Mighty White

birch.jpgMy landscape is mighty white right now.  We have already had better than twice the snow we had all season last year, and this is just mid January. I was so surprised that we got another 3 inches of snow yesterday.  Have we not had enough?  Who thought we needed more than the 16 inches we have already had? OK, I wasn’t so much surprised as weary.  The snow has piled up everywhere.  The landscape is blurred.  The glare from the snow makes everything else some variation of black..  Lots of white, with some black bits.  What gardener in my zone isn’t bleary eyed?

sun-and-snow.jpgThese reproduction cast stone pots made from a well known design by Frank Lloyd Wright are all but buried in snow.  The snow silhouette features the rim of the pot.  The shape of a mature plant, a garden bed, a tree canopy, a garden path, a terrace, a container – shape is one of many elements of design.  A shape is a 2-dimensional visual description of an object.  An outline, if you will.  Heavy snow makes it easy to see and decide if you like the shapes.

snow-covered-garden-table.jpgWe have mountains of snow and uniformly gray skies.  There are only so many ways to tell this story.  The better story is about what is missing visually, and how a landscape can be better. As I have watched the snow pile up higher and higher, I realize how much I appreciate the skillful use of color, line, texture, mass, edges, and proportion in a landscape design.  This garden table and bench has been reduced to its simplest shape, in black and white.

snow-covered.jpgDeep snow has all but obliterated any complex relationships in the landscape. What the snow has not buried are the basic and simple shapes.  The very strong and simple relationships.  A good design should be evident in every season.  In all kinds of weather. There are those gardeners who aim for one season at the expense of all the others, and I respect their choice.  It just wouldn’t be my choice.  I do believe that good design is all about what is there when there is nothing there to see.  The stone pot filled with cut evergreens pictured above has a distinct form and proportion that is described and enhanced by snow.

shop-garden-in-January.jpgThe heavy snow had reduced this landscape to its most elemental gestures.  What I still see, given the lack of color and texture, is the form. I would venture to say that a design that does not work in its most austere winter state will work no better flushed out with plants, and clothed in green.

snow.jpgGood form is a quintessentially important element of good design.  A weeping Japanese maple has an overall shape, both a leafy shape, and a twiggy shape.  That maple also has a three dimensional structure-that is its form.  The successful placement of that maple in the landscape is dependent upon an understanding of its form.  Planting small or young trees require an understanding of a form that is yet to be.  Forms come with baggage, too.  A weeping Japanese maple is so common in suburban front yard landscapes that it asks for an unusual treatment or placement for its form to be truly appreciated.  Asparagus means vegetable, which means it gets planted in the vegetable garden.  But its form may be perfect for a rose garden, or a container.

garden-bench.jpg The relationship of one form to another can be incredibly exciting, or sleepy beyond all belief.  Some forms are so striking they stay with me for a long time.  Years even.  The fluid and informally curving form of this magnolia garland is all the more striking visually against the formal and rigid form of this steel bench.  The snow is that relationship graphic and clear.  Personally unforgettable moments in a landscape usually involve a form which is under some sort of visual discussion via the weather, or the season. Landscape elements that are not up to a year round discussion should be placed accordingly.

boxwood.jpg  Some forms I do not give a moments notice.  Why wouldn’t my clients feel the same way? Whenever I am designing for a client, I always ask what was an unforgettable experience of the landscape. This will tell me a lot about what forms will have meaning for them.

snowy-day.jpgThis embarrassment of riches in snow is an experience of the landscape that is making me testy, but it has its virtues.

michigan-winter.jpgMilo thinks this winter’s garden is grand.



  1. This is absolutely beautiful, interesting and wonderfully written. I look forward to meeting you some day and visiting your shop and garden. I am so impressed with all of it, and your story in general. Great work!
    A fan in eastern Washington state (where we should have some snow by now but its dry as can be. i might go rake leaves today!)

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Jen, I hadn’t really given much thought to the fact that the snow is moisture. Thanks for the gentle reminder. Deborah

  2. The picture of the magnolia wreath on the stark garden bench was pure ‘music’. It will stay with me for a long time. Thank you!

  3. I’ll be happy when the color returns and my eyes stop swimming at the glaring contrast. It’s snowing now as I type this comment…sigh. As a designer here in the lake effect snowbelt of Michigan, I can’t echo your sentiment enough that a good design should be evident in all seasons. We often get hit with our first snow in early December and last in late March….that’s four months of winter canvas to work with!

    As always, thank you so much for the dose of inspiration!

  4. What an intriguing contrast to your most recent previous post The White on the Way…..there is white and then there is white! Milo looks perfectly dressed for fun in the snow..

  5. Your winter garden is a real dream.
    The steel bench swagged in magnolia leaves and decked out with grapevine pillows is so restful looking and inviting.
    This winter scene would make a beautiful watercolor painting (hopefully you have time to paint when the winter sets in).

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Terry, I am just about to settle in for the winter. I have a few ideas in mind. Thanks for writing, Deborah

  6. The snow covered stone pot filled with cut greens looks as if it has been covered by a white table cloth with green crocheted edging; it’s lovely, as are all the photos. Thank you.

  7. My hubby and I live in Belize for six months in winter but in Muskegon Mi. The rest of the year. Muskegon is very snowy white right now from lake effect snow and Muskegon Lake is frozen over a foot thick! The ice boaters and snow mobiles love it. All this white snow and ice is good news for insulating my lakeside gardens but more importantly the declining lake levels will get a big boost when all this beautiful grandeur MELTS and our bulbs begin to peek through! Think spring for Michigan! Meanwhile I have the best of the tropics here on our island in our yard and in the greenhouse which is not glass, but screened to provide shade for my tropical plants and especially to keep out the iguanas which LOVE new buds and blooms! Stay snug.
    Joyce Voyt

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Joyce, Muskegon Michigan and Belize-what an unusual and interesting gardening life you have! I would think you are happy for your “screenhouse” right this moment. Thanks for writing. Best, Deborah

  8. i so appreciate the way you take a basic idea and build it out….let it lead you…and create a sense of journey for all to travel. I have found that you like to do this at this time of year…and I always look forward to it. This year’s thesis: white. It is the sign of a truly creative and nimble mind. Thanks.

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