Winter Interest From the Ground Up


As the final autumn leaves reluctantly drop and as naked seed heads stand tall within the subject, we are able to not deny that winter is upon us. Our lush summer season gardens are a seemingly distant reminiscence now that many horticultural treasures stand stark, twiggy, or brown and able to be in the reduction of. What many see as a darkish and inhospitable season of lifeless dormancy, nonetheless, I view as a chillier continuation of my gardening season.

There are many dependable crops that may tolerate, even look their greatest, through the frosty days of winter. While winter gardens could run in need of blooms, particularly in chilly climates, there’s a great number of evergreen foliage, fascinating bark, and richly coloured twigs that may make anybody’s winter brighter.

I method winter gardening the identical approach I have a look at gardening in different seasons—by planting interesting-looking crops from the bottom up. I need to have charming bulbs and perennials bursting via the soil, dynamic shrubs with stunning branching or evergreen foliage, and daring bushes with unimaginable bark and attention-grabbing kind making a framework for the backyard. Throw in a number of flowers and a few berries, and I’m set for the season and effectively on my method to creating an enticing outside area.


Captivating floor covers price their weight in gold

Photo: Courtesy of Richie Steffen

Hardy cyclamen delivers charming winter blossoms

Name: Cyclamen coum

Zones: 5–9

Size: 2 to six inches tall and 6 to eight inches broad

Conditions: Full to partial shade; wealthy, well-drained soil

Native vary: Mediterranean to Caucasus area

Covering floor from November via March can seem to be a tall order after we are accustomed to the botanical abundance and element supplied by different seasons. Fortunately, during the last a number of years extra crops have turn into accessible to assist fill this area of interest, together with choices from certainly one of my favourite teams: cyclamens (Cyclamen spp. and cvs., Zones 5–9). Depending on the place you live, a number of species might be able to thrive in your local weather, however probably the most charming and hardy is the winter-blooming hardy cyclamen (C. coum).

This long-lived corm (a modified bulblike stem) naturally grows inside and alongside the sting of shady woodlands. It’s an lovely plant with brightly coloured blooms in shades of magenta, pink, and white from December to late February. Although the flowers are stunning, the real asset is the ornamental foliage. The rounded dark-green leaves are embellished with variations of silver mottling, offering a long-lasting present earlier than going dormant in late spring. Once hardy cyclamen has settled in, seedlings can seem across the backyard—because of ants carrying the seed. Over time your plantings can solely enhance.

Epimedium ‘Black Sea’
Photo: Courtesy of Richie Steffen

‘Black Sea’ epimedium leaves flip a placing inky purple through the colder months

Name: Epimedium ‘Black Sea’

Zones: 5–9

Size: 15 to 18 inches tall and three ft broad

Conditions: Full to partial shade; wealthy, well-drained soil

Native vary: Hybrid

Another asset to the decrease stage is evergreen floor covers, which give a welcome aid from winter dormancy. On my must-have listing is epimedium (Epimedium spp. and cvs., Zones 4–9). There are a number of robust choices that maintain up effectively to low temperatures, however probably the greatest is ‘Black Sea’ epimedium. This strong hybrid has massive leaflets which might be wealthy inexperienced through the rising season after which flip a placing inky purple-black in chilly climate—with the deepest winter coloring achieved in open brilliant shade.

The leaflets are held tightly on purple stems in slowly spreading clumps. It can take as much as 5 years for a plant to succeed in its most measurement. In late winter to early spring, 24- to 30-inch- tall flower stems produce ethereal panicles of small butterscotch-colored blooms that look nice in opposition to the dark-colored leaves. This hardy perennial contrasts effectively with the tawny blonde of decorative grasses and the colourful greens of evergreen ferns.

Photo: Courtesy of Skagit Horticulture

HGC® Ice N’ Roses® Red hellebore packs a punch with prolific late-winter blooms 

Name: Helleborus × glandorfensis ‘Coseh 4100’

Zones: 5–9

Size: 18 inches tall and 24 inches broad

Conditions: Partial to full shade; moist, well-drained soil

Native vary: Hybrid

No winter backyard article is full with no point out of hellebores (Helleborus spp. and cvs., Zones 4–9). These flora divas come into their glory in late winter, jump-starting our pleasure for the approaching of spring. Through the outcomes of complicated breeding, yearly yields new choices that may be discovered at native nurseries. I attempt to plant as many newbies as doable to evaluate their worth. One that I’m significantly happy with is HGC® Ice N’ Roses® Red hellebore. Relatively new to nurseries, this can be a stable winner with vigorous development, darkish ever­inexperienced foliage, and prolific blooms. For biggest affect, plant this hellebore the place the early morning or low night solar can stream via the maroon purple flowers.

Sarcococca hookeriana var. humilis ‘Sarsid1’
Photo: Courtesy of Richie Steffen
Sarcococca hookeriana var. humilis ‘Sarsid1’
Photo: Courtesy of Richie Steffen

Fragrant Valley™ dwarf candy field affords evergreen foliage and a divine scent 

Name: Sarcococca hookeriana var. humilis ‘Sarsid1’

Zones: 6–8

Size: 12 to fifteen inches tall and 4 to
6 ft broad

Conditions: Full to partial shade; moist to dry soil

Native vary: China

For a fantastic shrubby floor cowl, look to Fragrant Valley™ dwarf candy field. Its tiny white flowers are hidden among the many slim, shiny evergreen leaves, however their intensely candy vanilla-like perfume can’t be missed. The divine fragrance can begin as early as Christmas and proceed
as late as the top of February, relying in your local weather and native climate. A sluggish grower, candy field can take as much as 10 years to succeed in its full unfold. This floor cowl calls for shade to look its greatest, however it’s fairly tolerant of soil varieties, together with dry places.

Shrubs that shine in winter and past

Ivory Halo® Tatarian dogwood pops with vibrant winter stems
Photo: Matt Anker

Ivory Halo® Tatarian dogwood pops with vibrant winter stems
Photo: Matt Anker

Ivory Halo® Tatarian dogwood pops with vibrant winter stems

Name: Cornus alba ’Bailhalo’

Zones: 3–7

Size: 4 to six ft tall and broad

Conditions: Full solar to partial shade; wealthy, well-drained soil

Native vary: Asia

Shrubs add worthwhile construction to the backyard, so it is very important add choices which have one thing to supply in as many seasons as doable. It’s straightforward to go to evergreen shrubs to fill the winter void, however there are some deciduous shrubs which have a lot to supply. A longtime favourite is Tatarian dogwoods (Cornus alba cvs., Zones 2–8). An important compact selection that has impressed me not too long ago is Ivory Halo® Tatarian dogwood.

Densely branched, Ivory Halo® has a rounded to barely mounded kind that reaches full measurement in about 10 years. During the rising season, this shrub glows with brightly variegated foliage in pale inexperienced and cream. In winter, its naked stems flip a vibrant purple that’s significantly placing after a snow. It might be in the reduction of to six to eight inches tall each different 12 months to maintain it smaller when wanted. I like reducing the intense purple stems in winter to make use of as a burst of shade in my outside containers.

Corylus avellana ‘Red Dragon’
Photo: Nancy J. Ondra

‘Red Dragon’ contorted filbert provides an intriguing twist to the backyard 

Name: Corylus avellana ‘Red Dragon’

Zones: 3–9

Size: 6 ft tall and broad

Full solar to partial shade; fertile, well-drained soil

Native vary:
Europe, western Asia, and northern Africa

The twisted branches of contorted filbert (Corylus avellana cvs., Zones 3–9) have lengthy been a desired shrub, however japanese filbert blight has certainly “blighted” this feature. However, because of Oregon State University’s blight-resistant introduction of ‘Red Dragon’ contorted filbert, we are actually saved from a bland winter.

This newer selection is rapidly gaining recognition not solely ­due to its warped and coiled branching but additionally due to its reddish-purple new development and wonderful pink catkins that grace the backyard in March. Another plus is that this cultivar is commonly grown via micropropagation, not by grafting, which implies the suckers from the bottom of the shrub are additionally curled and contorted—an enormous enchancment from the outdated cultivars that wanted their suckers eliminated yearly.

Trees that contribute greater than only a framework

Trees are vital within the winter panorama, however indisputably their massive measurement and dominating presence make them an indispensable showpiece all 12 months lengthy. Two beautiful decisions that I’d not be with out are witch hazels (Hamamelis spp. and cvs., Zones 3–9) and stewartias (Stewartia spp. and cvs., Zones 3–9).

Hamamelis mollis ‘Wisley Supreme’
Photo: Jonathan Buckley

‘Wisley Supreme’ witch hazel is a standout with sunshine-yellow flowers

Name: Hamamelis mollis ‘Wisley Supreme’

Zones: 5–8

Size: 10 to fifteen ft tall and broad

Conditions: Full solar to partial shade; moist, well-drained soil

Native vary: China

If you possibly can solely have one witch hazel, maintain out for ‘Wisley Supreme’ witch hazel. This choice all the time tops my listing for perfume and sunshine-yellow flower shade with a contact of purple on the petal base. The blooms open from January to February, with frequent bloom curling and uncurling relying on the temperature. A smaller tree, this winter dazzler takes about 10 years to succeed in its full-size, vaselike kind. The autumn shade is a transparent yellow with occasional touches of coppery orange. This choice can be much less susceptible to hanging on to its dried brown foliage, a problem with many witch hazels.

Stewartia monadelpha
Photo: Richie Steffen

Orange bark stewartia offers curiosity in each season

Name: Stewartia monadelpha

Zones: 6–8

Size: 15 to 18 ft tall and 10 to 12 broad

Conditions: Full solar to partial shade; moist, well-drained soil

Native vary: Southern Japan and Okay

Stewartia is an incredible tree with year-round curiosity from stunning white summer season flowers to spectacular orange and purple fall shade, however the unimaginable bark on mature specimens is unparalleled. My favourite stewartia for bark shade is orange bark stewartia (picture p. 64). The calmly mottled bark is a burnt orange with amber and ginger tones typically with patches of hazel brown. Young bushes don’t present this trait, so persistence is required, however the wait is definitely worth the years of reward from this slow-growing tree. Orange bark stewartia is actually a backyard treasure that solely will increase in worth and wonder with time.

These few choices are a good way to get began with winter gardening. When putting my colourful chilly climate additions, I attempt to find them in a spot the place I’ll see them from a window or as I stroll out and in of the home. This ensures that I will get pleasure from these gems irrespective of how depressing it could be exterior. Plus, they’re an uplifting reminder that spring is simply across the nook.

Winter Interest Planning

winter interest
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| Sources |

  • Dancing Oaks Nursery and Gardens, Monmouth, OR; 503-838-6058;
  • Gossler Farms Nursery, Springfield, OR; 541-746-3922;
  • Joy Creek, Scappoose, OR; 503-543-7474;
  • McKay Nursery Company, Waterloo, WI; 920-478-2121;
  • Plant Delights Nursery, Raleigh, NC; 919-772-4794;

Richie Steffen is govt director of the Elisabeth C. Miller Garden in Seattle and a number one professional on crops.


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