Mid-December means the celebration of the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year.
By the end of the month, the sun will set later each day and bulbs and buds will begin to stir in a slow awakening toward spring.
Last week in this column, I wrote about finding a focal point — one you can see from indoors or near the entry — and adding outdoor lighting and plants.
This week, it is time to consider some of the best plant material for winter gardens.
TOP PLANT FOR WINTER COLOR: HEAVENLY HELLEBORES
Hellebores are drought-, shade- and deer-resistant perennials. Once known as the Christmas rose or the Lenton Rose, today hellebores are new and improved with larger, more colorful blooms that can bedazzle the garden all winter long.
In Western Washington, the wholesale grower Skagit Gardens has been providing hellebores that can take the place of poinsettias as indoor Christmas gift plants. You can now find the white blooming hellebore “Jacob” potted up and wrapped in festive red foil to give as an easy-to-grow gift plant for indoor enjoyment.
The advantage of giving a potted hellebore over a potted poinsettia is that the hellebore can go right out into the garden immediately after the holidays — and will continue to bloom and grow for many winters to come.
White-blooming hellebores might be the most popular as holiday gift plants but there is now a rainbow of hellebore varieties that bloom deep purple, green, pink, spotted, splotched, peach and ruby red. Hellebores have been cross-bred and improved to become the perfect plant for Western Washington winter gardens.
Look for locally grown hellebores later this spring from the “Gold Collection” that offer not only impressive blooms but also more compact plants with attractive, evergreen foliage. Exciting new plants like these hellebores are just one more reason to give a gift certificate to a local nursery.
MORE WINTER GRACE NOTES
Plants with beautiful bark and berries or interesting winter forms may not be as flashy as winter-blooming flowers but there is a grace to learning to appreciate the subtle charms of the winter landscape. Notice how a white-barked birch contrasts against the gray winter sky or the allure of bright red berries for the local bird population.
CHRISTMAS GREENS FROM YOUR OWN BACKYARD
Adding evergreens such a cedar, arborvitae, blue spruce and golden cypress to the landscape offers more than just evergreen color and texture. Now is the time to prune and trim your evergreens and use the clippings to fill empty window boxes and container gardens for the holidays.
Add a few bare branches of coral bark maple, red twig dogwood or the twisted branches of contorted filbert to your collection of evergreen boughs and you have a Christmas display that can be enjoyed all winter long.
TIPS FOR USING CUT EVERGREENS
• CUT THE EVERGREENS AT A JOINT OR WHERE THE BRANCH JOINS TO THE TRUNK.
N CUT EVERGREENS CAN BE STORED FOR WEEKS INSIDE A PLASTIC BAG IF LEFT OUTDOORS IN A COLD BUT SHADED LOCATION. THE CUT END OF ANY EVERGREEN OR BARE BRANCH CAN BE POKED INTO THE MOIST SOIL OF AN EMPTY CONTAINER GARDEN AND THEY WILL LOOK FRESH FOR UP TO 8 WEEKS IF LEFT OUTDOORS.
• For indoor use you can count on your cut holly, pine or cedar lasting just 24 hours unless the stems are in water.
• Avoid using hemlock, especially indoors, as the needles fall quickly from the cut branches.Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of several books. Reach her at binettigarden.com.