What’s happening in your yard right now?
“If the answer is ‘nothing much,’ you’re not taking advantage of the winter-interest plants there are,” said gardener Linda Pinkham of Smithfield, Va.
“There is a lot going on in my garden right now, including many edibles in pots.”
Wintertime favorites with Linda include cyclamen, hellebores, mahonia, deciduous hollies, red- and yellow-stemmed Japanese maples, early daffodils, snow drops, camellias, quince, red ornamental mustard, pansies and edibles like broccoli, kale, lettuce, arugula, beets and onions.
Linda and horticulturist husband Bill, landscape designers and former garden center owners, are always trying something new and different on their six-acre property, which includes a pottery studio for Bill.
Their most recent addition is a Key West wall, a vertical gardening technique inspired by a visit to the Florida site where they saw lots of colorful examples. The wall of travertine tiles with plants hanging on it — pansies, heuchera, ivy, sedum, prostrate rosemary, liriope and variegated acorus in winter and bromeliads and orchids in summer — helps camouflage a house generator. Glass pieces Bill designed and made are worked into a fence that forms two sides of the enclosure.
“We really enjoy it as we exit through our garage,” Linda said.
Here are several of the Pinkhams’ favorite winter-interest plants:
Camellia japonica Tama No Ura features red-edged small blooms with a wide white rim. “We grow so many camellias it’s really hard to select just one, but this has a flower unlike any others we have,” Linda said. “The first one we planted has grown really well but never had too many flowers. We got another from Camellia Forest Nursery — www.camforest.com — in Chapel Hill, N.C., and planted it more sun. Picked and brought in the house, the flowers last for several days, likely because the petals are so thick.” Cold hardy to Zone 7.
Helleborus foetidus Gold Bullion is a form of the Bear’s Paw, or Stinking Hellebore, with yellow flowers and foliage in the winter. “We have a whole area of it — seeded from three original plants — and it really jumps out at you on the dark days of winter,” Linda said. “It’s very happy looking. It starts to bloom right after Christmas and looks good until late April, when it goes to seed. Deer do not like it and it is good to cut for flower arrangements.” The plant is available at garden centers and through Pine Knot Farms — www.pineknotfarms. Cold hardy to Zone 5.
Narcissus cantabricus is a dainty little daffodil. “Brent Heath told us about it a couple of years back and we ordered a few,” Linda said. “Just as he said, they start blooming in November or December, and carry on through the winter, stopping and starting as the winter gets colder or warmer. The voles don’t eat them or other narcissus.” The bulb is available for fall planting through Brent and Becky’s Bulbs at www.brentandbeckysbulbs.com. Cold hardy to Zone 4.
MORE WINTER WONDER
Georgia Blue Speedwell, or Vernoica umbrosa, forms a carpet of blue blooms late February-March, and though the flowers are small, they make up for it in numbers. Each plant forms a mat-like clump and spreads like a groundcover. The foliage takes on tones of bronze and red in cold weather. Georgia Blue will grow in full sun to light shade and needs good drainage. Plant mid- to early-blooming daffodils in the clump so the two plants bloom together. — Les Parks, curator of herbaceous plants, Norfolk Botanical Garden — www.norfolkbotanicalgarden.org — and author of the blog, A Tidewater Gardener at http://atidewatergardener.blogspot.com
Winter Thriller series Hellebores. I personally go crazy for black-flowered and black-foliaged plants, so Midnight Ruffles and Night Coaster Winter Thriller really catch my eye. Cold hardy to Zone 5. — Grace Chapman, horticulture director, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden — www.lewisginter.org
Cedars and hollies with thick green branches for cover for wildlife come to mind when I think of winter-interest plants. The fruit is a major attractor for many birds and their branches are beautiful when graced with snow. Every year, cedar waxwings visit my native cedars and I marvel at the flocks of robins that visit the native American Holly. Cold hardy throughout most of country. — Tami Eilers, landscape designer at McDonald Garden Center in Hampton — www.mcdonaldgardencenter.com