Now is the time of year when gardeners in the Northwest start itching to be back out in the garden or thinking about it on those few nice days. The holidays are long gone, the days are barely starting to get longer, tons of spring catalogs are arriving daily in the mail but we are only about half way through winter.
It is also the time of the year when most gardens look their worst. Most things are dormant but there are a few signs of life. At the farm a few of the early bloomers are starting to show with several others just waiting in the wings. When we started to add to the garden we wanted it to be a four season garden. Winter is the hardest season but I was able to get a lot of inspiration from the ‘Winter Garden’ at the Washington Park Arboretum.
My house in Seattle was just a few miles from the arboretum so I was a regular visitor. The ‘Winter Garden’ was a section of the arboretum that was completely made up of plants with winter interest. It is a circular garden around a small lawn area made up of perennials, shrubs and trees. I had the chance to stop by this past week on my way to the January NHS lecture.
As I walked down the trail the sun was not shining, but the Witch Hazels lit up in yellows and oranges. As I got closer the sweet smell made me think might be spring. Just beyond were large shrubs of Camellia sasanqua with its pale pink flowers. It is an early bloomer in Seattle but just starting at home. Tucked between the Camellias were several tall Mahonias with large sprays of yellow flowers. This is a favorite plant of the hummingbirds that winter over here in the northwest. Under some of the shrubs were drifts of Cyclamen coum in full bloom now with its small pink flowers. There was also a big drift of Helleborus niger in full bloom.
As I came through the big evergreen shrubs I could see the oval lawn ringed with a variety of smaller shrubs all with some kind of winter interest. The small hollies, Ilex verticillata, were covered in red berries. The drifts of heathers were blooming white. The yellow twig dogwood, Cornus Sericea, shone in the sun while presenting a nice contrast with the black mondo-grass, Ophiopogon planiscarpus ‘ Nigresens’, planted beneath. Further down the path was a nice drift of another dogwood with bright red tips, Cornus sericea “Kelsey’.
In the distance you could see larger trees planted for their structure and texture. One group of River Birches, Betula nigra, had beautiful peeling bark. Another small cluster of trees had a very upright growth habit making it appear like a sentinel in the garden. Along the other side of the garden a few unknown Rhododendrons were just starting to pop open and a large drift of the evergreen (and yellow) shrubs, Elaeagnus pungens ‘Maculata’ created a wall leading out of the garden.
This is probably the best concentration of winter plants around but for me it is a good lesson on what I can add to my own garden to keep it interesting year round. I have used most of these plants in my own garden and even though they aren’t concentrated in one spot they do add interest throughout the garden.
Since Seattle is quite a bit warmer than here it was nice to get a preview of what I can expect at home in the next month. The warmer weather this past weekend and a bit of sunshine has made me forget about being in the middle of winter.