Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Winter interest in my garden

There was a vintage-style card going around a few years ago that read: "My Garden Kicks Ass"  Well, I have to say if the criteria is winter interest, my garden really does kick ass. No, it's not Zone 9 fabulous, with things blooming and bromeliads and succulents looking luscious (I garden in Zone 8). Nor is it tidy, oh gosh no! It's a mess after the Christmas-storm's cold and ice, the extremely high winds and rain for weeks. However if you want interesting plants to rest your eyes on and inspire you, I've got that in spades. Let's take a look...

This little vignette is next to the back door. I bought the Helleborus 'Cinnamon Snow' just a couple of weeks ago (I needed to get out and visit some nurseries one afternoon) and the Lonicera nitida 'Lemon Beauty' seemed like a great accompaniment. I don't know if I'll keep the lonicera long term, but it's making me happy here.

Walking around the side of the house, down the driveway and out to the front garden my eyes are first drawn to the structure—legs—of the Fatsia japonica and Arctostaphylos x 'Austin Griffiths'. Then my eyes drift down to the yuccas, dasylirion and the brown cloud of Pittosporum anomalum at ground level.

Walking further down the drive and glancing up the sidewalk towards the front door a few agaves come into view—they look great from a distance, up close though some reveal their winter battle scars.

At the end of the drive (where it meets the public sidewalk), 'Austin' is king again along with that pair of spiky Yucca rostrata and the powder blue Agave ovatifolia 'Frosty Blue'. I should also mention the ground cover—Juniperus conferta 'Blue Pacific'. It requires nothing and always looks great.

I'm standing in the hell-strip now, and looking towards the front of the house. Arctostaphylos 'Monica' is at Austin's side—honestly I was pretty set on removing her this summer, but now I'm thinking with just a good pruning she may earn another year. Several Agave parryi 'JC Raulston' are "sprinkled" thru the front garden.

On the far right is my third manzanita, Arctostaphylos densiflora ‘Harmony’, it's the oldest and the shortest.

Now a few close-ups of things I find especially interesting this time of year. 

Yucca filamentosa 'Color Guard', common as dirt but it lights up a dreary day. This plant (in the hellstrip) was lightly backlit when I photographed it.

Whereas this one was not. You can see how the light changes the power of the yellow stripe.

Callistemon 'Woodlander's Hardy Red'—both above with the yucca, and below.

Bright green foliage, those killer seed pods, what's not to love? The blue foliage behind the callistemon is a Dasylirion wheeleri.

Another callistemon, this one with finer foliage, Callistemon sieberi.

Oh look, there's Austin again! This time he's joined by Callistemon 'Woodlander's Hardy Red' and Erica arborea var. alpina.

Mahonia nervosa colored up for the winter—and yes, more callistemon. I have four of them in my small front garden so they do touch a lot of other plants.

Early in December I grabbed this cryptomeria on a nursery outing, I'd pulled the potted agave that was sitting in this spot (wanting to protect it for the winter) and thought this would be an interesting feature plant right next to the front steps. Unfortunately the pot I grabbed didn't have a label so I'm not sure which one it is, I am guessing maybe Cryptomeria japonica 'Globosa Nana'? That's my Daphne x houtteana on the right, it's a little defoliated and not looking it's best at the moment. 

Leafless in the wintertime the spikes of trifoliate orange, Poncirus trifoliata really shine. Mine has an odd bit of yellow variegation.

Here's a close-up of one of those Agave parryi 'JC Raulston' I mentioned. It's doing great, just needs a clean-out of those leaves and needles.

A few more 'JC Raulston' along with a close up of Austin's sexy legs.

Leucothoe fontanesiana 'Rainbow'

There's a lot going on in this photo, but what I wanted to call your attention to are the Aristaloe aristata, the short rosettes. They make me very happy.

As does this—several years ago a friend shared some Hellebores foetidus seedlings with me and I'm finally going to get blooms! The damn rabbit(s) ate them back to almost nothing a couple years in a row.

Rather than share a garden perspective on the Edgeworthia chrysantha 'Nanjing Gold' I thought it might be fun to show you what I see from inside the house. This window is in our kitchen, I eat my breakfast here every morning, and somedays lunch.

I have an extraordinary view of the edgeworthia from that window. It's prime viewing when the flowers start to open and hummingbirds feed on them. Even when the plant isn't in bloom the branches offer a great perch for birds to observe the garden from, safe with their back to the house. I have a lot of bird watching opportunities...

Here's the view thru our glass front door (in the living room) when the wooden door is open.

The view from the living room window. On the lower right, the shrub with the largish leaves and pink petioles is Mahonia gracilipes.

My original design idea was that the front garden would look largely the same no matter the season. It's what the neighborhood sees, and it's what we see coming and going during the winter months when we don't spend time lounging outdoors. I want it to always have something interesting going on. 

The back garden however, that's a space that comes into it's best during the summer. We're not back here much from October thru April so it gets to take those months off. That said, I was surprised at just how much winter interest there is in the back garden, oh and we're only about half way thru this post. It's a long one!

Lonicera crassifolia with it's fabulous winter color—the agave is A. 'Mateo'.

Looking along the back of our house towards the neighbor's garage, the orange wall. The black mondo grass (Ophiopogon planiscapus 'Nigrescens') has filled in nicely. This sight-line is normally blocked by bananas, Musa Basjoo. The December cold killed them back to the ground.

The bark on the far left (above) belongs to Callistemon virdiflorus, it's pretty fabulous...

I planted several aspidistra last spring, many of them took a serious hit in the December storm, this one looks good though.
This Pyrrosia lingua var. 'Cristata' also weathered the storm well, the same can't be said for several of my other pyrrosia—this is a sheltered location.

I shared this photo on Instagram and the crowd went wild for the variegated aspidistra. I have Peter (The Outlaw) to thank for it. My back was to the house as I took this shot, it's a perspective I don't think I've shared before.

Another pyrrosia that's looking good, P. hastata. I divided a really healthy chunk last autumn and planted it around the garden.

During the cold snap I pulled the pair of fascicularia tucked into the trunk of a Trachycarpus fortunei 'Wagnerianus'. They went into the shade pavilion greenhouse until the temperatures were above freezing, then I returned them to their perch. One had rooted into the tree, I hated pulling it free.

Interestingly I missed a small piece of the Tillandsia usneoides when I pulled them inside last fall. It's been hanging here all winter and it still looks to be alive!

Winter interest on the Hibiscus syriacus 'Red Heart' consists of little tufts of moss on it's bare branches.

The orange wall definitely brightens up a grey January day.

But it looks even better when the sun makes a brief (ever so brief) appearance.

More fuzzy edgeworthia-bud interest, this the orange-blooming E. chrysantha ‘Akebono’.

Powerful color from the Astelia 'Red Devil', thankfully it's solid after the freeze, the same can't be said for many other astelia in the garden—I'm planning the flip side of this "winter interest" post on Friday, a "winter horror" post and you'll see the unfortunate characters then.

Fuzzy Magnolia laevifolia buds.

And loquat blooms! Eriobotrya japonica.

Here's a bit of a mess, the Stachyurus salicifolius that grows over this area continues to defoliate after the cold, it's leaves are everywhere. I wanted to share this section though because there's a lot of good stuff in there if you can ignore the fallen leaves and the toasted tips of the podocarpus on  the right.

Pyrrosia sp. SEH#12547

Pyrrosia lingua 'Eboshi'
And Rhododendron williamsianum, to name a few.
Next to the steps leading down to the patio, Saxifraga 'Primuloides' always looks fantastic, especially when Pyrrosia lingua is growing up thru it.

Sammy (Yucca rostrata) screams winter interest doesn't he?

In the name of complete transparency here's a pulled back shot that includes the three split bamboo "tunnels" left in place all winter to help keep a few things drier than they would otherwise be. They're not pretty, but they're performing an important job. That's Nolina hibernica 'La Siberica' in front, with another Yucca rostrata.

Another Nolina hibernica 'La Siberica' in a different part of the back garden.

Looking accross the patio at the fence the borders the west side of the garden. If you were to look closely at the patch of aspidistra you'd see many storm-damaged leaves that will need to be removed. The big leaves on the far left are bamboo, Sasa palmata f. nebulosa.

Mahonia x media 'Marvel' and Trachycarpus fortunei var Nainital.

You knew I had to share a photo of the variegated Daphniphyllum, right?

Another Mahonia x media 'Marvel'.

Fatsia japonica 'Murakumo Nishiki'

And (finally), a photo of the pyrrosia and friends in a stock tank—protected during our cold snap. I'm pretty lucky to have so many extraordinary plants to bring me winter-time garden joy...

All material © 2009-2023 by Loree L Bohl for danger garden. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited and just plain rude.


  1. Your garden kicks a**, in a major way. And without a lot flowers to distract, it's easier to focus on details that might otherwise be overlooked and to see the many smaller jewels that are, well, everywhere.

    1. Plus when you aren't planting with a focus on flowers, there's naturally more to look at year round.

  2. I wouldn't be surprised if the Tillandsia usneoides proves hardy for you outside... there are big wild populations of it in Virginia Beach, which is Zone 8a, very nearly Zone 7.

    1. I might just get brave enough to leave some out next year!

  3. I enjoy seeing a different angle in the garden featuring the black mondo grass, it is looking fabulous.
    I always get weak in the knees seeing your variegated aspidistra... maybe this is the year I'll finally find one.
    I'm surprised rabbits eat your Hellebores foetidus; if there is one plant I can count on not being on their menu, its Hellebores. (I succumbed yet again, as I do every winter, and bought 3 more to add to my collection).

    1. The rabbits that pass thru my garden are jerks! They're even munching on agaves.

  4. For a "mess" your garden looks pretty damn good, Loree! The Arctostaphylos make even more dramatic statements in your garden at this time of year. I've shied away from the genus partly due to the fact that its look is somewhat similar to my Arbutus 'Marina' but I think that's a mistake on my part. (I do have one dinky one on my back slope.) I've tried that Lonicera nitida a couple of times without luck but maybe I should try it again as you can't beat that foliage color. And I sigh every time I see an Astelia but, after the rabbits ate 3 of them to the ground, I've been wary about trying them again too.

    1. Oh Kris, remember, the camera lies! When you do a whole post focusing on only the good things, well, it's easy to imagine that's all there is. Your mentioning of the words astelia and rabbit in the same sentence gave me horror chills.

  5. It is looking so beautiful! Just the other day, I was thinking, I wonder how everyone else's garden looks this time of year-thank you for addressing that question!

    So many things about your garden have inspired me to grow and develop my own outdoor grow space, including the year round interest species concentrated in front and more seasonal species in back-thank you!!

    1. Thank you! But I promise it's not really looking this good in person. There is a lot of ugly. Come back Friday for that.

    2. but I'm sure there's alot not pictured that holds interest as well!

  6. have a LOT of fabulous interest. It's a whole vacation at your house! Wow. The ferns growing up through the Saxifraga primuloides is fabulous. Who am I kidding, it's all fabulous. The arctos, too - and of course my favorite juniper, Juniperus 'Blue Pacific'. Its blue leaves make me swoon.

    1. Those pyrrosia in the saxifraga make me smile every time I see them. The things that just happen in a garden, without any planning, are often the best.

  7. Looks awesome thanks for sharing!!!

  8. Drop dead gorgeous. There is so much to look at that it is hard to notice any damage unless you point it out. Luckily I can't grow anything you showed so I don't have to be jealous. Well, except for the Hellebore and I've already got my Jade Tigers after seeing them here.

    1. My Jade Tigers are all budded up, I imagine they'll be shocked by the 20F temps coming up, but will open soon enough.

  9. Wonderful post! I love seeing so many of your plants.

    1. Thanks for coming by, it was a fun post to do!

  10. You were smart to pull the fascicularia inside...just easily pulled spears out of a few of mine tonight that were in the ground. I sprayed with copper fungicide, so hoping for a miraculous recovery.

  11. Excellent winter interest! Must lure you outside no matter what the weather. Well, maybe.

  12. Ugh, Loree, I'm sorry about the toll taken by this winter's Grim Plant Reaper. I know that feeling of looking around at plant destruction all too well. I can only offer this: it gets better, especially as the survivors get growing again. Still, these extreme winter (and summer) weather events are challenging to adapt to, no matter where you live.


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