Friday, January 13, 2012

Winter Interest with Broadleaf Evergreens

Helleborus  niger
'HGC Josef Lemper'
from Skagitt Nursery
We've had our first real cold snap with a decent snow and now is when I crave more broadleaved evergreens in my garden. These are the epitome of durable plants for a garden.

Adding evergreens to your garden can add a little life when not much else is happening in the season. Broadleaved evergreens are plants that have leaves instead of needles like your typical pine tree. There are more and more broadleaved evergreens available in garden centers. A few of the broadleaved evergreens to look for are Hellebores, Rhododendrons/Azaleas, and one of my favorites, Pieris.

Hellebores have been increasing in popularity over the past few years. As selection and breeding programs have improved, the popularity has too. The leaves are variable textures, evergreen to semi-evergreen, and they give a nice surprise through the Winter, Spring and Summer. They bloom. That is right, they bloom in the Winter. It is uplifting to see little blooms defying the insistence of winter stasis.

During the growing season, Hellebores are even more delightful.
Backyard (Acer palmatum, Deutzia lemonei 'Compacta' (in back),
Helleborus 'Royal Heritage Strain', Heuchera 'Caramel',
Heuchera 'Cherry Cola', and Hosta 'Regal Krossa')

Rhododendrons and Azaleas
A longtime favorite in the garden are Rhododendrons and Azaleas. A classic broadleaved evergreen is the Rhododendron 'P.J.M.', that was bred in the early 1900's. If you ever wondered what those initials stood for, it is for the work done by Peter J. Mezitt and family to cultivate this famed plant. What's so great about this plant? It is evergreen. It has a bright burst of pink flowers in the Spring. Rhododendron 'P.J.M.' has a fine, small-leaved, burgundy texture throughout the growing season. It makes an excellent backdrop for brightly-colored perennials and annuals. Though I know that the gorgeous flowers should be what captures my attention, one of my favorite traits that this shrub offers in the Winter is on really cold days, the leaves roll up tight, making it look like a thread-leafed plant.  Though it hasn't been proven, I think it's Mother Nature's natural thermometer screaming, "stay inside!" and "would you mind getting a coffee for me too?"

One of my favorite broadleaved evergreens is the Pieris genus. This plant is just not used enough in typical consumer gardens. Pieris is a small to large shrub that I've seen growing anywhere from 3' - 10' tall depending on the species. They can get bigger, though I haven't seen it. The new growth makes this plant look like it is blooming in the spring and summer. The real flowers begin growing their racemes in the Winter and fully open their small fragrant flowers in the Spring. A bonus for older neighborhoods like mine is that this plant likes the shade of my old trees.

Pieris japonica 'Mountain Fire'

There are dozens of other winter-interest plants available. Do a quick search at your favorite garden center to find what is available. I can't get enough of them.
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