Garden Photo of the Day

Winter Interest in Jay’s Garden

Conifers, grasses, and other cool-season show-offs

garden bed with colorful conifers and evergreens in winter

We’re visiting award-winning garden designer Jay Sifford’s home garden today. We’ve visited it before in other seasons, but today he’s sharing how it looks in winter.

I designed my garden called Rhodwood, which is nestled in a North Carolina mountain valley, during the COVID epidemic. Frankly, it was invaluable in helping me through that period of time. The front garden is a stylized meadow built atop the septic drain field. Designing it for four-season interest was a high priority for me, since the winters here can be long and harsh. Here are some photos that were taken during the months that we normally consider to be drab and lifeless when it comes to our gardens.

stylized meadow garden with fall foliage in the backgroundThis photo, taken on a mid-October morning, shows the waning garden bowing to a spectacular autumnal sunrise that highlights the mountain across the road.

close up of seed heads and dried foliage in a winter gardenSeed heads are left standing until March, when the entire meadow is cut. I love the winter interest, particularly texture and kinetic movement, provided by the 200 or so Panicum and Pennisetum and seed heads such as these ‘October Skies’ asters (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium ‘October Skies’, Zones 3–8).

close up of white Russian sage foliageSilvery skeletons of Russian sage (Salvia yangii, Zones 5–9) act as jewelry in the winter garden as they shine in the afternoon sunlight.

bare shrubs with colorful stems in winterYellow twig dogwoods (Cornus sericea ‘Flaviramea’ Zones 3–8) and a coral bark maple (Acer palmatum ‘Sango-kaku’ , Zones 5–9), which was decapitated by a falling tree branch, add excitement to the winter garden.

a small shrub with pink berries covered in snowThis snow-covered Erica ‘Kramer’s Red’ (Zones 5–8) reminds me of a bowl of vanilla ice cream topped with raspberries.

small shrub with pink berries under a small, twisted coniferOut by the road, winter interest catches the eyes of passersby. ‘Kramer’s Red’ erica, Cedrus atlantica ‘Blue Cascade’ (Zones 6–9), and Juniperus conferta ‘Golden Pacific’ (Zones 6–9) shine on a dreary winter day. From a design standpoint, first impressions are everything.

looking out at the winter garden from a covered breezewayLooking through the dogtrot (covered breezeway) at the winter garden, one can easily see the value of conifers in the winter garden. It’s a good thing that I have a love affair with them!

garden bed with colorful conifers and evergreens in winterOne of my favorite parts of the garden, particularly in winter, is this hillside filled with conifers, heaths, and heathers. This view, taken from my living room window, shows the scrim effect of the Calamagrostis × acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’ (Zones 5–9) seed heads that I’ve planted as part of my foundation planting.

close up of bright green and yellow foliage in the winter gardenHere’s a close-up of the same vignette. Conifers, heaths, heathers, and a dwarf balsam fir (Abies balsamea, Zones 3–6) put on a show throughout the winter.

close up of dried hydrangea flowers with a dusting of snowDry flower heads of these Hydrangea paniculata ‘Phantom’ (Zones 3–8) add so much to the winter landscape. I leave them in place until April 1, when I cut the plants to within 12 inches of the ground, much like you’d cut back roses. Doing so keeps these at a summer height of 5 feet, rather than 8 to 9 feet. A larger size would overwhelm the garden.

red berries in front of a conifer and dried ornamental grassThis vignette of ‘Orange Rocket’ barberry (Berberis thunbergii ‘Orange Rocket’, Zones 4–8), ‘Curly Tops’ eastern white pine (Pinus strobus ‘Curly Tops’, Zones 3–8), and ‘Shenandoah’ panicum (Panicum virgatum ‘Shenandoah’, Zones 4–9) shines in winter. Please note that barberries are not invasive in my area.

mass planting of low-growing coniferI believe that planting en masse creates both drama and tranquility in the garden. This mass of Juniperus conferta ‘Golden Pacific’ more than earns its place in the garden, especially in winter.


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View Comments


  1. sagebird52 01/30/2023

    Wonderful color and contrasts giving much interest to a winter garden.

  2. rosebudal 01/30/2023

    Fabulous as always, Jay! But I’m confused about the timing on meadow cutting. March seems late. If I were to cut then, I’d be interfering with spring wildflowers. I understand you want to preserve autumn seed heads, and winter structure in general. I guess it just depends on priorities? I live in Georgia, and this year I cut in January. But I’ve heard late fall is good, too.

    1. JaySifford 01/30/2023

      Good morning. Early March is good for zone 6 at 3300 feet. Nothing leafs out until April. I hand cut everything... no mowing.... so I don't interfere with any emerging bulbs.

  3. user-7037040 01/30/2023

    It is beautiful! I am hoping you might start incorporating even more native species to feed caterpillars, (in addition to your panicum, asters, dogwoods and white pines) because it looks like you have a great bird habitat :)- 70% natives will support nesting chickadees!

  4. alicefleurkens 01/30/2023

    James, your garden is beautiful. Like you I leave a lot of the plants for the winter and will cut them down in the spring. And I find the colours often just as delightful in fall and winter as in summer. I love Cedrus Atlantica blue cascade, I never see them where we live, but in WA state I have seen them and I love them. And that weeping Norway Spruce [I hope that is the right name] is the favourite tree of mine in our garden.

  5. cheryl_c 01/30/2023

    Excellent pictures and narative. Thanks so much for inviting us back to your garden. A beautiful way to start our icy day.

  6. btucker9675 01/30/2023

    Beautiful... Love that you leave the grasses, etc., until early Spring - I agree that they add interest and movement during the winter and it makes me sad to see people having them cut down to nothing at the end of the summer or early autumn. This is a spectacular garden.

  7. User avater
    simplesue 01/30/2023

    Your garden is fabulous in every season! Your photo "mid-October morning" just glows with beauty!

  8. Tz_Garden 01/30/2023

    The conifers are exquisite!

  9. User avater
    cynthia2020 01/30/2023

    Jay - enjoyed all the details of how your property is maturing under your tutelage. I especially liked the photos of the seedheads and the yellow twig dogwoods with the coral bark maple (sorry about the leader(?) on the maple).

  10. User avater
    treasuresmom 01/30/2023


  11. HeavenCanWait 03/24/2023

    Jay, your garden truly inspires me!

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