Perennial Winter Wanderings
As many of us have experienced these past few weeks with the temperatures bouncing back and forth between 10 and 60 degrees, winter weather is “like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get.” Sometimes frigid temperatures keep us indoors, and sometimes we are fortunate to have almost tropical days in the midst of the frigid ones. I love to wonder around my garden and the garden center on these warm 60-degree days to see what is going on among the plants. While the winter landscape may seem to be fast asleep, there are actually many things to see and enjoy in the forms of wildlife, blooms, bark, and foliage.
My most recent walk around the garden center revealed the Christmas Rose’s (Hellebore niger ‘Jacob’) white blossoms in full bloom. The weather has been so warm that the honey bees were even out foraging upon them! This compact perennial is shade loving, evergreen, winter blooming and a warm-spell pollinator savior. There are numerous types of hellebore which bloom later in the winter through early spring, but this variety has been blooming now for several weeks.
Another sight to behold right now is the Paperbush (Edgeworthia) shrub. This plant features beautiful, spotty bark covered with dangling umbrella looking yellowish blossoms at the tips. I have one strategically placed under a window on the east side of my house, so that when those warm days of winter show up, I can open the window and let its beautiful fragrance float in. Since it’s a zone 7 shrub, this placement by the house also helps to protect it during long, severe cold snaps.
Buds and Foliage
Planted under my Paperbush is the daintiest of evergreen groundcovers that can live in the deepest shade. Dwarf Mondo (Ophiopogon ‘Nana’) measures in at only 2-3” tall. I can only see it in the fall and winter, after the Paperbush has shed its leaves. A hidden treasure of tiny cobalt blue drupes hides within its foliage if you get down on your knees and move the foliage around. This plant is a slow spreader, but worth it for its beauty and ability to grow in deep shade.
Continuing my walk, my Candytuff (Iberis) with its little evergreen shiny leaves has swollen white buds ready to pop when spring arrives. It contrasts nicely in front of the purple toned winter foliage of my azaleas. I love to see these signs that spring is on its way!
There are a number of plants whose seed pods look splendid in the winter. As a bonus, many of these plants attract birds, who find the seeds a valuable food source during a season where resources are scarce.
Looking splendid when “dead” for the winter, the bronze seed pods of the Siberian Iris protrude out like a porcupine’s quills. This Iris brings architectural interest to the garden all season long, and it does very well in the clay soil of our northern Virginia region. Of course, it is also beautiful during its bloom season – I know it doesn’t flower long, but when it does, it’s like a gorgeous, floppy butterfly.
At the end of my garden walk, birds were feasting and frolicking around the numerous seed heads of the Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia). The seedheads of this plant look lovely when left standing in the winter, and of course, it is wonderful to provide food for the birds.