Most people think of traditional evergreens like boxwoods and holly when they seek winter interest in the garden. These plants have their place and are solid performers, but lately I have been looking for more unique plants that become standouts in the landscape. While these plants may be a bit more difficult to find, I encourage you to search for them as I am confident you won’t be disappointed.
Edgeworthia chrysantha (Paper Bush)
Edgeworthia is a zone 7 to 9 plant which I located in a protected spot in my zone 6b garden. Although advertised as a plant that grows 5 feet tall and wide, mine has grown to at least 7×7. The buds form late in the year and look like fuzzy ornaments dangling from striking, cinnamon-colored branches. When the flowers open in early spring (usually March for me), they perfume the air with an intoxicating, gardenia-like scent.
Ampelaster carolinianus (Climbing Aster)
Ampelaster rambles in my garden, climbing a trellis first and then reaching to nearby shrubs for support. This perennial vine tops out at about 10 feet in height and begins blooming in October or November. Ampelaster seems unimpacted by frost and continues to put on a show well into January.
Croton alabamensis (Alabama croton)
Croton is a native, understory shrub with an open habit. It starts to draw your attention in the fall when its leaves turn yellow and orange. These vibrant colors are accented by the back side of the leaves that appear to have been spray painted in silver. My plant never fully drops all of its leaves; instead, it makes its presence known all winter long.
Chimonanthus praecox (Wintersweet)
Chimonanthus is large shrub tolerant of part shade to full sun that needs protection outside of its zone 7 hardiness. Delicate, fragrant flowers begin to emerge in the winter on leafless stems. Chimonanthus grows 10 to 15 feet tall, an ideal height for admiring and smelling the attractive flowers from below.
Cyclamen coum (Roundleaf cyclamen)
Cyclamen are diminutive plants with striking leaves. This tuberous perennial is native to the Mediterranean, where it is commonly found in rocky outcroppings or woodlands. I’ve tried to mimic its native environment in my garden, placing it the crevices of rocks where it enjoys the well-drained soil it prefers. While Cyclamen do bloom, I think it’s the leaf patterns that add the most interest to the winter garden.
I hope I have inspired you to add some more unusual plants to your garden this season. Whether it’s interesting buds, blossoms, or attractive leaves, you have many choices besides basic evergreens for creating an impressive display in the winter months.
Don’t forget Arum italicum which goes summer dormant and then sends up rather tropical-looking leaves that tolerate subzero temperatures and a cover of snow.
Chinese and European gingers both look showy and should persist for perhaps two more months.
Great suggestions Eric. Thanks for the additional recommendations.