Now that winter is upon us and our gardens are put to bed, many people just figure the garden season is over until spring. If you are addicted to gardening like I am, you know this isn’t how it works. We gardeners are always looking for interest in the garden and with our mild winters here in the Pacific Northwest there is no reason to keep us inside.
Today I will talk about some of my favourite winter garden plants. There are many types of winter plants but I will begin with evergreens. It’s so important to add evergreens to your landscape. It’s the first thing I do when planting a new garden. The evergreens form the bones of the garden upon which everything else is planted.
One evergreen that isn’t used enough is Osmanthus or false holly. It is a broadleaved evergreen and a great specimen plant. I love it for its holly like leaves and it can be found with variegated leaves as well. What I found last winter is that it was very cold tolerant even though it is listed as hardy to zones 7-9.
We cannot leave the Rhododendron out of this mix. I have forty Rhodos in my yard and they are great to have just for the greenery. You can plant Rhodos that bloom from January to July so it is easy to have winter blooms from these plants. My earliest Rhodo blooms in February. Living here on the west coast, we have an acidic soil and should be proud to have these fine plants as they are not easy to grow anywhere else.
In front of my rhododendrons I have added a Choisya ternata to my garden.
I love it for its glossy green leaves and white fragrant flowers in spring. Ternata means its leaves are grouped into sets of three.
It will grow 4-6 feet high with a good three foot spread. This plant is often referred to as Mexican orange blossom and its fragrance will tell you why.
Another evergreen I like to use in the garden are the Skimmias. Not only are they evergreen but they have glossy green leaves and berries in winter and flowers in spring. They usually have winter interest from October until March. They grow from 1-5 feet high and as wide. They are great for foundation plantings.
Another evergreen I love to use in the garden is Aucuba japonica varigata. It’s commonly known as spotted laurel or gold dust plant. This is one plant that needs room as it can grow to ten feet tall. I have mine planted in an area of dappled shade in front of a large cedar hedge. By using it in front of a green backdrop this plant really stands out. It has glossy green leaves with yellow flecks. This is a great plant for a dark corner.
Another plant to use in the winter garden is the Pieris japonica. There are many different cultivars of this plant and most of them have lovely red spring color when new growth begins. It has a bushy habit and can grow to eight to ten feet high but I find it is easy to prune to keep in bounds. I like to cut this plant and use it in arrangements. The flower buds add winter appeal as they are formed the summer before. This plant also attracts the blue mason bee to your yard for pollination of fruits and vegetables.
I love being able to go out and walk around the yard in winter and be able to cut a few branches to bring in side for a vase. One of my favorite shrubs is Viburnun bodnantense” Pink Dawn”. It is a deciduous shrub and blooms from February to April with its blooms appearing on bare branches. Last year it started to bloom in December but got hit by our unseasonably low temperatures. I was disappointed as the flowers froze and turned brown. A couple of weeks later the weather warmed and the flowers rebloomed. Now if a shrub can do that, it’s a keeper. The lovely thing about the Viburnun is its sweet fragrance.
There are many other winter plants for the garden. Try adding some gray leaved plants like Lavender, Senecio and Dianthus to the garden.
I love the foliage of Dianthus as its bluish leaves remain all winter long. And don’t forget the grasses from the leather leaf sedges to the wonderful blue oat grass. Using the grasses in the garden in the winter will provide not only a vertical interest but create movement as well.
There will also be Primulas available in the garden centers very soon to bring some cheer to a front entrance in January. So take a walk through your yard and decide now what is missing so you can plan your winter garden well ahead. You will be glad you did.