Brighten Up the Winter Garden

by Pam Roy, edited by Bruce Gaudette
November 26, 2010

Abelia ‘Kaleidoscope’

Has the November weather drowned out much of the bright spots of color in your garden?  Grey days can drive even the heartiest gardener to retreat to the comfort of a steaming mug of tea and the warmth of the fireplace.  But the gloom of the winter months offers a great time to survey the garden, looking for places to slip in a bit of colorful foliage that will add brightness.

One way to lighten things up is to use plants with variegated leaves. There are varieties for all the different microclimates and soil conditions.  The most benefit of these during the winter months is achieved by using plants that are evergreen or that keep their leaves year round.

For hedging, or continuous drifts, there are several varieties of Euonymus that can be used.  Euonymus japonica microphyllus variegata makes a tidy low border plant, growing a diminutive 1-2 feet tall.  The leaves are a soft green with cream-colored leaf margins.

Brighten up a planting bed even more with the golden edged leaves of Euonymus japonica microphyllus ‘Butterscotch’.  Euonymus ‘Butterscotch’ is a small shrub that reaches 3 feet in height and has dainty bright yellow new leaves.

For even more gold color; try Euonymus fortuneii ‘Emerald and Gold’.  The foliage is edged in brilliant gold colors on this evergreen shrub that grows to 4-5 feet tall and benefits from yearly pruning to shape.  When given the support of a trellis, or stakes, Emerald and Gold will climb.  Like most Euonymus, Emerald and Gold prefers full sun.

For taller hedge, Euonymus japonica ‘Silver Queen’ has a larger presence.  This shrub will provide a hight of about 6 feet and grows 3 feet wide.  The large leaves are green, edged in a creamy white. This can also be used as an accent plant in a sunny planting bed.

A cheerful plant that adds foliage color, as well as flowering throughout the summer , is Abelia ‘Kaleidoscope’.  The leaves on Kaleidoscope have a golden variegation, changing hues spring through fall.  Growing 2 1/2 feet tall, this can be planted in a small bed that is in full to part sun.  Use as a contrast to plants with burgundy foliage for dramatic effect.

A current favorite variegated plant of mine is Pieris japonica ‘Little Heath’.  This slow growing evergreen tops out at 3-4 feet and does best partial sun.  New growth in springtime is bright red and is enhanced by the clusters of white flowers that appear.  This would be a great plant under the filtered sunlight of Japanese Maples, or on the north side of a house.

What about those wet and shady spots in the garden?  Carex morrowii aureovariegata (variegated sedge) will be happy in such a spot.  This sedge is a short grass like clump that nicely complements a pond or Asian-style garden.

The evergreen foliage does not need cutting back and adds brightness year round.  Bring on those dark days!

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