One of the many benefits of gardening, I believe, is that you can come to develop a deeper sense and appreciation of the subtle beauties of God’s creation. If you are asked the question what a yard with winter interest looks like and would answer, “one that has evergreens in it”, then keep reading. Okay, all others keep reading as well… Sure, evergreens go a long way to add structure and dependability to a landscape, but I have become one who really enjoys and appreciates plants that outwardly change with each season. These plants can heighten intrigue and alter mood from one season to the next. And there are many plants that have unique offerings this time of year.
So, when planning for added winter interest I say remember the four ‘B’s: bark, bones, berries and blooms.
There are many trees and shrubs waiting to show off their beautiful bark this time of year, now more noticeable as they drop their leafy coverings (and as all those ostentatious annuals and perennials fade).
I love the compact size and dense branching of Kelsey’s Dogwood (Cornus sericea ‘Kelseyi’). They look like little flames in the garden this time of year. Another one that also really catches my eye is the River Birch (Betula nigra), which I believe is an under-appreciated and under-utilized tree, at least in our area. Its impact multiplies with its number, the more the better. The Paperbark Maples (Acer griseum) are truly amazing as well, with their peeling cinnamon-colored bark. And I must also give special mention to the Stewartia, a great four-season specimen with its unique, mottled bark that comes with age and which is often multi-stemmed. This tree does best in an organic, well-drained soil and with a little afternoon shade. This is a slow-growing tree but it really pays off for those who wait. Another noteworthy, but more common plant, is the Coral Bark Japanese Maple. ‘Sango Kaku’ is the variety I’ve seen most, but ‘Beni Kawa’ (may also be referred to as ‘Beni Gawa’) is reportedly more sun-tolerant with brighter coral-red bark. Sounds like a winner to me.
There are also many wonderful native choices for interesting bark that are just as pleasing, or even more so:
I love the warm glow the red-twig Dogwoods (Cornus sericea/stolonifera) give our lowland forests this time of year. Equally captivating are the stands of Nehalem Pacific Willow (Salix lasiandra) and their yellow branches. Both of these natives will have the best coloring on new growth, and fortunately they both can handle somewhat severe pruning every few years to stimulate such growth (do your research, or ask me for details, before you go hacking away at one though). Unfortunately, Pacific Madrones (Arbutus menziesii) are on the decline in our area. They are beautiful broad-leafed evergreen trees that sport striking bark (as you can see above), springtime bell-like flowers and fascinating fall fruit. A few of these above natives don’t mind some wet feet; the Pacific Ninebark (Physocarpus capitatus) being one that can tolerate some wetness. There are a couple of them growing behind our house (creating a thicket along with our native swamp rose) and it’s a large shrub I enjoy year-round, with its white late-spring flowers, reddish-brown summer seedheads and yellow fall color. I also hear it makes a great slope stabilizer with its extensive root system.
Maybe before the end of this season I’ll be able to touch on the other three ‘B’s mentioned above, but no guarantees… I may have a spring-mindset before it has fully arrived. I can see those daffodils coming!