After watching the Weather Channel and seeing how much of the country is being pummeled by snow and sleet, I’m grateful that here in the Bay Area we can garden in winter. However, our winter gardens can look a bit down as well. Following are a few tips to make your winter garden a real standout.
As you design your garden and decide on the plants you’d like to include, think foliage not flowers. Flowers in the garden, however wonderful, come and go. Evergreen leaves are with you always and form the bones of the garden and its beauty year-round. A combination of evergreen and deciduous shrubs, trees with winter bark, winter-blooming perennials and annuals achieve good bone structure.
The many colors and shades of evergreen shrubs make them stars in their own right. Green, chartreuse, gray, silver, blue, red, purple and variegated leaves give the garden depth and beauty. Try Loropetalum rubrum, Euonymus Emerald ‘n’ Gold, Pittosporum ‘Silver Sheen’ and Phormium ‘Sundowner’ to give the garden punches of color.
Perennials that bloom successfully in winter include Helleborus niger, Helleborus orientalis and Helleborus argutifolius. Each brings color and great leaf structure. Geranium ‘Biokovo’ is a low-growing geranium good for creating borders that bloom in winter and need very little care the rest of the year. Bedding plants such as cyclamen, poppies and primulas can create bright spots and fill the borders until spring perennials begin to bloom.
Consider interesting bark and berries for a bright spot on cloudy days. Acer Sangu Kaku with its coral bark is stunning, as is Acer griseum Paperbark Maple. Other winter standouts are Crape Myrtle, Lagerstroemia fauriei ‘Natchez’ with its patchwork bark, brilliant white Betula nigra and Prunus serrula’s mahogany-red bark. The berries of many of the nandinas, hollies like Ilex verticillata ‘Winter Red’ and crab apples offer patches of bright color and food for wintering birds.
Camellias are stars in the winter garden. Include both the large-leaved Japonicas and spreading Sasanquas in your design. White Camellias are particularly striking on cold winter days. Camellias often begin blooming by Thanksgiving and continue into March.
Finally, don’t forget the bold and beautiful conifers. These are the most underused shrubs in the Western garden. You can’t beat them for color, structure and interest.
A few dwarf conifers worth trying are Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Threadleaf,’ Pinus mugo ‘Aurea’ and Picea abies ‘Nidiformis.’
Deciduous plants are wonderful in the garden because they are the harbingers of spring, but it’s really the evergreen shrubs that make a winter garden sing.