Two weeks ago, I shared with you several shrubs that caught my eye as candidates for livening up the garden for winter — and promised to follow up with a column on evergreen perennials that compliment those shrubs.
Since that first column ran, I was fortunate enough to attend a lecture by Katie Miller from Skagit Gardens on hellebores and plants that play well with shrubs for winter interest. It was gratifying to know that her list and mine were very close. Here are our selections.
Hellebores: There are far too many individual varieties to mention — so suffice it to say that these perennials can bloom from November all the way into March. Known as “Christmas Rose” for the early bloomers to “Lenten Rose” for the later bloomers, these do best in full to part shade during the summer. From now through February is the best time to find them in garden centers. I always think of hellebores as harbingers of spring.
Evergreen ferns: Our native sword fern and deer fern are classic examples, but also available is the Japanese tassel, Korean rock, Maidenhair and autumn ferns. All are evergreen and will hold up well through the winter.
Evergreen grasses: The sedges (Carex varieties) are well suited for our winters. The Evergold Series consists of Everlime, Everlite, Eversheen and Everillo (possibly my favorite). All are colorful with mounding foliage. For a bit more erect look, select orange sedge or go with one of the blueish rushes. For a truly different look, be sure to try out Black Mondo grass — there is nothing quite like it.
Heucheras: There is no end to the varieties of heuchera on the market. They make a nice mounding mass of scalloped foliage that comes in an array of colors from dark purple and speckled green to orange and yellow. Dark Secret, Lime Marmalade, Fire Chief, Marmalade and Mahogany are all good choices, but just look for ones that you like and don’t worry too much about the name.
Euphorbias: These drought tolerant — which is not an issue in winter, of course — perennials will stand tall all winter and then bloom for at least two months in spring. If you put them in a container, you can then transplant them out into a hot, sunny spot for summer. Ascot Rainbow, Glacier Blue and Ruby Glow are all outstanding choices.
Bergenia: These have large, round glossy leaves that turn a rich ruby in the winter. Bressingham Ruby and Winter Glow are two that won’t let you down.
Winter Green: This is a delightful groundcover with large Christmas-red berries that will add some texture to your composition. The foliage also colors up nicely in the winter.
Cyclamen: Two varieties of hardy cyclamen will naturalize nicely in the shade garden (every Northwest gardener should have a patch of them). But, for containers, florist grade cyclamen are a real treat (Though they might need a little protection if temperatures drop below the 20s). These cyclamen come in white, pink or red, and will make any container more festive.
In addition, if you insist on also having some flowers this winter, go with pansies and primroses. They are the most reliable winter bloomers for our climate. You can find great examples of all these plants either individually or already planted up in containers ready to take home at garden centers.
Celebrate the diversity of evergreen winter perennials by incorporating some of them into your garden this season.
Steve Smith is the owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.