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Careful planning ensures year-round interest.

It’s “easy” to have a full, pleasing garden in the spring and summer. Even the fall is not too bad, with many perennials lasting past the first light frosts, and the leaves changing colors. But what about those winter months, when you’re sitting at the breakfast table, looking out the window? Does the view bring a smile to your face...or are you longing for the green days of early summer?

The winter garden can be quite pleasing, especially when you’re glad to get a break from normal gardening chores. The trick is to plan for your winter garden at the same time that you plan for your summer garden. Be thinking about winter interest all along. Plants to include in your plant palette may be the obvious evergreens, such as pines, junipers, spruces, and hollies. But there are many others to consider: ornamental grasses, hellebores, evergreen ferns and ground covers, plants that hold their berries into winter, and plants with beautiful forms and/or interesting bark. Judicious placement of such plants can be part of the “bones” of your garden, holding it together, even when many of your annuals and perennials have left holes in the winter garden.

Ornamental grasses bloom late in the season, and turn various shades of tans and golds, playing with the light and wind. Grasses need not be cut down until early spring, allowing them to decorate your landscape, even with some snow on the fronds. Two to consider are Miscanthus sinensis ‘Gracillimus’ and M. Sinensis ‘Yaku Jima’.

Hellebores and evergreen ferns are perennials which will stay green throughout the year. One cultivar of hellebore, Helleborus niger “Christmas Rose”, 10-15”, will, as the name suggest, even bloom for you as early as Christmas (Dec. - March). Other cultivars to consider are: ‘Red Mountain’, 12-24”, blooming March-May; ‘Lenten Rose’, 18”, blooming in late winter, and ‘Corsican Hellebore’, 18:, blooming February-April. Some evergreen ferns to consider are: Christmas fern, Polystichum acrostichoides, 14”; Autumn fern, Dryopteris erythrosora, 24-30”; Tassel fern, Polystichum polyblepharum, 24-48”.

Among plants that hold their berries into winter are the Teaberry Viburnum (V. Cassinoides), Nandina domestica, and Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana). These are shrubs which can reach about 8’ in height. The Nandina is also evergreen.


Beauty in the Winter Garden
by Linda Anson

Among plants with interesting bark and stems are various shrubs and trees. Trees with wonderful bark include the various stewartias, (Stewartia pseudocamellia, S. Sinensis, and S. Koreana, for example) The bark exfoliates, revealing a beautiful mottled effect of silver, beige, olive, and reddish brown. The Parrotia persica is another tree whose bark is mottled, showing a more “jigsaw” look than the exfoliating trees. It also happens to be very sculptural in its growth habit, with multiple trunks and broad twists and turns. It is a relative of the witch hazel, and so offers very early blooms, beginning in mid-February. Parrotia grows well in Zones 5-8, needs good, slightly acid soil and is very care-free when established, with few pest problems. It should be planted in the spring only. The lace-bark pine, Pinus bungeana, has bark with large irregular patches of light and dark gray, yellow and green-yellow. It is slow growing and is relatively short, for a pine, eventually maturing at 40’ or so. This pine is also relatively narrow, so can be placed fairly close to a house (15’ or so), and thereby be used as a screening. This pine is not as thickly needled as others, allowing its branching structure to be more visible. Of course, the ever beautiful Japanese maples, with their sculptural branching, are as beautiful in winter with snow on them as in summer when they’re clothed in their filigree leaves.

The shrubs with perhaps the most colorful winter effect are the various members of the Cornus family, relatives of our own beloved Flowering Dogwood. Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’ and Cornus alba ‘Argenteo-Marginata’ both reveal their red stems in the winter, and are more commonly known as Red-Twig Dogwoods. A yellow stem variety is the Cornus stolonifera ‘Flaviramea’. In all cases, in order to ensure the best winter color, judicious pruning is needed, as the brightest color occurs on the youngest stems. Proper pruning consists of cutting out the oldest 1/3 of the stems, all the way to the bottom, in late winter or early spring (February or so), just before the new growth commences.

Finally, we couldn’t complete our discussion of winter beauty without mentioning the witch hazels. Flowering times for the many forms of the plant range from mid-fall to April. The flowers vary in size from ½” to 2”, and last for several weeks. Some of the more commonly used cultivars available in our area with February - March flowering include: Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Arnold’s Promise’, with bright yellow flowers, ‘Diane’, one of the best red-flowering forms, and ‘Jelena’ (or ‘Copper Beauty’), with 1” long flower petals which are red at the base, orange in the middle, and yellow at the tip, glowing like copper from a distance. In addition to the winter flowers, these small woodland trees also have rather spectacular fall leaf color displays, further adding to your year-round interest in the garden.

As you can see, winter definitely need not be boring in the garden. All it takes is some thoughtful planning; then you can sit back with your morning coffee and smile at the view!

Fresh Air Garden Designs, (804) 449-1888