Monday, November 30, 2009

Part V: Favorite Winter Plants (Western Washington)

Pieris japonica 'Flaming Silver'

Winters in Western Washington are wet ... pure and simple. The final stop of this multi-part series on Favorite Winter Plants may not be as cold as the other regions, but this lovely area definitely has its challenges, reports personal garden coach Christina Salwitz (aka @Arcadia1 on Twitter).

First, consider the area (USDA Hardiness Zone 7B). The Puget Sound region sits squarely between two mountain ranges, the salt water centering it and approximately 857,492 lakes, large and small, streams, creeks and rivers. The result? Moderate temperatures, and lots of moisture.

"A true northwest gardener mildews from all angles for about six months a year," says Christina with a laugh. "Rarely do we have snow for more than a few days here. Instead, we have seemingly unending, gray and drizzly days of soggy, muddy, misty, damp and cold weather. You have to want to be out weeding, transplanting or cleaning up here."

If you take the plunge, however, you can grow lovely winter plants like Pieris japonica 'Flaming Silver' (shown at the top). "This variegated shrub looks elegant and showy without even a bloom on it," she says.

Another favorite is Helleborus 'Ivory Prince' (shown above), which blooms heavily in winter on lovely, evergreen foliage. That's important in this sometimes dreary climate.

"Our plant choices must be made lovingly, and with much regard for the mental aspects of the garden," Christina explains. "We need to be able to look out our windows into the gloominess of winter and see color."

Another great plant for winter color - especially in December - is Mahonia x media 'Charity,' according to this gardening expert.

This stunning plant (shown in above two photos) is "a hummingbird extravaganza of sweet yellow flowers in December, on tough, blue-green holly-like foliage," adds Christina.

Foliage is another great source of winter color. As Christina reports, "Winter heathers have many feisty foliage colors, from yellows to oranges to hot pinks."

From hot pink heathers to variegated shrubs to sweetly blooming flowers, there are many plants that can lift the spirits and brighten the gardens during the wet winters of Washington. And maybe even your garden too...

Learn more: on Christina's blog Personal Garden Coach; or on Twitter @Arcadia1

Did we forget any of your favorite winter plants in this series? If so, what are they? We'd love to hear...

Monday, November 23, 2009

Part IV: Favorite Winter Plants (North Carolina)

There may be a snow storm or two, but Raleigh, N.C. (Zone 7B) enjoys more moderate winters than the first three locations featured in this Favorite Winter Plants series. In fact, you can pretty much garden all winter long, reports garden writer and coach Helen Yoest. And she should know. Helen not only owns Gardening With Confidence, she also serves on the board of advisors for JC Raulston Arboretum.

"I planted Helen's Haven with winter interest in mind," she says about her own garden and wildlife habitat. "During the coldest, darkest days, when I need it the most, I have plants bringing me scent, color, form and texture."

One example is coral bark maple (Acer palmatum  'Sango-kaku'), shown above. The tree offers fabulous fall color as well as orangey new leaves that turn green in summer. But Helen grows the tree for its winter beauty. "In winter, the bark color is more pronounced, especially on the new branches," she reports. "The coral color will dazzle you."

Not far from the maple is winter daphne (Daphne), shown above. "A winter daphne may up-and-die on you, but the scent in the middle of winter is worth the risk," admits Helen. "I have two at the front entrance. One for now and one for when one dies. The wildlife appreciate the pollen and evergreen cover as well."

Speaking of critters, they love to feast on the berries of deciduous holly (Ilex 'Winter Red). "For the wildlife, the color red says GO!," she says. "The deciduous nature of this shrub bodes well to show off the striking holly berries."

This holly does need a male holly plant as a pollinator, and 'Southern Gentlemen' works well, according to Helen, who adds with a laugh, "But of course, can't we all benefit from a southern gentleman?"

Another plant Helen can't live without is southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora).  "We have one on the south side of the house," she says. "It shades our home from the hot summer sun. And their May and June blooms look and smell heavenly. But for the winter, nothing beats the glossy evergreen cover this magnificent tree offers. There is a lot of chirping going on in that tree during the winter and all seasons."

As Helen successfully shows, there are many ways to use plants in the winter garden ... from feeding wildlife to adding visual interest to your landscape.

Learn more:

Don't Go Away.  Our final stop is Western Washington, where the winters are wet and cold, but the planting options are hot hot hot.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Part III - Favorite Winter Plants (Canada)

For part 3 of "Favorite Winter Plants," we travel to Lake Ontario, Canada.  It takes a special plant to survive these rugged growing conditions, reports award-winning garden writer Doug Green (aka @DougGreen on Twitter). His garden is USDA Hardiness Zone 4 or 5, depending on the season and whether you're in one of the property's microclimates.

But as Doug explains," A winter plant here has to have the substance to survive our shallow, limestone soils, the high winds out here in Lake Ontario and the mind-numbing winter cold. This is not a garden for cosseted Southern belles but rather the hardy souls of our garden world."

Take apple trees, for instance. "My old orchard, unpruned for many years before we purchased the property, gives amazing contours and shapes when snow invariably flies," he says. "I love wandering around in the orchard and indeed right outside the back door, where the biggest and oldest specimen lives."

"Sumacs (Rhus) are notorious spreaders and have totally invaded what used to be a nice little patio garden down at the water's edge," Doug explains. "I'm reclaiming this area for a garden, by slowly whacking them back. But a soft snowfall reminds me why I plan on leaving just a few."

"There's no doubt that cedars (Thuja occidentalis) form the hardy backbone on our shallow cliff edge leading down to the water," he says. "They hold the bank in place, tenaciously winding the limestone shale subsoil into a firm mat, and I hate to lose even one of them. They too give us some measure of shape and substance to our winter view, and are not to be denied their place in our garden."

"Call it the last gasp of winter or the first warnings of spring," adds Doug. "But I'll never have a garden without hellebore. When this plant finally springs to bloom from its roots (it's not evergreen here), you know the frost is out of the ground and spring can't be far behind."

Learn more: or on Twitter @DougGreen.

There's More! Our next stop is North Carolina. The winters are certainly milder there, but the winter garden excitement is just as hot. Don't miss part four of this series, coming soon.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Part II: Favorite Winter Plants (No. Idaho)

In part two of our "Favorite Winter Plants" series, we travel to the frigid region of Northern Idaho to show some of the wonderful winter plants that can add interest to these gardens in colder months.

Dan Eskelson (aka @daneskelson on Twitter) began his horticultural training in the balmy hills of Santa Barbara, California. But these days he gardens and designs landscapes from his company Clearwater Landscapes in Priest River, Idaho. This distinctly four-season climate is a frosty USDA Hardiness Zones 4 and 5. Even in this cold climate, however, there are plenty of interesting winter plants. Here are some of Dan's favorites:

"Rose hips from the native Wood's rose (Rosa woodsii) are plentiful this year in Idaho," reports Dan. "They really provide bright, cheerful color for the fall/early winter landscape."

"Ocean Spray (Holodiscus discolor) is another native that we encourage and incorporate in the landscape," says Dan. "The seemingly delicate cream-colored flower clusters turn eventually dark brown and persist through much of the winter."

"Oregon Grape (Mahonia repens, M. aquifolium, etc.) is quite common and often used in the landscape," he admits. "Yet, it remains one of my favorite plants for winter interest. Each year seems to bring different combinations of leaf color, including green, purple and scarlet."

"These river birch (Betula nigra 'Heritage') are closely related to the native black birch," adds Dan. "They provide a continuously evolving show of trunk transformation. Their colors range from almost white to pinks and browns."

Learn More: Clearwater Landscapes, Inc.; or on Twitter @daneskelson

More to Come! Don't go away. We're traveling to Canada next, where the winter gardens can be especially beautiful if you just know what to plant. Look for part three, coming soon...

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Part I: Favorite Winter Plants (Maine Containers)

Winter is right around the corner, but that doesn't mean your garden can't still look beautiful. Many plants provide visual excitement in the colder months with colorful berries, patterned trunks, interesting textures and fabulous foliage.

That's why I asked five knowledgeable garden writers, coaches and designers from Canada and the United States to name some of their favorite winter plants. In the next few posts, you'll hear what they had to say.

First, I head to New England to hear about container plants that transition well into winter. My source is Kerry Michaels, who writes all about container gardening for and on Twitter as @containergarden.

"There are so many great plants that will bring you through fall and well into winter in grand style," explains Kerry, who lives on the Maine coast (USDA Hardiness Zone 5).

"I'm ridiculously enamored of heucheras, also known as coral bells," she admits. "They come in a huge assortment of colors, from almost black to the rocking 'key lime' green one pictured above. Most are hardy down to a whopping minus 25 degrees F, and continue to look good far into winter."

"My other favorite fall to winter plants are ornamental grasses," says Kerry. "I particularly like purple fountain grass 'Rubrum' and Japanese forest grass, Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola,' which is shown in the above picture."

"I also love sage (Salvia officinalis 'Aureaus')," she adds. "It cruises beautifully into winter and then comes in handy when you want to make stuffing for holiday turkeys. This photo shows sage combined with croton and purple fountain grass." Beware: when temperatures start to really fall, you'll want to remove the croton.

Hope these container gardening suggestions get your creative juices flowing. Remember container gardening can be a four-season hobby, even in the cold climates.

Learn More: Kerry Michaels, About.Com Container Gardening or on Twitter @ContainerGarden

More to Come! Next, we travel to Northern Idaho, where the winters are frigid but there are still plenty of ways to add interest to the garden. Look for part 2, coming soon...

Monday, November 2, 2009

Winter Survival Tips From Five Pros

The days are growing shorter. The temperatures are dropping. And old man winter will be here before we know it. Meanwhile, I can't help but wonder how gardeners in much colder climates survive the dark, dreary days of winter.

I'll be honest with you. In my USDA Hardiness Zone 6B garden, winters are relatively mild, especially compared to the rest of Idaho and the northern states. But what about those brave souls in the really cold places? What about those regions where snowstorms come as early as October and frosts can continue until June? Ever wonder how they do it?

Well, keep reading. Five popular gardening writers, bloggers and tweeters share their winter survival tips:

Jodi Torpey

Jodi Torpey is a Denver-based garden writer, master gardener and author of "The Colorado Gardener's Companion: An Insider's Guide to Gardening in the Centennial State." In her Zone 5 garden, she saw snow before Halloween this year.

"I'm convinced T.S. Eliot got it wrong," says Jodi. "April isn't the cruelest month, it surely must be January. I know those cold, dark days are coming when I do my planting in May. Then, in late August, I fill the freezer with containers of slow-roasted tomatoes, prepared chile peppers and home-made pesto. Every time I savor the garden-fresh aroma of a winter dinner bubbling on the stove, summer is within reach."

Learn more: or follow her on Twitter @WesternGardener.

Amanda Thomsen

Amanda Thomsen (aka Kiss My Aster) knows something about cold winters too. From her Zone 5 garden in the Chicago area, she manages her busy life as a "blogger for Horticulture magazine, garden Jedi, half of Good Enough Gardening podcasts, co-author of 'Grocery Gardening,' wearer of vintage clothing, Hello Kitty fan and thriftaholic."

How does she stay sane in the Windy City when those winds turn frigid?

"You know how I keep busy when the snow is knee deep?" she asked. "I search relentlessly for junk! It hardly matters what kind of junk; it sparks my creativity whether it's a dryer vent that can be repurposed or toys from the past that would look creepy in my garden come spring. I hit thrift stores, antique malls (the crapper the better), indoor flea markets and scour My winter revolves around junk. That and coffee."

Learn more: or follow her on Twitter @KissMyAster.

Kathy Purdy

Kathy Purdy saw snow in upstate New York by October this year too. This popular blogger and cold climate gardening expert says her area was definitely Zone 4 about 20 years ago, but it's been leaning towards Zone 5 in recent years.

Translation: That means temperatures haven't dropped down to minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit in a while. But she can still see frost the first week in June. So, how does she survive those long winters in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains?

"The most important thing I do in the winter is train for strength and flexibility," explains Kathy. "It may not seem garden-related, but gardening in spring is much more pleasurable when your body is ready for physical labor, and it does keep your spirits up during the gloom. I also try to get out on milder days and stamp proposed paths or garden beds into the snow. Then I go upstairs to see how they look from above. I'm hoping this year to force more bulbs to have something fragrant and fresh in the house."

Learn more: or follow her on Twitter @KathyPurdy.

Helen and Sarah Battersby

Helen and Sarah Battersby admit Toronto, Canada can get depressing in the dead of winter, especially for gardeners. And they would know. Descending from a long line of English gardeners, the sisters and neighbors write a popular gardening blog about Toronto together.

Here's how Sarah says she tackles Toronto's Zone 5 (Canada Zone 6) winters:

"Winter in Toronto can be especially grueling," explains Sarah. "Any snow we get, if it stays around at all, quickly gets filthy. We don't have many perfect winter wonderland days here. This can send me screaming to Allan Gardens, a Victorian conservatory in downtown Toronto. As soon as you walk in the door you're hit with warm, moist tropical air. There are three greenhouses: one cool, one warm, and a cacti and succulent room. Victorian sculptures, ponds with waterfalls and goldfish, and even a miniature mill with a water wheel, make the place magical for all ages."

Learn more: or follow on Twitter @torontogardens.

Lynn Felici-Gallant

Lynn Felici-Gallant spends winters on New Hampshire's scenic coast; also Zone 5. The garden writer, marketer and garden/container designer survives the cold weather by taking a philosophical look at the changing seasons.

"Each autumn, I lament the inevitable winter to come," admits Lynn. "I find myself holding on to the vestiges of my gardens with a vengeance, as if I might somehow stop the cold. And then, without warning, I begin to embrace the change of seasons; I savor the fragrant wood smoke from my stove, and relish Sundays with a pot of soup. I head outdoors as often as I can -- to walk in the woods, to track evidence of an evening critter, or to count the winter birds at my feeders. Slowly I realize the bare beauty of nature, stripped of the often overwhelming cacophony of summer flowers and foliage, and I feel grateful for the quiet."

Learn more: or follow her on Twitter @IndigoGardens.

Tell us: How do you survive winter? Have any winter survival tips you'd like to share?