How To Have Winter Interest-The Big Guys


Since the cold has descended upon us, the hunt for winter interest in the garden has become a noble quest. The leaves are laying peacefully at the feet of deciduous trees, enriching the soil and providing food for microbes and worms. Flowers are but a memory of warmer times. The foliage of perennials, shrubs and grasses offers something to gaze upon from frosty windowpanes. Now is the season of the giants, the big guys, the trees. The largest dwellers of the Fairegarden are the Loblolly pines, Pinus taeda that hold the eastern border with towering grace. This stand of trees is the only group of its kind left in our neighborhood, surviving the southern pine beetle attack of 2000 that decimated huge stands of pine trees in the southeast United States. They are prized beyond measure, dwarfing the houses and offering a high abode to birds and critters in their sheltering arms. Nothing we have planted will offer this kind of size in my lifetime, but perhaps some of the other trees will someday be revered as these pines are.

Ilex attenuata 'Fosterei'


Growing under the pines are patches of the native American Holly, Ilex opaca with some that have seeded so close to the pines that they are growing cheek to trunk. Birds scatter the digested holly berries all over the garden, but they are easy to identify and pulled when small. Other hollies have been planted for screening purposes, winter interest and bird feeding. Foster’s, Ilex attenuata ‘Fosterei’, Burfurd, Ilex cornuta ‘Dwarf Burford’, English variegated, Ilex aquifolium ‘Argenteo Marginata’ and Blue Princess, Ilex x meserveae ‘Blue Princess’ have survived in the root run of the greedy giant pines.

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The next largest conifers are the Hemlocks, Tsuga canadensis forming a barrier to hide the rectangular chain link fenced perimeter at the top of the hill behind the main house. These were planted as one gallon specimens when this property was purchased in 1996 for our offspring to live in while attending college in this small town. Weeds, vines and pestilence attacked and covered the small trees, but when we moved here in 2000 and had the slope cleared with a backhoe, the Hemlocks were healthy and had grown nicely. So far they too have been spared the attack of devastation, this time by the wooly adelgid. This row of trees has grown now to well over twenty feet in height. They are just getting started and provide a dark green curtain behind the knot garden. The new spring growth is a pleasant chartruese. The young blue cones are gravy.

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Still small but rumored to reach a height of forty feet are the two Arizona Cypress, Cupressus arizonica trees just south of the tall pines. There may be some branch intermingling of cypress and pine in a few more years when they have doubled in size. Pruning will be done for shaping but the plan is to let the conifers settle the space issue amongst themselves.


Chamaecyparis is a favorite evergreen family of the Fairegarden, with all sizes represented from the tiny miniatures grown in containers to their larger tree siblings. Three C. obtusa ‘Wells Special’ screen the garage from the street in the center island formed by the circle driveway. These have already surpassed the six foot height on the tag, with the one on the far right reaching for the stars. It happens that way sometimes.

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Growing larger than expected, it seems many of these small trees have neglected to read their size tags, the C. pisifera ‘Boulevard’ offers privacy and shade in the southeast corner bed. They have grown considerably since this January 2008 shot, but this image was the most appealing that could be found in the files.


Also growing very much larger than the five feet tall that was anticipated are the hedge of C. pifisfera ‘Gold Mop’ that replaced the Japanese privet hedge that outlined every plot in our older subdivision. The battle against the privet is ongoing, for neighbors have not eradicated their hedges and some even let them grow wild and free, (including all neighbors whose property abutts mine), producing berries favored by the birds. Seedling privet is one of our worst weed offenders, but they are easily recognized and pulled while small. The Gold Mops were given an initial pruning last summer in the effort to meet the vision of golden cones, as well as prevent them from overshadowing the deciduous azaleas planted in front of them.


The Gold Mops are less gold on the north side of the hedge, the side viewed from the house, than on the sunny south side that faces the veggie bed. At the far end is C. obtusa ‘Crippsii’, a much more yellow fellow, said to grow to fifteen feet. So far the Crippsii and Gold Mops are neck and neck in the race to the sky.


Beyond evergreen foliage, there are a couple of trees that offer up flowers in winter. Witch hazel, Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Diane’ bears burnt orange flowers that shine brightly in January,February and into March, a time when color is scarce in the upper plane of the garden.


Blooming in late winter is the sweet smelling Edgeworthia chrysantha. This small tree blooms in downward hanging clusters that resemble furry beasts, with golden bell shaped flowers emerging from the paws. Simply enchanting!


There are deciduous trees and larger shrubs that still offer plenty of color for humans and wildlife. Our favorites are the Winterberries, Ilex verticillata ‘Sparkleberry’ and I. ‘Winter Gold’. Planted beneath the Yoshino cherry tree in front of the main house, they bring a smile whenever we drive up or walk outside. The berries will persist into March, when they become soft and tasty to the cardinals, mockingbirds and many other feathered friends. This type of holly requires a male pollinator, Apollo is providing the escort service to these ladies.


Another type of winter interest comes from the stems of deciduous trees and shrubs. Cornus alba ‘Elegantissima’ (red) and C. sericea ‘Flaviramea’ (yellow) brighten a dreary and otherwise colorless sea of tan grasses and hibernating perennials in the center island driveway bed. To read a post about the colorful stems click here-Twiggy.

This continues the series of posts about How To Have Winter Interest. Links to the others are listed below and can also be found in the How To category section on the sidebar.

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-Shrubs Small And Large
How To Have Winter Interest-Hardscape

For other How To posts written by Fairegarden, look for How To on the sidebar page listing or click here.

Frances

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20 Responses to How To Have Winter Interest-The Big Guys

  1. Charlotte says:

    Wonderful pictures as always Frances – makes winter look quite appealing!

    Hi Charlotte, thanks and so nice to see you. These larger garden denizens are the crown jewels of the winter garden, and snow makes even trash cans look good. Hope you are staying warm! :-)
    Frances

  2. Ellada says:

    Your garden looks so nice.
    The Edgeworthia chrysantha is really beautiful.

    Hi Ellada, thanks so much. Isn’t the Edgeworthia too sweet? Such an unusual flower form, and quite fragrant! :-)
    Frances

  3. Carol says:

    Your big guns are striking and well thought out. I need more of them in my garden…

    HA Carol, big guns in the battle against winter garden boredom! There is nothing to compare to a mature tree, evergreen or deciduous. We must plant for the future! :-)
    Frances

  4. Layanee says:

    Snow? Really, you have snow? Ugh. The ground is bare here right now and I am hoping for a bit of white for Christmas. Your ‘big guys’ look beautiful in the snow.

    Hi Layanee, thanks. We have had several snows already, although some of those shots are from last year. What a cold start to the season and it is not even winter yet! Hope you get some snow cover for Christmas. And I hope we don’t! Traveling involved. :-)
    Frances

  5. Isn’t ‘Loblolly’ a wonderful word! And the bark is impressive. I like the blue-chair picture. It’s fun. I envy you that you have room for a selection of Hollies. I’m sure the birds are delighted when they first come across you garden in winter.

    Christmas is getting close so, just in case I don’ get back here until then – have a very happy Christmas and all the best for 2011.

    Lucy

    Hi Lucy, thanks so much. I do love saying Loblolly, typing isn’t quite as fun but still… We are fortunate to have the American hollies sprouting everywhere in the neighborgood with several mature specimens close by. There are some seedlings under the Loblollys that are nearing twenty feet. That may explain the number of birds here. And a very happy Christmas to you as well. :-)
    Frances

  6. Janet says:

    You have all sorts of winter interest in your garden. I bought a Carolina Sapphire Cupressus arizonica to have along the edge of my front yard. My Edgeworthia made the move and is doing quite well in its new home. I look forward to its blooms opening this winter. Now if I could find a place to put a Daphne odora….clay soils aren’t very accommodating.
    I am always amazed at the new of privet volunteers I see along the roadside….oh those berries. Almost impossible to get rid of all of them.

    Hi Janet, thanks. I wish mine were the smaller Carolina Sapphires, what an elegant and perfectly sized tree for most all gardens. If I was starting over, they would be used instead of many of the other choices here. I do love a blue conifer. Hooray for your Edgeworthia, long may it prosper in its new home. And, you should know that I managed to have the Daphne odora take hold here in the worst clay on the property, with extra water the first few years. Argh to the privet! :-)
    Frances

  7. One says:

    Hi Frances, When I saw the first photo of the tree, I thought it was a really great shot. As I scrolled down, I realized that they are all wonderful. You are really great at bringing out beauty regardless of seasons.

    Hi One, thanks so much. Finding the images to illustrate this post was fun, going through the archives. Remember, I take thousands of shots to get just a few good ones, point and shoot on auto. It would sure save me time if I had a clue about settings and such on the camera. But I am used to doing it this way now and probably won’t change the method. HA :-)
    Frances

  8. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    You have lots of color in your garden despite no blooms Frances.

    Hi Lisa, thanks. There is nothing to compare to mature trees, but I have been adding winter interest since the first year we were here. I never thought about that before this garden. It takes a little effort, but is well worth it.
    Frances

  9. Steve says:

    You have indeed successfully found the truest eye candy in Winter Wonders. Even the bark of the first giant is remarkable and thought-provoking. I find, especially since I have relocated “Back East” that the leafless “husks” of all the deciduous trees can be outrageously beautiful in their spareness and in their structural architecture, too. Sycamores are my current rave. Thanks, Frances for gorgeous and very relevant Wintertime glory for those who are freezing their asses off, lol. This, of course, includes moi. ;-)

    Hi Steve, you always say the sweetest things in the most interesting way, thank you my friend! Do try to stay warm, we are quite cold here as well, and to think it is not even true winter yet is frightening. I love the look of a bare Sycamore, what fabulous bark and form. Stay warm, dress in layers! :-)
    Frances

  10. Hi Frances, you have given some great suggestions and ideas here for winter interest. Makes we want to go out and survey my garden now.

    Hi Helen, thanks. I am so happy to inspire the study of your own garden space for ways to add interest, although I know your Haven is already quite interesting. :-)
    Frances

  11. Donna says:

    You have a great selection here. Two of my favorites are Hemlock and Cornus alba. I like the Hemlock’s graceful form and the vertical piercing of the young (or cut back) Cornus in reds and yellow. I do like various bark textures and colors like the paper bark maples and the form and whites of the birch, but that is a whole other post.

    Hi Donna, thanks. You are so right, the bright stems show much better with a dark green curtain behind them. Winter is the time of tree bark and form, I have done a couple through the years. Those you name are fabulous examples. :-)
    Frances

  12. Lola says:

    Oh gracious, Frances, what beauty that you have whether it is from past or today. Your garden is always an inspiration. I truly enjoyed reading this particular post.
    I went back & read one of the links & will read the rest. I love those grasses & have a couple in pots till I decide just where I want them. My lot is small so I have to be careful.
    My GD wants to put the Pink Muhly across the front on her rental home. Would it withstand the rains from runoff of home?
    Do take care. Be safe in your travels.
    Wishing you & yours a very
    MERRY CHRISTMAS & A HAPPY NEW YEAR.

    Hi Lola, thanks so much, you are too kind. As long as the soil is sandy and well drained, the muhly should do fine. They are seaside plants, used to lots of water. You too have the very best of holidays! :-)
    Frances

  13. Aren’t those Hemlocks wonderful?

    Love the Edgeworthia blooms.

    Hi Rob, thanks. I am so happy that these Hemlocks have survived, so far. They are getting some size to them now and provide the perfect screening along the back of the knot garden. I look forward to the Edgeworthia for 2011, since we had a good bloom for their very first bloom year in 2010. There are plenty of cute furry buds already. :-)
    Frances

  14. Hi Frances,

    I see your winter is cold and white just like ours. And today you showed just the right pics for me. I have bought some beautiful branches with orange berries at the mall. Turns out it is branches of some ilex verticillata, I recognize it from your photo!
    Have a nice holiday, greetings from Stockholm, Sweden! Hillevi.

    Hi Hillevi, thanks and welcome. How exciting to find the winterberry branches, they are the perfect holiday decoration, inside or out! May your holidays be merry and bright! :-)
    Frances

  15. Rose says:

    I do love that winterberry, Frances. But I am partial to the “big guys,” too. My old oak really shows off in the winter, and all the white pines we have are much appreciated for the green they provide. You have a marvelous collection of trees to provide true winter interest.

    Hi Rose, thanks so much. Your mature trees are priceless, you are so lucky to have them all. An old oak sounds so British! :-)
    Frances

  16. I could just sit here staring at your hemlock photo. The blue and green colors are so beautiful. Edgeworthia flowers remind me of the tassels on Victorian pillows. You are lucky your winterberries persist—the robins get mine in late October. My 5 year old once caught me scaring the birds away and said: “I thought you were growing the berries for the birds.” Well, I am, but….

    Hi Carolyn, thanks. What a funny story! The berries are for the the birds, of course, but we want to enjoy them as well. There maybe are enough other berries from hollies and viburnums, privet and poison ivy, not to mention multiflora rose and bittersweet to keep our birds happy and off the winterberries until March. Then the whole crop will dissappear in one day! :-)
    Frances

  17. hi Frances, the Edgeworthia is certainly interesting and the witchhazel ‘diana’ my favourite…merry Christmas!

    Hi Michael, thanks and welcome. Those winter blooming trees are so surprising in the depth of winter. Diana is wonderful, I agree. Merry Christmas to you! :-)
    Frances

  18. A great winter growth documentary. That Edgeworthia is something else!

    Hi Meredith, thanks so much. The Edgeworthia is other wordly, and so fragrant it will turn one’s head. And to be blooming in winter, sometimes with snow is remarkable.
    Frances

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