Just because our growing season is rather brief here in the North Country doesnt mean we cant have interesting yards and gardens throughout the year. Now is a good time to look around your yard and see which areas need some livening up. You cant do much about it right now but make some notes. Chances are by next summer youll be distracted by all the existing greenery and may forget the plans you made. The light is very different this time of year and this is also a good time to notice where the snow crashes down from the roof or piles up along the driveway or walkway. There may be parts of your yard you seldom visit in winter but you might want to add some interest along paths you frequently use this time of year, such as the trek from your house to garage. I have a patch of perennials near our back stairs thats gorgeous in July but is downright dull right now with everything cut to the ground. Im thinking about adding a small shrub to this area, or maybe a decorative trellis type of structure that is pretty even without plants on it. These structures and branches look even more beautiful with a fresh dusting of snow on them. Having made more than a few mistakes over the year, I want to be careful with the shrub I choose for this small area. Of course Ill need to match its growing requirements to the conditions of my site but I also want to choose a well-behaved plant that wont take over the whole area in a few years. I also want something with attractive branching since winter is when it will be the focal point. The perennials will steal the show in the summer months. As I look over my list of current favorite shrubs (chokecherry, fothergilla, ninebark, shrub dogwood to name a few) I realize these really need some room to spread and look best when planted in masses rather than as a specimen plant. In my case what I think will work best is a young, small tree such as a star magnolia or Japanese tree lilac. I like the tree form because it will let me leave most of the perennials to grow underneath the branches while the trunk and branches will give me some interest in the winter. I could even put some lights on the tree during the short days of the holiday season. Now I need to bundle up and go outside to thoroughly investigate the site. First Ill look up, to see where the eaves of the roof are and try to predict where the snow will pile up. I also need to consider where the rain will fall and allow plenty of room. You dont want to plant any plants under the eaves, they will end up too close to the house and the eaves will block the rainfall during the growing season. Now is a good time to do some planning about what you can do next summer to make your yard or garden look more interesting next winter.