The Long View – Meditations on Gardening: Color and Texture Sustain the Winter Garden

One of a series of occasional essays by Christa Watters. Extension Master Gardener

Color and Texture Sustain the Winter Garden



It’s not all bleak out there, not even in our gardens. If we’ve planted wisely and well, plant life continues even in this chilly, dank and gloomy season. Evergreen plants that in summer deliver masses of color can also provide winter interest through their foliage. Lavender, for example, has no showy purple flower heads in winter, but the feathery gray-green foliage catches the eye and softens the aspect of otherwise bare beds.

Rosemary, likewise, keeps its needle-like green leaves, but this winter, oddly, has also kept some blooms in my garden. Cotoneaster’s foliage turns darker and more reddish, matching the berries that linger on its branches. Nandina, though fallen into some disrepute as being an aggressive invader, has stunningly beautiful berries offset by delicate, almost ferny, leaf fronds that last year-round – and is even more lovely in contrast to snow.

The smooth, mottled stems of crape myrtles (Lagerstroemia) are often striking against the winter sky, and the glossy, evergreen leaves of bay trees filter sunlight in ways that makes their color seem more remarkable than in summer. The lines of weeping blue atlas cedar trees particularly enrich and frame the landscape of city gardens where their color is offset by brick red, gray stone, or even white clapboard.

This February the variegated leaves of Daphne odora ‘Marginata’ are still cupping their deep reddish-pink buds, waiting for a bit more warmth and sun to turn them to lavender full bloom. Fall blooming camellias have been in flower since late November, laggardly in the cold spells when they get browned by 15-degree freezes, but surviving even to shimmer through last week’s dusting of snow.

The blooms of the Christmas rose, Helleborus niger, have appeared a bit later than the named season, but catch the eye against the brown earth, while their tough-stemmed cousin, the stinking hellebore, Helleborus foetidus, is just coming into bloom. Holding their leaves all year, even though they may look a bit tired in some seasons, is a virtue of the hellebores, which come in many colors from white through green, yellow, pink and deep blood-red to purple-black, and bloom well into spring.

These are just a few of the plants that reward our efforts year round, not just in summer’s profusion of bloom and growth. They merit some consideration in our garden planning.

All photos © 2017 Christa Watters.

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