You may have heard or read the phrase: A well-designed garden has good bones. For new gardeners with vivid imaginations, who watch a lot of the vampire and “Grimm” type TV shows or fans of “Game of Thrones,” this may conjure up images of grave markers and body vaults. However, that’s not what the originator of this term had in mind.

The bones of the garden are the permanent and semi-permanent structures – buildings, walls, patios, walkways, sculpture, structures and or rockery, along with trees and shrubs that form the solid elements of a landscape. They don’t move over the seasons and they set the tone of the space and give it structure.

The bones are most visible in winter, especially when there is no snow, so now is a good time to check out your bones to see if you need or want to make some changes.

If your landscape is ablaze with flowers and colorful foliage during the growing season but looks barren and gray throughout the winter, a good set of bones will carry the view through the winter season.

A pole barn is a given if you live in the country and that’s where we started when we created our English cottage-style haven. Had we the money to build one that looked like a 16th century structure, I would have sited it where it could be seen by all and help set the tone for the landscape. But alas the budget called for a typical metal structure, so I hid it behind a huge white pine and a stand of native service berries, choosing a bronzish brown color siding that helps blend in and hides the structure. The white pine and serviceberries became part of the bones of our garden.

When I added a much-needed tool shed, the kind you see lining the parking lots of the Home Depot, I tucked it off to the back corner of the landscape out of main sight and planted a hedge of Hydrangeas, Ninebarks and Viburnums in front to screen that scene and provide pleasing texture in winter. Its greenish-gray paint blends in so it’s almost invisible, even after leaf drop. On a small city lot interesting lattice screening would do the job and become part of the bones of the garden.

Antique wrought iron fencing running through the center of my perennial border anchored summer plantings and takes center stage in winter when draped with live evergreen roping and a jolly red ribboned wreath. More good bones.

Nancy Szerlag is a master gardener and Metro Detroit freelance writer. Her column appears Fridays in Homestyle. To ask her a question go to and click on Ask Nancy. You can also read her previous columns at detroitnewscom/homestyle.

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