We rarely appreciate flowers, berries and ornamental bark as much as we do in the winter. Hungry for color and life in our gardens, we stop and notice the details of what does grow and bloom. The next step, of course, is setting aside part of the garden, perhaps along a walkway, for a special winter garden.
Annual and Perennial Flowers
The white Christmas rose, Helleborus niger, is a well known winter flowering perennial. Its relative the Lenten Rose (H. orientalis) blooms a bit later, with pink to purple flowers.
The small, hardy cyclamen (C. coum) sends up red-purple flowers throughout winter and makes a nice ground cover in shade with its attractively mottled leaves. It grows from a round tuber that can be bought in the fall.
To fill in bare spaces, try winter-flowering pansies and violas. The blooms are slighter smaller than summer pansies, but they add bright spots of color to the landscape.
Calendulas, or marigolds, are annuals that will often bloom during mild fall and winter weather. They are easy to grow from seed and need little care. There are varieties available with orange, yellow, pale yellow, pinkish and red flowers.
Flowering Shrubs And Trees
Winter hazel (Corylopsis glabrescens) bears fragrant, light yellow blooms in winter or early spring. It likes part shade and evenly moist soil.
The leatherleaf Mahonia (M. bealei) has a strong pattern of vertical stems and spiny horizontal leaves. The spikes of fragrant yellow flowers appear in early February, followed by bluish berries. It grows best in part shade.
Winter-flowering jasmine, or Jasminum nudiflorum, is, unfortunately, not fragrant, but its vine-like, spreading branches make an attractive ground cover or a nice espalier against a wall. Its blossoms are yellow.
Chinese witch hazel (Hamamelis mollis) has clear yellow flowers with strap-shaped leaves as early as January. Give it room to spread into an attractive, vase-shaped shrub or small tree.
The autumn flowering cherry (Prunus subhirtella "Autumnalis") opens its pale pink flowers during mild weather from November through February. Like all flowering cherries, it needs well-drained, constantly moist soil.
Ornamental Bark and Branches
One of the best shrubs for winter interest is the red-stem dogwood, or Cornus stolonifera. The new twigs are a deep reddish color that really stands out in the winter landscape. Prune severely in spring to encourage more new growth, and keep this tall shrub at a manageable five to six feet.
Harry Lauder's Walking Stick, a contorted variety of filbert, shows off its twisted branches best in winter. Slow growing to eight feet or so, it makes an excellent focal point in the winter garden.