Winter interest, part 2

We’re not sure whether to rejoice over the recent improvement in the weather, or despair over the fact that the weatherman on the television just mentioned “snow” as a possibility (again!)  I suppose we’ll take the high road and choose optimism, since it does feel like spring is on the horizon and glimmers of hope are popping up all over town.  Spring bulbs are pushing through to daylight and this past week we observed daffodils, tulips, and hyacinths emerging from hibernation, and crocus in full bloom.  Witchazels all over the area are blooming and Cornus mas trees are showing color and trying to bring forth their full glory; but, overall, Kansas City is still a picture in shades of grey.  And that is why it’s important for every gardener’s sanity to include in the landscape some of those plants that hold our interest in every season, but especially in the winter.  Trees and shrubs that have wonderful bark, unique branching patterns, or unusual buds draw us into the yard and almost compel us to find beauty in the winter landscape.  A few of our favorites follow; if you have a stellar performer in your yard, drop us a line and share your excitement with other Kansas City gardeners!

At Greenleaf, we are big fans of lesser known or obscure plants that make gardening fun and ever changing.  Some of those are on our list of winter highlights, while others on the list the reader will recognize as “old standbys”.  Plants with interesting bark head up our list, and one tree that is particularly impressive this season is the Paperbark Maple (Acer griseum).

This is a small to medium sized tree that grows quite slowly, so it will fit into almost any landscape.  Its bark peels constantly, revealing an ever changing pattern of very rough to glassy smooth, and colors of reddish brown to parchment tan.  Fall leaf color is an added bonus with this tree which is clothed in orange, red, and yellow.

A seldom planted pine is next on our list;

  Lacebark Pine (Pinus bungeana) is a slow growing, medium sized pine tree that has beautiful bark which reminds one of puzzle pieces in colors of green, grey, and reddish brown arranged on the trunk.

Most gardeners are familiar with redtwig dogwood shrubs, which have great red stems, but not so many landscape lovers know the intense rose-red stems of a Japanese Maple called ‘Sango-kaku’.

   A smallish, upright and vase shaped Japanese maple, Coralbark Maple has fine textured branches so bright that it literally stops you in your tracks.  It’s not the easiest tree to grow, and enjoys a little shade on hot summer afternoons, but in the winter it is breathtaking.

Interesting shapes are another highlight in the landscape, especially in winter.  We were reminded this week just how striking Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick (Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’) truly is.

     This shrub is unique in its curling and twisting contorted branches that are a real conversation piece.  It grows to around six feet tall and wide, and is fairly non-descript in the spring through fall growing season, but when it loses its leaves, it is remarkable!

Another arresting shape prominent in winter gardens is that of Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina).

   This plant has a growth habit that is hard to describe—we think “wild” suits it best.  One variety of staghorn sumac, ‘Tiger Eye’, has stunning golden leaves that always attract attention.

One of our favorite evergreens for winter interest is the dramatic ‘Tokasu’ Juniper, a dark green upright form that seems to have arms that embrace the landscape around it.

  This tree grows 15’-20’ tall and never needs trimming, though you need to give it some room to allow it to perform to its fullest.

So, when you are planning your next landscape improvement, consider including a true winter interest tree or shrub and spice up even the bleakest January scene.