Winter Garden Exhibitionists

Winter Garden Exhibitionists

'Twas the week before Christmas and all through the garden

Early cold temps and deep snow made perennials harden;

Beds and borders held no rabbits or mice,

Tools were hung in the shed, rust-free and nice.

What did my wandering eyes survey

But eight garden wonders flaunting their winter display.

Paperbark maple (Acer griseum) has a lot to flash year 'round, but when fall strips the beautiful scarlet-orange autumn leaves bark takes center stage. For my money  there are few plants that could steal the spotlight from the handsome, curling mahogany bark, even on small branches. A slow-growing ornamental, this is a stunning specimen either as a single trunk or multi-stemmed tree. The leaves are uniquely three-parted and dark green. 20ish' tall and 15' wide, this hardy Asian maple matures to a rounded silhouette. Zone 5.

Evergreens sometimes get overlooked in the color crush of a flower-filled summer border packed with shrubs and perennials. Right now, dead of winter, it's hard to overlook the sculptural elegance of a Weeping Norway spruce (Picea abies 'Pendula'). This is one evergreen that tolerates shade without getting "skanky". The needles seem to darken in shade and appear almost black against winter snow. Zone 3 hardy, this plant, like weeping just-about-anything, can be extremely variable in form. The plant will be taller the longer it is staked upright in youth and has the chance to develop a thick, self-supporting trunk.

While on the subject of artistic evergreens, Weeping white spruce (Picea glauca 'Pendula') is a perfect pencil-point without ever being touched by pruners. Growing rather quickly (up to a foot per year) the branches hang tightly down like arms against a torso. There is a silver cast to the needles, but they are not blue spruce-conspicuous. This weeper eventually grows 25+ ' or more, but only 3' wide. Sun-loving and happy in well-drained to dry soil, I love using this one to create visual interest by interrupting a long horizontal architectural line. Majestic swathed in winter white. Zone 2.

Yes, weeping plants may be an acquired taste. Purple Fountain European beech (Fagus sylvatica 'Purple Fountain') is a fave. Trees have a strong central leader with tightly held branches that come out from the trunk a bit and then turn south. 'Purple Fountain' has elegant, glossy, maroon leaves all summer. This color is intensified with sun, but like all beeches will tolerate some shade. Leaves hang on until late in the fall before turning bright gold. The bark is smooth and gray, like elephant hide before the elephant wrinkles. Soil must be well-drained. P.F. is a great complement to contemporary architecture. Zone 4.

Compact Concolor fir (Abies concolor 'Compacta') is a charming dwarf shrub sub for blue spruce when that strong color is needed, but space is limited. Growing slowly into a predictable 6' tall, 3' wide pyramid, this sun-lover is low maintenance. The needles are feather soft to the touch, but the plant is oblivious to drought, heat cold and winter wind. "Cute" is an appropriate adjective. Zone 4.

The many chartreuse summer flower heads of  Little Lime hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata 'Little Lime') are now a distinctive brown that provides strong color and bold texture in a snow-drifted landscape. 4' tall and equally wide at maturity this sun-lover provides months of flower effect - from summer through winter. Maintenance of these "panicle" hydrangeas is basically restricted to late winter removal of old flower residue and minimal silhouette shaping. Drought-tolerant when established, use Little Lime in groups to make a powerful statement in your garden- summer and winter. Zone 3.

Golden Mop Falsecypress (Chamaecyparis pisifera 'Golden Mop') is a year 'round  color accent that holds true even in winter. In my experience this is one of the very hardiest Falsecypress varieties. My specimen is in full sun and catches a lot of winter wind with no ill effects after eight years. Zone 4.

Winterberry (Ilex verticiallata) is a rock hardy, native holly. It does drop its gold leaves in the fall to reveal plentiful apple red berries. Requires one male variety to pollinate a group of females. Don't worry, they're sold labelled "male" and "female". Tolerates sun or some shade, as well as wet sites that occasionally flood. The white spring flowers (of both sexes) are not showy, but when the berries go from green to red in late summer enjoy them before the birds discover and devour. This picture (taken the week before Christmas) shows a female winterberry that escaped complete denuding. Zone 3.

Tho' the lawn was long since frozen and snowy,

Salt crystals sparkled on roads like diamonds quite showy.

While ice and snow caused grasses to topple and shatter,

With these eight beauties in the garden, it just didn't matter.