13 March 2010

Winter Color Revisited

The snow is finally melting, and all of us Northern gardeners are giddy with joy, and we're all posting about the very same set of plants: Snowdrops, crocuses, witch hazel and helleborus.

Except me.

This post is about an entirely different set of plants.

Back in December I took a stroll through the gardens at Michigan State, and wrote about plants for winter color -- so I thought I would revisit those plants now, and see what I'm thinking.

Some things are decidedly out: The ornamental kale now looks like this:

And smells like rotten cabbage. Yuck. Yuck. Ugh. These might be good plants for a milder climate, but this is NOT what I want to see when the snow first melts.
Another looser are the deciduous hollies -- they looked stunning in December, but every berry is now long gone. They are nice for fall/early winter, but don't go the distance to early spring -- and the same is true of every other berry in the gardens. They simply don't last long enough to qualify for real winter interest.

The winners:

Yucca filamentosa 'Color Guard'

This is amazing color anytime -- but for March in Michigan, it is unbelievable. Looks just as bright as it did in the fall.

Sedum rupestre 'Angelina'

The it a LOT of color for something that was under 6 inches of snow just a couple days ago! And wouldn't it be stunning with deep purple crocuses coming up through it?

I'm also still loving: This ornamental grass (whatever it is... I should know, but I'm terrible with my grasses. ID anyone?)

And Sedum 'Autumn Joy' (even though it IS over used, I'm impressed with how it stands up to the amount of snow we get here)

So I'm starting to put together a winter/early spring garden in my head: A backdrop of evergreen conifers, a swath of ornamental grass, and red-twig dogwood, lots of Yucca 'Color Guard' fronted with 'Autumn Joy' and 'Angelina' peppered with splashes of purple crocus and dwarf iris. Wouldn't that be marvelous? What would you add?


Cyndy said...

Hi Joseph, They must have better drainage than I over at MSU - my colorguard and angelina aren't nearly so perky looking. The grass is maybe a switchgrass, panicum virgatum - tons of new cultivars are out there now. Your winter scheme sounds great. I would also vote for my favorite little tree for winter pop in front of an evergreen backdrop, acer palmatum 'sango-kaku.'

Andrew said...

I agree, some sort of Panicum. I just cut mine back a few days ago. Most winters it stays very upright like in your picture but this year in that first big snowstorm most of it got crushed. I grow 'Heavy Metal' which hits around 5.5' (including seeds) with solidly blue leaves. It's a nice grass when space is limited. When you've got room to let it spread out a bit you can't beat a Miscanthus ('Graziella'/'Gracillimus' is my favourite or 'Huron Sunrise' for a little more colour in fall) for overall impact and sturdiness in heavy snow.

Instead of 'Autumn Joy' you could try a purple leaved sedum like 'Xenox' which would contrast very well with Sedum 'Angelina' during the summer as well as look good in the winter.

Joseph said...

Panicum, of course. Thank you both of you! I KNEW that, my brain just wouldn't produce it. I do like miscanthus, Andrew, but they seem to take more of a beating under the weight of our heavy snows. The Panicum are all still standing strong and looking good.
I do wonder why these yucca look so perky? The others I see around town are decidedly more flopped over looking. Maybe drainage.

Christine B. said...

Note to self: must, must get Y.'Color Guard' for this year...if you grow it that well through a winter, I'm going to give it a try here in Alaska.

Christine B.

Diana/ Garden on the Edge said...

Oh, now I have winter interest envy. Where is my Plant Delight's Catalog....

Like you I get lots of snow cover in the winter so winter interest plants aren't very interesting. I need early spring interest. I've got major zone envy of the gardens in warmer climates (I'm in Massachusetts and my crocus have just started to show buds, no blooms yet).

Thanks for the ideas.

Joseph said...

You are so right about "winter interest" -- I'm realizing, I think, it is really about: When the snow melts interest. As soon as I see the ground, I want to see color!
Do see Cyndy's comment... re yucca. They look spectacular there, but not so great elsewhere around town, and I'm not really sure why.