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The Garden in Winter

Along with conifers, there are many evergreen trees, shrubs and perennials that grace the winter tapestry of our gardens with their striking foliage.

The ancient Greeks' fondness for an imported drug know as lycium, a cure-all potion, resulted in dubbing the plant from which they thought it was derived as "foreign bark" or "barbarian bark". Over time, this name was attached to another genus now known as Berberis, the barberries.

Both evergreen and deciduous, these versatile plants are worth inclusion in the garden for their flowers and berries. However, the evergreens are some of the richest foliage plants we can use for structure and strength in winter.

Berberis darwinii
berberis darwinii.jpg
Although I'm not usually a fan of stickery plants, you can see why I couldn't resist the multitude of orange blossoms on this particular barberry. This picture is from Heronswood , the wonderful nursery where I got my plant; most of their business is mail-order but I'm lucky to live within driving range :-) This post is about foliage, but I just had to include the Darwin barberry for its flowers as well as being a parent of my next selection...

Berberis x stenophylla
berberis stenophylla.jpg
Graceful, arching 6' canes of small blue-green leaves are covered in late spring with soft yellow flowers. For those with limited space, other plants from this cross between B. darwinii and B. empetrifolia are 'Corallina', a compact shrub to 3' and 'Corallina Compacta', which seldom grows more than a foot in height.

Berberis julianae
berberis julianae.jpg
This barberry can grow into an impenetrable fortress of heavily armored stems covered in dark green foliage up to 12' tall. Great for keeping out pesky neighbors! And just look how it takes on brilliant hues of red and pink in winter if it's planted in full sun (or drought conditions).

B. gladwynensis
berberis gladwynensis.jpg
For those who don't mind neighbors coming through your yard, this plant is very similar but produces a much more compact, neat shrub to 3' or less - ideal for a low hedge.

Berberis calliantha
berberis calliantha.jpg
I wish I could have found a better picture for this more rare cultivar, originally named by Brian Mulligan, late director emeritus of Seattle's Washington Park Arboretum. This shrub eventually reaches 3' and is clothed in glossy, toothed, rich green leaves with a blinding white waxy undercoating. In full sun, B. calliantha becomes tinted with oranges and reds in autumn, reverting to deep green once again in spring.

Elaeagnus pungens, or silverberry, is an attractive, mid-sized evergreen shrub that makes a wonderful addition to any garden. The gray-green leaves are coated by a scaly intense silver underneath, as are the young stems and red fruit, resembling a Pollock application of silver paint ;-) These shrubs reach about 8' x 8' and once established are very drought-tolerant. One word of caution - some are suckering and can become invasive, so site carefully!
elaeagnus pungens2.jpg
elaeagnus pungens underside.jpg

Elaeagnus x ebbiginii 'Gilt Edge'
elaeagnus ebbiginii gilt edge.jpg
This outstanding golden-foliaged shrub reaches 6' and perfectly compliments the intense silver-white leaf underside. Prune out any non-variegated branches so that it won't revert to regular leaf color.

Elaeagnus pungens 'Hosoba Fukurin'
elaeagnus pungens hosoka fukurin.jpg
This is one of my favorite winter shrubs...or I should say WAS one of my favorites. I don't think it survived the move; it went into shock immediately after potting it. A silverberry from Japan, it has distinctive texture with much narrower and somewhat puckered foliage than usual, with a creamy white margin eventually to 6' x 6'. I am ordering another one this spring; the Heronswood description warns "this demonstrates less hardiness than other clones of this species and is not recommended for especially cold sites."

Axillary clusters of extremely fragrant, creamy white flowers in late summer and early autumn are one more reason to add elaeagnus to your garden.

Euphorbia amygdaloides var. robbiae
What a mouthful! I prefer Miss Robb's spurge. Euphorbias have become all the rage the last 5+years and show no signs of slowing down. I had 6 or 7 cultivars but took out and gave them away; when cut back, if the milky sap gets on your hands or (G-d forbid) in your eyes, it is an extreme irritant. I was more worried about the dogs getting into them. So place them carefully as they are otherwise a trouble-free plant, drought- and shade-tolerant and they do equally well in full sun.

Eurya japonica
eurya japonica.jpg
This is an exceptionally hardy shrub, withstanding extremely low temps as well as high winds. Eurya japonica is a winter-flowering, broadleaf evergreen shrub related to the camellia. In marked contrast with the camellia, however, its flowers are individually tiny and exceptionally malodorous.8D[1].png The cultivar 'Winter Wine' darkens to a shining burgundy from late fall through winter; branches of Eurya japonica are used in Shinto ceremonies in Japan. This shrub can be planted in both full sun and partial shade and is reasonably drought-tolerant once established.

Ilex aquifolium 'Flavescens'
ilex aquifloliium flavescens.jpg
The evergreen hollies are among the best garden plants for interesting fruit and foliage throughout the year. This cultivar appears as any other in summer with shades of green. As the temperatures cool in late fall however, this shrub is transformed into golden yellow swirls that deepen with the shorter days of winter.

Ilex 'O Spring'
ilex o spring.jpg
This holly is also bright but the golden hue is provided by a distinct pattern on each leaf.

Ilex crenata 'Convexa'
ilex crenata convexa.jpg
The convex-leaf Japanese holly adds striking texture from tiny leaves that are turned downward at the margin, on mounds of dark foliage to 2'. A wonderful addition to the winter landscape.

Ilex crenata 'Dwarf Pagoda'
ilex dwarf pagoda3.jpg
I had this plant for 3 years and ended up killing it with too much water. It has excruciatingly slow growth to 15" and I was thrilled to find a fairly mature plant without having to take out a second mortgage! Oh well...
The foliage is plastered so tight together the stem is totally hidden; this plant is ideal for bonsai and the trough (upcoming post), but equally good in the rock garden. Take a closer look at the foliage:
ilex dwarf pagoda2.jpg
P.S. Don't overwater.

Posted by floranista on Feb 24, 2006 1:12 am

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