What do you enjoy most about your garden between Thanksgiving and Valentine’s Day? If you say nothing except the rest from weeding in the hot sun, you are missing a whole season’s worth of beauty.
What can be attractive about a garden in winter? Fruits, foliage, bark and even flowers are all part of making a winter garden beautiful.
Flowers in winter? Certainly! Camellias, mahonias, winter jasmine, wintersweet, witch hazels, pansies, and violas are a few plants that will flower in the Georgia winter. Winter jasmine’s (Jasminum nudiflorum) yellow flowers contrast with its blue green stems. The shrub’s arching habit makes it ideal for planting on banks and to cascade over walls. The winter-flowering cherry (Prunus subhirtella ‘Autumnalis’) blooms sporadically all winter, depending on the weather, with the peak of flowering in March or April. It is one of the best cherries to cut for winter forcing because of the light dormancy of the flowers. Another winter-flowering tree is the Japanese flowering apricot. You are just as likely to hear it called by its botanical name Prunus mume (pronounced PROO-nus MYOO-may) than its common name, however. Its flowers can be white, pink or rose and are sweetly fragrant. The Japanese consider it the finest of flowering trees, even over their beloved cherries.
Winter-blooming trees and shrubs are among the most fragrant of all plants. Wintersweet (Chimonanthus praecox) is a large shrub or small tree with pale yellow flowers and a fragrance described as a mix of bananas, vanilla and spices. In short, delicious and sure to brighten any winter day. Winter honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima) is sometimes called “sweet-breath-of-spring” even though it can start blooming in December. The fragrantissima in its botanical name means “very fragrant.” And very fragrant it is. The shrub’s creamy, small flowers are not showy, but their fragrance will let you know it is nearby long before it is in sight. Witch hazels have a clean, spicy scent uniquely their own. Flower colors range from yellow to orange and red depending on species and variety.
Flowers are not necessarily the main contributors of color to the winter garden. Orange, red, gray, yellow, white, purple and blue can be found in the fruits of many plants. Hollies, wax myrtle, nandina, aronia, viburnums, flowering dogwood and beautyberry are a few plants whose fruits add color to the winter garden. They also attract birds. Birds bring color, song and liveliness to the garden in any season, but on gloomy winter days they can be especially cheering.
Evergreens don’t just provide deep green to the landscape. “Evergreens” can provide blues, yellows and many shades of green. Some take on a bronze cast in the winter. Some junipers become tinged with purple. Yellow and variegated evergreens can be used against dark backgrounds for contrast.
Color can come from stems and bark of plants as well. Consider red or yellow-twig dogwoods or the coral-bark maple. The bark of ‘Natchez’ crepe myrtle is mottled cinnamon. Although not colorful, the contorted stems of the shrub known as Harry Lauder’s walking stick (a type of filbert) are especially interesting after it sheds its leaves in the fall.
These are just a few of the plants available at Georgia nurseries and garden centers that can add beauty and interest to your landscape in the winter.
Oh, and another good thing about being in the garden in winter: No mosquitoes!
-- Arty Schronce
Arty Schronce lives and gardens in the historic Cabbagetown neighborhood of Atlanta. He encourages everyone to discover the pleasures of plants and gardening.