"Creating fall and winter interest in the garden," by the Whistling Gardener

Pansies and violas at Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville. Photo courtesy of Sunnyside Nursery.
Pansies and violas at Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville. Photo courtesy of Sunnyside Nursery.

This weekly column is being reproduced with the permission of Steve Smith, The Whistling Gardener, and owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville. 

For anyone who has followed my columns over the years, you will recognize the following mantra: “If you want year ‘round interest in your garden, you need to go to the garden center once a month and buy something that looks interesting.”

You don’t have to spend a boat load of money, just buy something that catches your eye. If you do this every month, for twelve months, you will have year ‘round interest. It is that simple!

I realize, of course, that it will take some finessing and planning to work these monthly purchases into your garden design, but with a little “organizing” it can be done with relatively little stress. And always remember that plants can be moved and rearranged as the garden evolves. Other than trees, the garden is a fluid composition that can be adjusted and reassembled throughout the years. NOTHING IS PERMANENT!

As we move into the fall and winter season the focus moves from flowers to leaves, twigs, berries and bark. Yes, there are plants that bloom in the winter in the northwest but for the best bang for the buck we need to think about the other parts of plants.

Fall color may be fleeting, but never the less it is still a short season of interest that is well worth planning for.

Fall color in the northwest can’t begin to hold a candle to the New England states, but when the weather cooperates it can be pretty spectacular.

Burning bushes, Japanese Maples, sumacs, big leaf maples, vine maples, choke berries, red maples, oaks, Katsura, Oxydendrons, Raywood ash along with many more shrubs and trees have incredible fall color.

With the dry summer we have had, many trees are already into and even finished with their fall colors while some, like oak leaf hydrangeas, seem to hold onto their fall colored leaves most of the winter.

While the above trees and shrubs require us to rake up leaves, there are also evergreen shrubs that change color for the winter without dropping their leaves.

Many conifers will turn bronze or coppery in the winter and some broadleaf shrubs, like Leucothoe and Nandina, turn an attractive crimson for the winter.

If it’s berries you are looking for, try a crab apple, pyracantha, cotoneaster, euonymus, mountain ash or beauty berry.

For interesting bark texture, plant a paper bark maple, white birch, nine bark, euonymus, Sweetgum, Stewartia or coral bark maple.

The whole point here is that there is a wide variety of plant material to choose from to add fall and winter interest to our gardens. Other than sheer laziness, there is no excuse for a boring yard in the fall and winter seasons.

Even if you feel like your garden is stuffed to the max, you can always pot up a container or two of winter interest plants to enjoy over the next four to five months.

One way or another, there is always room for one more plant!

For a lively discussion on how to work in a few more plants into your garden that will tend the season of interest into the fall and through the winter, join us Saturday, September 26, 2015, at 10 am here at the nursery for a free lecture by Certified Professional Horticulturist Trevor Cameron. If he doesn’t get you motivated, you might want to check to see if you still have a pulse.

Steve Smith is owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville and can be reached online at

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