This weekly column is being reproduced with the permission of Steve Smith, The Whistling Gardener, and owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville.
Two weeks ago I shared with you several shrubs that caught my eye as candidates for livening up the garden for winter and at that time I promised to follow up with a column on evergreen perennials that compliment these shrubs.
In the interim, I was fortunate enough to attend a lecture by Katie Miller from Skagit Gardens (one of our wholesalers) on Hellebores and plants that play well with them for winter interest. It was gratifying to know that her list and mine were very close. Here are “our” selections…
Hellebores: There are far too many individual varieties to mention, suffice it to say that these perennials can bloom from November all the way into March. Known as Christmas Rose for the early bloomers to Lenten Rose for the later bloomers, these do best in full to part shade during the summer. From now through February is the best time to find them in the garden centers. I always think of Hellebores as harbingers of spring.
Evergreen ferns: Our native sword fern and deer fern are classic examples, but also available is the Japanese Tassel fern, Korean Rock fern, Maidenhair fern, and Autumn fern. All are evergreen and will hold up well through the winter.
Evergreen grasses: The sedges (Carex varieties) are well suited for our winters. The Evergold Series consists of Everlime, Everlite, Eversheen, and Everillo (possibly my favorite). All are colorful with mounding foliage. For a bit more erect look, select Orange Sedge or go to one of the blueish rushes. For a truly different look, be sure to try out Black Mondo grass - there is nothing quite like it.
Heucheras: There is no end to the varieties of Heuchera on the market. They make a nice mounding mass of scalloped foliage that comes in an array of colors from dark purple to speckled green to orange and yellow. Dark Secret, Lime Marmalade, Fire Chief, Marmalade, and Mahogany are all good choices, but just look for ones that you like and don’t worry too much about the name.
Euphorbias: These drought tolerant (which is not an issue in winter of course) perennials will stand tall all winter and then bloom for at least two months in spring. If you put them in a container, you can then transplant them out into a hot sunny spot for summer. Ascot Rainbow, Glacier Blue, and Ruby Glow are all outstanding choices.
Bergenia: These have large round glossy leaves that turn a rich ruby in the winter. Bressingham Ruby and Winter Glow are two that won’t let you down.
Winter Green: This is a delightful groundcover with large Christmas-red berries that will add some texture to your composition. The foliage also colors up nicely in the winter.
Cyclamen: There are two varieties of hardy cyclamen that will naturalize nicely in the shade garden (every northwest gardener should have a patch of them), but for containers, florist grade cyclamen are a real treat (they might need a little protection if it drops below the 20’s). These cyclamen come in white, pink, or red and will make any container more festive.
Finally, if you insist on having some flowers, go with pansies and primroses. They are the most reliable winter bloomers for our climate.
You can find great examples of all these plants either individually or already planted up in containers ready to take home from your favorite garden center. Celebrate the diversity of evergreen winter perennials by incorporating some of them into your garden today.
Steve Smith is the owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville, WA and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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