Winter Interest - Early February

A surprisingly mild winter, although welcome, has given more than our share of wet to go along with mild temperatures. This equates to popping in and out of the house to play outside in between rain showers; no lounging inside watching our stories and eating bonbons. (We eat bonbons between chores. Don't judge. They are an energy source.) With a possible snowpocalypse of the decade looming any hour now, I have been soaking up every available outside moment, doing a bit of clean-up, propagating and organizing. It is still never-ending around here, the chores list, that is. In the beginning the chores were huge - think creating paths, digging trenches, planting orchards and the like. Now they are smaller but persistent - think cleaning the hen house, clearing paths, composting, organizing and starting seeds in the greenhouse. We love it all.

But I digress - let's look at photos of the garden. The common thread this week is winter interest - snow free at this point. In my never-ending quest for a year-round garden, I add evergreens, plants with colorful bark, and winter flowering plants this time of the year, a perfect time to evaluate where I need more pizzazz to lift winter spirits. With that, I give you a few highlights of the early February at Chickadee Gardens and the fruits of labors past.

Evergreens are evident in winter. The interesting thing about this image is how the arctostaphlos are growing. To the left is north, to the right is south. They are actually growing towards the north. My theory is that since they are planted on a slope that they are growing in this fashion to balance themselves out so they don't topple over headed downhill. However they are growing, arctos are fantastic for winter interest here on the West Coast and many are blooming now, a great source of sustenance for hummingbirds and whatever insects are out there.

In an opposite example, shrubs are reaching for the sun facing south. They are on the top of a slope but planted on fairly flat ground. Even though there is plenty of room and light above this part of the garden, they reach towards the most light, especially in winter. It seems to me that in summer the Bupleurum fruticosum pictured foreground center is more upright than this, perhaps this is winter behavior. Interesting.

The berm garden as seen from the west looking east. Juniperus communis 'Compressa' add vertical accents.

Evergreen plants in this shot include Erica carnea 'Rosalie', Agave neomexicana, no i.d. opuntia, Cistus 'Paper Moon' and Rosmarinus officinalis 'Huntington Carpet'. 

Rhamnus alaternus 'Variegata' has grown considerably in the past year, its variegation adds such sparkle on a dull winter day. It can be pruned and can be used as a screen or privacy shrub when planted en masse. Pretty fantastic and versatile shrub.

Arctostaphylos 'Howard McMinn' flowers starting to open up.

Ercilla spicata is an unusual evergreen clinging vine from Chile that is said to be very versatile, growing in sun or shade. These buds will open to pink bottle brush flowers dangling along the stem. I am hoping it will cling to the blue shed and soften the edges a bit.

Arctostaphylos 'Pacific Mist' looking fine with the newly limbed-up magnolia behind. As long as the arctos have good air circulation they are impressive in winter, especially. In the old garden I had arctos in congested areas with a lot of leaf spot and drop. I see much less of that as I learn and plant accordingly.

I want to also thank you for your suggestion to limb up the magnolia. It had been a tree long ago, I imagine, and cut down by a previous owner. It wanted to grow, so I let it get bushy and didn't really know how to deal with it. The limbing allows for more air circulation and a see-through to the beginning of the shade garden beds behind it. It also allows for colder air to flow down past this bed, keeping frost from lingering.

Hebe 'Karo Golden Esk' absolutely glows in winter. It has a slightly olive color to the leaves but in winter it reads as brilliant emerald green against a backdrop of browns.

Cyrtomium fortunei shines in the shade garden, especially in winter. I have several of these and also Cyrtomium falcatum, Japanese holly fern. To be honest, I'm a bit confused how to tell them apart.

Clematis cirrhosa 'Wisley Cream', an evergreen winter blooming clematis. 

Brachyglottis greyi with Sedum 'Matrona' in the background and Arctostaphylos 'John Dourley' on the left.

Teucrium fruticans is so sorely under-used. It is evergreen with a silvery cast to it, it's difficult to photograph the full shrub which stands at about 4' tall. It has a slightly airy growth habit, it's not dense. It can be pruned to shape as can its cousin T. chamaedrys, a much smaller green plant. This one has been neglected, abused, was a half price plant to begin with years ago. It keeps on growing and forgiving me, blooming with purple blue flowers in spring. It gets zero water from me, is in hot baking sun and is a great backdrop to showy perennials and grasses. Great for xeriscaping.

Lonicera nitida 'Lemon Beauty' is an evergreen (mostly) variegated box honeysuckle. It glows out there among the shrubs and wild things of the woodland garden. Easy, no fuss, part sun to part shade.

Cornus 'Midwinter Fire' has put on some girth and is great at doing this - glowing in winter. Best to have some form of green around it to showcase its colors.

Arctostaphylos uva-ursi planted five years ago to drape over this retaining wall is finally earning its keep. It's quite an easy plant, actually, just slow to take off in heavy soil against concrete.

Yucca 'Blue Sentry' is tucked into the labyrinth garden, a great shape contrast to surrounding sedums and santolinas. So far it has escaped the yucca acne situation all of my yuccas seem to get in winter.

Oscar is a proud daddy! Agave parryi var. truncata, artichoke agave, and his babies. I think I'll just let these keep growing to form an Oscar colony. I've even found two babies some 4' away from the parent plant.

Helleborus foetidus foliage in the shade garden adds great texture.

A second Arctostaphylos densiflora 'Howard McMinn' has reached a good enough size to prune up the lowest branches to give it good air circulation and show off its handsome form. This will be handy as an anchoring plant in a sea of fluffy grasses and asters at the edge of the labyrinth garden.

Chamaecyparis thyoides 'Heatherbun' is a sleeper of a shrub. It's petite, which is nice, and in winter takes on purple bronze tones to its foliage. I'm a bit indifferent about the color change, if it stayed silvery all year that would be fine with me. It has a nice form, a mound at about 3' tall and is a very non-demanding plant against the house facing west, so reflected afternoon heat which it doesn't seem to mind.  FM refers to this as the honeybuns shrub.

Sarcococca ruscifolia intermixed with Pittosporum tenuifolium 'Irene Patterson' at the edge of the shade garden. So many shade plants are ephemerals or deciduous, so to have a bit of evergreen foliage this time of the year lifts my heart a little - especially with that delicious fragrance.

Prunus mume 'Kanko Bai' is unfortunately for someone else. I was at One Green World recently buying a lemon tree and as a friend asked to keep an eye out for this, we looked around and got lucky. I don't know much about these except they are gorgeous flowering trees, and someday perhaps I'll add one to the garden. I had to share the beauty with you and illustrate alternatives to evergreen shrubs for winter interest.

Finally, the oak tree left me a gift which I gladly accepted and displayed, adorning the blue shed. A "T" for me! Gifts from nature are abundant if I stop, put down the phone and pay attention. 

There are a plethora of evergreen plants to add winter interest out there, some may seem dull during summer but they pay the rent in winter and are worth considering. Actually the options are many and with a little imagination and a fantastic search engine for plants, Plant Lust, for example, you can daydream about winter gardening until the cows come home. The goal for this garden is for at least half of the garden to consist of evergreens - be it broad leafed evergreens, evergreen perennials, conifers, grasses or vines. While I've illustrated a few options here, there are many more that would take about 10 blog posts to catalogue them all. Bit by bit the winter garden gets better every year. It takes time, but it is certainly worth it to expand the garden into four seasons of enjoyment.

That's a wrap for this week at Chickadee Gardens. Thank you so much for reading and commenting, we love hearing from you! Happy winter gardening!


  1. I think you've met your goal of creating a year-round garden with interest (pun intended). While winter interest isn't much of an issue in my climate, I appreciate the beauty of many of the plants you've chosen. I have a still small Teucrium fruticans in my own garden, planted as a seedling obtained from a friend's garden. It is indeed hard to photograph but well worth growing.

    1. Thank you Kris! Glad you appreciate the teucrium also - see people? Listen to Kris! She knows!

  2. If you ever get down to west Salem, Lucile Whitman has Prunus mume 'Kobai' which looks similar to the one pictured. I love my plant. It's not booming yet but the buds are fat and promising. ... I also just cut off the bottom leaves on my Howard McMinn. Don't you love his mahogany legs? I'm intrigued with Ercilla spicata. I might have to keep my eyes open for it. ... I hope you're not in the high wind area and can enjoy the snow!

    1. Ooh, good to know about the Prunus mume in west Salem.

      I do love Howard's legs, so handsome. As Ricki points out (below comment), Ercilla spicata and E. volubilis are synonymous. We have a couple at Joy Creek, if you "need" one send me a note! I hope you escape the snow and ice too, Grace. Crossing all my fingers!

  3. Anonymous4:25 PM PST

    The Ercilla I bought last fall is labeled Ercilla volubilis. Looks the same, but are they different?

    1. that you? Hee hee - it's the same thing Ercilla spicata (syn. E. volubilis). Damned plant name changes. Sheesh.

  4. So nice to see how your garden has been shaping up since you started cultivating not so long ago. And looks so lush too and plenty of interest even at this time of the year.

    1. Hi guys! Yes, it wasn't that long ago, was it? Plants do grow quickly, after all. I forget that sometimes!

  5. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    1. Oh darn, luv2garden...I accidentally removed your comment instead of mine which I was correcting. Anyhow, so sorry!

      We love to wander through the winter garden - like you say, there are subtle details that are fun to take in this time of the year.

      The weather is sort of kind, we have about a foot of snow right now which I don't really mind except it's a bit late in the season. I wish it would have come last month before plants began to break dormancy. Oh well, Mother Nature always has the last word.

      Hope your weather is kind to you! Cheers!

  6. Your comment about growing arctostaphylos in the old garden vs. this one (old = congested areas with a lot of leaf spot and drop) is such a good one. Plants grown well are such a pleasure to see. I need to get better at evaluating what stays and what goes in my little garden as I certainly can't have it all! That Yucca 'Blue Sentry' is beautiful and I am so glad to see Oscar is growing a family.

    1. One of the biggest advantages of having this size of a garden is that I can allow for plants to get their full size and spread out without having to accommodate for space limitations. It's a luxury.

      The Yucca is a good one - I remember when you and Gerhard and Kathy came out to visit Gerhard had purchased one too at the local Ace Hardware store where I got mine.

      And Go Oscar! Woo hoo! He's a prolific one.


Post a Comment

Thank you for your comments! I love hearing them, I will approve comments as soon as I can. Yay!

Popular Posts