Texas dwarf palmetto (Sabal minor), foxtail fern (Asparagus densiflorus ‘Meyersii’), heartleaf skullcap (Scutellaria ovata), sparkler sedge (Carex phyllocephala ‘Sparkler’), and bamboo muhly (Muhlenbergia dumosa) add plenty of greenery to the winter garden.
Audrey, a regular reader of Digging, recently asked me how to plant for winter greenery, explaining that her garden needed some green for the off-season. “I would love to see a picture of an area of your garden in full bloom and the exact same shot in the winter,” she wrote. What a great idea! Not that my garden is totally fab in winter or anything, but I do have quite a lot of evergreen interest, plus a few other tricks that help liven up the winter garden here in Austin.
I will point out that my garden is not particularly flowery in general. There are three reasons for this. One, my garden is fairly shady. Two, I love the architectural plants of the Southwest, and they are essentially evergreen shrubs. Three, I planted this garden to be low-maintenance, and that means more evergreens and ornamental grasses and fewer flowering perennials and annuals.
That adds up to a garden that doesn’t go through dramatic seasonal changes, and I’m OK with that. I do still enjoy smatterings of flowers throughout the growing season, as well as berries, bulbs, a little fall color, and the unfurling of bright-green leaves in the spring. Bees, butterflies, and other pollinators visit my garden, and I see lots of birds, which goes to show that even a largely evergreen garden, planted diversely with plenty of cover, nesting material, and seed and fruit sources, can be a wildlife habitat.
OK, let’s look at a few wide-shot views of my garden in mid-winter, paired with similar views from a more flowery season.
Today. (The garden in the foreground belongs to my neighbor, though I planted and help maintain it, and I frequently blog about it as if it were mine. Hi, Donna!)
Early October. Salvia greggii and Salvia leucantha brighten up this bed with flowers in spring and fall, and most other plants are a brighter green. In winter, though the S. leucantha shrivels away, the Salvia greggii remains green. Mexican feathergrass (Nassella tenuissima) and Gulf muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris) turn tawny, but they’re still there, as are evergreen (or everblue?) Agave ovatifolia, red yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora), and bamboo muhly (Muhlenbergia dumosa).
Mid-October. Not much difference, really. It’s all a bit more faded and tawny, and the copper canyon daisy (Tagetes lemmonii) at left is frost-shriveled now. However, this is a very evergreen bed. You can get color from evergreen plants too, as shown by the yellow-striped ‘Color Guard’ yucca, the blue-green gopher plant (Euphorbia rigida), and the silver ‘Powis Castle’ artemisia.
Early March. Again, pretty similar thanks to a mass planting of Mexican feathergrass and prickly pear. Even the little four-nerve daisy (Tetraneuris scaposa) is still blooming sporadically. Springtime adds the chartreuse flowering of gopher plant (Euphorbia rigida) to the mix. You’ll notice I added a potted Agave lophantha for vertical interest since the spring. Potted evergreens are a great way to get additional winter greenery and to make a focal point of it.
Another example of winter interest in a pot: ‘Color Guard’ yucca in a blue glazed container, with foxtail fern at its feet.
Late March. Pulling back a bit, you see globe mallow (Sphaeralcea) in full bloom. This heat-loving plant flowers spring through fall but shrivels up in winter. The evergreen Arizona cypress ‘Blue Ice’, bamboo muhly, gopher plant, and butterfly vine (Mascagnia macroptera) add up to plenty of winter greenery.
Late May. A tighter image, with purple coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea) and ‘Peter’s Purple’ monarda in bloom in beds on either side of the pond. The pond will also have been blooming with water lilies. Look back up at today’s image and you’ll actually see two hangers-on purple coneflowers, but the other flowering plants are dormant. But what carries this area through winter is the structure of the stock tank, shed, and disappearing fountain (in the foreground), the colorful shed doors and fountain, the reflective quality of the water in the pond, ‘Winter Gem’ boxwoods marking the path “doorways” all around the pond, ‘Color Guard’ yuccas, and Mexican feathergrass. Also, don’t overlook the power of hardscape to give life to your garden in winter. The sunburst path around the pond is a striking feature of this space, all the more noticeable in winter when the garden is quieter.
On the other side of the stock-tank pond, a trio of culvert-pipe planters with squid agaves (A. bracteosa) adds height and texture to the winter garden. Winter-through-spring groundcover heartleaf skullcap (Scutellaria ovata) adds a blue-green carpet at their feet.
Mid-April, when the Aloe saponaria was in bloom. Let’s face it, this raised bed overlooking the pool is all about texture and form, with hits of variegated yellow color, and not about flowers. Even so, the soap aloes bloom a couple of times a year, and in fall oxblood lily bulbs pop up along the edge of the bed, providing a jolt of seasonal color.
Early June. I couldn’t find the same viewpoint for the raised bed containing the ‘Whale’s Tongue’ agave (A. ovatifolia), but you can see from another angle what it looks like in June. Winecup (Callirhoe involucrata) rambles and purple skullcap (Scutellaria wrightii) flowers profusely. Earlier in the season, iris add their ruffled flowers to the mix.
Here then are my tips for greening up your winter garden: add lots of evergreen shrubs, sub-shrubs (like Salvia greggii), and ornamental grasses, especially evergreen ones like bamboo muhly. Add punches of color with cold-hardy potted plants set into your beds and with painted surfaces like sheds, benches, and garden art. And leave frostbitten plants standing through winter, because even tan and brown are colors, and it all adds up to an interesting winter garden.
All material © 2006-2013 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.