The Winter Garden

Our Garden Gang's
The Winter Garden

winter1h.jpg (140x207 -- 8280 bytes)Ah, winter!  To avoid "bah, winter!" consider shrubs and trees that look as good in the winter as they do during the growing season.  These are the real gems of the garden. 

Some plants produce bright berries that persist into the winter; some have dried flowers and seed pods; some have unusual bark or stem color; some evergreens turn a different hue; and other plants have an attractive sculptural form without their leaves.  Many hold the snow or ice in fantasy formation! 

Any time is a great time to plant container-grown plants for winter interest.  You may be able to take advantage of a sale at a local garden center that is clearing inventory in fall, and also after the bloom season has passed for many different types of plants and shrubs.

Don't forget those constructed and permanent "bones" we discussed in Bones of the Garden.  These also hold the snow and can produce a lovely contrast against both snow and the dead grey-brown ground!  Working your constructed bones together with plants growing on or in front of them will produce a good winter display to hearten you through the cold months - and fight cabin fever.

Interesting Bark and Stems

colorfulbarkandstems.jpg (140x171 -- 6887 bytes)Evergreen trees and shrubs with various shades of greens and blues and interesting shapes are staples of many winter landscapes. Deciduous trees with interesting bark characteristics like paperbark maple or unusual branching habits like pagoda dogwood can also aid in providing winter charm.

The shiny, rich mahogany bark on Prunus maackii (shown - inset is summer bloom), a member of the Manchurian cherry family, peels just like a birch tree and glistens against the white of snow.  Other attributes of this extremely hardy (Zone 2) tree are its white flowers in spring, yellow fall foliage, and small, black fruit.  It's truly a four-season plant!  

The more common Cornus alba 'Sibirica' (Red-twig dogwood) with red stems and Cornus stolenifera 'Flaviramea' (Yellow-twig dogwood) with yellow stems also have very attractive twig and stem color in winter.  Choose an island planting or hedgerow for these vigorous, large shrubs.  

Flowering raspberry (Rubus biflorus), with its chalk-white stems and yellow, edible berries, adds a ghostly touch against a red brick wall.

Architectural Twigs

sculptural_twigs.jpg (131x171 -- 4962 bytes)Many gardeners passionately love weeping trees, and there are no better architectural plants for winter appeal. Young's weeping birch has the added bonus of white, peeling bark and dark brown stems and twigs that cascade from the mushroom-shaped top to the ground.  

Good choices for deciduous weepers include camperdown elm (Ulmus glabra 'Camperdownii'), weeping Siberian pea (Caragana arborescens 'Pendula') and weeping purple beech (Fagus sylvatica 'Purpurea Pendula').  

For sculptural specimens with corkscrewlike branches, there are none better than Corylus avellana 'Contorta' (Harry Lauder's walking stick) and Salix x erythroflexuosa (corkscrew willow), with pendulous, twisted, orange-yellow stems.

Beautiful  Berries

viburnum_opulus.jpg (172x140 -- 10090 bytes)The classic winter garden features fruit in many colors:  red, orange, yellow, blue, black, and white.  Not only is such a composition visually attractive, but it will draw furry and feathered guests to feast.  Pyracantha coccinea (firethorn - shown) with red (P.c. 'Watereri'), yellow, (P.c. 'Shawnee'), or bright orange (P.c. 'Lalandei') berries can be grown as a shrub or pruned and trained into an espalier or bonsai specimen.  For huge clusters of red fruit, Ilex verticillata 'Sparkleberry' (winterberry) is unmatched, but it needs a pollinator to produce (try I. 'Apollo').

The tiny, abundant, persistent, hanging crabapples on sargent crab (Malus sargentii) enhance the very horizontal branching habit of this dwarf, sculptural tree.  The yellow fruit on Viburnum dilatatum 'Xanthocarpum' is unusual, with berries that fade to a salmon shade in winter, and Viburnum trilobum 'Alfredo' lives up to its common name, cranberry bush, by sporting large, shiny clusters of edible, bright-red berries, perfect for jams and jellies.  For more ideas on berry producing plants, check out Fall Flowers to Grow.

Dried Flowers and Seed Heads

dried_flowers.jpg (170x121 -- 4275 bytes)Some ornamental grasses are grown specifically for their attractive seedheads in the winter.  Any perennial border or foundation planting would benefit from the addition of ornamental grasses, as they provide striking autumn wheat color and wispy, feathery dried flowers that hang on through winter.  Try to keep these far enough out from the house to avoid the eaves. 

Miscanthus flowers look like miniature witches' brooms, and pampas grass (Cortaderia selloana) like plumes moving in the breeze.  Pennisetum flowers are bottlebrush-shaped and Festuca flowers are loose and spiky.  You'll find as many sizes and cultivars of grasses as flower types, but beware of hardiness zones, avoid those that can be invasive, and choose appropriately for your planting location.

Colorful Leaves

crapemyrtle_fall.jpg (134x150 -- 4624 bytes)The bronze-green leaves of Rhododendron 'PJM' (shown) turn reddish purple in the fall and hold their color through the winter.  Small-leafed and hardy to Zone 4, 'PJM' has bright pink flowers in the spring and remains compact and upright even into old age.Many herbaceous perennials also have interesting fall and winter appeal. 

Foliage like bergenia turns maroon with the onset of cold temperatures. The foliage of grape-hyacinth emerges late in the season and persists through winter. Perennials like Achillea overwinter with a rosette of foliage close to the ground. Lavender, sage, thyme and other herbs hold their foliage late in the season. Yucca plants possess a unique character especially after a snowfall. 

The leaves of many junipers become a lovely plum-purple color when cold weather sets in, and evergreens with year-round yellow foliage, such as Chamaecyparis pisifera 'Filifera Aurea,' can be striking focal points in the winter garden.

Plants for Winter Gardens

Perennials with Winter Interest

Ferns with Winter Interest

Grasses with Winter Interest

Bugleweed Ajuga reptans
Rock Cress Arabis caucasica
European Wild Ginger Asarum europaeum
Sea Thrift Armeria maritima
Basket-of-Gold Aurinia saxatilis
Bergenia Bergenia spp.
Snow-in-Summer Cerastium tomentosum
Barrenwort Epimedium spp.
Lenten Rose Helleborus orientalis
Coral Bells Heuchera spp.
Evergreen Candytuft Iberis sempervirens
Spotted Dead Nettle Lamium maculatum
Moss Phlox Phlox subulata
Bethlehem Sage Pulmonaria spp.
Autumn Joy sedum Sedum x 'Autumn Joy'
Stonecrop Sedum Sedum spectabile
Lamb's Ears Stachys byzantina
Foam Flower Tiarella cordifolia
Ebony Spleenwort Asplenium platyneuron
Marginal Shield Fern Dryopteris marginalis
Christmas Fern Polystichum acrostichoides
Annuals with Winter Interest
Pansies, Violas Viola species
Ornamental Cabbage/Kale Brassica oleracea
Feather Reed Grass Calamagrostis x acutiflora 'Karl Foerster'
Fall Blooming Reed Grass Calamagrostis brachytricha
Giant Miscanthus Miscanthus floridulus
Small Japanese Silver Grass Miscanthus oligostachyus
Chinese Silver Grass Miscanthus sacchariflorus
Silverfeather Miscanthus Miscanthus sinensis 'Siberfedher'
Moor Grass Molinia caerulea (all cultivars)
Switch Grass Panicum virgatum
Red Switch Grass Panicum virgatum 'Haense Herms',
   'Rotstrahlbusch', 'Rehbraun'
Fountain Grass Pennisetum alopecuroides
Little Bluestem Schizachyrium scoparium
Cord Grass Spartina pectinata
Variegated Cord Grass Spartina pectinata ''Aureomarginata'
Prairie Dropseed Sporobolus heterolepsis

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