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Nudes of Winter
by Joyce Schillen
November 5, 1999

The bullfrogs started ribbiting a few weeks ago. That and the bulbs shoving green swords from the soil mean that spring is simmering just under the surface of our winter landscape.

Quick, before winter goes away, take a look at your own and neighboring gardens to see what looks good. Perhaps surprisingly, there’s much to capture a gardener’s interest in winter. You might even want to plan for it when you’re adding new plants to your garden and landscape this year.

Steve Lorton, northwest editor for Sunset Magazine, says don’t neglect the “nudes” in your garden. At a lecture last week at the Northwest Flower and Garden Show in Seattle, he explained that nudes are an integral part of a garden, just as they are in an art museum.

The nudes are those plants that show interesting characteristics of shape and texture after their leaves are gone: Graceful, arching limbs against the winter sky, intricate patterns and colors of bark that draw the eye in winter like they sometimes fail to do during summertime when leaves upstage the underlying appeal.

Common dogwood is one Lorton recommends because of its full shape. Plant it next to a window, he says, where the naked twigs will tap-tap-tap against the glass during winter storms. Also among the dogwoods, redtwig and yellowtwig dogwood shrubs show bright, shiny color all winter long.

Forsythia is another shrub that carries itself with graceful form even before the bright yellow blossoms appear in early spring.

One shrub I find interesting this time of the year is Buddleia. Its fountain-like shape is apparent, the shriveled flower stalks appear black against the muted green of the leaves that remain clinging to its branches during winter.

Trees with attractive bark that you can appreciate even more during winter include the coral bark maple, birches with gleaming white bark, sycamore, paper-bark maple, Amur cherry, and our native madrone. The latter have exfoliating bark that peels away in strips, exposing a glossy cinnamon-colored bark underneath.

Madrones are broad-leaf evergreens whose leaves hold their color all winter, but the bark is more apparent in winter against the drab landscape. The red berries are also attractive — so attractive the birds attack in a feeding frenzy and people have little time to appreciate them.

Living where we do we are spoiled by a native landscape that provides much color during wintertime from the evergreens. Growing up in the midwest I came to expect a winter that was gray, gray, gray. Here we have spruces, firs, and pines that contrast with the gray oaks. The wet bark of Ponderosa pine shows its patterns more clearly now, and the needles glisten after being washed clean of summer dust by rain.

You can improve on that evergreen display by planting trees with blue tones, like the Colorado blue spruce; or yellow, such as the Alaska yellow cedar; or Cryptomeria japonica that is green in spring and bronze/orange in winter.

Two shrubs that are especially nice here during winter are Nandina (Heavenly Bamboo) with its prolific clusters of red berries, and native Oregon grape. Lorton suggests stripping the leaves from the bottom 3/4 of these plants to improve their winter appearance.

For those who want flowers in winter, you can’t beat the low-growing Hellebores, or Chinese Witch Hazel with its fragrant yellow blooms from mid-winter to early spring.

My herb garden, too, is engaging in winter. Tidy mounds from several inches to several feet tall show various stages of color. Still green are rockrose, thyme, and rosemary. Soon the rosemary will begin to bloom again, one of the first of the season.

Curry plant (Helichrysum), lamb’s ears (Stachys byzantina), Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia), and the Artemesias provide silver accents that look at night almost like snow.

Copyright 1996 Joyce Schillen

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Email: gardenpg@cdsnet.net Author of "The Growing Season" (ISBN 0-936738-12-x) http://www.cdsnet.net/Business/GardenPages Home of "Gatherings of GARDENers" photo album

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