Is there Color after Frost?
by Carol Wallace
Copyright by Carol Wallace. All Rights Reserved.
If you had asked me that question last year, I probably would have answered no. My main garden is a long distance (uphill) from the house, and if there is snow on the ground I can barely get to it without cross country skis. So for me, aside from a couple of dwarf conifers, some hellebores and a red twigged dogwood, winters were seasons of black and white.
But last year I was asked to design a front yard garden. I plunged into the idea with gusto, creating a display (fortunately still on paper) that would stop traffic, when my husband spoke up. "What about winter," he asked. And I stopped dead. The women in question was a new gardener, and the idea of a front yard garden was already making her nervous. I had to make certain that she wasn't left with piles of mushy leaves and bare dirt four months out of the year, So I buckled on my heavy duty boots and trekked up the hill to my main garden area. And was I surprised! There was color everywhere! Plenty of things for front and back yards alike.
And it wasn't just green. Oh sure, there were the usual evergreens and hollies; the primula foliage was fresh and crisp looking and the hellebores hadn't yet donned their tattered springtime look. What I found was a wealth of color, ranging from red to orange, bronze and brown, plus gold, silver, purple and plum. If it weren't for the act that these colors are scattered somewhat haphazardly around my yard, the winter garden could have been downright colorful. So I took careful notes to use in my front yard garden design.
GREENS and REDS
An amazing number of plants remain green throughout winter, even in a northern climate. What surprised me was that one plant that I assumed was evergreen - an Andorrah juniper, turned pale plum colored in the cold instead. And my PJM "evergreen" azalea turned bronze.
But the rest of the rhododendrons and evergreen azaleas kept their rich green color. And my hellebores, sweet woodruff (Gallium odoratum) , veronica, foxgloves (Digitalis) and Candytuft (Iberis sempervirens) remained a healthy green all winter, as did the primrose foliage, and that of the smaller geraniums.
Many of the geraniums, especially G. macrorrhizum acted as if they were putting on a late autumn display to rival that of the sugar maple. Epimedium warleyense also takes on reddish tints in autumn and winter, as does Fragaria vesca 'Variegata', a variegated strawberry that forms a dense groundcover in one of my gardens.
Fragaria vesca 'Variegata'
Sedum spurium 'Dragon's Blood'
For even more color at ground level, try the smaller sedums. Sedum spurium 'Dragon's Blood and other varieties if spurium hold their color all season long.
And then there are the usual green plants with red berries such as hollies and barberry, and old garden roses with showy hips. Many of these berries disappear all to soon, since they are also excellent bird food. But since birds are another great form of winter color, I never object to that.
For reds that are more long-lasting, nothing beats the red-twigged dogwoods, Cornus alba 'Elegantissima' (shown above), C. alba 'Gouchaltii' and C. stolonifera 'Cardinal' - the latter having the best and brightest red twigs of all.
About the Author
Carol is a garden writer and college professor in northeast Pennsylvania. She manages the Gardening section of Suite 101.com, where she also writes the column Virtually Gardening.