"Keeping the garden interesting in the winter," by the Whistling Gardener

Steve Smith is owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville. Photo courtesy of Sunnyside Nursery.
Steve Smith is owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville. Photo courtesy of Sunnyside Nursery.

This weekly column is being reproduced with the permission of Steve Smith, The Whistling Gardener, and owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville.

As the last of the fall color fades and our perennials melt to the ground, one would think that about all we would have to look forward to would be a bunch of sticks and dull evergreens. In reality, nothing could be farther from the truth. There is such an incredible diversity in the plant world that no one should have to suffer the fate of a dull winter garden.

A quick trip to your favorite garden center this time of year will reveal a wide variety of plant material that is both winter hardy and amazingly interesting. Here are some plants that caught my eye this week.

NEEDLED-LEAFED EVERGREENS: They come in yellow, blue, bronze, and orange, so much more than just green to add a pop of color in the winter. “Chief Joseph” shore pine and “Carsten’s Wintergold” mugo pine both turn a bright yellow in winter and are so brilliant you will think that you left the porch light on.

The Korean fir “Silver Star” has interesting recurved needles that are dark green on top but silver on the bottom. It’s very striking all year long. Cryptomeria japonica “Elegans” is a soft and fluffy evergreen from Japan that changes from bluish-green in the summer to a rich bronze in the winter. Be sure to give it some space to grow.

Fire Chief” arborvitae is a tidy and compact evergreen that changes from a deep gold in the summer to a dark orange in the winter.

Russian cypress is a low spreader that is a soft green in the summer and completely morphs into a mound of chocolate foliage in the winter.

Change always makes things interesting in my book and that is exactly what the above plants will do in your garden.

BROADLEAF EVERGREEN SHRUBS: These are plants like holly and rhodies that keep their foliage all year long. Many are multi-colored which again, in the dark days of winter, will brighten up any garden.

Euonymus “Emerald Gaiety” is a low growing shrub with green and white foliage in the summer that picks up tints of purple in the winter. It is very easy to grow in sun or shade.

Aucuba japonica is known as the “Gold Dust” plant for good reason. It is covered with yellow speckles that make it look like it has been dusted with gold. It does best in shade. Female plants also have bright red berries the size of small olives all through the winter.

Fatsia japonica ,or Aralia, is a tropical looking plant that is very hardy for us. “Spider Web” and “Camouflage” are two selections with amazing variegation. Leucothoe “Scarletta” has shiny green leaves in the summer that change to a rich burgundy in the winter. “Rainbow” is a variegated version of the same plant. Winter Daphne has leaves with bright yellow edges and the fragrant flowers in February are to die for. Heavenly bamboo (it is not a true bamboo, so no need to worry about spreading) has lacy foliage that turns red in winter and attractive clusters of berries that are perfect for holiday decorating.

See, I told you there are lots of choices!

In addition to these shrubs there is a surprising array of evergreen perennials and grasses that work well in the garden but also in containers. More about that next week.

In the meantime, get out to the garden center and find something to add some pop and sizzle to your winter landscape. You will be glad you did.

Sunnyside will be hosting hands-on Wreath-Making starting November 18th through December 17th (contact the nursery for more details or to reserve a spot).

Steve Smith is the owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville, WA and can be reached at

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