How To Have Winter Interest With Non Green Evergreens

Since winter is a’comin’, it seems the perfect time to talk about how to make your garden pleasing in the cold seasons. This has been a topic of study here in the Fairegarden for many years. The house renovations have centered around providing the widest views possible of the garden, with seating arranged to be able to look out from different rooms and appreciate what we and nature have wrought. That is all fine and dandy during spring and summer, even the fall fantasia has much to offer. Then the color drains away with the warmth as the sun tilts away from this mortal coil. This is a large topic that will require several posts to fully cover. This is part one, about the plants that remain colorful here in our zone 7a garden. Large evergreens such as pine, cedar and hemlock, large shrubs such as arborvitae, chamaecyparis and hollies are not the focus today, although those are certainly helpful to add some color besides the brown and grey of the deciduous. Look around your neighborhood for ideas of what conifers and broad leaf evergreens are attractive to you and will grow in your area.

Today we will zoom in a little to the small shrubs and perennials that decorate the landscape, the accessories to the big boys. Let us zoom some more to exclude the greens, although green is a very important color in our world. But the term evergreen refers not just to greens but includes some more contrasting shades such as blue/silver, red/copper and yellow/gold. Note that these are the primary colors on the color wheel, blue, red and yellow, from whence all other colors arise. They please the eye, grab the retina to shout “Look at me!”. If you want the monotone calmness of a sea of green, read no farther.

Stachys byzantina

Dianthus 'Little Boy Blue'

Santolina chamaecyparissus

Lavendula x intermedia 'Silver Edge'

Alphabetically to offend no color, we start with blue/silver. I include the metallic shades because of the organic blend of plant and mineral, let’s leave the animal out of it for now. Lamb’s Ear, Stachys byzantinus was one of the first plants used in our first real garden. The offspring were toddlers then and enjoyed the velvety surface of the glaucous leaves. Others with similar coloration are the various Dianthus ssp. They form eversilver mats of spikes with the bonus of many shades of pinky flowers in spring. Tricky in our climate but worth the trouble to keep replanting are Lavender and Santolina.

Heuchera 'Silver Scrolls' and Athena

Alphabetically next comes the red/copper.

Heuchera 'Faire Piecrust'

The breeders have done wonders for the gardeners looking for four seasons of beauty with the Heuchera family. The breeders at the Fairegarden, the pollinators, have also been buzzy, creating many seedlings including one that blew into the trough planter. Until this breakthrough in producing the reddish foliage color, all chance seedlings here have been shades of green. It has been named H. ‘Faire Piecrust’.

Euphorbia dulcis 'Chameleon'

Some are changlings, green in summer turning to crimson and clover, oops make that purple with copper highlights in the winter. Reaching nearly thug-like status, having seeded in every crack and crevice is the Euphorbia dulcis ‘Chameleon’. Hardy Geranium sanguineum is another turncoat that becomes brilliant in winter. Certain sedums also rise to fulfill the destiny of their names, like S. ‘Dragon’s Blood’.


Lysimachia nummularia 'Aurea'

Yucca filamentosa 'Color Guard'

Carex testacea

Alphabetically last of the group is the color that most attracts the eye, yellow/gold. Creeping jenny, Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’, various Carex ssp. , ivies, more sedums, variegated Yuccas, among others offer the light and bright tints that help warm a wintery scene. Until the brilliantly yellow daffodils begin the growing season all over again.

This is enough for now. So get your pencils and paper and make some lists for your own four seasons of color. Visit your local nurseries, check out Arboretums, public gardens or your neighborhood plantings for ideas. Magazines, blogs and websites are good resources for lists of plants that will work in your climate. There is no reason to stare at brown and grey during those dreary cold months. Unless you live with heavy snow cover all winter, then, never mind.

Other posts in the How To Have Winter Interest series can be seen below in addition they are included in the category How To list on the sidebar:

How To Have Winter Interest-Garden Grassses
How To Have Winter Interest-Seeing Green
How To Have Winter Interest-Shrubs Small And Large
How To Have Winter Interest-The Big Guys
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.


This entry was posted in Design, How To, Seasonal Chores. Bookmark the permalink.

23 Responses to How To Have Winter Interest With Non Green Evergreens

  1. Donna says:

    Great post. I often suggest plant form for winter gardens here in the Falls. Your suggestion of color is wonderful for people in your zone and higher or with light snowfall. The plants suggested can endure light snowfall if it warms up again. Our color is limited pretty much by berries, bark and plants not removed in Fall. White is often what we get to see. I am sure your posts are going to be really good, this one being a great teaser of those to come.

    My carex does stay green until about early March, then the March winds dry it out to brown. I will maybe get some photos of the blades popping out from the snow.

    Hi Donna, thanks. Those of us without the gift of winter snow cover to insulate and keep moist the sleeping garden have to find tough customers that can stand up to frost, dessication, heaving earth and still look good. That is a tall order, but through trial and error we have found several that meet the criteria. Carex is a fabulous plant, coming in so many colors, glad to hear you have a favorite of your own. I look forward to seeing it with a snowy mane. πŸ™‚

    You are right, that is a tall order. Our main problem with many plants, is like yours. Without a snow covering for the whole winter, plants get dry, but then the snows come later and many, like lambs ears turn to mush in wet, poorly drained clay soils. Lavender, Coralbells, and dianthus just disappear, leaves that is, then rise to the occasion next spring. Hopefully that is. Wet soil can take out our lavender. Coralbelles sometimes have a hard time returning to their full splendor, shrinking as the years pass. Dianthus is usually very reliable. I am looking forward to your next posts. I like seeing how the same plants react in different climates and growing conditions. Even a different county here in Western New York has vastly different growing conditions.

    Thanks for continuing the thread, Donna. We have experienced the incredible shrinking heucheras as well, until we found that those with americana or villosa will survive our hot, dry summers. We have lost lambs ears and many many lavenders, but finding the right spot for them, the dry, sunny slope or the Gravel Bed has worked well. Even across the street here, the conditions are different. It makes gardening interesting! πŸ™‚

  2. Valerie says:

    What a great idea this post is as I have never given a lot of thought to winter plants. I have a few you mentioned but will try to have more now that I have seen yours. Can that
    Yucca color guard take some snow? It looks like it might be to delicate.

    Hi Valerie, thanks so much. I am hoping to inspired some winter gardening where it is possible. The Yucca has had snow cover here and survived just fine. The research states it is hardy to zones 4-11. Good luck with it, we have found it to be a fine year around addition to the garden. πŸ™‚

  3. gittan says:

    Oh, it’s like candy for my soul =) I love the plants that keeps there colour all year long, and specially Heucheras. I’ve planted a lot of them so we can see them from inside (who want’s to go out in the cold wind to take a look?) Unfortunately we’ve only got one window facing the garden so we can’t see that much. But I hope to get a conservatory?(I guess that it’s where you sit in the lazyboy?) on the back of our house soon. Then we’ll be abel to see so much more of the garden during all seasons. I loved that variegated Yucca, I’ll have to see if I can find that at the nursery. The green variety like it in our garden so I bet it will work as well. Kram gittan

    Hi Gittan, thanks, candy is dandy! HA The addition is sort of like a conservatory in that one whole wall is glass, mostly. I don’t grow plants there, we have another dedicated sunroom that is a tiny space, no room for chairs. I am glad you have some interest for winter. The Yucca has been a fine addition, very colorful all year.

  4. Layanee says:

    I did just add a yucca which will stick up through the snow for interest here. Love the heucheras but they are usually bedraggled and buried. The grasses are a must for winter interest here and also the seed heads of ‘Autumn Joy’. All good selections here. Must add more…

    Hi Layanee, thanks for adding this to the conversation. I can only speak for my climate, where there is no snow cover for more than a day, hardly ever. Maybe once every fifty years it might last two days. Grasses are wonderful and will be featured later. The Sedums are must haves! πŸ™‚

  5. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    You have some very good ideas here Frances. Silver Scrolls are perfect for a Goddess.

    Thanks Lisa. You are right! I hadn’t even thought of that, but very apropos! πŸ™‚

  6. Kathy says:

    Like Donna, late fall is about the latest we will see these foliage combinations, although I like to take a walk when we have a thaw to see what still looks good. Heucheras are usually flattened but still showy. Foxglove leaves often look good. Have you tried bergenia for winter interest? I only have one plant, but it turns a stunning red in cold weather that lasts until mud season.

    Hi Kathy, thanks for joining in. I love that the foxglove leaves are evergreen, glad to hear they are for you as well. We do have Bergenia, a couple of plants. It seems you need a bunch to make any impact. The reds do disappear with all the brown here unless there is contrast from silver or gold around them, or green. πŸ™‚

  7. I have so many lists from your blog! I’m still filling my new terrace garden and hope to make it relatively maintenance free. Since I’m replacing English Evil Ivy, I still want to keep it colorful in the winter. I’ve got a couple xmas ferns out there now and will be adding the euphoribia, carex and heuchera. Maybe even dianthus and creeping jenny (I didn’t know they’d survive winter here!) So many ideas!

    Thanks Jill, that is music to my ears! I would guess that you can grow anything that we can, we are not that far apart although you may be warmer. Good luck with your new terrace, it sounds great! πŸ™‚

  8. Joycee says:

    I’ve just found you and I am enjoying reading your posts and looking at all the wonderful pictures! We live on a mountain side, with hungry deer and I am about to give up on planting. It’s very shady with large old oaks so we have an abundance of hosta, ferns, grasses and evergreens. The deer nibble on everything, our evergreens were bare bones last spring. I love the textures and colors in this post. Maybe I will learn something going through your blog that might help us with this ongoing problem.

    Hi Joycee, thanks and welcome. I am so glad you have found something of interest here, and hope you continue to do so. We do not have deer here, but know how devastating they can be to a garden. I do wish you well in finding plants that the deer are not fond of!

  9. Eileen says:

    Some years we live with snow most of the winter, which is actually better for our plants. Then, there are years when our plantings are exposed throughout the winter season. We will wait to see what colors survive.


    Hi Eileen, thanks for joining in here. When we lived in PA, we had that snow cover of which you speak, but that was many years ago and my gardening efforts have evolved since then. Now we want something pretty to look at all the time, however and whatever needs to be done to achieve that. I would think larger evergreen trees and shrubs, plus interesting hardscape and art might help. With the weather we are having, it seems best to plan for anything! πŸ™‚

  10. I don’t often think I have such a variety, but a friend visited the other day… and during her visit she collected a (great!) variety of leaves… all shades and sizes and shapes. And I thought to myself, hmmmm. It IS very diverse and pretty out there! πŸ™‚

    Sometimes it takes looking through another’s eyes….

    Nice post, Frances! (Is Gardening not an ever evolving process?!)

    Hi Shady, thanks for visiting. Absolutely, gardening is ever evolving, thank goodness! There is so much to learn, we can never know even a sliver, but the fun is in the effort. What a delight, having a friend collect leaves. How true, others see the garden so differently than we do. πŸ™‚

  11. I always learn so much from you Frances, and this post is no exception. The ‘Faire Piecrust’ and the Hedera are my faves! Such beautiful photos! I am 6a, but I am going to try some of your suggestions anyway, and see how they do πŸ™‚

    Oh, thank you, Melanie, how sweet you are! It sounds like you live in a good area to try some of these and more. This barely scratched the surface of what will work to add nice color to the greens, greys and browns. Crazy Faire Piecrust, I am hoping it will grow enough to have some offspring that can be sliced away and planted elsewhere without killing the mother plant. That will be a tricky bit of surgery. πŸ™‚

  12. sequoiagardens says:

    Sorry if this sounds like a teacher’s comment on an essay. That is my life right now, and they say one should build on one’s strengths. πŸ˜‰ So here goes: Succinct, highly informative and written in an engaging style. Well done! A++ (Blotanical 4H rating!)

    Dear Jack, your kind words do make me smile, thank you. Teachers are the best, I come from a family of them. I appreciate the good grade. πŸ™‚

  13. Patsi says:

    You have some good looking plants.
    The Heuchera in the hypertufa planter looks great. Now I have to try that !!

    Hi Patsi, thanks. Do try the Heucheras in your lovely hypertufa pot, we have found them to be quite happy in that environment.

  14. Hi Frances. I love the way so many perennials add a new dimension to the garden at this time of year. Your euphorbia may be a bit of a thug, but it certainly earns its place! I don’t like all heuchera, the coral coloured ones leave me cold, but I adore the silvery tinges to e.g. ‘Sugar Frosting’, and always plant ‘Palace Purple’ for reliable colour through the winter. Good to be reminded that its not all about shrubs and trees when planning for year-round interest.

    Hi Janet, thanks for adding to the conversation. We are lucky to be able to grow many interesting forms and color of evergreen perennials. I think Palace Purple is a fine heuchera, getting pushed aside by the showier and better named varieties. Sugar Frosting sounds good enough to eat, I think that is the idea. πŸ™‚

  15. commonweeder says:

    What a great post. So useful and inspiring. Ever since visiting other gardens this summer I’ve decided I must have a yucca or two. Of course in my climate the garden can be buried under a couple of feet of snow for most of the winter. Then I just enjoy crystal white.

    Hi Pat, thanks. The yuccas are extremely cold hardy plants, even under snow such as yours. A meltdown will reveal those spikey leaves, how fun. I can no longer remember the white landscapes we endured when living in NE PA, having been in the south for many years. I like seeing the earth. πŸ™‚

  16. Rose says:

    What a great post, Frances! I’ve been focusing on adding more fall color this year, as it seems I have been infatuated only with spring and summer up to now. But winter interest is something I’d like to add more of as well. When the ground is covered with snow, it’s nice to see some tall plants like the faded hydrangea blooms gracing the landscape. But when the snow melts, some touches of color besides brown would be nice.

    Hi Rose, thanks. Being in love with spring is the norm here as well, nothing beats the waking up of the garden and all that new spring green with the bulbs. But it is nice to have something to look at during the winter too, especially when one’s home is designed with looking outward, like mine is. I like seeing some color besides grey and brown. The white of snow is a rare treat. πŸ™‚

  17. And another reason that I am in South Florida! It’s said that we don’t have seasons here, although we do; subtle is the best description.

    I admit though that design for winter color is much more challenging north of zone 10.

    Hi Michael, thanks for joining us here. You have a different set of rules for gardening in winter, that’s for sure! We do enjoy the differences that the distinct seasons offer us, without too long of a winter. We just have to work a little harder to have the garden be pleasing all year than you do. πŸ™‚

  18. chen says:

    Great post indeed! Extending garden season into winter and garden views through big windows are two areas that I really like to learn more from other gardeners. (OK stop laughing. I know ‘garden in winter in Canada’ sounds silly, but I am not convinced that it is entirely hopeless. I do have a couple of heathers that turn nice red and some conifers that turn bright golden in winter.) Looking forward to your future post on the subject. Hope you will post some pictures looking through your windows next year.

    Hi Chen, thanks. I have been to Canada in winter and know it is not all snow all of the time. Good evergreens are important, as is hardscape. We love the heathers that turn with the seasonal change, and those will be featured later as well. I will show many photos taken from inside over the colder months, keep reading! πŸ™‚

  19. Andrea says:

    Your photos are beautiful and even if we dont have your climate, we also have some of those plants here.

    Hi Andrea, thanks and welcome. I appreciate your kind words, even though most of the info in this post is not for your climate. Glad to hear some of the plants mentioned are working for you as well. πŸ™‚

  20. TufaGirl says:

    I always love the look of the big picture of fall but really appreciate the close up look of the plants right next to our noses. Lovely.

    Thanks Tufagirl. Isn’t it swell that we can use our human eyes to see it both ways? πŸ™‚

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