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November 2021

Welcome to the big, cold, dark, the time of year in the northwest when we are surrounded by wet and dark weather. That being said, there are some amazing winter plants to spark interest this time of year. Blooms and foliage can bring light and cheer and even fragrance.

Let’s start with some shrubs that bloom in the winter season. Mahonias are show-stoppers and hummingbird magnets. Their bright, sulfur yellow flowers are magical as they top a columnar stem with a holly-like leaf. This plant is tough as nails, evergreen, and blooms pretty much from November on.

We have some mahonias that are native to our area, such as ‘Oregon Grape’, Mahonia nervosa, native to the Cascade regions of the Northwest, and Mahonia repens, ‘Creeping Oregon Grape’, which is also quite prolific here in the Pacific Northwest.

The real show-stoppers though are the Asian hybrids – these guys can get up to eight to ten feet tall and six to eight feet wide. Absolutely a must-have for the winter garden. Here are some varieties I recommend. Mahonia x media ‘Arthur Menzies’ is a stellar plant and big in structure with foliage that is bluish-grey-green, resembling a cross between a holly and a fern. It blooms in sprays of bright yellow flowers. Mahonia x media ‘Charity’ is a bit smaller in stature than Arthur, with a softer yellow bloom. Mahonia x media ‘Winter Sun’ has fragrant yellow blooms. Any of these varieties are a wonderful choice for winter interest and hummingbird food.

Another wonderful group of winter-blooming shrubs are winter Camellias. Camellia x vernalis ‘Yuletide’ is a terrific, bright red flower in the dead of winter. This shrub has beautiful dark, evergreen leaves and rigid growth habit. It is perfect for both garden and container plantings.Camellia x sasanqua ‘Setsugekka’ has an elegant white winter flower. Both of these varieties bloom through the winter.

Now for a winter shrub with eye-catching berries. There is nothing quite like Callicarpa bodinieri ‘Profusion’, also known as Beauty Berry. This shrub has the most beautiful metallic purple berries on bare limbs, a truly whimsical sight.

Another group of magical winter shrubs are the Sarcococcas. Lush green, dense, evergreen foliage hides dainty white, extremely fragrant flowers. There are three main varieties of Sarcococcas, or Sweet Box. Sarcococca hookeriana var. humilis, is the shortest at only one to two feet tall. It is perfect for containers or a low evergreen groundcover. Sarcococca ruscifolia or ‘Fragrant Sweetbox’ is the big boy with, as its common name states, a sweet fragrance. Finally the head-scratcher of the group, Sarcococca confusa, in its youth has the traits of hookeriana but grows to be three to five feet tall.

Nothing shows off in the winter garden quite like Hellebores, an evergreen perennial that really brings the blooms into the dark days of winter. Hellebores (common name Christmas Roses) are stunning and with so many breathtaking cultivars. Dark, lush leaves hold up to the worst weather and bloom till March. This group of plants is worth checking out.

So in closing, the winter garden can be bright and cheery with blooms, even on the darkest and coldest days.


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