When it comes to winter, New England is infamous for days on end in drab shades of gray. It can be hard to get outside in winter, and why would one even want to? The days are getting colder and the colorful palettes of spring and summer are mere memories now.
If you find yourself yearning for longer days filled with color, take heart! While I can't help cure your longing for warmer temps other than recommending a flight to someplace more temperate, there are 10 plants that can brighten your winter garden and be the harbingers of spring before spring actually arrives. Ok, well that may be a bit premature as they don't bloom in winter, but really early early spring - and that's close enough for me. Here are some top suggestions to brighten any garden on even the most dreary of days. My own personal gardens in Killingworth have a number of these plants, and it really brightens the winter landscape.
Cyclamen are late winter bloomers that boast silk-like blossoms in rich colors of pink, purple, red and white. These airy blossoms nod gently over leaves that resemble lily pads in shape, and often have a slight lighter green veining that almost creates a heart shaped pattern.
Hellebore are lovely perennials that compliment any garden! These beauties stay evergreen all winter long and bloom even before the crocus! They have soft muted colors which is perfect for the winter landscape. There are a few burgundy or almost reds, but most can be found in shades of pink, mauve and white to name a few. Frost and cold resistant, these perennials last through months of harsh winter temps and brightly color the landscape in late winter.
Crocus is far and above my favorite early blooming flower! I admit, I've never been a fan of winter, so I'm not sure why I stayed in Connecticut, but here I am none the less. I remember as a little girl growing up, a large hillside not far from my home where we would frequently walk. There was a large hillside planted with innumerable crocus. I knew when the crocus started to pop up with their colorful little blooms that spring had just about arrived! Multiple shades of purples, yellows and white, these little jewels are a sure sign that spring is arriving.
Witch Hazel is an understory tree native to Connecticut. This is without a doubt the only tree you'll find blooming in our state in the winter. Believe it or not, this small tree explodes in bright yellow, copper or red in December. It blends into the landscape with grey/green leaves the rest of the year, but it sure is noticeable when nothing else is there to steal it's spotlight! Check out the Missouri Botanical Garden website for more information:http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?kempercode=a749
Snowdrops. Just as the name would suggest, these small plants look like drops of snow and are undaunted by winters' cold and snow. Their nodding, white blooms often appear in March when there can still be snow on the ground. These plants are only 3”-6” high and produce 1 teardrop-shaped flower that hangs off each stem – hence the name “Snowdrop”. When the bloom opens, three outer petals arch out over three inner petals. Each plant is a small individual plant and produces only one bloom, but they multiply and spread over time. This is a great plant for naturalizing, or for any garden. Divide them in fall and soon you'll have a mound of white flowers unafraid of winter.
Dwarf Iris are another bulb that ring in spring. These dwarf little rascals top out somewhere between five and fifteen inches and come in a wide array of colors. From almost pure white to a dark purple that's so dark it almost looks black, there's a color to suit every palette.
Berries! No garden is complete for me without berries. Winterberry to be specific. Winterberry is a shrub native to Connecticut. During the growing season, it blends into the background with nothing about it that bears any notice. However, in the fall, these shrubs produce a multitude of berries that come in gold, orange, or red! They pack a punch in the winter garden when not much else is around save a few bare, gray/brown branches. Your feathered friends will thank you too, as these are a great food source for birds. If you're looking for more berry ideas for the birds, look no further than the National Wildlife Federation's blog on birds and berries: https://blog.nwf.org/2014/12/winter-berries-for-birds/
As if that's not enough I'm going to give you a suggestion for a bonus plant that not only is fabulous in the winter garden, but is generally a great plant for year-round interest.
Euonymus, or upright Euonymus to be specific, can bring bright shades of yellow into a bleak winter landscape. Getting as tall as six feet, these colorful leaves bring sunshine on a cloudy day. Unlike some of our other winter friends, these shrubs bring color to the landscape all year. Silvery white or yellow margins surround a deep green center on glossy leaves. This shrub is great as an accent piece, a hedge, or even a topiary! Tolerant of poor soils, this Silver King Euonymus is an absolutely great addition to any garden in all four seasons!