Ornament In The Winter Landscape

Though a landscape that is striking in all of the seasons largely depends on the confluence of a great design, interesting hard scape and thoughtful choices of plant material, I would venture to say that ornament in the landscape plays an especially vital role in our winter. The plants are welcome to be the star of the show every season of the year, as they should be. The walkways, driveways, and terraces facilitate flow, and provide places for people to be a part of it all. The 4th season in northern landscapes have a regional set of challenges. All the deciduous plants sulk in the advancing cold, shed their leaves, and go dormant for the winter. The trees stand firm and skeletal in the winter; the trunks and branches are indeed very sculptural. The branchy remains of shrubs and perennials rattle in the wind. This seasonal plant sculpture is not by choice. A gardener might say there is no meat in this scene. The evergreens are indeed green, but they can have a stiff and stoic look in their glazed over and embattled winter state, quite unlike their lively spring to fall life. The walks, terraces and driveways meant to welcome people into the landscape disappear under scarcely an inch of snow. The ground plane is at best obscured, and at worst, buried in our winters. Winter in Michigan is not so easy a season for gardeners. Long suffering is a phrase that applies. But there are ways to help mitigate that grief. Garden ornament?  By this I mean any object with a distinct profile that has a year round home in a landscape. Any object placed in the landscape that is marked by shape, mass, personality, memory, and persistence endows the winter landscape.  I am talking about those garden ornaments that have both a physical and emotional presence that cannot be snowed in, or grayed out. They are all the better for a coating of ice, or a hat of snow.   Pots, fencing, arbors, statuary, furniture, sculptures, fountains, architectural fragments, fire pits, bird baths, armillary spheres – all of these garden ornaments have a surprisingly lively and welcome life in the winter.

Those of you who put your garden furniture in the basement for the winter might consider this. The heat and relentless sun common in the summer season is much harder on garden furniture than anything the winter season might dish out. I leave my garden furniture out all winter. Though it is unlikely I will sit out in the winter, garden furniture is ornamental in the winter. That furniture can organize a view, even though the terrace upon which it sits is snowed under. The memory of the summer season warms the winter landscape. It may be that how I visually react to my summer furniture out in the winter landscape is stronger than my summer view.  In the summer, my terrace furniture is about its use.  In the winter, that furniture is a sculpture that speaks to the future.

This pergola with a wood roof and stone pillars was built to shrug off off anything the Michigan winter has to deliver. It is successful in that regard. The winter pots dusted with snow are landscape ornaments set at eye level that warm both that pergola, and this landscape. They counter the winter with the evidence of the gardening hand. An ornament selected for a garden or landscape is first and foremost a personal choice. Though I dressed these pots for winter for a client, it is her aura that enlivens this winter landscape.

To follow are a group of pictures of what I call ornament in the winter landscape. They that tell a story far better than I ever could. I rarely have cause to visit a client’s landscape in the winter. But when I go, I am struck by how garden ornament can improve, organize and energize the look of a landscape gone dormant.

A container, and an arrangement to go with for winter, can provide a focal point for the landscape that might be more welcome and more striking than that same container planted for summer. The winter season can be a good gardening season. It just asks for more. I would not want to be gardening in any other place than where I am gardening. Even in the winter.

Window boxes mounted outside a sun room, and dressed for winter.

a  terrace in winter

a Branch fountain in winter

a bench and pots in the winter season

birdbath in winter

sculpture in the winter landscape

urn dressed for winter

bench with snow pillow

winter containers loaded with snow

pots dressed for winter with a dusting of snow

Ornament in the winter landscape can be supremely satisfying. I was right behind Milo this winter day. We both liked what was there to see.














  1. Are the pots clay, vulnerable to the elements, cracking, splitting, damaged? GOOD STUFF!!

  2. A wonderful post, and music to my ears. I have acquired several Coad Clay ornamental pieces from Cudworth for that specific purpose – garden benches, vases and pineapple finials. A rare organic form in Winter, blending in perfectly with Winterthur-inspired azaleas and hornbeams in Sprint/Summer. Who says you can’t have it all in Michigan?

    Here is just one example:


  3. Love seeing Milo. Thanks for sharing these pics on such a cold wintry day here in Delaware.

  4. lisa hansen says

    Hi! Your 5th picture of a single slender tall garden pot with brownish leaves and tall sticks- what are the leaves and sticks? the brown color is a beautiful contrast against the greens.

  5. wonderful post. so true and makes me want to add more sculptural details to the landscape for just this purpose. thank you for continuing to inspire.

  6. AWWW-Thank You for this-we have 20 degree temps here in Virginia today!!
    You have inspired me to take my winter landscaping to another level- I need to organize and energize my property using some fixed elements- so I can enjoy the winter views!! Your writing is so strong- I really am touched by your love for beauty and that you share it so well!! Again,many thanks!!!

  7. Beautiful!

  8. thank you….. just when I thought I couldn’t see the beauty in winter, you showed it to me in spectacular fashion

  9. This was a very thoughtful and thought provoking post. I really enjoyed reading it and have taken your ideas to heart. Thank you for sharing this, Deborah.
    P.S. I have always loved bird baths covered in snow. A quiet remembrance of splashier days gone by. 🙂

  10. I so agree with you, Deborah. I have statues, urns, furniture, and pergolas that I love seeing in the winter garden. I also have a fountain from France but I cover because I don’t want it to get damaged. Do you cover your fountain or can you give me any advice? Loved all the pictures you posted.

  11. Amazing. Thank you for capturing and sharing this.

  12. Nancy Edwards says

    Love every single thing you do! Maybe you need to have a Southern shop in Port St. Joe, Fl. It’s a dog friendly beach…

  13. Are your pots able to stand the winter cold without cracking? Are any pottery?

  14. In the second to last image you have large containers with evergreen branches and deciduous trees. How wonderful! What trees are those?
    The large contemporary containers work great. I have a contemporary house in a natural setting in Massachusetts and am looking for elegant containers without the ornate historic references. Where to look?

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Eva, Detroit Garden Works (detroitgardenworks.com) carries a great collection of contemporary pots. Go to the container section, then click on stoneware to see our frost proof Belgian contemporary containers. best, Deborah

  15. sigh. you make winter looks magical and I want some! just a little, some of the time. Am glad that dog is a sculpture I had a brief moment of panic. lol. Your pics always send me on journeys.

  16. Pamela Csatari says

    Another month to wait until we start to clean up our yard area to plant the evergreens around new patio. Thank you for your inspiration! You have mentioned in past post(s) a company you use to trim your evergreens because they use a laser line to make sure the lines are straight. Can you please tell us again who that company is? Also we are shopping for a fountain that would be in place throughout the year – our budget is limited to approx $1,200. Is Cast Stone ok in Michigan, or would you recommend a different product? Cast stone seems to come with a lot of maintenance – lifting it off ground for winter season, etc. We are DIY’ers so can’t see us lifting 400 lbs LOL! Thanks for any advice you may share.

  17. Cindy Keller says

    What an inspiring set of pictures to inspire us all! Having accents like statues, pergolas and urns surely add to movement and stillness in the garden. In winter, they can look truly romantic and beautiful against the white setting. You certainly showed enough to make anyone think again about bringing their furnishings in during winter. Sometimes leaving them alone in the cold adds to an attractive sight. Thanks again for the beautiful pics. I enjoyed them and noted Milo being as mystified as I am!

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