Look outside. Does your garden look neglected, desolate or melancholy? It need not, even if it's too cold for plants to grow, or snow blankets the ground.
A quick and easy first step to creating a pleasant winter scene outdoors is to tidy up. Put away buckets and gardening tools, straighten akimbo posts, and cut back old flower stalks.
Formal gardens need more tidying than informal gardens, but even informal gardens benefit from some tidying up. After all, an abandoned lot is no wildflower meadow.
Tidiness lends some order to the scene, but emphasizing that order makes things prettier. Define and organize outdoor space with masses and lines created by plants, fences, walls - even benches and statuary.
For instance, an arbor looks pretty enough spring through fall, if you notice it among climbing plants. But once winter comes, the arbor stands out, defining space on either side. Come snow, milky white dots cap each post and white strokes define horizontal elements, dressing the arbor up in much the same way as vines dressed it up in summer.
For longer-term planning, keep in mind other ways to make sure your garden will look pleasing year-round: Rows of plants also define spaces. Use a row of trees, even if they are small. Or a double row of trees that draws you along as if through a tunnel. Or hedges: Even deciduous hedges make a winter statement if they are twiggy like forsythia or privet. Low hedges of evergreen dwarf boxwood can create a tapestry at ground level.
A single tree trunk can define an area by acting as a visual anchor, a centerpiece. What's needed here is a large tree, and the more massive its trunk the greater the effect.
The challenge in creating a landscape enjoyable in winter as well as the rest of the year is in integrating all the design elements. Think in three dimensions rather than two. Design with mass, viewed mostly from ground level, either from indoors or outside.
Wall in spaces, open up vistas, create thoroughfares and resting places. Use decorative fencing or rows of plants to knit the scene together. Elsewhere, the scene might need livening with a focal point -- a statue or a bench, for example.
Winter also is a time to highlight aspects of plants lost in summer's lushness: the tiered branches of doublefile viburnum; the red berries on leafless stems of winterberry; the curling, coppery bark of paperbark maple.
Your garden may not be what you'd hope it to be in winter - yet. Let new plantings, new growth, and new construction carry it closer to that goal each year.