Planters serve as eye catching horticultural art displays most of the year, but during the winter months they are often left empty and sad. Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy gardener Angela Masters got tired of looking at vacant, dirt filled pots until spring, so she has created beautiful winter planter displays at Schenley Plaza and the Schenley Park Café and Visitor’s Center. Her designs are easy to emulate and require little maintenance for upkeep. Next time the family’s in town for the holidays you can show off your green thumb, even with snow on the ground.
When designing a planter (no matter what the season) Angela likes to use a three tier grouping. For the center of the planter she uses a tall, upright plant. Around this focal point she will put in a shorter upright plant, and along the outside of the planter she ideally likes to put in something that will hang over the edges.
The planters she has created at the Visitor’s Center are a perfect demonstration of this ideal grouping. The Red Twig Dogwood she has placed at the center of the planter creates the highest point of the design, as well as adding some holiday color to the display. Around that she has placed White Pine seedlings (with the fluffy looking needles) and Hemlock seedlings (yellowish in color), at the outside edge a Christmas Fern spills over the planter making the display look full and lush.
At Schenley Plaza, her planters display two plants, with a focus on the beautiful Blue Princess Holly in the center complete with bright red berries. Surrounding the Holly she has put in a groundcover called Bearberry.
These wintertime planters do more than just look good, they incorperate evergreens for us to put into the parks! Angela has deliberately chosen plants (with the exception of the Blue Princess Holly) that are native to our area so that when it comes time to change the planters to spring flowers, these seedlings can be transplanted to the natural wooded areas. “Using natives is a challenge because there are so many beautiful evergreens that I’d like to use, but we don’t want to be putting invasive plants into the parks,” says Angela.
Maintenance of wintertime planters is easy breezy since you are using plants accustomed to the cold weather. “As long as the planter is in a place where it gets rained and snowed on, it will be fine,” says Angela. “If the planter is under an eve of your house or some other covering you may need to water it a little once in a while.” She does add that having the planter closer to a building (while not necessarily covered) will give it a better chance of survival by protecting it from harsh elements like cold wind.
Your imagination is the limit when it comes to the design of a wintertime planter. You can decorate the planters a multitude of ways. Angela recommends looking for some dried materials like lotus pods and artichokes to add texture and color. You can find such things at craft stores and they can be spray painted in metallic shades to add a little bling to the display. If you really want to spruce them up for the holidays try adding some ribbon.
There are a multitude of evergreen plants that will work beautifully but a few of Angela’s favorites are various kinds of Junipers (there are varieties that stand upright and some that drape), Gold Thread Cypress, Dwarf Alberta Spruce, and the native Winterberry Holly.
Kathleen Gaines is a Development Associate for the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy