A lot of folks are moaning right now about the demise of their summer and fall garden. Not me.
One of the things I admire most about gardeners in Great Britain is how they have moved past having just a big spring rush and overstuffed summer gardens, they set out plants and design features (benches, art, etc.) so there is something to enjoy all year. They simply mix shrubs, groundcovers and perennials that thrive with little maintenance in summer heat with those that tolerate winter freezes, and swap out annuals to fit the season.
Not that parts of my little cottage garden don’t look terrible after Old Man Winter’s frosty breath ices over the birdbath and wipes out all my summer annuals. Though I usually leave a few seed heads for the goldfinches and other seed eaters, I hate pulling up the browned zinnias, impatiens, oversized coleus, basils and pepper and tomato plants, and cutting down the slimy cannas and elephant ears.
But boy-oh-boy does my composting leaf pile look colorful! And I immediately strew fresh bark mulch over the bare areas to keep a semblance of orderliness. I mean, brown is a color, too, right?
But I still have a few colorful Autumn leaves on Japanese maples, native sumac and bald cypress, and the brilliant red winter foliage of my compact nandinas and their showy berries.
These, along with flowers of sasanqua camellia and the strongly contrasting shapes and multiple colors of evergreen shrubs and cold hardy perennials, including hollies, iris, variegated yucca, gold spot aucuba, ornamental grasses, prickly pear cactus, aspidistra, creeping sedums, and striped liriope, all make a nice visual texture and color bridge that eases the garden’s shift into winter mode. So, it all doesn’t crash with our first frosty.
Taking it a proactive step farther, in early October I tuck a few winter flowering annuals between the summer stuff, and in pots for later, so when hot weather plants get pulled I already have cold weather flowers and foliage plants ready to go, so the garden never misses a color beat.
While there certainly isn’t a plethora of choices for winter flowers, there are way more than enough. Pansies, smaller violas and the various in-between hybrids reign supreme, of course, along with compact blue-foliage dianthus, tall snapdragons and semi-hardy calendula. Throw in those with cheery winter foliage, including emerald-green parsley, white dusty miller, burgundy mustard, swiss chard and colorful kales which range from frilly green to deep purple and especially the blue green Tuscan or laciniata. These may not be still available at local garden centers, but because they are grown by wholesale suppliers, they most certainly can be — ask for them, if not this year then next. Or grow them from seed.
Throw in winter honeysuckle, flowering quince, camellias, mahonia, hellebores, paperwhites and other early daffodils, oxalis, old fashioned painted arum (a fantastic winter hosta substitute, look it up!), and… well, in mid-winter drive around older parts of town and see for yourself what is possible.
Mix and match them to suit your design style. Throw in a “hard” feature such as a piece of driftwood, a bird bath, oversized urn or even a colorful glass bottle tree, and you’re set ‘til spring.
Shoot me an email at my felderrushing.blog and I will send right back a free PDF brochure I put together for plants, design tips and other ways to make winter gardening in Mississippi one of the best of the year.
Meanwhile, don’t stare out the winter, wringing your hands in despair — there are those that bloom in winter. Go for it.
Felder Rushing is a Mississippi author, columnist, and host of the “Gestalt Gardener” on MPB Think Radio. Email gardening questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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