Winter Survival Tips for Gardeners

January 15, 2016 6:55am

Seattle is a gardener’s paradise – from April through October. The other months all range from drizzle to hail and back again, staged with a gray flannel blanket backdrop.  Snow – if we had any – would offer its own design opportunities, a nice cover of warmth for plant roots, and a color other than gray.  But that’s not looking likely.

So how to be happier with your winter garden? (Assuming skipping town until April is not an option.)

Pump up the color

When it comes to mood enhancers, chocolate is great, but color lasts longer and has zero calories.  We need all the color we can get to muddle through our Northwest winters- but it’s so easy to forget that in spring when most folks are plant shopping.  Probably because the azaleas are shouting so loud, it drives all thoughts of evergreens and pretty bark right out of our heads.

High-voltage color can come in the form of accessories like pots, garden art, outdoor rugs, or a painted gate or door.  (Yes, you’ll need a real sunbreak for painting, but it will be worth it.)

Scott Costello, Flickr

Chihuly Garden Scott Costello, Flickr

Build a view including evergreens, bold bark, and striking shapes

Image Erica Grivas

This weeping blue cedar’s unique shape and color are a delight in any season. Image Erica Grivas

Imagine enjoying a rainy, yet gorgeous view from under your blanket at home. Designers often use winter as the true test of a garden, because fall exposes the garden’s structural “bones” – or lack thereof.  This is the moment when garden hardscape details, like herringbone brick or a curving wall, and evergreen plants shine.  Pick the window you see the most – if the current view needs work, start doodling a spring project in time for next year’s hibernation – see here for some starting plans.

For plants, there are so many choices beyond boxwood hedges. Conifers, and the many perennials that keep their leaves in our mild climate, carry the garden view until spring.  Heucheras (coral bells) and carex grasses are two standouts for foliage accents. Among winter flowers, hellebores are incredibly tough, long-blooming perennials that ask little beyond decent drainage and an occasional trim. If you have space, Witch-hazels (Hamamelis species) unfurl confetti streamers in sunset tones for three weeks or more before their leaves appear – and many are fragrant, too.

Image Erica Grivas

Hellebore with red and yellow dogwood twigs. Image Erica Grivas

Then there are leafless plants that look great naked – they boast colorful or striated bark – these include birches, shrubby dogwoods, and certain maples.  Others strike a pose to get attention, like Harry Lauder’s Walking stick (Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’).

For more plant ideas, Swansons Nursery’s winter Pinterest board  is full of eye candy.