If you’ve ever seen a butterfly bush kissed by snow, you appreciate the concept of winter interest. Snow mutates the shrub’s leaves and faded flowers into a sparkling, lacy delight.
For those of us who live in Colorado and other tundra territories, we need plants with winter interest to prevent our landscapes from resembling moonscapes from December through March, and perhaps longer.
Plants that add a winter-wonderland quality to your environment include those with cold-weather color; architectural form; eye-catching stems and twigs; or fruits, berries, cones and seed heads.
In the winter color category, some refreshing groundcovers are woolly speedwell (Veronica pectinata) and prostrate veronica (Veronica prostrata). V. pectinata foliage takes on a reddish cast in cold weather, whereas V. prostrata stays green and lush. Candytuft (Iberis sempervirens) also warms gardeners’ spirits with its deep green winter foliage. Then there’s Angelina sedum, which turns from its warm-weather yellow-green color to its vibrant winter orange-red hue.
Taller plants that offer color year-round include euonymus (as in Manhattan and moonshadow), lavender, ornamental grasses, Carol Mackie dapne (which retains many of its variegated leaves), Oregon grape holly, yew, pine, fir, spruce and juniper.
As for architectural form, the Kentucky coffee tree often comes to mind. This drought-tolerant stalwart is beautiful, but you have to decide whether it’s worth the hassle to clean up its brown leathery seed pods.
Other favorites with distinctive form include maple, oak, weeping cherry, dogwood, hawthorn, sumac, willow, Harry Lauder’s walking stick and ornamental grasses.
If you’re looking for attractive bark and stems, consider ornamental cherry trees (with their gleaming red bark), paperbark maple, Kousa dogwood, lacebark elm, mature purple smoketree, red twig dogwood and yellow twig dogwood.
For plants with berries and such, it’s difficult to beat the winter king hawthorn, with red berries that hang like petite Christmas ornaments from its limbs. This tough, water-saving plant also thrills gardeners in the spring, with its profuse white flowers and glossy green leaves.
Then there are firethorn (Pyracantha), red chokeberry, Japanese barberry and coral burst crabapple with their attractive fruit. Meanwhile, Annabelle hydrangea, purple coneflower, yarrow and autumn joy sedum offer eye-catching seed heads, especially in the snow. Finally, don’t forget roses with showy rosehips, or evergreen trees and shrubs, with their appealing cones.
Besides enlivening your winter garden, plants with showy fruit, berries, cones and seed heads often provide food for wildlife.
If your landscape currently looks moonscape-like, study your plant and seed catalogs to determine what you might plant this spring for a more stimulating winter ambiance in 2014.
For a Canadian blogger’s views on winter interest, visit Gardening for Winter Interest at patinaandcompany.wordpress.com.