Pick primroses and other flowers with eye-catching color for those winter gardens. Photo by Sandy Cortez

Pick primroses and other flowers with eye-catching color for those winter gardens. Photo by Sandy Cortez

Get It Growing: Winning winter gardens

Winter gardens pop out of the gray landscape and triumph over dreary days

Think of it as an extravaganza of colors, shapes, fragrances, and textures. It’s your winter garden! Spring, summer, and fall gardens are lovely, of course, but winter gardens pop out of the gray landscape and triumph over dreary days.

The foremost reason for a winter garden is to extend your garden pleasures year round. The colors brighten gray winter days, cheering and satisfying your sight and soul. An inspiring diversity of shapes and textures enliven you and encourage you to get outside, possibly to spend time on a bench in your winter garden.

As you sit on that bench breathing in the crisp fragrances of winter-blooming flowers, you are filled with the sense of peace and beauty.

It’s fun and exciting to discover plants that love the winter, too. Your winter garden is a living decoration of your own creation, and the best part is that here on the North Olympic Peninsula, it requires little care and less watering!

Now are you ready to plant a winter garden? The easy part is choosing a location, preferably where you and your neighbors can enjoy it from the comfort of a toasty warm house. Large area or small, there are plants for all.

The hard part of creating a winter garden is limiting your choices from the hundreds — yes, hundreds — of potential candidates. Oh, the possibilities!

The main characteristics of a winter garden are color, shape, fragrance and texture.

Plants for a winter garden include deciduous trees, conifers, shrubs, bulbs, perennials, grasses and flowers. Mix and match! Here are some ideas.


Foliage: gold thread cypress, Scotch heather, silver dollar hebe, ivy-leaved cyclamen, Japanese cedar, Chief Joseph lodgepole pine

Flowers: primroses, hellebore, grape hyacinth, pink dawn viburnum, tulip, daffodil

Bark: red osier dogwood, paper birch, Japanese stewartia, paper bark maple

Berries: bearberry cotoneaster, beautyberry, holly, Chinese mountain ash, barberry


Trees: contorted filbert, witch hazel, weeping Norway spruce, corkscrew willow

Shrubs: spiral Japanese cedar, creeping blue juniper, Hinoki cypress, Wissel’s saguaro

Grasses: ruby muhly grass, blue oat grass, black mondo grass, clumping bamboo


Tree: witch hazel, snowdrift crabapple, cherry

Shrubs: camellia, sweetbox, Mexican orange, Chinese paper bush, mahonia

Flowers: pansies, winter flowering honeysuckle, daffodils, winter aconite


Trees: birch bark cherry, lace bark pine, Scots pine

Shrubs: Oregon grape, Japanese thunderhead pine, Scotch heather

Other: decorative kale, ornamental grasses, ivy-leaved cyclamen

Here’s a hint: One of the plants that will give you everything in the winter garden — color, shape, fragrance and texture — is the witch hazel, sometimes referred to as the “Queen of Winter.” Try Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Diane’ with fiery red flowers or Hamamelis mollis ‘Pallida’ with bright yellow flowers.

This is just a brief list of plants to choose for a winter garden. The websites and books listed in the sidebar provide hundreds more suggestions for your winter garden.

And to further whet your winter gardening appetite, you’ll also find hundreds of photos to jump-start those creative ideas. Now is the time; start planning!

While designing your winter garden, keep in mind the requirements of the plants you choose — zone, sun, shade, water, soil, height and spread. With careful preparation and arrangement, however, you can have it all!

In reviewing Pollet’s book (see sidebar), the Irish Examiner accurately concludes, “Winter is as alive and vibrant as summer—when you let it be.”

Marlene Shinn Lewis is a WSU certified Clallam County Master Gardener. She and her team are planning a new winter garden at the Woodcock Demonstration Garden.

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