What To Do About Winter

There’s nothing we can do about the winter weather, which for us in the Northwest is neither sunny California nor snowy Michigan, but a rainy, green and gray in between. Fortunately, the mildness allows us to brighten the gloom with color in the garden.

Flowers, variegated leaves and colorful bark are our remedies for the dull winter landscape. I like to place them to show from both inside and out and group them around walks and entries where you always come and go. Then you can’t miss their good cheer.

Here are some of the best:

Calluna vulgaris ‘Robert Chapman’

Calluna vulgaris Robert Chapman

This summer-blooming heather shines brightest in winter, when its lime green foliage takes on flaming tones of orange and red. Easy in sun and good-drainage, spreading 2 – 3 feet.

Camellia sasanqua / WINTER CAMELLIA


An evergreen shrub of many forms and flower colors, all excellent year-round plants. Small, shiny leaves are the backdrop for a long season of flowers in white or shades of pink and red. Taller ones make nice small trees, others are relaxed enough to train on a wall or fence. Happy in sun or light shade.

Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’


After a blaze of golden orange fall color, the leaves of this 6 ft. shrubby dogwood drop to reveal branches of the same color, ending in twigs of fiery red. The amazing display harmonizes with most other winter flowers- blue iris, gold witch hazel, pink hellebore. Unlike other ‘twig’ dogwoods, this does not want wet soil.

Grevillea victoriae / ROYAL GREVILLEA

Grevillea victoriae

From Australia, a 6 – 8 ft. evergreen with handsome gray-green foliage and spidery clusters of orange-red flowers from fall to spring. This fast-growing hummingbird magnet needs only sun and good drainage.

Hamamellis mollis / CHINESE WITCH HAZEL


A small tree of elegant, wide habit and large, rounded leaves that turn gold in fall. The big show is in winter, when branches are lined with spidery clusters of perfumed yellow flowers. Give it moist soil and light shade.

Helleborus orientalis / LENTEN ROSE


Hellebores are tough evergreen perennials with handsome foliage and a long season of showy flowers in artsy tones of pink, cream, plum, slate blue and white on 12 – 18 inch stems. They thrive in dry light shade.

Iris lazica / WINTER IRIS

Iris lazica

This and its cousin, Iris unguicularis, make large clumps of foliage all year, studded in winter with beautiful lilac blue flowers. They grow 15 in. high, in sun or light shade and need no water.

Jasminum nudiflorum / WINTER JASMINE

Jasminum nudiflorum

Deciduous sprawler excellent for making a waterfall of small yellow (alas scentless) blooms over a wall. Also trains well on a fence, colorful from Christmas to St. Patrick’s Day. Drought-hardy in sun or part shade.

Mahonia x media / WINTER MAHONIA

Mahonia Arthur Menzies

Under this name are several hybrid cultivars, exotic Asian versions of Oregon grape. Imposing clumps of toothy leaves are topped, in late fall and winter, with big brushes of fragrant yellow flowers. (Watch out for hummingbirds!) These grow 6 – 8 ft. tall in part or full shade.