By Kim Toscano, Southern Living Plants
Photographs courtesy of Southern Living Plants
Though trees may be bare, your winter landscape does not have to be bleak. Evergreen shrubs and perennials offer endless possibilities for keeping the garden looking its best all year long. And even during the coldest days of winter, one can still find something blooming outdoors. With thoughtful plant selection and placement, you can design for beauty throughout the winter months and beyond. Here are some key elements to consider when planning your winter garden.
A simple combination of foliage plants can create drama in the garden any time of year. In summer, we often turn to tropical plants for vibrant foliage. Fortunately, we can find color during the winter months in a few sturdy evergreens. Purple Pixie® Loropetalum offers gorgeous purple foliage throughout the season. Locate this plant against a solid evergreen backdrop for a vibrant display. Purple Pixie® also performs well in containers – a great way to brighten porches and patios during the winter.
The wine-red foliage of Flirt™ Nandina has amazing staying power throughout the winter when it turns almost completely red. Plant small masses of Flirt™ near the doorway to create a warm welcome.
In shady areas, the variegated foliage of Mojo® Pittosporum is unbeatable. Using golden foliage is always a great way to brighten a dark corner of the landscape. In winter, the sunny glow of its yellow-edged foliage is even more cheerful. Use Mojo® as an accent in a mixed border or plant in mounded masses to brighten the floor of your woodland garden.
Structure is the secret to a beautiful winter garden. Trees and shrubs provide enduring form that carries a garden throughout the seasons. Incorporating evergreen material in structural plantings ensures winter color as well as form. Integrate plants of various shapes and sizes in garden designs, including trees, shrubs, and even evergreen groundcovers.
When creating structure, work your way from the sky downward. Start with an understory tree, such as Empress of China® Dogwood, to serve as an accent or specimen. The evergreen foliage and graceful habit of this unique dogwood provide a strong focal point upon which to build. Tall evergreens such as Oakland™ Holly and Alabama Beauty™ Camellia create dynamic backdrops and enhance privacy in the landscape.
Low-growing evergreen shrubs work to support the focal point and provide structure throughout the planting. The deep green foliage of Yewtopia® Plum Yew is the perfect accent to winter-flowering shrubs. The vase-like structure of Yewtopia® adds a touch of grace to mass plantings.
For an even gentler appearance, ‘Soft Caress’ Mahonia offers incredible texture reminiscent of ferns or bamboo. Despite its delicate appearance, ‘Soft Caress’ is a tough plant and is quite versatile in application. It can be planted in mass, used as an accent and even works well in large containers.
Berries and Blossoms
Many of these hardy shrubs bless us not only with evergreen foliage, but also a splash of color from fruits and flowers in winter. For example, the graceful ‘Soft Caress’ Mahonia produces slender inflorescences of bright-yellow flowers mid-to-late winter followed by unique, waxy blue berries. For an even darker berry, Spring Sonata™ Indian Hawthorne boasts masses of purple fruit from fall through winter. These plants provide welcome color and invite wintering birds into the garden.
When we receive a dusting of snow, the colors of winter come alive. Red berries never look as vibrant as when set against a green and white backdrop of snow-frosted foliage. The quintessential winter plant, Robin™ Holly, is covered with beautiful red berries throughout winter. It is also ideal for use each year in holiday decorating.
What’s not to love about a plant that blooms in winter? Jessica’s Ruffles™ Camellia is a crowd pleaser with cheerful pink blossoms welcoming in the winter weather. This evergreen shrub provides structure for the garden, reaching 10 to 12 feet tall. For smaller gardens, Bella Rouge™ Camellia fits the bill. With rosy-red, semi-double blossoms from November through December, this compact camellia tops out at five feet, fitting perfectly into entryway plantings.
There is nothing more welcome than the first blooms of spring, generally starting with crocuses and other bulbs sleeping in our garden beds. Heirloom snowflake or Leucojum aestivum bridges the gap between winter and spring, blooming in masses of white bells February to March. Set them in mass among your hellebores for an amazing floral display, or try planting Leucojum in a container with Purple Pixie® Loropetalum and ‘Soft Caress’ Mahonia.
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