The December landscape and cool plants
This is the time of year to relax and enjoy your garden. Even if that means viewing it from the window! Many folks want lots of color but winter color in central Ohio is usually brown or at best, green. Winter can be at least half of the year so consider evergreens or otherwise interesting winter effects in your plant selection. Consider, of course, the needle evergreens, broadleaf evergreens and even “semi -evergreens”. Actually you can find needle evergreens in shades ranging from yellow through gray-green to blue. Broadleaf evergreens are things like rhododendron and holly and they’ll require some protection from winter winds to avoid damage. Semi evergreens are plants that hold their leaves very late if not all winter. Some examples include bayberry, sweet bay magnolia, certain viburnums and mahonia. Some oaks and young beech trees also hold their brown leaves deep into winter. Other items of winter interest include bark color or texture, berries, cones or seeds.
Plants are my passion. That’s one of the reasons I got into this profession in the first place. Plant collecting is a great hobby with many wonderful people ”infected” by the plant collector bug. Having said that, a plant collector doesn’t always have the most attractive landscape design. They don’t design. They collect. But some of these “collectables” make great additions to our sometimes uninteresting and sadly often boring landscapes. You can make your home landscape more interesting by using a few of these little used, perfectly hardy, unusual plants.
Did you know there is a dogwood species from Asia that has tiny yellow flowers in March? It’s the Cornelean Cherry and is extremely hardy. We have a small native tree that flowers in December called Witchhazel. Witchhazel also has a nice fall color. Sweet Bay Magnolia is one of my favorites for its glossy semi-evergreen leaves and extremely fragrant flowers in June.
There are also a few perennials that have winter interest. Of course the grasses, with their flower heads frosted and blowing in the wind are decorative. But the Hellebores have evergreen foliage and flowers in many colors reappearing throughout the winter. Another perennial with winter interest is Italian Arum. This plant comes up in late fall or early spring with glossy, variegated, almost tropical looking foliage. Many bamboos stay green until late winter. Most bamboos are very invasive but there are a few smaller ones that clump instead of “running”. We are also growing an interesting evergreen groundcover called Allegheny spurge or Pachysandra procumbens. This is a native which is related to the more commonly seen, glossy leaved Japanese pachysandra. Although the American species is much hardier with larger leaves.
I find it interesting how the foliage of different species has variable tolerance to cold temperatures. While most annuals will die at the slightest freeze, pansies thrive with cool weather and frost. Ornamental cabbage even colors up better with frost! A couple days ago my Italian Arum was beautiful. But the low single digit temps have it looking pretty sad today.
Enjoy your winter garden and Merry Christmas!