by birds.
Junipers have delicate sea blue foliage and berries that are arresting against white snowy landscapes, a look especially dramatic when paired with the bright green tracery of Arborvitae foliage.
Blue Spruce is available in a wide variety of sizes and shapes, adding stunning year-round color to Cape landscapes. Evergreens are particularly effective for winter interest when massed behind vividly colored Red Twig Dogwood and Holly shrubs. (See pages 28 and 29).
- Plane Tree
- White Birch
- Paperbark Maple
- Red Twig Dogwood
Trees give the Cape’s coastal world so much more than sheltering shade and cool relief on hot summer days. In the stark austerity of mid-winter, the glimmering colors and patterns provided by bark and berries as well as the structural beauty of trees can be showstoppers, either singly or massed together.
The mottled bark of Plane trees, crimson berries of heavily fruited Crabapples, elegant white and black patterns of Birch and golden curls of the Paperbark Maple, add diversity and color to the natural environment, especially on gray seaside days.
The vivid red stems of Red Twig Dogwood (available as a small tree or a shrub) provide a touch of neon color to backyards and add a festive touch in holiday planters and window boxes.
- Harry Lauder Walking Stick
- Dried Hydrangea
The showy flowers of Rhododendron, gracing Cape yards in the spring, start as fat buds that stand like candles above glossy foliage even when temperatures plummet. Harry Lauder Walking Stick is a shrub with a strange name that is most beautiful in the winter when curling twigs and graceful catkins dance in the wind.
Birds adore the tiny red berries of our native deciduous Winterberry, which loses its leaves in late fall and is a cousin to the abundant native holly, Ilex Americana.
By Thanksgiving, most Hydrangeas shed their leaves, but the flowers of this iconic Cape shrub can lend an old-fashioned beauty when left atop wintering canes. The blossoms can also decorate wreaths and floral designs that will endure until the daffodils trumpet in another Cape spring.
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