"Join me this Saturday—it may be standing room only!," from The Whistling Gardener

Plants for fall and winter interest at Sunnyside Nursery.
The Whistling Gardener shares his favorite plants for fall and winter interest. Photo courtesy of the Whistling Gardener.

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

It’s not every day that I get to teach a class here at the nursery. I am surrounded by very capable employees who have years of experience and are well qualified to instruct our customers.

However, this coming Saturday the 11th of October here at the nursery at 10 am I will be back in the front of the class dispensing gardening wisdom to the masses one gardener at a time.

The subject is something that is near and dear to my heart: Creating year ‘round interest in our gardens or more specifically: plants for fall and winter interest.

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 then 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 12 months then 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 and many more shrubs and trees have incredible fall color.

Crab apples, pyracantha, cotoneaster, euonymus, mountain ash and beauty berry have fabulous berries.

Paper bark maple, white birch, nine bark, euonymus, Sweetgum, Stewartia and coral bark maple all have interesting bark throughout the entire winter.

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.

If you want to learn a bit more about some of the fall and winter standouts go to our home page ( and check out Marti’s Picks.

Beautyberry and hardy cyclamen are two shrubs and perennials that look spectacular this month and are very easy to grow. One has amazing purple berries that look like pearls and the other is a bullet-proof perennial that will colonize a shady border with fairy-like pink blooms on silver mottled foliage. Both are available in garden centers this time of year too!

Remember that fall is a great time to plant and transplant all sorts of plants in the garden. Don’t miss this opportunity to do some editing in the garden and fine tuning before old man winter comes to stay for good.

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


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