Guide to Plants With Winter Interest. Part One: Perennials
If you demand more from your garden and simply aren't content with 2 or 3 seasons of interest, we've got your solution.
Some plants offer 4 seasons of color and texture, increasing the value of your landscape well beyond the fireworks of summer color.
Some people like winter. I'm not one of them. I do enjoy the change of seasons and like a small winter break, but 4-5 months of winter is too much for me. I miss my garden and all my little friends that show me their colorful faces all season. My yearning created a different kind of garden appreciation during what I used to consider the bleak winter days.
Winter creates a different gardening palette, one that is more focused on shape, texture, and bark color than flower color.
Many of these plants sit quietly behind the scenes during the summer, letting their more colorful counterparts steal the show. Then, when the bitter cold has become a norm, and the summer flowers have long since given up and retreated beneath the ground for their winter slumber, these garden sentries come to life and become the heroes of the landscape.
Trees display their bark all year long, but are often overshadowed by blooming shrubs and perennials. Once the leaves have dropped, they're magnificent silhouettes make us aware of their stately grandeur.
Numerous shrubs and perennials shine in colder months. Their addition to the landscape provides instant payback when the winter landscape elsewhere looks bleak.
Here are just a few selections that brighten up the winter landscape.
Evergreen ferns. Betcha didn't know that there are a selection of evergreen ferns.
1. Japanese Painted Fern (Athyrium niponicum) is an outstanding selection for the winter garden. There are a few varieties, and many will tolerate almost full sun. Their fronds are a gray-green brushed with silver and accented by maroon-purple midribs. 'Ghost' is accented by white. These ferns are outstanding all year, but shine in the winter when highlighted by frosted mulch or light snow.
2. Pig squeak (Bergenia) is a low-growing plant that is often overlooked through most of the growing season. Pretty spring flowers are followed by simple medium green foliage that is sometimes lightly tinted with a deeper red to purple margin. As the cold strengthens, the thick, leathery leaves turn deeper burgundy. Their tough stature easily withstands ice and snow and make them a standout in the winter garden, especially when their rich colored leaves contrast with a dusting of white snow.
3. Lenten Rose (Hellebore) is one of my favorites. Lenten Rose is a strong winter performer.
Large and hardy leaves, Lenten Rose blooms when few other perennials are even above ground. Blooming even before the spring crocus, it's pretty muted blooms can often be seen blooming through the snow. There are a wide variety of species. Some have leaves with a hint if burgundy, or a lightly dappled leaf. Large, cup shaped flowers resembling small roses nod from strong stems ranging in color from white though pink and even a deep, dark, blue-black.
4. Coral Bells (Heuchera)
Probably on of my favorite perennials. This diverse perennial not only looks great in the summer garden with it's pretty scalloped foliage, but it really holds it's own in the winter garden. Low growing mounds of scalloped foliage come in a rainbow if colors from red to violet with almost every color in between. Delicate bell shaped blooms in hues of pink, red and white are held above the foliage on upright stems. The color of heuchera does become a little muted in the winter garden, but doesn't fade completely. This adds just the right amount of color to the winter garden without being overpowering or out of place.
5. Lavender (Lavendula)
While this may seem like an odd choice for the winter garden, lavender is a Woody perennial. It does go dormant, but it does not lose its leaves and I find it's silvery-grey color attractive in the winter garden. It's mounded silhouette combined with it's silver-grey color remind me of a small cloud hovering along the ground.
Many ornamental grasses play a key role in the landscape. Smaller, neat varieties such as Fountain Grass. (Pennisetum) can be left up to display their buff spires and tufty seed heads. Karl Forester is another medium sized grass that I leave up for the winter to keep vertical height in the garden. Some Miscanthus varieties can shed and become messy, so check your variety before you decide which grasses to leave up.
Just because it's winter doesn't mean your landscape has to go dormant. And that's just perennials! In our next segment we'll explore Woody Ornamentals.