"Just say 'no' to boring gardens," by the Whistling Gardener

The Whistling Gardener gives us a list of plants he thinks we should have in our gardens to keep them from being boring. Photo courtesy of Sunnyside Nursery.
The Whistling Gardener gives us a list of plants he thinks we should have in our gardens to keep them from being boring. 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.

Okay folks, here’s the deal. There isn’t a day that goes by that a customer doesn’t come into my garden center and ask me how they can achieve year around interest in their garden. My reply is always the same: “Come to the garden center once a month and buy something that looks interesting to you and in 12 months you will have year ‘round interest in your garden.

So to make this as simple as possible I have decided to give you a monthly list of plants I think you should have in your garden to keep things from being boring. I call them my Boring Yard Busters or BYB’s for short. Here are my recommendations for January.

Winter blooming bulbs: These are my harbingers of spring. Crocus, snow drops, winter aconites, Pushkinia, Chionodoxa, and grape hyacinths are just a few examples of bulbs that start blooming in January and continue on into February.

These little bulbs naturalize easily and will return for many years without any effort on our part. Unfortunately, you need to buy these in the fall so make a note to do so this coming October/November.

Perennials: At the top of my list are Hellebores. Christmas Rose, Oriental Rose, Corsican Hellebore and all the new hybrids on the market are tough to beat when it comes to durability and reliability.

They bloom from December into April and rarely need dividing. Grow them in a place that has sun in the winter and shade in the summer.

Hardy Cyclamen is another perennial that blooms either in the fall or the dead of winter, depending on the variety. Cyclamen coum or Cyclamen hederifolium are usually both available this time of year. Coum blooms in colors of white to pink and several variations of foliage colors. This is a truly delightful plant.

For evergreen perennials my all-time favorite is the common Bergenia cordifolia and its many variations. Bressingham Ruby is absolutely stunning in January and February with its glossy ruby colored leaves that are followed with spikes of pink flowers in March-April. Everyone needs at least one Bergenia in their gardens and the best part is that they will grow about anywhere you plant them.

Shrubs: Sarcococca is an absolute must for the northwest garden. This evergreen shrub or ground cover needs to be in afternoon shade to look its best. The flowers come on in January to early February and have intense fragrance.

Winter Daphne is another evergreen shrub with unsurpassed fragrance.

Several deciduous shrubs are winter standouts too. Viburnum ‘Dawn’ will bloom from November until April with light pink fragrant clusters of flowers.

Buttercup Winter Hazel has soft yellow flowers later this month but if you can’t wait then try the true Witch Hazel which has been in bloom for a month already. It comes in yellow, orange and red but I think the yellow is the best for both visibility and fragrance.

And don’t forget the red twig dogwood for its sparkling red stems in winter. Mid-Winter Fire (also known as Winter Flame) has twigs that start out yellow, modulate to orange/coral and finish at the tips in red. This is by far my favorite twig dogwood.

Cleary, there are plants that I have missed but if you try a few of the above selections you will be well on your way to the elusive “year ‘round interest” goal that we all lust for.

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

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