Notes from the Winter Garden

Notes from the Winter Garden

As daylight fades and temperatures drop, most of my gardeners are preparing for the upcoming season. But have you thought about what can be added to our gardens to provide benefit during the long winter months? If you think a little outside the box, you can find many plants that will make you happy to see your garden while most things are taking a nap.

Since winter flowering plants are very limited, you should mainly consider the structure. Here are some tips from my notebook when thinking about your conservatory. Some of these plants I have and others I would like to have.

Start by looking for evergreen trees and shrubs, which have peeling bark or beautiful branch structures — or perennials with nice seed heads on sturdy stems that can stand and add some interest. Of course, there are some things that can provide you with flowers to enjoy.

Let’s first think of something that can provide flowering. What I consider to be the queen of the winter garden is the hellebore, Helleborus orientalis. Not only does this plant provide nice evergreen foliage for areas with partial shade, but it also blooms at a time of year when most things stop working. They can come in many colors from green, red, pink, purple, white and yellow. Through breeding, many varieties are now available with upward-facing flowers, rather than the downward-facing ones most people are familiar with. You can also find different flower shapes from single to double.

It can include shrubs that you can consider Daphne’s scent Golden fringe. With variegated evergreen foliage, winter daphne features highly fragrant flowers in late winter. Maybe you’ll find room for Edgeworthia schisanthaJapanese paper bush. Now this elegant shrub is sporting fragrant white/yellow flowers on 4-5 foot tall bare stems. If you have room for something taller, consider the native American hazelnut plant. Hamamelis virginiana. It grows 10-20 feet tall and wide, and you can find flowers in ranges of yellow, red, and orange.

Edgeworthia chysantha or Japanese paper bush

When it comes to evergreens, there are plenty of plants to choose from, but there are even more beyond the world of boxwoods and roses. Check out the many types of conifers. Conifers can provide beautiful texture to the garden and look perfect during light snowfall. A conifer that can find a place in almost any garden is Tree of the life “Golden Globe”. This tree, which grows about 3 x 3 feet, has beautiful golden foliage that thickens in cold weather. They include some other conifers Chamicyparis nutcatensis “Gluca pendula”, Picaea bongens “Gluca globosa” Thuja western fire captain, Pine strobe “Nana” and Podocarpus x ‘County Park Fire’ with its purple leaves in winter.

Now, the last thing in my notebook that interests me in winter is plants with interesting bark/branch structure and perennials with attractive seed heads. When I think of plant materials that have interesting bark, I like things like native oak leaf hydrangea, Hydrangea quercifolia. You can find this shrub in growth sizes ranging from 2 x 3 feet Hydrangea quercifolia “Pee Wee” to the 8- to 10-foot footers you’ll get Hydrangea quercifolia “Alice.”

In the winter months, you will notice the beautiful peeling bark. You can leave their flower heads for extra display. Do you have more space? Think about that Acer griseum, paper maple, again with peeling bark. There are also trees and shrubs that give their beauty from the color of their bark, such as Endosperm stolonifera “Arctic fire.” With its bright red stems, this red-twig dogwood can really stand out in the winter garden. Imagine this red popping out in a beautiful snow-covered landscape. Remember, you get prettier color on the newer stems, so you’ll need to cut them back every few years. Acer palmate ‘Sango Kaku’, the coral maple, is divided into two categories. Like most Japanese maples, you’ll have a beautiful branch structure, but imagine it with vibrant coral/red bark in the cold season. Although it only grows 8 to 10 feet tall, it can fit into many gardens and be grown in a large container. As for the branch structure outside of Japanese maples, one of my favorite plants is… Corylus Hazelnut Contorta, Harry Lauder’s walking stick. Now this shrub has very twisted branches – making it look like it belongs in a fairy tale. In late winter, you’ll start to notice that the yellowish-brown ornaments hanging on this 10-foot shrub look really pretty in the snow.

When it comes to perennial seed heads, not everything will stand up under heavy snow. But I’ve noticed a few things in my garden that will do this, and there’s one plant that always stays standing Echinacea. Coneflower seeds also serve double duty, feeding birds during the winter. But one of my favorites has to be dioceseGoat beard. After losing its foliage, this plant turns rusty brown and arching seed heads stand out on its sturdy, 3-foot-tall stems.

I hope that with these suggestions from my notebook, you’ll take some time to think about adding more plants to your garden just for winter interest. If you have limited space or budget, start by adding a little at a time. Choose a window from which you can look into your garden and add things to enjoy it during those days when walking outside is inconvenient.

So, let’s get out there, get our hands dirty, and add plants for the winter to create a four-season garden.


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