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Planning now for winter color. April 28, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading, Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben supposes that the easiest way to add winter interest to the landscape is with evergreens. Here at Hawk’s Haven, we’re fortunate to have inherited two stands of evergreens on our property lines and a majestic native Eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) at the front of the yard. We have since added a second red cedar out front and a boxwood—now grown to mammoth proportions—anchoring one of our foundation beds. Over the years, we might have chosen to add evergreens with colorful foliage—blue, yellow, copper—but we refrained, feeling that they just weren’t appropriate to our cottage landscape.

Another source of winter interest is structure—the so-called “bones” of the landscape—paths, steps, walls and fences, patios, gates, arbors and trellises, urns and sculpture. Anything that remains outdoors over winter and that’s big enough to draw the eye.

Those with the time and inclination could brighten the winter landscape with paint: painting the front door and shutters a different color just for the winter, for example, or taking a tip from our friend, the garden designer Edith Eddleman, and spray-painting stands of ornamental grasses (once they’ve dried) to make splashes of color against a snowy backdrop. Or, of course, stringing lights and hanging large, showy wreaths.

But our friend Ben and Silence Dogood have opted for a more subtle approach: adding trees and shrubs with colorful bark to our backyard. This all started a couple of years ago when a boxelder (Acer negundo) mysteriously turned up in an island bed under one of our black walnut trees. Now, boxelders are usually considered weed trees, but our friend Ben fell in love with ours because its branches are bright green.

This spring, we planted out a branch of corkscrew willow (Salix matsudana ‘Tortuosa’) that our friend Ben had rooted. (See our earlier post, “Experiment times two,” for more on this. In this post, I discussed planting two rooted branches, but after Helen from Toronto Botanic Gardens pointed out that the tree would achieve some size—20 to 30 feet—we decided that one was plenty for us, dug up the second, and gave it to our neighbors to plant on their part of the stream bank.) Like the boxelder, corkscrew willow’s new branches are bright green, and they’re also curly, adding even more winter landscape interest.

So far, we were doing well in the green stem department. Then this past weekend, our friend Ben and Silence trekked over to nearby Bowers, PA to Meadowview Farm, to get more organic potting soil and heirloom veggie transplants from James Weaver, locally renowned as the inspiration for the annual Bowers Chile Pepper Festival.

While Silence pored over the enormous assortment of heirloom tomato and bell pepper transplants, our friend Ben strolled through the nursery area. Then I saw it: a variegated red-twig dogwood (Cornus alba ‘Elegantissima’) with the reddest stems I had ever seen. As sometimes happens, this one plant stood out from the others in its group like Queen Elizabeth in a supermarket. It might as well have been waving its branches at our friend Ben and screaming “Buy me! Buy me!!!” So I did.

We’ll plant this shrubby dogwood, which reaches 8 feet tall if left unpruned, along the same row of streamside trees where the corkscrew willow now resides. Not only will it give Silence plenty of bright red twigs for winter arrangements, but it will enhance the landscape with its white-bordered green leaves during the growing season. (We already had a stand of white-variegated daylilies—one of our treasures—in this bed, and have added a white-variegated iris to continue the theme. We also hang two large white-variegated spider plants from the maple branches over the bed once danger of frost has passed, carrying the green-and-white theme upwards. And we’ll probably add some green-and-white hostas to the bed as well.

Now all we need are some yellow-twig dogwoods (Cornus sericea ‘Flaviramea’, aka C. stolonifera ‘Flaviramea’) to plant around the corkscrew willow. Our friend Ben will be on the lookout!

I should add that tree bark, even when it’s not brilliantly colored, can add winter interest to the landscape. Our huge shagbark hickory (Carya ovata), named for its bark, which peels in long strips that remain on the trunk like a hula skirt, is one example. Its cousin the butternut (Juglans cinerea)—which we’re also fortunate enough to have—has the most gorgeous pure silver bark our friend Ben has ever seen. We also have a beauty bush (Kolkwitzia amabilis), with gorgeous multihued peeling bark.

There are plenty of other trees and shrubs with interesting bark, including the beloved crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica) and ‘Hertitage’ river birch (Betula nigra ‘Heritage’). Check them (and plants with colored bark) out and see what you can add to your landscape now to add delight this winter!



1. Dave@TheHomeGarden - April 28, 2010

That’s a great find! I bought one at the end of last year. It’s already starting to put on blooms. Bark is my favorite way to add winter color. Although I envy your evergreen tree line. I really want to add a coral bark maple one of these days.

Wow, a coral bark maple! Great idea, Dave!

2. Victoria - April 28, 2010

Great idea. We have a corkscrew willow and love it.

That’s so great, Victoria! Since we sort of stumbled on our corrkscrew willow rather than choosing it, we were pretty nervous about planting it, but from what we’ve heard, everyone who has one loves it. Whew!

3. Elephant's Eye - April 28, 2010

I miss the Commiphora in the last garden. Bronze bark, shiny like metal, that peels off in curls, just the width of the gap between former leaves. Shines after dark if the light catches it. Wonder if it will grow here? Grew it from seed and we had lots, but none of the cuttings made it.

That sounds like a must-have, Diana! I love the mental picture of it glittering in the dark. I hope you’re able to find more seed or a rooted plant for your garden!

4. noel - April 29, 2010


it looks like you have some wonderful bones and color in your garden, i do miss not having acers in my tropical garden, but i have found some wonderful look a like substitutes

That’s excellent, Noel! I love that we Northern gardeners try so hard to add tropical touches to our gardens, while you tropical types yearn for temperate plants. I guess it all balances out in the end!

5. Adrian - April 30, 2010

Your garden sounds lovely.

In trees, paperbark maple also has unusual orange-ish exfoliating bark. In shrubs, ninebark also has exfoliating bark, and you can get a variety with purple leaves (Physocarpus opifolius ‘Diabolo’).

In pots I’ve planted green and white caladium with white impatiens. Very refreshing.

Thanks, Adrian! Those are very refreshing. Great suggestions!

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