A winter garden doesn't just ‘happen’, it takes planning. Most of us visit nurseries earlier in the year when we are seduced into buying ephemeral spring beauties, colorful summer perennials and fall foliage. It takes serious restraint to look beyond those and seek plants that offer great bark, interesting silhouettes, winter flowers and bright berries.
As I strolled around our garden recently on a bright but chilly day I was pleasantly surprised to discover I had in fact put into practice what I encourage others to do! In every part of the garden from the woodland to wilder open spaces there were interesting vignettes with clusters of juicy berries adding seasonal decoration.
Come and walk around the garden with me and I’ll show you a few which are adding jewel like color to our winter garden.
Parney cotoneaster (Cotoneaster lacteus) is a fabulous evergreen shrub for full sun or partial shade. (It will need partial shade in hotter climates). Its long arching branches are dripping with clusters of vivid red fruit- although they would be a little more heavily laden if the deer hadn’t nibbled some of the spring flowers… Come February they will attract flocks of robins to feast on the bounty. The foliage itself is dark green with felted, silvery undersides which catches the light when branches are brushed by a breeze. Give this room to spread to 10’ tall and 8’ wide to enjoy its full beauty although it can be pruned to keep smaller. Zones 6-10b
Red chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia). When we purchased this property in late October 2009 this 6’ tall native shrub was displaying its fiery crimson foliage, almost hiding the red berries. It is planted in partial shade where it is happily spreading by suckers to form a thicket arching over the stream. At this time of year when seen from the house it is framed by an archway of golden foliage from the pear trees. Chokeberry gets its name from the observation that birds avoid this bitter fruit, which suits me fine as I get to enjoy the winter color! Plant it in constantly moist or wet soil in sun or partial shade where it has room to spread, although it is not difficult to remove unwanted canes. It does have somewhat of an unkempt habit so I would recommend this as a background shrub or in a transitional space between the garden and wilder lands beyond – but be sure to site it where you can see it during the winter.
Eichholz cotoneaster (Cotoneaster dammeri ‘Eichholz’). Our stream is fed by three seasonal water sources – a natural aquifer which bubbles up from the stream bed, a neighboring seasonal pond and a pipe which drains water from an area of our garden. This pipe is at the bottom of a 4’ deep French drain so that as much water as possible percolates down and leaches into the surrounding soil – what reaches the pipe is in excess of that saturation point. I needed something to hide the pipe at the head of the stream and chose this evergreen shrub whose stiff woody branches will spread laterally to form an 8’ wide weed suppressing groundcover. At this time of year it is a mass of scarlet berries which add another layer of interest. This likes moisture retentive but well-drained soil in full sun and is hardy in zones 5-8
I can never resist something new especially if it has fabulous foliage, which is why ‘Blade of Sun’ snowberry (Symphoricarpos chenaultii 'Blade of Sun') leapt into my arms on a summer visit to a nursery! Low spreading branches of chartreuse foliage have been a wonderful addition to our woodland garden and it has been remarkably tolerant of abuse. Although the stream bank where I planted it does not completely dry out, I only watered it two or three times between July and October and it has been fine. It promises to have lots of pink/purple berries in winter and although there are only a scattered few this year I’m optimistic that next year will be more abundant. This is a deciduous shrub yet the foliage is still persisting even after several frosts. It prefers dappled shade where it will grow to 12-18” tall and 2’ wide. Zones 4-9
There are several other berry bearing perennials and shrubs in our garden – ‘Red Beauty’ holly (Ilex x 'Rutzan'), honeysuckle, Pernettya (Pernettya mucronata), barberries (Berberis cv), wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens), black mondo grass (Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’), and ‘Coral Beauty ‘ cotoneaster (Cotoneaster dammeri) – enough for both the wildlife and ourselves to enjoy. The latter three are fabulous additions to container gardens also.
Others shrubs you might enjoy;
Beautyberry (Callicarpa sp) – purple
Snowberry (Symphoricarpos sp.) – white or pink
Other hollies (Ilex sp) – red, orange or yellow
Firethorn (Pyracantha sp.) – red, orange or yellow
Viburnum species – red, black or blue
Heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica)