FEBRUARY 10, 2011
JUST SAY “NO” TO BORING GARDENS
Okay folks, here’s the deal. For over 10 years now I have been ranting on a weekly basis about what we can do to keep our gardens interesting. Obviously, there are many ways to create and maintain an interesting garden. Articulating our spaces with the use of paving and structures is the first step but ultimately the real interest is generated by the plant pallet we choose. And here of course is where the problem arises.
There isn’t a day that goes by that a customer doesn’t come into my garden center and ask me how they can achieve year around interest in their garden. My reply is always the same: “Come to the garden center once a month and buy something that looks interesting to you and in 12 months you will have year ‘round interest in your garden”. This isn’t rocket science but it does take some discipline and determination to make it happen.
I will be the first to admit that in the month of January when it is either dumping cats and dogs or freezing like a son of a gun it is hard to get motivated to journey down to the nursery to see what looks enticing. Often times February isn’t much better. But that is exactly what we need to do. So to make it as simple as I possibly can I have decided to give you a monthly list of plants I think you should have in your garden to keep things from being boring. Many of these plants I have in my own garden so I can speak from personal experience. Here’s goes nothing.
Winter blooming bulbs: These are my harbingers of spring. Already I have snow drops and winter aconites in full bloom. The crocus are close behind and it won’t be long before several other “minor bulbs” will also be strutting their stuff. You can’t by these bulbs now but rather have to purchase them in the fall along with tulips and daffodils. The beauty of these early bloomers is that they will naturalize and never need dividing so they are totally maintenance free. Make a note on your PDA to pick some up this coming fall.
Perennials: At the top of my list are Hellebores. Christmas Rose, Oriental Rose, Corsican Hellebore and all the new hybrids on the market are tough to beat when it comes to durability and reliability. They bloom from December into April and rarely need dividing. Grow them in a place that has sun in the winter and shade in the summer. Hardy Cyclamen is another perennial that blooms either in the fall or the dead of winter, depending on the variety. Cyclamen coum or Cyclamen hederifolium are both available this time of year. Coum is in full bloom in colors of white to pink and several variations in foliage colors. This is a truly delightful plant. For evergreen perennials my all time favorite is the common Bergenia cordifolia and its many variations. Bressingham Ruby is absolutely stunning in January and February with its glossy ruby colored leaves that are followed with spikes of pink flowers in March-April. Everyone needs at least one Bergenia in their gardens and the best part is that they will grow about anywhere you plant them.
Shrubs: Sarcococca is an absolute must for the northwest garden. This evergreen shrub or ground cover needs to be in afternoon shade to look its best. The flowers come on in January to early February and have intense fragrance. Winter Daphne is another evergreen shrub with unsurpassed fragrance. Several deciduous shrubs are winter standouts too. Viburnum ‘Dawn’ will bloom from November until April with light pink fragrant clusters of flowers. Buttercup Winterhazel has soft yellow flowers later this month but if you can’t wait then try the true Witch Hazel which has been in bloom for a month already. It comes in yellow, orange and red but I think the yellow is the best for both visibility and fragrance.
Trees: this is a tough category only because most of us have limited space for trees. But if you can fit one in I recommend the Cornelian Cherry. The spidery yellow flowers bloom for nearly two month on this diminutive tree. I have one in full view from my bedroom window and it is an endless source of delight in this dark time of the year.
Cleary, there are plants that I have missed but if you try a few of the above selections you will be well on your way to the elusive “year ‘round interest” goal that we all lust for.
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