The winter interest battle …. continues

Olmsted's South Park, as seen from the ring road
Olmsted’s South Park, as seen from the ring road

If there’s anything, I hate, it’s dragging out Rant posts.  My motto: Drop the post, then move on to another topic.  However, we’re leaving for St. Lucia tomorrow, and I have to lay down a post for Monday, or Susan will be mad at me (I’m secretly afraid of her).

Here goes. I remain uninterested in garden “winter interest.” However, I do love a beautiful winter landscape. Urban gardens in my zone do not usually offer enough scope for true winter beauty. For that, I need to travel to nearby public parks, nature preserves, and natural wonders, with which my area of Western New York abounds.

As follows:

Ice fishing on Buffalo's small boat harbor
Ice fishing on Buffalo’s small boat harbor
Niagara River rapids, near Three Sisters islands
Niagara River rapids, near Three Sisters islands
Olmsted's Delaware Park, Hoyt Lake
Olmsted’s Delaware Park, Hoyt Lake
Goat Island, near Three Sisters
Goat Island, near Three Sisters





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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regular radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world, and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. I think you have finally explained what bothered me. I do love a winter landscape, I was snowshoeing on the weekend and it was breathtaking. However my backyard does not have the scope. Yes, there may be some beautiful ice hanging from branches, but I’m planting for spring and summer interest, that is what makes my heart sing.

    • Snowshoeing sounds so fun! Never tried. We live cross country skiing a lot though. And taking the kids sledding in Western New York. We love living here! It is beautiful. Goat Island too. Love all the hiking option. Taking the dogs to Tillman Park or sledding at Cheasnut Ridge and sipping hot cocoa.

      • When I was faced with the purchase of new cross country skis I was overwhelmed, I didn’t want to learn which wax to use, and the conditions need to be more exact. With the snowshoes you just strap them on and go where you want to. When we go north to the cottage in the winter, much of the Bruce trail is not cross country ski friendly, so being able to go where no one else has been for months on the snowshoes is spectacular.

      • Yea, we love reading all about the big snowshoe/cross country debate.

        From the beach. Without a shirt. You Yankees are some kinda crazy. And don’t start with ‘we love the change of seasons!’

        Gives me hives, it really does.

        [a goddamn garden site with attitude. Whodathunkit? I just feel so alive.]

  2. I am grateful that I am too far south of Lake Erie to get the lake effect and too far north when a storm comes from the south. Occaissionly we get a bad one. The downside is for most of the winter there is no snow cover and we are in the top ten for the number of freeze/thaw cycles we can experience in one day. Bad for the perennials and makes for gloomy depressing times. I swear the eagles were living in NE Ohio when they wrote Desperado. “The sun won’t shine and the sky won’t snow”. That’s our winters. So not only is the garden blah, but the landscape is pretty bleak too. But I have lots of bird activity and snowdrops budding so all is good.

  3. I agree that the garden, at least my garden holds less interest for in winter. More a source of worry as heavy snows bend boxwood and andromeda branches to breaking! I am always stunned by the variety of color in the natural landscape though, especially around wet areas. Canes of yellow, red and purple, lime yellow willows have a broad range within a narrow color family. What i love best though is the shape of large trees. In summer you can’t see it as well and each has it’s own unique personality. It is all a bit to go on until spring!

  4. Living in NE Iowa along the Mississippi (in the so-called Driftless Area) we love winter, especially when there is at least a bit of snow, as the shape of the bluffs with their crags and cliffs is exquisitely visible through the bare trees. My own yard is still pretty devoid since we have not gotten far with our landscape, but just down the hill are the woodlands.
    Lovely to snowshoe through, when there’s enough snow….

  5. I think the word ‘interest’ in the context of gardens is a wonderfully meaningless expression. It’s not exactly like a good book or something with real content that you’d give time to. It’s just a ubiquitous nothingness.

    And I don’t either want unreal looking colour in winter – I’m quite happy with winter in it’s bleak gloominess.

    However – one proviso – I love our hedges in winter. Dramatic shapes in the garden are a treat when the ‘multi-coloured hay’ of perennials disappears. So much so that I have on occasion been surprised when flowers reappeared, like icing on a cake.

  6. Great winter shots of the Buffalo NY area. Hope you enjoy St. Lucia. My wife, daughter-in-law, son & I went there a few years back & stayed in an incredible architect designed home/lodge located in the saddle between the Gros Piton & the Petite Piton. We were the only occupants & had a small 4-wheel drive vehicle which allowed us to make days trips around the area. It was the trip of a lifetime & we found St. Lucia to be a wonderful island to explore & enjoy. The people were gracious & thoughtful. There is a nice botanic garden just outside Soufriere if you are near that area. You will be able to forget winter for a while.

  7. I realize this post was not directed at Californians, but even in more northerly climes there is certainly always the possibility of creating winter interest, and I don’t agree that the term itself is a meaningless nothing! Of course anything that contrasts with either white or bleak tans and grays will add interest, and colored or exfoliating trunks, interesting structural forms enhanced by the addition of snow or ice, and color of any sort can always be had in almost any climate zone.

    So glad I do live in California where winter interest is a real “thing”, and it is easy enough to have a garden just as interesting and inviting with form, color and texture in winter as at any other season. We are so lucky to have so many outrageously expressive winter interest plants, be they California natives or exotics such as Aloes, Bromeliads, Proteas, etc. Even here in mostly sunny winter northern California, I find myself craving more color this time of year, to stave off the winter blues, so have surrounded myself with all my favorite winter blooming plants from around the world. I’m particularly enjoying my blooming Aloe castanea/thraskii/speciosa at the moment, and the heavenly white scented blooms of the Michelia doltsopa and Edgeworthia chrysantha, or my Deppea splendens covered with hundreds of flowers.

    I think I’d be just as focused on winter interest even if it snowed, and seeking out favorites that would still perform regardless of the cold. If I lived in Buffalo, New York, it might be another story, and I’d be wishing for a winter retreat in Key West or the West Indies.

  8. Winter is not my favorite season but it is, for me, the season of moss. I’ve been cultivating moss in several different areas and it’s looking it’s best right about now.

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