A.: There are a number of ways to add interest to a winter garden. The first thing we usually think about is color, often in the form of evergreens or berries. However, unusual or contorted shapes and the beautiful peeling bark of some deciduous shrubs and trees can be equally fascinating in the stark winter landscape. Many more shrubs contribute to the winter view than we recognize at first thought. We can’t cover all of them here, but once we start noticing and looking for different types of eye-catching forms, we find them all around us.
Two different nandinas, Heavenly Bamboo and “Firepower,” are commonly used in landscapes because they are so hardy and easy to grow. Both are broad-leaved evergreens. Heavenly Bamboo, which can be moderately invasive if not controlled, grows to 3 to 4 feet tall with medium leaves and red berries. The smaller “Firepower” has larger multicolored chartreuse and red leaves that are attractive all winter, but does not have berries.
Acuba ‘“Rozannie” is also a broad-leaved evergreen that is hardy in cold hardiness zones 6 through 10. It will get about 3 feet tall and wide; has dark green glossy leaves; and likes dry shade or part shade.
There are a wide variety of hollies, both evergreen and deciduous, available. Ilex verticillata “Winter Red” and “Maryland Beauty” both loose their leaves in the fall, but have large clusters of red berries in the winter. “Winter Red” grows to about 10 feet tall with an upright rounded shape and “Maryland Beauty” grows to about 5 feet tall. Both must have a male pollinator and need a sunny location for good berry production. “Sunny Foster” is an evergreen with variegated butter-yellow and dark green leaves. The bright red berries are especially attractive against the yellow leaves. It is cold hardy through zone 7 and does best in sun.
Evergreen conifers add a variety of colors besides green. Many are shades of blues and yellows. Some even have a bronze cast and some junipers have a purple cast.
Even though we don’t think about shrubs blooming in the winter, many do. Camellias, mahonias, wintersweet, and one of my favorite, the fragrant daphne, all bloom in the winter. Mahonia also has beautiful blue berries that the birds love. Winter jasmine’s (Jasminum nudiflorum) yellow flowers are beautiful along the arching branches of this 6-10 foot shrub. The winter-flowering cherry (Prunus subhirtella ‘Autumnalis’), which blooms sporadically during the winter, is one of the best cherries to cut branches for winter forcing of blooms.
The Japanese flowering apricot (Prunus mume) has fragrant white, pink or rose blooms. Winter honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima) is another fragrant winter bloomer. Witch hazels have yellow, orange or red blooms with a unique clean, spicy scent. Wax myrtles, aronia, viburnums and beautyberries are a few of the other shrubs that have colorful orange, red, gray, yellow, white, purple or blue berries, most of which attract a variety of songbirds that add their own color and music to the garden.
Many shrubs and small trees that loose their leaves have colorful twigs or bark, such as the red or yellow-twig dogwood or the coral-bark maple. The smooth or pealing trunks of crepe myrtles are attractive all winter. The contorted stems and branches of Henry Lauder’s Walking Stick or the Contorted Willow add interest to any winter scene.
These are only a sampling of the many shrubs that can enhance your enjoyment of your winter garden. I am sure when you start looking you will find many more.