Winter Game Strong

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It is truly winter now. The weather remained mild for longer than usual this season and the plants appreciated the respite from killing cold coming after the holidays rather than before. Leaves were still attached to some deciduous denizens but after several shocks of below freezing temps the garden now looks January appropriate. Along the south facing cedar fence clusters of lavender and rosemary carry on bravely. In making this bed, the naturally occurring little bluestem was left uncovered by the thick sheets of cardboard covered with mulch that was used to suppress the wily crabgrass. The tawny grasses catch the morning light and offer movement and color during these bleak months.

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Along the opposite north facing fence, the collection of metal watering cans hangs from hooks. The perennials have been left standing to make note of which among them has their winter game on. In the foreground, Aster tataricus ‘Jin Dai’ presents an imposing vertical accent. Pieces of Jin Dai were spread in the area this summer so next winter should see an even more impressive winter statement. Lesser blobs of Rudbeckias, Penstemons and Verbenas add some thickness, but the daylilies are like straw colored melted snowmen. They should be benched, er, cut back in the fall once the frost reduces their turgidity. The green spikes are Eryngium pandanifolium, pushing our USDA Zone 7a envelope. No blooming on those as yet, but they did make it through a harsh and wet winter in 2014/2015.

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Evergreens are stalwart winter interest performers and boxwood is a favorite of mine. These small specimens will be kept short, possible pruned as a low hedge or perhaps kept as rounded separate balls of greenery. These are Buxus ‘Wintergreen’ and do hold true to their name. Carex testacea gives a good contrast of color, texture and form along the edge of the upper nursery bed. It is hoped that they can hold up unscathed to the ice, snow and cold of the long nights ahead. The supine sea creature foliage of Musacari ‘Valerie Finnis’ adds embellishment now with the promise of pale blue flowers come March.

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In the lower nursery bed which is more shady and more moist than the upper portion, there is another row of the same boxwood. Carex buchanii ribbons behind with a grouping of Echinacea ‘Green Jewel’ still standing proudly erect. The dark stems and seedheads contrast with the beige miasma of grasses and various perennial foliage in the center of the bed. I like it.

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Miscanthus ‘Adagio’ blends well with neighbors, particularly the shapely Veronicastrum virginicum. We have high expecations that this combination will prove to be superstars of not only winter interest but for most of the year.

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Stepping back for the long view, we can see the upper nursery and leading edge of the lower nursery plantings of four Miscanthus ‘Adagio’, two on each side of the dividing boardwalk. Strong presence is what was needed here and this grass fits the job description. Many more of this cultivar are in use in the front lawn/meadow planting between our yard and the next door neighbors. These were purchased last year in three gallon containers, each sawed into four bits for easier planting and frugality. The impact was minimal during the first cold season, but this year has seen them rise up and excel. The future looks bright as the years roll onward.

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Moving to the front yard, the three Cornus ‘Midwinter Fire’ are attention grabbing in the mailbox bed. The suporting players still need some growth to gain girth to offer a better backdrop. Patience is a great gardening virtue, never forget.

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A closer look shows the painterly colors of red, coral and gold on each stem. A few leaves at the tips echo the same hues. This is an outstanding winter interest shrub.

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Redbor kale, grown from seed sown in September and eaten mercilessly by caterpillars offers a rich, velvety purple accent especially when frosted. It was surprising how much cold those hungry hordes of insect larvae could withstand. Luckily their bright green bodies were easy to detect against the dark leaves, once we noticed  the holey leaves.  Allium schubertii foliage has erupted to an alarming height already. There may be some damage to the leaves before bloom time in May since we haven’t really been hit with the harshest conditions of winter yet. Hang in there, guys!

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Blue fescue, Festuca glauca is the matrix planting along the front walkway. The desired look was for year-round uniformity, and I love the blue. Snow in summer, Cerastium tomentosum was chosen as an accent. Violas and crocus are planted along the edge for color in late winter.

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The red Phormium won’t last until spring without wilting down to mush, but it has done well and is such an architectural addition. More of that will be added next year.

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These leaves never let me down. Frosted or unadorned, they always come through, especially when backlit. They are from the wonderful glass artist, Barbara Sanderson. Her online shop can be found here. It is so nice to have a real garden again, even in the depths of the down time. Winter interest is so important if you happen to live in a four season area like east Tennessee.   Seldom is the yard buried in snow cover so what is left standing should offer a pleasing view from inside the house or when the weather permits outdoor perusing.  We do love a good peruse.

There was a series of blog posts written a few years ago about this topic if you wish to learn more. The How To Have Winter Interest series of posts:

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-The Big Guys
How To Have Winter Interest-Hardscape


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13 Responses to Winter Game Strong

  1. Jean says:

    Good Morning Frances, So enjoy looking at your garden and the progress you make each time you send out a newsletter. Love the glass leaves at the end and they always make me think of chiluly glass which is very expensive. We were in Tennessee a few years ago at the Maxwell House Mansion and the gardens were full of Chiluly Glass what a sight to see. Would you mind sharing where you got your glass leaves as I would love to nestle a few in my garden and truly can’t afford the chiluly ones. Thanks so much and it will soon be time to get out the garden supplies once again, but not today. We are at 2 degrees here in Midwest Indiana with a wind chill of -11.

    Hi Jean, thanks for much for visiting. I have several pieces of glass art in the garden, all of it from the wonderful Barbara Sanderson. During the Seattle bloggers fling we learned of her wonderful art and I have been collecting it for years. It is very winter hardy and stays outside all year. Her online shop can be found here. I will add the link to the post, too, and should have done that but was lazy. You stay warm up there in Indiana!

  2. What a lift seeing “Fairegarden” in my inbox gives me, Frances. Your posts always get my gardening juices flowing. The late-arriving winter has my daphne in bloom early which is lovely to see…and smell. I need to take your lead for future winter interest though. Do you have to cut back that cornus every year to get that vibrant color? Thank you for sharing your passion.

    Hi Georgia, thanks for being so sweet, that gives me a lift! As for the Cornus, some of the red and yellow twigged cultivars should be cut down to the ground once they are mature specimens. Midwinter Fire is one that only needs a light shaping yearly.

  3. Barbara H. says:

    Good morning, Frances! I’m so impressed by your round up of winter interest. Even on the nice days, I’ve been an indoor resident lately, so your tour reminds me to get out and take a walk around my own garden. Maybe I’ll do that later today. Tomorrow morning will be very cold, so I also need to see if there’s anything else outside that needs to be brought under shelter. Do you leave your glass leaves out all winter?

    Hi Barbara, thanks for the encouraging words. It is hoped that future winter interest photos will be more lush and impressive, but I am thankful what we have now. The glass art is very thick and meant to stay outdoors in winter. Stay warm where you are and get out if you can!

  4. Cindy, MCOK says:

    Oh, how I wish I could grow those Cornus! The colors are fabulous!

    Hi Cindy, thanks for visiting. Perhaps there are some other shrubs with colorful stems you can grow, willows perhaps?

  5. meander1 says:

    Hi, there. It’s always a delight to take a walkabout through your garden and have you point out things of interest. I share your enthusiasm for the miscanthus selection ‘Adagio’ stays a manageable size and doesn’t seem to reseed…a win/win. What a treasure your Barbara Sanderson glass leaves are. They esp. add so much to your winter garden.
    I couldn’t quite tell if you were saying that the red phormium will come back even though the cold weather turned it to mush. Ha, I guess it would be too good to be true if that neat spiky shape plus the red color was perennial.

    Hi Michaele, happy birthday a day late! Thanks for joining in the garden tour. I hope in the future that there will be more to share worth looking at. I am working towards that goal as perusing the garden is one of my favorite things in the world to do. The Phormiums often last until December but can never make it all the way until spring. I keep trying, though and maybe someday will find the sunny, dry spot it likes. Our winters are too wet with sharp cold snaps, like now to keep it alive. I do love the form and color so will keep using them. Adagio is a good grass and readily available at big box stores and nurseries. They like to be divided as they can die out in the middle over time, like every five years.

  6. Lovely, Frances! I didn’t realize you had a whole series of posts on winter interest. I will have to add them to my handout for Creating a Cabin Fever Bed.

    Hi Kathy, thanks for your support!

  7. Leslie says:

    You have done so much in such a short time Frances.So glad you and your garden got a little extra time before winter hit this year!

    Hi Leslie, thanks for following along. The delay in cold weather coming was a blessing even if we cannot count on that happening again. It allowed for newly planteds, the majority of the gardens, to get more settled in.

  8. Alison says:

    Your new garden is looking wonderful, even in winter. I hope your Alliums survive. I tried Allium schubertii, and they eventually dwindled back to nothing. But others do just great here!

    Thanks, Alison. A. schubertii is not as good at returning as some of the other Alliums, but will make a good show the first year, anyway. I just love those large otherworldly flower heads. They dry so well, too.

  9. Hi Frances, It looks like your garden is coming along well. I too have some spring bulbs popping up. Hyacinths have buds peeking out. I hope they survive this awful cold we have now. Of course no snow cover to keep them warm. We just have to wait to see if all of these plants that were tricked by the warm winter we had up until now bloom or maybe more importantly survive. Keep warm.

    Hi Lisa, thanks for reading. Survival is what we hope for, as well. May our plants live to flower another year, if not this year.

  10. Winter has definitely come to the garden, I to find myself walking more often through the garden this time of year in anticipation of watching the blooms that come in December, January, and February….The buds are about to break on the camellias, hellebores, and the sarcococca.

    Hi Charlie, thanks for adding to the conversation. It sounds as though your garden will be giving you lots to enjoy soon. There are Hellebore buds in neighbor’s yards already blooming. Mine are still babies but one of these years there will be those winter gems. Maybe we can find a place for a Camellia or two.

  11. So excited to see your post. Your winter game is indeed strong, and you are now settling in. Love ya.~~Dee

    Thank you for visiting, sweet Dee. Getting to start over with a new garden with more experience under our tool belt, we know to plan for winter interest this time around instead of as an afterthought. Age does have its virtues!

  12. Marguerite says:

    “We do love a good Peruse”…. Bwah ha ha!!! Oh yes, indeed we do! And we also love a good (nay, great) blog like yours that plays with language as well as ideas…
    how fun it is , galumphing around the garden in boots or heavy shoes on a cold day, with fingerless gloves holding a hot drink in a spill-less Contigo mug, …… ” reviewing the troops”. Thanks for the update from Eastern Tenn. Here in Conn, enjoying never boring hellebores and erica darlyensis which blooms against the snow despite all reason or expectations. It’s worth getting out of bed just to see them. Best to you, Frances!

    And we also love a great comment such as yours, Marguerite! Thank you for making me laugh out loud. Words can sometimes be toyed with and tweaked when no one is going to grade or judge us for being improper. Reviewing the troops, that is perfect! The heaths and heathers do give us a lot of joy, mine are still quite small, as are the hellebores. But one of these years…

  13. Rose says:

    Thanks for the tour of your winter garden, Frances. I haven’t spent much time looking at mine this winter at all; I much prefer the way mine looks with a cover of snow, which we have had very little of, fortunately. But you’re an inspiration and a reminder that there is beauty to be found in seedheads and drying foliage, even without snow as decoration. Seeing your redbor kale reminds me I want to grow it again–it used to be the only plant that made it through the winter in my vegetable garden. I never harvested any of it, but loved that deep purple foliage!

    Hi Rose, thanks for reading. Snow cover is beautiful and so good for the garden. Unfortunately we rarely have any snow so the garden must be planted with a thought to how things look off season. I still like to look at it everyday, whether from inside the house or walking around and getting nose to stem. Try that redbor again, it is very sturdy and so pretty.

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