If you plan your garden beds so that they look good even in the winter months, you can be sure they will look good all year around. The way you do this is to include plants that are either evergreen or have something interesting to offer in the winter. Then arrange those plants like a sort of framework, what some people call “the bones of the garden,” around which everything else – bulbs, annuals, herbaceous perennials – comes and goes throughout the year. Here are some choices for your shady area.
Buxus sempervirens ‘Suffruiticosa’ – True dwarf boxwood
Size: to 4-5′ if left unclipped
Comments: Boxwood grows in sun or shade; it can be clipped into a hedge or allowed to grow naturally as a dense, round shrub
Camellia japonica or C. sasanqua – Camellias
Size: 6′ – 12′ tall and wide, depending on variety
Comments: C. japonica is the larger of the two, with glossy green leaves and white or pink flowers. It blooms in late winter into spring and can be trained into a small tree. C. sasanqua is smaller and finer textured. It blooms around Christmas and has a wider variety of flower colors. Good for espallier.
Corylopsis sp. – Winter hazel
Size: 4′ – 15′ depending on variety
Comments: Deciduous shrubs. C. glabrescens, called fragrant winter hazel, grows 8′ – 15′ tall and has yellow clusters of fragrant flowers in winter. C. paucifolia, buttercup winter hazel, is much smaller, 4′ – 6′, with yellow flowers. Both bloom before leafing out.
Daphne odora ‘Marginata’ – Winter daphne
Size: to 4′ tall and wide
Comments: Fussy daphnes are grown for their divine scent and handsome foliage. This one is no exception. Its fragrance will fill the garden in late winter and the variegated foliage will brighten the landscape year around. Evergreen.
Daphne X burkwoodii ‘Carol Mackie’
Size: 3′ – 4′ tall and wide
Comments: This daphne is semi-evergreen. It emits a wonderful scent from tiny white flowers in late spring and summer; leaves are edged in white.
Fatsia japonica – Japanese aralia
Size: 5′ – 8′ tall and wide
Comments: Tropical looking shrub, often sold as a house plant, with large, deeply cut leaves. Roundish clusters of white flowers are followed by black fruit. Bold accent plant.
Nandina domestica – Heavenly bamboo
Size: 3′ x 3′ up to 8′ tall, depending on variety
Comments: Not really a bamboo, but called that because of its leaf shape. All varieties are evergreen. Many to choose from. All do well in sun or shade, but color up best in sun. ‘Compacta’ is fast growing up to 6′, column shaped, red new growth, clusters of white flowers followed by red berries. ‘Gulf Stream’ gets approximately 4′ x 3′, burgundy new growth in spring which ages to dark rich green by summer. ‘Moon Bay’ is slightly smaller, about 3′ x 3′, new foliage is bright red and/or yellow, like all Nandina, color changes with temperature making it interesting year around. There are many more varieties available. Some have lots of berries, some have none; shapes include: tall and slender and short and wide; some a ground covers. There is some form of Nandina for just about any place in a garden.
Pieris japonica – Lily of the valley shrub
Size: 3′ to 8′, depending on variety
Comments: Many cultivars to choose from; purchase plants in bloom to be sure of flower color, which ranges from white to deep rose; plants are evergreen, with large clusters of bell-shaped flowers in spring.
Size: 18″ – 10′ depending on variety
Comments: Huge selection to choose from! Look for unusual leaves or flower color to add interest; consider planting specimens of different varieties to stagger bloom time from very early February to late May/June.
Sarcococca – Vanilla plant
Size: 18″ to 5′ tall
Comments: S. hookeriana humilis gets only about 18″ tall; S. ruscifolia reaches 4′ 6′ tall and 3′ – 7′ wide; both have tiny, white, intensely fragrant blooms in winter.
Size: eventually 4′ – 5′ tall and wide
Comments: Evergreen. There’s a male and female form – the female produces red berries. Tiny, white, lightly fragrant flowers bloom in spring; slow growing, mound shaped plant. All skimmia get mites sooner or later. They won’t kill the plant and there’s nothing really effective you can do to get rid of them. They create an interesting “stippled” effect on the leaves, which is so common that most people think it is normal.
Acorus gramineus – Japanese sweet flag
Size 6″ – 12″
Comments: Yellow grass-like leaves arranged in a fan shape; brightens shady areas; prefers wet conditions
Carex morrowii ‘Aureomarginata’
Size: 10′ tall – 24″ wide
Comments: Attractive evergreen ornamental grass; medium green blades with creamy margin; good accent; brightens up dark spots in the garden
Size: up to 24″
Comments: Several varieties to choose from: Christmas rose, Lenten rose, Corsican hellebore, stinking hellebore, etc. All have cup-shaped flowers, ranging from white, to chartreuse, to pink and deep, nearly black purples; leaves vary in shape and color from light to very dark green.
Size: up to 12″ tall, spreads slowly via underground rhizomes
Comments: Woody, shade-loving ground cover. Small white flowers in short spikes in late winter, early spring. Attractive all year. Variegated form is also available.