Leaves are turning, the days are getting shorter, and COVID is on the rise in most states, including mine. The “everybody outside” strategy was great for reducing coronavirus transmission during the summer, but what about the months ahead? 

Landscape architects like me know that outdoor spaces are almost always designed for warm weather, even where it’s only really warm for a few months. Spring and autumn are gorgeous in many places, yet it’s rare to find an outdoor space designed for use during these shoulder seasons, forget winter.

Last time we looked at the basics for an outdoor space for cold weather.  This time it’s about the frills. 

What does a good winter space need – the extras that make it special?

Look good in low light
Use lighting to highlight the assets, and let winter’s low light hide everything else. 

Plants with winter interest
Yes, summer’s flowers are fading, but evergreens of all kinds carry on. Dried seedpods and grass plumes, shrubs with bright berries that persist, and trees with colorful or peeling bark all brighten up the cooler months.

Materials with winter interest
Brighter colors, textures, lights again, reflective qualities. We tend to think that everything needs to be drab during winter. Don’t do that. The time for bright colors is now. 

Plan for winter views, screening, and extent
When the leaves fall off the trees, every view becomes bigger. This is an asset if you suddenly have a water view from your deck. Not so much if you now have a view of the neighbor’s dumpster. 

Encourage wildlife, both birds and critters
Birdfeeders and food for squirrels and other backyard wildlife are a real highlight of the cooler months. Don’t forget that some of those plants with winter interest are also attractive to birds. 

Fire gets a special mention, because it’s such a draw. Warmth, light, but also our fascination with the flickering lights and the companionship of feeding and tending something that seems almost alive. Obviously, be safe with open flames, but don’t underestimate what a firepit or bank of candles can do for your winter space.

Need more inspiration?
​Check out the Winter Cities Institute, old pros at this outside-during-winter stuff, probably in places far colder than where you are.

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