Just like assessing our winter wardrobes, we should take the time to inventory the winter wardrobe of our gardens. Good classic wools equate to the wonderful wools of evergreens, as needled pines, spruces and junipers add fine-textured warmth to the chilly winter landscape.

Linden Viburnum

The wonderful ruby red clusters of Viburnum dilatatum berries look like chandelier earrings hanging in the distance.

Photo Credit: Eva Monheim

Japanese Red Pine

Trees with interesting bark, like Japanese red pine, are best placed near walkways and entrance ways to enjoy the amazing texture and color up close.

Photo Credit: Eva Monheim

Variegated Red Twigged Dogwood

Deciduous plants with wonderful colored twigs, like Cornus alba ‘Elegantissima’, provide extra zing to the gray winter landscape.

Photo Credit: Eva Monheim

Euphorbia Rudolph

Euphorbia ‘Rudolph’ is an attractive groundcover that provides the winter landscape with red bursts of color, adding the perfect winter interest along an entryway. It grows about 12 inches high.

Photo Credit: Eva Monheim

Common Witchhazel

Combine plants that bloom at different times to extend the life of your garden. Common witchhazel (pictured) is a late fall/early winter bloomer that works well with its later winter/early spring blooming counterpart, Ozark witchhazel.

Photo Credit: Eva Monheim

Winter Gold Holly

Ilex verticillata ‘Winter Gold’ provides a wonderful contrast against the snow. (They’re also very tasty to migrating marauding robins.)

Photo Credit: Eva Monheim

Dull, fine-scaled evergreens like American arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis) provide great evergreen backdrops for deciduous accessories like the berried beauties of winterberry holly (Ilex verticillata), tea viburnum (Viburnum setigerum) or linden viburnum (Viburnum dilatatum). And evergreen hedging and large, strategically placed individual evergreens can add protection from desiccating winter winds, as well as shield the more tender plants in your garden.

Non-needled broad- and small-leaf evergreens add a coarser texture to the fabric of the garden. And if the leaves are shiny – as they are with Southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) – the garden will seem brighter thanks to their reflective quality.

Exfoliating bark is another characteristic that adds richness to the winter garden. Heritage river birch (Betula nigra (Heritage™)), for example, has a papery, layered look. Placing these special-interest trees and shrubs relatively close to the house can add daily enjoyment when coming and going, or when just looking out the window.

Finally, late fall to late winter-blooming plants add the life that feels absent during that chilly time of year. Shrubs and low groundcovers can really give the winter garden this much-needed spark.

That said, here’s a list of some good plant choices for winter interest:

Fantastic bark (can equate to the finest leather in handbags and shoes):

  • Chinese elm or lacebark elm (Ulmus parvifolia) – Beautiful exfoliating, fine-textured bark
  • Common sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) – Alligator-like texture at the base of the tree in varying shades of brown/gray; patches of white and cream/light brown/gray as you look up
  • Heritage river birch (Betula nigra ‘Heritage’) – Bark that looks like tight and loose curled expensive party paper in creams and varying shades of light to medium browns
  • Japanese red pine (Pinus densiflora) – Exfoliating, puzzle piece-like, terra-cotta and umber-colored bark
  • Japanese stewartia (Stewartia pseudocamellia) – Mottled bark in varying tones of brown, brown/pink and touches of brown green
  • Lacebark pine (Pinus bungeana) – Identical to an upscale camouflage fabric, with soft mossy green, creams and soft browns; exfoliating
  • London planetree (Platanus x hispanica) – Similar to sycamore, except bark exfoliates down the tree; large patches of bleached- or pleached-looking wood
  • Paperbark maple (Acer griseum) – Red/brown exfoliating bark; an absolute knockout

Great twig color (like the perfect bright-colored handbag against a dark-colored dress):

(There are also many willows (Salix) that have varying colors.)

Evergreens (needled, broad- and small-leaf) that provide amazing zing (kind of like your best dressy winter coat):

Bloomers that provide that extra winter pizzazz (like your favorite sweater):

  • Common witchhazel (Hamamelis virginiana) and cultivars – Sweet and pungent fragrance; yellow flowers with a hint of green
  • Fall blooming cherry (Prunus subhirtella ‘Autumnalis Rosea’) – Flowers with pale pinky-lavender cast in fall; sporadic blooms in mild winters
  • Hellebores (Helleborus) – Wide range of flower colors from green, white and pink to burgundies and two-tones
  • Japanese pieris or lily-of-the-valley shrub (Pieris japonica) – Sweet fragrance; great to bring indoors for winter indoor fragrance
  • Korean rhododendron (Rhododendron mucronulatum) – Beautiful orchid color
  • Oriental paperbush (Edgeworthia chrysantha) – Large, cream-colored flowers with a sweet scent
  • Ozark witchhazel (Hamamelis vernalis and cultivars) – Sweet fragrance; varying flowers, depending on cultivar
  • PJM rhododendron (Rhododendron ‘PJM’) – Winter foliage varies, from plum to rich burgundy; pink/purple flowers
  • Sweetbox (Sarcococca hookeriana var. humilis) – Very intoxicating fragrance from tiny, cream-colored, petalless flowers
  • Winter honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima) – Cream to pink, small, waxy flowers with a wonderfully sweet honey fragrance

Winter may seem cold and dreary, but your garden doesn’t have to be. Consider planting some of these attractive plants this spring – then come next winter, your garden will be the best-dressed on your block!