As I promised in January, every month throughout this year I am going to give you a list of plants that I think are worthy of adding interest to our gardens. If you plant a few from each month’s list your garden will magically evolve into a 4-seasons-of-interest landscape that you will find yourself drawn into to discover who’s on stage for the month. So without further adieu, here is act two of this twelve act performance.
Trees: Winter interest for trees mostly comes from their architectural features, which translates into branching patterns or interesting bark. I have two favorites. One is my weeping “Purple Fountain” beech with it ghoulish and yet somehow enchanting draping branches. This tree is a perfect focal point in a bed and will never get taller than around 20 feet, which makes it an ideal candidate for a small yard. My other must-have tree is a Ginko which sports light colored bark in the winter that is decorated with swollen buds. It’s a real eye-catching conversation piece, to say the least, and the foliage is stunning in both summer and fall.
Shrubs: While there are shrubs that bloom in the winter and usually have fragrance as well, I think focusing on foliage gives us the best bang for our buck. Variegated foliage in particular is always a standout in the winter months and several choices come to mind. Aucuba (Gold dust shrub) is a bullet-proof shrub for a shaded area, as is “Rainbow” Leucothoe, “Gilt Edge” Eleagnus, “Little Heath” Pieris and “Camouflage” Fatsia. For a sunnier spot, all the variations of Euonymus fortunei like “Emerald and Gold” and “Canondale” provide bright gold and green foliage that can also turn an attractive purple when our winters really get cold. Speaking of turning colors, there are several conifers that will sport a winter coat very different than their summer attire. Chief Joseph is the Holy Grail of conifers for winter interest, as it turns an incredible bright yellow all throughout the winter months. Also of interest are two selections of Siberian Cypress; “Drew’s Blue Carpet” that changes to plum in the winter and “Fuzzball” which turns completely milk chocolate in winter. Both of these are low growing, soft-textured mounds of evergreen foliage all year long and are incredibly hardy.
Perennials: While most perennials go to sleep in the winter and are consequently absent from our landscapes, several remain evergreen and can have a part to play, albeit minor. Specifically evergreen ornamental grasses can be quite stunning in the dead of winter. Three that have been show stoppers in my garden this winter are “Black Mondo” grass with its jet black 6 inches tall blades, “Ogon” sweet flag which has bright gold and green 6-8 inches long blades that fan out from the center (I also have a dwarf one that only gets 3-4 inches tall and does well between flag stones) and “Orange Sedge” with its flowing thin orangey-copper blades that form a loose mound that moves gracefully in the winter wind. All three of these are well-suited for the northwest and will thrive in both sun and shade.
Again, this is just the tip of the iceberg and as the month progresses many other plants will awaken and become points of interest. Remember what the Whistler says: “Only you can prevent boring yards”. Carpe diem.