DECEMBER 17, 2008
After last week I would hope that you have at least started the process of thinking about introducing deciduous plants into your landscape. They are unequaled for providing visual interest at least 9 months out of the year. You can almost always plan on blooms in the spring/summer, fall color in the autumn and attractive bark, buds, berries or branches in the winter. There is a lot of bang for your buck with deciduous plants.
But despite this great value, many gardeners are still stuck on flowers as the first and foremost quality of a plant. So I now give you a few deciduous plants that not only provide attractive structure in the summer and showy color in the fall, these damn things actually bloom in the winter. If this doesn’t move you then I give up!
The first plant that comes to mind is a Viburnum ‘Dawn’. I have had one planted on the north side of my house for years where it is actually trained into a single trunked tree. But most of the time you will find them as a multi-branched shrub that can grow to 12 feet tall. The foliage is heavily textured and when rubbed smells like bell peppers, not that you would want to go around rubbing its leaves. After all, what would the neighbors think? Dawn also has very nice fall color but its true value in the yard is its ability to bloom from November through February non-stop. And as if that wasn’t enough, the light pink flowers are fragrant. How could you possibly ask for anything more out of a plant? I must admit that my plant is located in a part of the garden where I tend to forget it and it is usually December or January before I realize that it has been blooming for a couple of months already. Although this Viburnum is very shade tolerant I think I would recommend it be planted in a bit more sun and in a spot where you will notice it. Because it does get large you will need some space for it so plant in the rear of the bed where it won’t have to be hacked all the time. And one last comment; be sure and cut some limbs to bring into the house for enjoying in the winter. The blooms are always a sure pick-me-up.
The next plant to be noted is the Witch Hazel. These large shrubs/small trees will also grow in sun or shade much like the Viburnum above and bloom in January. Use them as a focal point in a bed or if you are more industrious try espaliering them onto a fence or wall. The flowers are sort of spidery looking and have a faint fragrance. The most showy varieties come in yellows where they are easy to see against the grey winter skies. But you can also purchase them in the warm tones from orange and red. If you choose a darker flower color then consider placing it against a light colored backdrop so you can see the flowers.
A close relative to the Witch Hazel is the Winter Hazel. There are two main varieties grown in the northwest. Buttercup Winter Hazel is an attractive small shrub only growing to 4-5 feet tall and as wide. It sports soft buttery yellow flowers in January/February and also has a slight fragrance although I have to admit that while I have a very nice specimen in my yard I have never noticed any fragrance. Spike Winter Hazel grows taller and can reach 6-8 feet tall but only 4-6 feet wide. The flowers are slightly larger and the plant is more open in its growth. Both varieties will do just fine intermixed with rhodies and azaleas and other acid loving plants.
Last but not least, there is the Pussy Willow. “Blooming” in February/March, the Pussy Willow’s claim to fame isn’t actually the flower but rather those cute, grey, fuzzy buds that cover the stems in late winter. By the time those buds open with all those little yellow stamens the show is over. But up to that point the Pussy Willow can be a real eye catcher. And for the most part, the variety that fits best into our small yards and provides some interesting structure is the weeping form. You can find it either in an umbrella form or as a serpentined trunk form. Look for them in the nurseries starting the first of the year.
There are of course other blooming sticks that space prevents me from mentioning. But if you take the time to visit your favorite garden center you will find them nicely arranged up close to the register where you can’t miss them. Do yourself a favor and take a break from your Christmas shopping and check them out. And tell them the Whistler sent you!
Steve Smith is owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville and can be reached at the nursery at 425-334-2002 or email at email@example.com