The term “winter interest” intrigues me. Frankly, I have no interest in winter at this point, and neither do most people who read blogs at this time of year. But there is some truth and wisdom in selecting plants, trees, and shrubs that display well in all seasons, particularly in northern climates with short growing seasons.
Three shrubs that offer multi-season visual appeal in my garden are:
1. Hydrangea (Hydrangea L.). Some varieties of Hydrangea bloom only on the previous year’s growth, some bloom only on new growth, and others bloom on both. The shrubs I have bloom on both.
In spring, Hydrangeas form new shoots, and buds open on old shoots. The leaves unfurl in late spring and grow to approximately three-by-four inches. The flowers follow, starting as small, compact flower heads which burst into large, colorful mopheads during the summer.
Hydrangeas hold their flowers throughout the summer. The two shrubs I have produce pink, lavender, and blue flowers depending on the PH of the soil. In recent years, I haven’t added anything to the soil to change the color, so they tend to produce pink to lavender flowers. In fall, the leaves are tinged with pink and yellow hues.
I clip some flowers for arrangements during the summer and leave some on the shrubs until late fall, when I clip the remaining flowers and trim the shrubs before winter. The dried flowers can be enjoyed all winter. I took this photo today of a dried Hydrangea sprig that has decorated my powder room all winter.
2. Lilac (Syringa l.). This shrub supplies the most pleasant scent in my garden. The peak of its blossoms and pungency hits right about the time I’m planting my vegetable and annual flower gardens in late May. Just thinking about the scent makes me smile.
Though the Lilac's blooming time is short (one to two weeks), its leaves maintain a lovely bright green hue throughout the summer. In fall, like the Hydrangea leaves, Lilac leaves become variegated with pinks, yellows, and various shades of green. Lilacs don’t hold much winter interest, but some lingering leaves hint at the previous year’s growth.
3. Burning Bush (Euonymus alatus). Burning Bush takes the prize as the most dramatic four-season shrub in my garden. In spring, the leaves provide a lush backdrop to other more showy plants. Throughout the summer, the leaves slowly tinge with color, peaking in a bright magenta/fuschia color that is hard to describe or classify—arguably the most eye-popping autumn color in my garden.
In winter, berries remain on the shrubs until birds finish their feast.
Soon, these beauties will turn the corner on “winter interest” and begin their more dramatic displays of color. (Click on any images to view larger in a new window.)