Gardening for Winter Interest

In a year where, as of December 19,  Dallas has gotten marginally more snow than Chicago, gardening for winter interest takes on a whole new meaning.

Forsythia in bloom 12/22/12

Here, for example, is a very confused forsythia in bloom in a neighbor’s yard on December 22!

It’s not as if this is a new topic. It’s just that most of the “Winter Gardening” books and articles published show the plants covered either with a delicate tracery of snow or a shimmer of ice.  They don’t contemplate December blooming forsythia!

Lately, in many parts of the country, snow and ice are scarce (and I know folks are glad that at least the ice is scarce!).   But it is still “winter,” meteorologically, astronomically, and, so far as the plants are concerned, horticulturally.  By that I mean that most plants are in their dormant state, some may not be visible at all, and deciduous trees have lost their leaves.

In this version of winter, the landscape is brown and not white.  So I’m going to try to address, during the month of January, plants that can enliven this “brown” winter landscape.  I’ll do posts on this on Mondays and Fridays and on Wednesdays I’ll focus on some great winter interest houseplants.

In traditional winter gardening, conifers and broad-leafed evergreens are the stars of the show.  In this “milder” version of the brown winter landscape, some conifers stand up better than others.  Of course those with color are standouts, but other, more traditional evergreens can be attractive as well.

Inside a Spruce

Take this spruce, for example.  This is a shot that I took while standing underneath a neighbor’s tree.  It’s tall–at least as tall as their two-story house, if not taller.

What’s so interesting about this tree, even in the brown, drab landscape, is, among other things, the weeping nature of its branch structure.  Almost every branch weeps, and while the tree itself is straight and very upright, the branches give a pendulous feel to it.

Also, get a load of those gorgeous cones.  They’re easily 4-6″ long and present a nice contrast to the dark green needled branches.  They’re also great for indoor decoration.

Finally, there is spectacular peeling park on these trees as well.  This one’s bark is obscured by english ivy in this photo, but it is there, nonetheless.

The day I stood under this tree to get the photo, chickadees and juncos were flitting among its branches (presumably I took far too long to take this shot for their liking.)  So in addition to providing a lovely deep green accent in the landscape, it shelters and perhaps feeds birds as well.

This tree is a standout no matter what the weather.  You can imagine how beautiful its branches would look dusted with snow or ice, when that comes!

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