“The simplicity of winter has a deep moral. The return of Nature, after such a career of splendor and prodigality, to habits so simple and austere, is not lost either upon the head or the heart. It is the philosopher coming back from the banquet and the wine to a cup of water and a crust of bread.”
— John Burroughs, "The Snow-Walkers," 1866
I agree with American naturalist and essayist John Burroughs that after the exuberant colors of summer and fall, winter offers a more subtle beauty. Right now, my yard looks as if it’s on fire with maple leaves covering the ground like glowing embers. But in a week or two, the leaves will be gone and the branches will be bare. A much starker loveliness will be revealed as lichen-covered limbs reach toward gray, uncertain skies.
The architectural features of plants take on greater significance in our winter gardens and landscapes. Certainly there is beauty in the silhouette of a black-eyed Susan, stripped of its golden petals, eyeing the heavens with one dark orb. There is also beauty in the morning frost glistening on pine needles, and in a red-twigged dogwood leaning against a backdrop of snow.
In fact, there are many plants with features that will add interest to our outdoor spaces during the cold winter months. These characteristics include unusual stems and bark, pretty berries and winter-blooming flowers. Here is a list of some of my top choices for winter-worthy small trees and shrubs that grow well in our area, as well as some favorites from a few gardening friends. For tips on planting and caring for these plants, visit my blog at http://blogs.esouthernoregon.com/theliterarygardener/.
Unusual stems and bark
Japanese rose (Kerria japonica) – bright-green stems; ‘Kin Kan’ has yellow stems with thin green stripes
Paperbark cherry or Tibetan cherry (Prunus serrula) – shiny, dark mahogany, peeling bark
Paperbark maple (Acer griseum) – reddish-brown bark peels in paper-thin layers
Japanese stewartia (Stewartia pseudocamellia) – large patches of orange, red and gray exfoliating bark
Dwarf weeping white birch (Betula pendula ‘Youngii’) – white bark, twisting branches and thin, cascading stems
Crepe myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica) – cinnamon-colored peeling bark
Red-twigged dogwood – (Cornus sericea ‘Cardinal’) – vibrant-red twigs
Golden-stemmed willow (Salix alba ‘Goldenness’) – bright gold shoots
Dwarf cranberry cotoneaster (Cotoneaster apiculatus ‘Nana’) – compact shrub produces bright red, long-lasting berries
Spindle tree* (Euonymus myrianthus) – large, smooth leaves and bright yellow-orange berries
Winter Cherry* (Solanum pseudocapsicum) – dark green leaves, large yellow, orange, red berries; good for pots
Snowberry (Symphoricarpos alba) – large, white berries
Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) – tight clusters of lilac and bluish-purple berries
Japanese Skimmia* (Skimmia japonica) – deep green, leathery leaves and large red berries
Winter daphne* (Daphne odora ‘Aureo-marginata’) – Green leaves with yellow margins and fragrant white flowers
Winter jasmine (Jasmine nudiflorum) – small, odorless yellow or white flowers bloom on bare stems
Witch hazel (Hamamelis x intermedia) – hybrids produce spidery flowers in late winter; yellow, pink, orange, red, purple
Camellia sasanqua ‘Yuletide’ * – bright red flowers and yellow stamens with sweet scent
Oriental hellebore* (Helleborus x hybridus) – wide range of colors – cream, pink, purple, black, spotted
Heath* (Erica carnea) – feathery foliage and clusters of small bell-shaped flowers in pink, purple, white and yellow
— Rhonda Nowak is a member of the Jackson County Master Gardener Association and teaches writing at Rogue Community College. Email her at email@example.com.