Garden Photo of the Day

A Winter Garden in PA

By Kim Charles

The new Rock Garden, added last spring, going through it first winter. 

Kevin Kelly creates four season focus for year round enjoyment.

"Happy New Year to everyone. My garden is coming up on 20 years old, and has seen many changes over the years as I have become a better gardener. One of my garden goals is to create a four season garden, so every winter, I walk through the garden, taking photos, and evaluating the winter landscape. This is a great time to see the structure of the garden. Conifers are in their glory. I have managed to squeeze 131 conifers into my 0.44 acre landscape. I also value ornamental grasses and perennials with strong stems and seedpods this time of year. The winter garden has its own value, and keeps me going until March when Hellebores and Galanthus waken with their blooms. Hope you enjoy. Kevin Kelly."

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Pinus bungeana

Miscanthus sinensus 'Little Kitten'. Pinus strobus, Ilex crenata 'Helleri'

Ilex opaca 'Maryland Dwarf' (native prostrate spreading holly)

Pinus mugo "Aurea', backdrop Prunus laurocerasus 'Otto Luyken'

Helleborus and Epimedium

Backyard, which is very shallow, only 30 feet from the backdoor to the property.

Conifors frame the path to the door. Acer japonicum 'Aconitifolium' provides structure to pull us forward.

The front bed changes each year with new bulbs and annuals. Winter interest provided by: Abies concolor 'Wintergold', Pinus strobus 'Westin Elf', Picea omorika 'Nana', Pinus densiflora 'Vibrant', and the weeping Japanese maple.

Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Lemon Twist, Carex, Acorus minimus around my garden shed.

View Comments


  1. frankgreenhalgh 01/13/2017

    Hi Kev. - It is obvious from this and previous posts that you have achieved your goal of creating an all-season garden - extraordinaire actually! The conifer-lined path to the entrance of your lovely house is a ripper. I also like the colour contrast of the Pinus mugo 'Aurea', the classy garden shed (how spoilt are you?), and the new rockery. Nice mushroom/toadstool in the rockery.

    OK in summary, I like everything you have done Kev. Congratulations on your gardening talent, dedication, persistence and continuous learning. Cheers from down under, mate.

    1. user-7007498 01/13/2017

      Thanks, Frank. With a 3-4 months period after the annuals/perennials are gone/dormant, and before the spring bulbs appear, I needed more structure to keep things looking good and get me through until spring.

      Check back and see my bonus pictures as well.

  2. Jay_Sifford 01/13/2017

    Good morning Kevin. It's good to know that there are other "texture guys" out there. I too love conifers in the winter when they provide such necessary structure to the garden. And acorus minimus... isn't it the coolest thing?
    Thanks for sharing, and happy gardening!

    1. user-7007498 01/13/2017

      Thanks, Jay. I love texture. Many plants have moved in my garden to improve the contrast with their neighbors (I often wish I could get it right the first time). Acorus minimus is so awesome. No demands,, but such a vibrants color year round in shade and part shade.

  3. user-7007498 01/13/2017

    BONUS PICTURE: Special visitor to the garden. I had the pleasure of meeting David and Christine (NC Yarden) over the Christmas holiday. They were up here visiting family and took a tour. David is on the right. Christine got stuck taking the photo.

    1. NCYarden 01/13/2017

      An amazing tour it was! We really appreciate you taking the time, especially with that almost-freezing mist. It's obviously a year round garden with so much to see being winter. The conifers really got to seize the spotlight - best Christmas parade of the season. Many thanks.

    2. User avater
      Tim_Zone_Denial_Vojt 01/13/2017

      Nice! That's a good looking conifer on the right.

      1. user-7007498 01/13/2017

        Agreed. I tried to plant him, but the roots didn't hold.

  4. user-7007498 01/13/2017

    BONUS PICTURES: Here are a few more pictures to enjoy.

  5. NCYarden 01/13/2017

    Deja vu! It all looks so familiar. Hahaha. Good morning, Kevin. It's actually a treat to see your garden again...a pleasant reminder from the holidays. It's great too to have the names of some of those plants refreshed for me as we consider ones we would like to include in our own garden. Christine was really awe struck with many of your ornamental grasses. In fact she just brought up Miscanthus sinensus 'Little Kitten' this past weekend as she flipped through an older edition of Fine Gardening. I still am amazed at your outstanding conifer (and yellow and blue) with envy. It was really enjoyable to actually "pet" so many of those beauties....literally getting the texture first hand. Thanks for sharing, and hope you're enjoying the odd mild weather.

    1. user-7007498 01/13/2017

      Thanks, David. I hope you don't mind that I posted the picture of you and I. It was wonderful meeting you both, and I am trying to fit in a trip to your area this spring/summer. Will be in touch. It is so fun going around the garden with passionate, and knowledgeable, gardeners like the both of you.

      Awesome to hear about 'Little Kitten'. It's a great grass and looks fabulous year round. Grasses and conifers seem made to be together.

      1. NCYarden 01/13/2017

        Don't mind at all. Heck, remember I posted a silly pic of myself hugging a maple. Besides, it's a nice celebration of a visit for those crazy about gardening....and some handsome garden art, right ;)
        Definitely let me know if you make it our way. Would love to have you.

  6. user-4691082 01/13/2017

    It is an impressive garden- so much to take in! Kevin, you are right about the bones of a garden, they are the shapes and textures that carry us along till spring. BTW, you better clear off that sidewalk in the front, you don't want anyone to slip and need to see a physician! Tell Kathy I also enjoyed her decorations. See you in March!

    1. user-7007498 01/13/2017

      Thanks, Rhonda. Hope you are enjoying the mild temperatures. Can't wait to get together at the Flower Show in March.

  7. User avater
    user-7007816 01/13/2017

    Kevin, You sure have packed in a lot of very interesting plants into your garden. I particularly like your rock garden--it is amazing the plants that can survive. I have 7 different varieties of hardy cactus in our Michigan garden. I should alert you. even dwarf conifers grow and at some point need to be thinned. I've learned the hard way.

    1. user-7007498 01/14/2017

      Thanks, Dale. I started collecting dwarf conifers about 10 years ago. Some do grow much faster than others. I love to prune them, creating bonsai specimens in the garden. The dwarfs are great, because they only need attention 1-2 times a year, to keep them looking good.

      I am intrigued about the hardy cactus. This is a plant I haven't really worked with yet. I am surprised to hear about 7 varieties hardy in Michigan. Perhaps you could post pictures sometime.

      1. User avater
        user-7007816 01/14/2017

        Following is a photo from my alpine garden at its peak last year. It shows a large area of cactus, a nice dwarf yew, a dwarf dogwood, and several other plants.

        1. user-7007498 01/14/2017

          Thanks for the photo, Dale. I must admit, that Kousa dogwood is stunning. I love the bark, and you have pruned it perfectly to show off its structure. You photo inspired me to read about Opuntia (Prickley Pear). I did not realize it was native to North America. Nice work on the alpine garden.

  8. User avater
    meander_michaele 01/13/2017

    What a wonderful smorgasbord of textures and colors...I feel my ravenous appetite for winter interest in the garden well satiated by your pictures, Kevin. And, I'm so glad you included some shots of your exterior holiday decorations. I suspected your home would be adorned with some nice touches and it didn't disappoint. And, of course, the garden shed is "dressed" to perfection with the hanging snowflakes. Do you give the acorus minimus any kind of spring trim or does it take care of itself?

    1. user-7007498 01/14/2017

      Michaele, I just got home from work, so I am catching up. Thanks. I love to read your posts every day because you write so well, and you bring out emotion in your words. Hope things are well in Tennessee, and I hope you have been catching some of the rain that we finally have started to get in the last month.

      Glad you enjoyed the decorations. I took the photos on New Years Day, which was mild, and I had already taken about half down, but thought it would be nice to get some of them in the pictures. The shed is fun to play with, not only to plant little gardens around it, but also to dress it up for Halloween and Christmas.

      The acorus only needs a little snipping to keep it looking good. It loves the wet areas in part sun to shade. Minimus stays so low, you can plant it around and under most perennials and annuals. Great contrast.

      1. User avater
        meander_michaele 01/14/2017

        Good morning, Kevin, I'll just sneak back onto this thread to say thank you for looking upon my cyber "talkativeness" kindly. I, too, appreciate the gifted writing that touches our hearts and minds on this board. We are fortunate that so many outstanding gardeners are also such expressive writers...yourself included.
        Whew, our part on TN has finally been blessed with plentiful rain. I feel rueful that the downfalls couldn't have started even just a week earlier because they would have nipped the Smoky Mountain fires (about an hour away from where I live) in the bud.
        Thanks for the info on the acorus minimus care. I don't have any of that and it sounds like a very nice groundcover. The past two years, I got on an carex 'Everillo" kick. It has a somewhat weeping habit and holds its best chartreusy color if it has shade. I tried it some full sun containers and it gets too bleached out looking...which, in turn, makes me feel guilty for tormenting it.

        I always get an attack of shed envy when I see adorable ones like yours. My husband has built us some wonderful gazebos and pergolas but he's never tackled a shed...hmm...something to think about!

  9. annek 01/13/2017

    What delightful conifers grace your yard. You've created a beckoning front walk (the house is charming) with such an impressive array of plants and trees that the winter months are anything but dreary. What a good idea to go through the yard during these cold winter months to take photographs of potential planting spots. Oh, and the bark on the pines bungeana is wonderful!

    1. user-7007498 01/13/2017

      I think the bark on Pinus bungeana is the best of all pines. I keep it thinned to better see the bark.

      1. sheila_schultz 01/13/2017

        Kevin, your Pinus bungeana begs to be caressed. It is gorgeous!

    2. user-7007498 01/14/2017

      Kielian: just got home from work, so I am spending more time on the posts. Thanks for your wonderful comments. My winter is nothing like yours in Montana (so I could never complain). I have to create small collections to keep the eye from wandering far, while you have the opposite challenge (to incorporate the awesome views). Winter is the best time to plan, because the eye is not distracted by all the wild colors of the other seasons. Great time to see the underlying structure. Thanks again.

      1. annek 01/14/2017

        What growing zone are you in, Kevin? I googled a couple of your beautiful grasses and realize you must be much warmer than our zone 4. (We'd just been redesignated zone 5a but I fear our -25 weather of late, will pop us back into zone 4).

        You've accurately described the gardening dilemma I have with broad expanses of big views. I fear I have more work to do in that area.

        You've done a lovely job of keeping the eye trained on your backyard vignettes which expand your not-so-wide back yard. Like Sheila, I would've never guessed it was that narrow. My eye did roll over the yard like it was 100 feet wide as well as long. Well done!

        1. user-7007498 01/15/2017

          Thanks again, Kielian. I am in zone 6b. I have some microclimates where I can get zone 7A plants to survive. The last 3 winters have been more like 6a, and I did have a few losses. The problem is when we don't get enough snow cover to protect the plants when the real cold hits.

          -25. That sends a chill up my spine. Keep warm.

  10. Chris_N 01/13/2017

    Kevin - your gardens are wonderful to look at and educational as well. I love to see other peoples gardens to get ideas. Your prostrate American Holly, Ilex opaca? Z5, gotta try it. Evergreen cherry laurel, Prunus laurocerasus? Z6. Darn. Although it was fun to look up laurel and find out how many different species in different families have the common name "Laurel". All those dwarf evergreens? I think I know where I can fit a few in. Acorus minimus I've been looking at for a while. Do you have to give yours extra water? I've read it needs constantly moist soil and does not like to dry out. Thanks for all the extra photos as well.

    1. user-7007498 01/13/2017

      Thanks, Chris. The Ilex opaca is a great plant. Looks great through the year. No care needed. Handles dry shade (understory type shade). Looks great with carex, liriope, hostas.

      I love the acorus. I have it in the wet areas of my garden. You are right, it does not tolerate drying out.

  11. jeffgoodearth 01/13/2017

    Looking good as always! Conifers are good anytime of the year but really save the day come winter.

    1. user-7007498 01/13/2017

      Thanks, Jeff. I have been working hard to have the garden look good in the winter. The improved winter structure carries over into the other seasons, and improves the look of the annuals and perennials.

  12. User avater
    LindaonWhidbey 01/13/2017

    Good morning, Kevin, so nice to see your garden to close out the week. Your mugo 'Aurea' and abies 'Wintergold' are so great for keeping some sun in the garden on those cloudy winter days. I'm definitely going to have to find some acorus 'Minimus aurea' for a soggy spot in our garden. Thanks for all of the additional photos, as well.
    Have a good weekend in those freaky warm temps.

    1. user-7007498 01/13/2017

      Thanks, Linda. The golden conifers get more golden when the nighttime temperatures drop. They are gorgeous now. You will love the acorus.

      60 degrees yesterday and today, after a week below freezing. High of 30 tomorrow with freezing rain. Gotta love it.

  13. User avater
    treasuresmom 01/13/2017

    Adore that little garden shed!

    1. user-7007498 01/13/2017

      Thanks. Got it to complement the house. It's fun to plant a garden around it.

  14. User avater
    Tim_Zone_Denial_Vojt 01/13/2017

    Love all of the structure you've added to the added to the garden, Kevin. The conifers are great. Loving that Ilex opaca, too. I'm crazy about the lacebark pines. Wish I had room! Extended forecast looks pretty warm to me. I'm getting worried about an early spring followed by a vicious cold snap. It's happened before......

    1. user-7007498 01/13/2017

      I have fallen for the conifers. I plan to treat many of them as bonsai in the garden.

      We do seem to get the "polar vortex " cold snaps lately. I lost half of my Stewartia pseudocamellia last year to one. Guess this is the new norm.

      Have a great weekend, Tim.

  15. sheila_schultz 01/13/2017

    Your gardens are delicately layered with texture, form and interest ... so pleasing to the eye. What astounded me when I initially looked at today's winter photos was how shallow your backyard is in reality, I had no idea since you have so thoughtfully planted your beauties. I always assumed you had at least 3 times that depth! Brilliantly designed Kevin!

    Oh, by the way, I laughed out loud when I read your last caption... garden Shed? Shed is probably not the word I would have chosen for that charming structure! Ha!

    1. user-7007498 01/14/2017

      Sheila: thanks for the kind comments, which I really appreciate since you have such a wonderful eye for design with your fabulous containers.

      My back yard is 155 feet wide, but very shallow, so I worked hard to create repetition along the most narrow part, and focal points at different levels as you move away from the house. The result is that the eye always goes along the long axis, and rarely lingers where it is most shallow. I tend to photograph the same way.

      I do love my shed, I got it to match the style of the house. Maybe I need to call it something else (garden villa?) :)

      1. sheila_schultz 01/14/2017

        Hmmmm... how about your Romantic Garden Getaway??? I'm thinking we might need Michaele to rename it since she is GPOD's poetic wordsmith!

        1. user-7007498 01/14/2017

          Your right, Sheila. I would bet Michaele would come up with the perfect name.

  16. edithdouglas 01/13/2017

    I enjoyed that tour no end. Everything looks so vibrant. I tend to overlook evergreens as it's so hot where we are in summer, but probably should be using more. Thanks.

    1. user-7007498 01/14/2017

      I am glad you enjoyed the photos, Edith. I think my winter garden has really only come to age, and beauty, in the last few years. I realize now how much the conifers accent the dormant stems and seedpods of many other perennials and grasses.

  17. GrannyCC 01/13/2017

    Thanks for your wonderful tour of your winter garden. Makes me look at my gardens with new eyes. In your garden, winter would never be dull. Love your house and garden shed.

    1. user-7007498 01/14/2017

      Thanks, Catherine. I realized 10 years ago, that if I was going to keep sane through our winters, I needed more than deciduous trees, perennials and annuals. Thus started my quest for conifers and evergreen ground covers, like hellebores. The results are starting to pay off as the landscape matures.

  18. schatzi 01/13/2017

    Glorious, Kevin. Love it all, especially conifers of any size, and that adorable garden house.

    1. user-7007498 01/14/2017

      Thanks, Shirley. I love my garden shed, and got it to match the house. It is a great focal point at the end of the driveway.

  19. VikkiVA 01/13/2017

    Beautiful Kevin! Especially like the golden winter color of your Miscanthus sinensus 'Little Kitten. Vikki in VA.

    1. user-7007498 01/13/2017

      Thanks Vikki. That miscanthus holds up all winter, even with snow. Love this grass.

  20. Meelianthus 01/13/2017

    So artistically arranged Kevin. Everything is stunning and a true 'winter' garden. One can really tell that you love gardening and all of the colors and textures that go into it. A lovely stroll-through in the winter!

    1. user-7007498 01/14/2017

      Linda: Thanks so much, especially coming from such an awesome gardener. I love seeing your garden, which is an inspiration.
      Yes, I still love to bundle-up and stroll the garden in the winter. This is what stimulated my interest in conifers about 8-10 years ago. I also try to focus my winter garden on the areas visible from inside the house. The birds love the winter landscape as well. Have a great weekend.

  21. Maggieat11 01/23/2017

    Wonderful, Kevan! (I also like the look of the wreaths on your 3 upper windows!!) I was wondering, particularly, about the pinus bungeana.... how tall is it and is that the "natural" look or do you prune it to expose that lovely bark? Thanks!

    1. user-7007498 02/07/2017

      Margaret, I just saw that you had responded to my post a few weeks ago. Sorry I didn't get back sooner. I think Pinus bungeana has the best barks of all pines. The cultivar is a dwarf about 12 years old and about 9 feet tall. I found this one multistemmed. I carefully thin it out with once a year pruning to maintain its nice shape but open up the tree to expose that lovely bark.

      1. Maggieat11 02/08/2017

        Thank you, Kevin. It looks like one I'd like to add to my "collection"!!

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