Colorado weather is fickle. We can see snow as early as September and as late as June, and sometimes we have spring weather in January and February. In fact, yesterday (February 2, 2020) was 70 degrees Fahrenheit and today is only 19. So what does it mean to create a garden that looks good in the winter?
It's important to think about structure. Always start with evergreens - be they spruce or pine, bush or shrub. These plants retain their green leaves throughout the year and can create shape and design when all other plants are seemingly dormant. Evergreens also provide shelter and bedding for animals that do not hibernate, such as squirrels, birds, and various insects. Still, there's more we can do in our winter landscape.
The remains of perennials left standing from their last bloom can also provide structure and beauty.
According to the USDA, there are approximately 946 bees that are native to Colorado. The majority of bee species in Colorado, two thirds are solitary. These female bees (extremely important to Colorado's ecology) create nests in the ground or among dead material such as dried plant stems or wood piles. Bees have four life stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. Without places to nest in the fall, these bees would not survive. By leaving dormant plants and leaves in your garden throughout the winter, you are providing a safe place for these essential native insects to nest.
Woody stems and dormant ornamental grass can also provide nesting materials for birds, rabbits, mice, snakes and other beneficial animals. Something I've learned over the years - if you leave homes for the creatures outside of your home - they likely won't come creeping and crawling inside where they can cause problems.
Adding garden sculptures can also provide a sense of life and movement in the brown and gray sleeping yard. Wind spinners and stained glass structures can give a feast for the eyes.
We're lucky to live in such a beautiful and often temperate climate. On your next walk down the Highline Canal or the Cherry Creek Bike Path, take a look at the plants and natural structures along the way. There is beauty in this dormant life. The golden-brown stems of rose bushes can hold rosehips and berries for birds to feast on when there is little else available. Notice the way the light filters through the morning frost - you might be surprised at what the winter garden provides you, too.