How To Have Winter Interest-Seeing Green

The topic today is winter garden interest and how to get it for your own space. The current Fairegarden is lucky enough to be situated in the relative mildness of zone 7a southeast Tennessee. Winter visits here with sub-freezing temperatures for extended periods, bringing with it not months or weeks of snow cover, but a few hours, at most a day or two. This is enough chill for bulbs that need the long periods of dormancy to trigger blooming, such as tulips, or for flowering shrubs that need a cold naptime like lilacs to do their thing. But there is enough warmth for many leaves to remain fresh and vibrant during what is considered the gardening off season. We have already covered low growing plants that sport winter color other than green, and grasses in previous posts, links can be found at the end of this story. Attention will now be turned to the greens, those things that give true meaning to to term Evergreen.

Digitalis parviflora 'Milk Chocolate'

Digitalis purpurea

Campanula medium var. calycanthema

Nigella damascena

Lunaria biennis

Biennials are a grand addition to any garden. Seeds germinate in the warmth of summer and autumn, pushing up greenery that will last through winter and bloom the next spring. Among those valuable evergreen biennials that are growing happily here, self sowing themselves around and about with reckless and design-less abandon are foxgloves, Digitalis ssp., Campanula ssp., money plant, Lunaria biennis, and Nigella damascena, shown above. Not shown but also growing happily here are forget me nots, Myosotis ssp.

Perennial evergreen plants are more reliable and tend to better stay where planted, although some self sowing is welcome. Plants in the Pennstemon family, like P. digitalis ‘Husker Red’ make fine additions to the winter display, as do members of the bearded Iris and Achillea clan. The Gravel Garden is a haven for evergreen foliage with the contrast of the stones highlighting the leaves.

Helleborus orientalis, with the largest leaf and most numerous minions through years of self sowing make up the backbone of the slope behind the main house. The leathery leaves are sometimes cut off before the late winter blooming begins, for a neater appearance, but it is not necessary to do so. In fact, the cutting of the Hellebore leaves used to be a rite of passage for the new year’s gardening season to begin, until there were so many plants of blooming size that the task became too daunting for an aging gardener.

February 20, 2010

February 19, 2009

Evergreen and extremely hardy when planted in well drained soil, this perennial offers the bonus of February, sometimes even January flowers, depending on the weather. To read the entire saga on this subject click here-Cutting Of The Hellebores (2008),
here-Cutting The Hellebores-2009 Edition and/or
here-Hellebore Experiment-The Results (2010) for the final say on the matter.

Sanguisorba officinalis

Ruta graveolens



Primula veris

Other perennials with evergreen foliage that persist well into winter before dying back to small rosettes of living plant material include Rue, Eyrngiums, Columbines, Primulas and it is hoped the new this year Sanguisorba will grace the garden with its fern like self. Also Rudbeckia lanciniata and various Geum ssp., among others will give those spurts of green that are so appreciated in the time of grey and browns.

Spring blooming bulbs like Muscari ssp. and the hoopskirt miniature daffodil, Narcissus bulbocodium ‘Golden Bells’have fall emerging foliage that helps mark the location of those small flowers to be.

There are many other bits of green patiently waiting for spring in the garden beds, like the native iris relative Blue Eyed Grass, Sisyrinchium angustifolium and wallflowers, Erysimum ssp. shown above. Locating these plants and adding them to your gardens will help to give your eye something to look at that will bring a smile while you wait for spring.

Previous posts in the How To Have Winter Interest series can be found below and in the How To category on the sidebar:

How To Have Winter Interest With Non Green Evergreens
How To Have Winter Interest -Garden Grasses
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.


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23 Responses to How To Have Winter Interest-Seeing Green

  1. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    That bright moss always makes my heart go pitty patter. I have tried to grow it so many places in my garden but have absolutely no luck with it. Sigh~~ You have some great plants listed here. I might have to give that Husker another try in the garden. The drought this summer killed the bergenia that I had for several years. I think it is the most interesting plant but it just doesn’t like my garden. Of course if I was a plant I wouldn’t have liked this drought either.

    Hi Lisa, thanks. The moss is a winter wonder here, shining brightly amid the grey and brown. I always wonder if it will return after the dry summer, but it lives in the soil of this north facing slope. I couldn’t get rid of it if I tried, as some neighbors do in their lawns. I love it too. Husker is tough as nails and loves dry soil, do give it another try in the driest, sunniest area you have. If happy, it will give you plenty of babies to spread for that mass effect. I have trouble with Bergenia, it fits the bill of large leaf but seems to be one of those plants thats slowly dwindles instead of growing larger here, sad to say. I have not given up on it though, yet. πŸ™‚

  2. Eileen says:

    Frances, you made me think, what could I have left that is green? Even though it has become quite cold here in zone 5, there are still mounds of green throughout the garden. I think I will do a little more investigating this morning.


    Hi Eileen, Hooray! Thank you for that, these posts are being written to help people get out in their gardens and look around for interesting foliage and form. What looks good, plant more of that! I am happy you have some green mounds too. πŸ™‚

  3. I just had to cut down the Foxgloves and one persistent Delphinium. I never had either bloom so late, through frosts and now snow. They looked so odd with my concolor all dressed for Christmas. Oh to have your zone seven weather. Buffalo area got dumped with two feet of snow, but we only had a dusting.

    I love your spiky choices (Muscari and Daffs too) for winter interest. It is a nice texture for the garden and a great place for the eye to stop for a peak.

    Hi Donna, thanks. Love those spikes! I wondered how you had fared when the big snowfall in the Buffalo area was on the news last night. Sounds like you can still see the garden. I hope the foxgloves through out some seed for you. I miss growing Delphiniums like we had in PA. It is too hot here for them, so our spikes have to come from different plants.

  4. gardeningasylum says:

    Good morning Frances, It’s surprising how many things will remain green over the winter, even in z5 CT. My favorite is carex ‘Morrowii’ that just stays neat as a pin all winter long…

    Hi Cyndy, good morning to you. I am so glad to hear you have some green on the ground, and the Carex, even the bronze ones are faves here as well. πŸ™‚

  5. Thanks for highlighting all the little bits and pieces of green that weave together to make the winter garden. I love the ferny over-wintering rosettes of our native dwarf Jacob’s ladder. Carolyn

    Hi Carolyn, thanks for adding to the conversation. I so admire Jacob’s Ladder, but it does not like it in my garden. I am glad yours is more to its liking. πŸ™‚

  6. Valerie says:

    Frances you are so clever. We have a long period of miserable cold and snow cover in our Cdn 4B garden but there are things that stay green under the snow. I should go document these things.

    Hi Valerie, thanks, but really I am more practical than anything. The best way to plant for winter interest is to go out and look to see what is evergreen in your space, or the surrounding areas. To be honest, writing these posts is causing me to better document what fits that bill here as well. πŸ™‚

  7. Frances, your winters are so much more temperate than ours. Most of my plants aren’t as happy as yours during these cold days, but they just hunker down until spring like me.~~Dee

    Hi Dee, thanks for visiting. Your weather can be crazy, I remember it well! Many things do hunker down here as well when it dips below freezing for long periods, but they perk back up on warmer days when I do the same. πŸ™‚

  8. Cindy, MCOK says:

    Frances, I have a few of the plants you pictured in my gardens. Thanks for the info on their winter behavior!

    Hi Cindy, thanks for joining in. These plants are most likely green all year in your warmer climate. πŸ™‚

  9. Janet says:

    Great collection of green. I have a Sanguisorba minor- Salad burnet. Is yours one of the edible Sanguisorbas?

    Hi Janet, thanks. The Sanguisorba was purchased in the herb section and is edible although it is being grown here as an ornamental. Maybe the same plant? Is yours evergreen? We have a smaller one that disappears in winter, S. officianalis ‘Tanna’. Now I am wondering if mine is offic. or minor?

    Yes, mine is supposed to be evergreen. So far so good. This one tastes of cucumbers. Great addition to salads.

    Thanks for that. I will trying actually eating some! HA πŸ™‚

  10. Hi Frances great photographs and seeing some green and colours in a garden is very heart warming as all I can see in mine is snow and more snow with the tracks mdae by the local cats.

    Thanks for stopping by, Growing. I appreciate your kind words. Green is welcome when winter blows at our door, snow or no. Critter footprints are fun as well. πŸ™‚

  11. Eliza says:

    I was really happy to see rue on your list. I have heard giant swallowtails eat it so i plant it every year in hope of attracting some to my garden (so far, no luck). Apparently they are seen in my area from time to time. I also love the bizarre structural element that rue adds, though I usually tuck tidier things around it for balance.

    Hi Eliza, thanks. We have never seen the giant swallowtails here in TN, but had them in our Texas garden. They are worth planting whatever it takes to get them! I planted the Rue as part of the fairy garden and it has done very well. More will be added for I love the sculptural quality of it. πŸ™‚

  12. Ellada says:

    The Helleborus orientalis are very beautiful flowers.
    Great post.

    Hi Ellada, thanks. The hellebores are magnificent, and the time of bloom, late winter here, makes them very welcome indeed. πŸ™‚

  13. I really enjoy following gardens ‘up north’. So different! People pretty much want the same thing, though: flowers!

    Hi Michael, thanks. It seems funny to be considered up north, but compared to Florida, I guess we are. Flowers, of course we love them, but foliage will do to get us through the winter months. πŸ™‚

  14. commonweeder says:

    I was quick to fall into zone envy – but I have to say I still have green rue looking pretty perky.

    Hi Pat, thanks. I know you live in a very cold area, so am heartened to hear of your rue. Hooray! I will be planting more of this lovely next year. πŸ™‚

  15. Frances, you garden handles cold weather well. Your garden has lots of color. I’m always amazed we are only a half a zone apart.

    Hi Helen, thanks so much. I envy your half a zone warmth! We are on the edge of being able to grow many things, including the pink muhly grass. A hard winter would be tough on us all.

  16. joey says:

    Your garden looks happy all year round, dear Frances πŸ™‚

    You are too sweet, dear Joey. Thank you. πŸ™‚

  17. Kathleen says:

    oh, I desperately need more winter interest Frances. I need to review your list closely and add in the consideration of our colder climate. You have some dandy greens.
    Hope you’re doing well? I’ve popped in a few times to read but haven’t commented in a while. so little time…

    Hi Kathleen, thanks for visiting. I am well and hope you are as well. So nice to see you. Your winter interest might need to be a little taller to stick up above the snow cover. I am working up to that with these posts, starting with the smallest and getting to the larger stuff last. πŸ™‚

  18. Rose says:

    How nice to see all this green in your garden, Frances. I think of my garden as having all brown this time of year, but you’ve reminded me that there is some green as well. But I would have go hunting for it this morning–my garden is completely white today:)

    Hi Rose, thanks. That was my goal, to get gardeners out to search for green. But for some, or many, that will have to wait for the snow to melt. We even have a light blanket of it here! πŸ™‚

  19. delia says:

    I like close-ups of various foliage, are very useful for recognition. I discovered your blog and follow it!

    Hi Delia, thanks so much. I am glad you enjoyed this blog enough to subscribe. I am honored! πŸ™‚

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  21. Laurrie says:

    I went back and read all your prior posts on how to have winter interest — what a great library of examples you have put together on the topic! They are all a great way to train the eye to really see in winter, and not just note absence of summer flowers.

    Gosh, Laurrie, thanks for taking the time to read those posts! They were written last year as I was thinking about what makes for interest in winter, it is more than just conifers and boxwood hedges, although those are great. Flowers are really a very small part of a garden.

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