Lasting Landscapes by Carol

Unusual Plants for Winter Interest

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.

Lasting Landscapes by Carol
My Edgeworthia is loaded with buds in late December

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.

Lasting Landscapes by Carol
Ampelaster climbing onto a Callicarpa for support

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.

Lasting Landscapes by Carol
The silver backs to the Croton leaves look unreal

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.

Lasting Landscapes by Carol
Looking up into a Chimonanthus bloom in winter is magical

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.

Lasting Landscapes by Carol

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.

Lasting Landscapes by Carol

Winter walks

Most people don’t think of February as a month for garden tours, but I encourage you to change your mindset. Winter is a perfect time to experience gardens when you can see their bones, notice what creates interest and enjoy smaller crowds. Peace comes with touring gardens in the quiet of the off-season.

In the Philadelphia area we are lucky to live in America’s Garden Capital. With over 30 public gardens within 3o miles of the city, we have many gardens to choose from. A number of these gardens are open in the winter and waiting for your visit. I recently visited two area arboretums and was enthralled with their meandering paths, extensive plantings and winter wonder.

The Morris Arboretum was first on the list. Located in Chestnut Hill, the site includes tens of thousands of plants including many collected by plantsman John Morris and his sister Lydia who lived on the property when it was a private home. Some of Delaware Valley’s oldest specimen trees grow at the Morris. During our visit we took note of these features as well as the use of evergreens to frame views, spent seed heads, plants in flower and texture created by plant material.

Lasting Landscapes by Carol
Longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) needles provide amazing texture in the winter garden
Lasting Landscapes by Carol
Spent roses cascade over a bed of lavender and rosemary
Lasting Landscapes by Carol
Corylus fargesii catkins offer interest in the winter
Lasting Landscapes by Carol
Metasequoia buttresses contrast beautifully with the blooming Witch Hazel
Lasting Landscapes by Carol
Snowdrops (Galanthus) bloom happily in the winter garden
Lasting Landscapes by Carol
Mahonia x Winter Sun flowers are beautiful golden rays in February
Lasting Landscapes by Carol
Evergreens are especially noticeable when they perfectly frame a view like this waterfall

In addition to the outdoor spaces, a number of Philadelphia’s public gardens have greenhouses or conservatories that provide a break from the cold and access to flowering non-hardy plants. Who doesn’t love being immersed in a sea of lush foliage or fragrant blooms in the middle of winter?

Lasting Landscapes by Carol
Inside the fernery we were warm and enveloped in humidity

The second garden I had the opportunity to see this winter was the Tyler arboretum located in Media. Tyler spans over five hundred acres and includes seventeen miles of hiking trails and extensive plant collections. Tyler is one of the oldest arboretums in the region dating back to 1681. The property that makes up the arboretum today was purchased by Thomas Minshall from William Penn. Like the Morris, Tyler is home to some magnificent trees including those deemed ‘champions’ because they are the largest individual specimens of a particular species. We particularly enjoyed the Witch Hazel collection during our visit.

Lasting Landscapes by Carol
One of many blooming Witch Hazels at Tyler
Lasting Landscapes by Carol
A fragrant wintersweet bloom (Chimonanthus praecox var. Luteus) soothes the soul
Lasting Landscapes by Carol
Croton alabamensis shows off some lingering fall color and awaiting spring flowers
Lasting Landscapes by Carol
The structure of Sweetgum ‘Corky’ (Liquidambar styraciflua) was mesmerizing
Lasting Landscapes by Carol
Bark might go unnoticed during the growing season, but not in the winter.

Clearly I was inspired by my tours to two Philadelphia’s area gardens this winter. I encourage you to seek out some you would like to see and make a plan to visit. I’m confident that in addition to many ideas for your own landscape, you will leave with a calm mind and warm heart.


Lasting Landscapes by Carol

Pretty as a Picture

For years I have been making a photo calendar with images from my garden. I looked at all of them recently and noticed some consistent components, but also many additions and changes. The continual rebirth of the garden is something I love along with the joy that comes from taking note of every moment and every season.

Lasting Landscapes by Carol
My winterberry holly has brought me (and the birds) joy for years
Lasting Landscapes by Carol
Anemone Honorine Jobert and Aronia pair perfectly for fall interest

September is a notoriously busy month for gardeners. We dig, divide, plant, move and tidy up.  This process brings us peace and fills us with anticipation for spring and the realization of our new vision.

Lasting Landscapes by Carol
Last fall I added some Chelone from a friend who was thinning theirs out. I love the combination of Chelone and the fall color of Viburnum nudum.
Lasting Landscapes by Carol
Bulbs bring recurring joy to gardeners. Colchicums peek through the foliage of other plants.

I encourage you take time during the fall season to capture some garden moments for yourself. Either take mental images or photos to record what’s happening in your landscape. Then repeat textural or color combinations that are working and address plant combinations or spacing that no longer make sense. Consider adding some plant material too. There are always new plants coming to market that have interesting colors, shapes, blooms or other desirable characteristics. I continue to remove more lawn and add more gardens. Feel free to follow in my footsteps if you like.

Lasting Landscapes by Carol
I added Helenium to my containers this year and will use them again next year. I adore the look. A wonderful alternative to mums.
Lasting Landscapes by Carol
My new Metasequoia ‘Soul Fire’ looks magnificent as a backdrop to Physocarpus ‘Summer Wine.’
Lasting Landscapes by Carol
A year ago I removed a large section of lawn that I tired of mowing. Now it’s filled with sun loving perennials like Molinia ‘Sky Racer’ and Scuttelaria incana.

Promise me you will take time to enjoy playing in the garden during the frenzy of the fall. Take it from me, it’s a lot more fun that cleaning windows or changing out your wardrobe for the winter months. I hope you will share your garden changes and additions with me. I’d love to hear what you are doing.

Amsonia hubricthii

Cutting a new garden instead of the lawn

In the April 2019 issue of Fine Gardening Magazine, Editor Steve Aitken shared his thoughts on the significant moments in time that shape our evolution as gardeners. I had to chuckle at his comment that a true gardener would explain to a non-gardener that “The lawn is just the place you stand when looking at your plants.”

As a passionate plant person, I am often tempted by plants at the nursery. I’ll see a new perennial, tree or shrub and think to myself, “I have to have one of those.” This addiction of sorts explains why I continue to remove more lawn and add more gardens. Some of my friends think I’m crazed to add more beds to maintain in my 1.3 acre garden, but I find joy in the new plantings and feel the reward of the continually changing landscape is worth the effort.

To that end, this year I added a bed over 100 feet long which parallels a wall at the front of my property. On a slope, this new area has sections in shade, part shade and full sun and is well drained. The best part about developing this space into a garden is that I no longer have to mow on a hill, which was becoming harder and more dangerous the older I got. Sounds like a good reason to remove tons of sod, don’t you think?

Newly installed garden bed on a slope
My newly installed garden bed with many of the new plants in place.

I planted some favorites like Helleborus HONEYMOON® ‘New York Night’, Deutzia ‘Nikko’, Amsonia hubrichtii and Lonicera pileata ‘Moss Green’. I also added some new plants including Penstemon ‘Black Beard’, Lespedeza thunbergii ‘Gibraltar’ and Diervilla ‘Cool Splash’. I incorporated Pycnanthemum muticum, Agastache ‘Blue Fortune’ and  Aster ‘October Skies’ to attract pollinators and Molinia ‘Skyracer’ as a ‘see through’ plant. Some wonderful nursery friends gave me unique specimens including Indigofera kirilowii and Hypericum x Blue Velvet™ and I’m saving space for a Cercis ‘Flame Thrower®’ which I am hoping will be available in 2020. Is that enough Latin for you? Are your eyes glazing over yet?  How about if I stop my plant talk and share some photos of these beauties so you can see why I am so enthralled!

Agastache Blue Fortune
Agastache ‘Blue Fortune’ blooms from mid-summer into fall and attracts many pollinators
amsonia hubrichtii
Amsonia hubrichtii was the 2011 Perennial Plant of the Year and is a favorite in my garden. The fall color can’t be beat.
Chinese Indigo
Indigofera kirilowii (Chinese Indigo) has Wisteria-like pink flowers in the summer and showy yellow leaves in the fall.
Diervilla Cool Splash
Diervilla Cool Splash adds nice contrast to the border.
Molinia Skyracer
Eventually the tall plumes of Molinia ‘Skyracer’ will steal the show when backlit by the sun.
Mountain Mint
I’m very excited about Pycnanthemum muticum and its ability to attract pollinators.

While the new bed is immature, I look forward to seeing the plants grow in the years to come. I promise to share my triumphs and my trials. After all, that’s what gardening is all about. We collaborate with Mother Nature and make adjustments as needed to achieve the desired aesthetic. Now like a true gardener, I will prepare the garden for winter and patiently wait for spring!