Winter Interest – Silhouette

In the winter, after the flowers are gone and leaves have fallen to the ground, the basic structure and shape of garden plants becomes an important feature in the landscape. While evergreen trees and shrubs can have dramatic silhouettes all year long, the branching structure of deciduous trees and shrubs is hidden most of the year. Only during winter do their lacy, intricate and crisscrossing braches become apparent.

When planting trees and shrubs with interesting silhouettes, be aware of their surroundings in the garden. A white birch may be lost if planted among a mix of other deciduous trees. Planted in front of a stand of evergreens, however, the birch’s silhouette and white bark will stand out. Some plants, such as the weeping beech or the ‘Harry Lauder’s walking stick’, should be planted alone in the garden; as their unique shape makes them wonderful specimens. The following lists some trees and shrubs with appealing silhouettes which provide interest to the winter garden.


hen it comes to plants with weeping forms there are many varieties to choose from. Weeping form trees and shrubs provide graceful focal points in a garden, especially if placed in an uncluttered and visible location.

A Weeping European Birch’s (Betula pendula ) weeping silhouette is stunning. Growing to 25’ this tree, along with its form, provides winter interest with silver and white colored bark.

The Weeping Cherry (Prunus sp. var. pendula) grows larger than the weeping European birch (up to 40‘) and flowers profusely in the spring. An ideal accent tree, the weeping cherry produces showy pink flowers on pendulous branches before the foliage emerges.

European Beeches (Fagus sylvatica) are a dramatic weeping tree which can reach heights if 80’. There two varieties of this beech; the ‘Pendula’, a green-leaved cultivar, has interesting foliage in the fall when the leaves turn bright yellow while the ‘Purpurea Pendula’, a purple-leaved cultivar, has interesting foliage in the summer because the leaves are purple in hue.

Sargent’s Weeping Canadian Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis var. ‘Sargentii’) is a beautiful low growing evergreen shrub with a interesting silhouette. Beautiful green foliage stays colorful all year. If left unattended to the weeping hemlock will grow to 10’ tall and 20’-30’ wide. Keeping it more compact is relatively easy through pruning.

Unusual Branching Patterns

The Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick (Corylus avellana Contorta) is a unique deciduous shrub with interesting gnarled, twisted, almost corkscrew-like branches. This plant should be planted on its own where a silhouette of twisted branches can stand out against the snow in wintertime. Also provides colorful yellow fall foliage and showy greenish-yellow catkins which brighten the winter garden.

Upright Growth Habit

The River Birch (Betula nigra) grows upright with a pyramidal silhouette. With the attractive bark and interesting, finely-branched silhouette, the river birch makes a striking addition to the winter landscape, particularly against a backdrop of dark green evergreens. A river birch will grow about 2’ per year and will tolerate a wild range of soil conditions. Planted in a group, the river birch could create a pleasing interlacing of delicate branches. On its own, its silhouette is dramatic against a stand of evergreens or the sky.

The Slender Hinoki False Cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Gracilis’) is an excellent evergreen shrub for screens, hedges and accent plantings. Its silhouette is a narrow pyramidal form with gracefully arching branches. Its small deep green needles, attractive in summer, turn a bronze color in winter.

Tiered Branching Structure

Japanese Maples are one of the most beautiful small trees for the garden. They’re ideally planted on their own as a specimen trees, as accents in a mixed border, or in a containers on the patio. Many cultivars of the Japanese maple are relatively small and are especially useful in small gardens. The colorful fall foliage lights up the garden and its silhouette of slender twigs and multi-tiered contorted branches provide winter interest.

By becoming familiar with the underlying structure and shape of trees and shrubs you can plan for off season interest in your garden by using a plant’s winter silhouette.

Related Articles: Deciduous Shrubs, Planting Garden Shrubs, Easy Care Shrubs, Evergreens