Six plants to light up your dark-days garden

  • By Debra Smith Special to The Herald
  • Tuesday, October 22, 2013 1:37pm
  • Life

Fall is here and winter is fast approaching.

In many Northwest gardens, that means the verdant flush of summer is fading into a mass of mushy, brown twigs.

It does not have to be that way. Many plants are available to the Northwest gardener that can add beauty and interest to the garden in the dark, rainy months.

Fall in this part of the world is the perfect time to plant just about everything, especially trees and shrubs, because of the mild, wet weather.

Rick Peterson, program manager of Great Plant Picks, has a few ideas.

Great Plant Picks is an educational program provided by the Elisabeth C. Miller Botanical Garden in Seattle that draws together horticultural experts to vet the very best plants for the maritime Northwest.

The list, available free online at www.greatplantpicks.org, offers hundreds of choices.

Peterson offered a few suggestions for gardeners who’d like to pump up their yards during the cooler months.

Red Northern oak (Quercus rubra): This stately tree is a good choice for homeowners with plenty of land, although it’s tough enough for urban conditions. In the fall its leaves turn rich red. Expect it to grow to about 25 feet in the first decade, and when it matures, it will reach 50 feet or taller.

It likes full sun to light or open shade and is drought tolerant once established.

Green Japanese maple (Acer palmatum ‘Osakazuki’): This Japanese maple reaches its apex in fall, when green leaves turn crimson with orange undertones before dropping to form a red carpet.

The tree grows quickly when young and then slows, reaching a height of about 20 feet when mature. It does well in full sun to some shade and requires regular watering.

Strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo): Don’t let the name fool you. This is an evergreen shrub that can grow to about 20 feet when mature. It’s on many people’s favorite plant lists because it offers visual interest year-round with its flowers, fruit, leaves and bark.

Small, urn-shaped flowers appear from October to December. Knobby fruits ripen to orange-red when the shrub is in full flower. The shrub offers cinnamon-colored bark and green glossy leaves.

Urban gardeners can also choose to plant a compact variety of the same plant that reaches about 6 feet. For ample fruit production, plant in a protected location.

Variegated maiden grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’): This easy-going grass offers blue-green foliage with white margins. While many grasses tend to splay open as the season progresses, this one holds its shape.

Little grassy seed heads emerge in fall that provide visual interest when fall and winter winds buffet them this way and that. The grass needs to be cut back in late winter and needs some supplemental water in the driest parts of summer. It thrives in full sun.

Persian violet (Cyclamen coum) and ivyleaf cyclamen (Cyclamen hederifolium): These two cyclamens are bulbs. The first blooms in winter and the second in fall.

Cyclamen coum is one of the few plants that can handle being planted under Douglas fir, Western red cedar, beech and maples.Foliage begins to appear in late fall and early winter and the leaves can range from dark green to solid silver.

The other cyclamen is bigger and offers pink or white flowers in September and October. As flowering comes to an end, the ivylike foliage begins to emerge. It’s also drought tolerant. Both plants will spread slowly by seed.

Hiba cedar (Thujopsis dolobrata): This evergreen tree isn’t as well-known as some others, but it provides an excellent emerald backdrop for large gardens, both formal and casual. There’s also a dwarf variety for smaller yards.

This tree is somewhat like our native cedar, but the foliage is a thicker texture and more dense than the Western red cedar.

The tree grows best in shady, moist areas and it needs plenty of space to develop its pyramid shape.

Expect the larger variety to eventually grow to 50 feet or taller, while the dwarf variety only grows to about 4 feet.

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