Winter Interest in the Garden
Seasonal colors are on display in the Conifer Garden.
If you’re like most people, you plan your outdoor excursions around good weather. But there are perks to certain activities done during the off season. Someone once told me that it’s best to visit the zoo on an overcast day – there are less people, for one, and the animals tend to be more active during cooler weather. And we’ve all heard the adage that a fisherman fares better during or after a rain.
Similarly, The Oregon Garden is a beautiful place with lots to experience during the winter, and some things can’t be seen any other time of year. Often times you will have much of the Garden to yourself, with space and time to enjoy the sights and sounds of nature at your own pace. If you think everything is dormant or dead during December through February, think again. The picture above is of our Conifer Garden, in which many plants turn different hues of blue, gold or red as the temperature drops. But even outside of evergreens, there’s a lot to take in during a winter walk through the Garden.
Berries of Nandina domestica, Pyracantha coccinea and Cotoneaster lacteus.
Berries are perhaps the most obvious and striking element in a winter garden – so much so, in fact, that bright red hollyberries have become a symbol of Christmas and of vitality during the stark winter. You’ll spot crimson berries making a statement on other shrubs throughout the season, including heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica), firethorn (Pyracantha coccinea) and cotoneaster as pictured above. Depending on the weather and species, these fruits will persist well into the winter, often even after leaves have been shed.
Berries of Callicarpa americana and Ilex verticillata ‘Winter Gold’.
While red berries are the most common, keep your eyes open and you can spot a rainbow of fleshy fruits, like the bright purple beautyberry (Callicarpa americana), the orange or yellow of the aptly-named winterberry (Ilex verticillata), white or pink native snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus) and even dusty blue among the evergreen leaves of various junipers.
The blue berries of the juniper are what give gin its characteristic flavor.
Which is your favorite combination: manzanita and flowering currant or witchhazel and holly?
And while it’s true that most plants have done their flowering for the year, there are those who wait until the off-season to get the job done. Above are two pairs of winter performers: left, the bright pink of just-budding native currant (Ribes sanguineum) against the smaller, more muted flowers of a manzanita (Arctostaphylos densiflora) and right, the ombré red-orange of witchhazel (Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Jelena’) shares the stage with the red berries of a thornless holly.
Seedpods of Hibiscus moscheutos, Phlomis fruticosa and Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’.
Even after their blooms and berries have vanished, the dried seedheads of many plants are an unexpected source of winter interest. You may be in the habit of pruning these from plants in your garden – many view them as unsightly or a nuisance, especially those of species that reseed easily. But at The Oregon Garden, both our horticulturalists and guests find unique beauty in their unusual shapes and structure. Dried seedpods bring an architectural aspect to the winter garden, especially when contrasted against live foliage. They can add another dimension to floral arrangements and provide an opportunity for children to learn about plant biology and seed dispersal.
Left, pennisetum and berberis make a striking pair. Right, the twisted trunk of a weeping beech.
On a broader scale, walking the Garden during winter provides an opportunity to see things in a different light, both literally and figuratively. Scenes like those above of the soft, feathery inflorescences of an ornamental grass against the sunset colors of a barberry and the wonderfully twisted trunk of a weeping birch, normally shrouded from view by its shawl of leaves. You can take in the branch structure of various tree species, spy sculptures previously hidden by foliage and enjoy new views of familiar places. Hang around long enough, and you might get to see a striking winter sunset against the bare limbs of our old oak forest. There’s so much to discover year-round at The Oregon Garden – won’t you pay us a visit?
Our towering oaks are breathtaking against a sunset backdrop, even devoid of leaves.