Winter has descended upon us. It is cold, sometimes windy, sometimes dreary, sometimes sunny in the garden. Gardeners need some cheering up while waiting for the excitement of bulbs poking through mulched or leaf covered ground. They want to see something that is alive and interesting to help the time pass more quickly, perhaps viewed from the warm and cozy inside of the glass or bundled up for outside perusal. Proper plant selection, and siting, to the rescue. Shrubs of various sizes, shapes and colors fit the criteria. Evergreen conifers and broad leaf woody shrubs belong in every garden. There is something for every situation, climate or zone that can offer the desired effect. Let us begin with containers, like the above hypertufa with a small specimen of variegated boxwood, Buxus sempervirens ‘Variegata’ that will fit into even the smallest of garden spaces.
Finding containers suitable for small conifers or other plants that will survive unprotected can be a challenge. The conditions of being above the insulating warmth of the earth lowers the growing zone temperatures by at least ten degrees. The cement based home made hypertufas are perfect and we have been lucky with the large high temp fired glazed pots as well. Drainage is the key to success, the holes in the bottom must be large and unobstructed. A free draining cactus potting mix is used and stones make a good mulch to conserve moisture during the summer.
Without the addition of evergreen shrubs, planting beds, especially those foundation areas around the house would be boring during the winter months. The blue foliage of Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Boulevard’ gives height to the corner while several Juniperus squamata ‘Blue Star’ anchor the bed. The chartruese leaves of Heuchera ‘Citronelle’ lighten up the dark space and the Japanese Maple gives graceful structure. White astilbe, self sown forget me nots and various bulbs complete this low maintenance section for twelve month beauty.
The Blue Stars are the most widely used evergreen in the Fairegarden. I love the color and have found they will grow in any condition here, sun or shade, dry or dry (all we have is dry). In the front of the main house, they are planted in significant numbers as groundcover. There has been no pruning of them, but the Boulevard has and will be shaped as it grows to maturity.
Junipers, Arborvitae and Chamaecyparis are the go to conifers in our zone 7a space. The beds at the front of the house and down by the streetside are of the plant it and forget about it type. I prefer to garden in the back with the puttering and fussing, out of sight from the neighbors and others, in my own little world. The mix of groundcovers, grasses and evergreens makes that possible. Once a year there is a haircut of the grasses and some light pruning to get the crepe myrtles and other young trees off to a good start. Seen above are low growing Juniperus procumbens ‘Nana’, J. horizontalis ‘Mother Lode’ (not living up to expectations of golden at all), Thuja occidentalis ‘Golden Globe’ (not that gold), Juniperus x pfitzeriana ‘Gold Coast’ (also not living up to the gold name) and in the back right Chamecyparis obtusa ‘Wells Special’. The mining for gold has come up empty, although new spring growth is much more yellow in color. But excluding the lack of bright color, these shrubs are earning their keep by helping keep weeds at bay and offering substance to a large space.
The heaths and heathers, Ericas and Callunas are smaller evergreen shrublets that had a grand reign here in the beginning. The dry slope and acid soil was exactly to their liking. It was learned through trial and error that even though these are very drought tolerants, like most such plants, they need ample water to get them off to a good start in the first couple of years. Yes, dear readers, there have been losses aplenty. The winter flowering aspect of the E. darlyensis was a highlight of the early years here. But as the heaths grew larger than expected, once again the size on the labels forgot to add, “with pruning”, many have been removed to make way for more interesting perennials. I found the green Ericas to be nothing more than green blobs during summer and fall, not good enough, so out they went. But the Callunas, heathers have been a delight. C. vulgaris ‘Sunset’, above right turns from bright lemon in warm months to hot coral pinks and reds in the cold. It is just now turning at the very tips as the cold descends upon us for longer stays. On the left is C. vulgaris ‘Anthony Davis’ whose upright silvery foliage sports white flowers in spring and summer. Really, the flowers on any of the Callunas are barely noticeable, it is all about the foliage.
Three Monterey Cypress, Cupressuss macrocarpa ‘Goldcrest’ were planted out in the Gravel Garden after a purchase at the grocery, sold as miniature Christmas trees. All three were moved several times to get the spacing right and one died from that maltreatment. But the two remaining have been growing well, the bonus is that they are alive at all. We are on the upper reaches of the zone hardiness and the soil is all wrong, but the gravel driveway under the pea gravel mulch seems to their liking. The lesson here is to read the tags on those little trees offered as temporary greenery for the holidays, you might find a treasure on those shelves.
Another surprise has been the hardiness of the herb Rosemary, purchased in four inch pots at the big box store for an herb garden. This would not overwinter in our previous home in northeast Tennessee. A large pot of it was brought inside there each year to enjoy the sticky blades in cooking and potpourri. The mature size of the unknown varieties has been larger than expected, but they respond well to pruning, done to keep the pathways clear for pedestrians.
Not all evergreen shrubs are conifers, there are also the broadleaf evergreens for your consideration. Boxwoods, hollies, azaleas and rhododendrons, join lesser known Daphnes, Osmanthus, Mahonias and some Viburnums and Salvias among others for a change up of leaf structure.
This is the third installment of the How To Have Winter Interest series of posts. The links to the rest can be seen below, and in the How To category list on the sidebar. Doing these stories has brought about a new awareness of how the garden looks in winter. Ten years in the making, the Fairegarden is a work in progress, with emphasis on having something appealing every single day of the year, not just in bloomstravaganza months. The beauty is more subtle but no less striking when flowers are not the focus. Training the eye and the mind to see it is just as important as getting the plantings right.
How To Have Winter Interest With Non Green Evergreens
How To Have Winter Interest -Garden Grasses
How To Have Winter Interest-Seeing Green
How To Have Winter Interest-The Big Guys
How To Have Winter Interest-Hardscape
For other posts written by Fairegarden, look for How To on the sidebar page listing or click here.