Winter Color: Creative Ways to Add a Splash of Color During the Grey Months of Winter

November 11, 2013

It’s November in the Pacific Northwest and our annual fall show of vibrant oranges, electric yellows and luscious reds is almost over.  In other words… we’re entering those dreaded gray months – ‘sigh’.  And today was no exception, overcast, chilly and wet.  Here’s a sad picture of my backyard as proof (and yes, the one smart chicken that keeps escaping).

Grey Seattle day

Grey Seattle day

To brighten my spirits, I decided to head to the nursery in search of inspiration and COLOR!  Thankfully, I wasn’t disappointed.  In fact, my visit served as a pleasant reminder of how lucky we are to live where we do and of just how many plants we have available to us that provide that bit of color we’re so desperate for from November to February.  While I’m sure the nursery staff were thinking, “Just buy something lady” (I did buy some chicken feed), I pulled out my camera and starting snapping.  I’ll start with some fun conifers I found.

Carsten’s Wintergold mugo pine, Pinus mugo ‘Carsten’s Wintergold’

Carsten’s Wintergold is a lovely little mounding dwarf pine that has attractive green foliage in spring and summer that turns a rich gold when the weather gets cold.  It prefers full sun and grows to be approximately two feet tall and wide in ten years.  It makes a great specimen plant in smaller gardens.

Carsten's Wintergold mugo pine

Carsten’s Wintergold mugo pine

Franky Boy oriental arborvitae, Thuja orientalis ‘Franky Boy’

Franky Boy is a funny little guy with unique thread-like strands of yellow foliage that stand straight up.  It eventually grows to be 4 feet tall and 3 feet wide and takes on a tear drop shape.  It grows best in full sun to part shade and makes and excellent choice for containers or in the middle or foreground of foundation plantings.

Franky Boy arbortivae

Franky Boy arbortivae


Gold Rider Leyland cypress, Cupressocyparis leylandi ‘Gold Rider’

For a dash of color and brightness on a larger scale, try Gold Rider leyland cyress.  Considered one of the best golden conifers, Gold Rider has an open horizontal growth habit.  It grows to be 35 feet tall and 15 feet wide and provides a bright focal point in a large garden.

Gold Rider Leyland Cypress

Gold Rider Leyland Cypress

Camellia sasanqua

If you’re looking for flowers in the dead of winter, the evergreen shrub Camellia sasanqua is sure to please.  Depending on the cultivar, Camellia sasanqua can bloom anywhere between early fall, right through winter.  It comes in several shades including, but not limited to; ‘Yuletide’, a deep rich red, ‘Apple Blossom’, white with pink tinged petals and ‘Setsugekka’, a pure pristine white.  Each has petals that surround a bright yellow stamen in the center.  Sasanqua prefers filtered shade and can be grown as a single specimen, a hedge or trained as an espalier along a fence of wall.

Camellia sasanqua 'Yuletide'

Camellia sasanqua ‘Yuletide’

Camellia sasanqua 'Apple Blossom'

Camellia sasanqua ‘Apple Blossom’

Camelia sasanqua 'Setsugekka'

Camelia sasanqua ‘Setsugekka’

There are so many wonderful grasses available to us, here are a few that keep their color year-round.

Variegated sweet flag, Acorus gramieus ‘Ogon’

The bright chartreuse foliage of sweet flag makes an excellent accent in a border planting or a container. It’s gently arching foliage spreads into a 1 foot by 1 foot mound.  Sweet flag grows in a variety of conditions from full sun to open shade, however it’s chartreuse leaves are most striking in full sun.

Variegated sweet flag

Variegated sweet flag


Variegated Japanese sedge, Carex oshimensis ‘Evergold’

If chartreuse isn’t your color, try variegated Japanese sedge. Carex oshimensis ‘Evergold’ has graceful thin dark green blades with a sunny yellow stripe running down the middle.  It grows into a perfect 1 foot by 1 foot mound and is extremely easy to care for once established. It grows in full sun to partial shade and looks good planted in small groupings or drifts towards the front of a border.

Variegated Japanese sedge photo: Carl Lewis

Variegated Japanese sedge
photo: Carl Lewis


Elijah Blue fescue, Festuca ovina glauca ‘Elijah Blue’

With its icy blue hue, Elijah Blue fesue is sure to catch your eye.  Elijah Blue grows in dense mounds approximately 8 to 12 inches tall and wide.  Tan colored flowers extend 6 inches above the grass in summer and persist through winter, providing nice contrast to its blue foliage.

Elijah Blue fescue photo"

Elijah Blue fescue

Prairie Fire New Zealand sedge, Carex testacea ‘Prairie Fire’

Prairie Fire New Zealand sedge provides a striking splash of orange in the garden.  Its thin blades grow into a mound approximately 2 feet wide and tall.  Its orange hue is most dramatic in full sun and it looks best in masses along a border.

Prairie Fire New Zealand Sedge photo:

Prairie Fire New Zealand Sedge

Heuchera and heucherella are another great way to add evergreen color to your garden.  Check this previous post to see an unbelievable rainbow of new cultivars available.

Berries are another way to add a splash of color and interest.  Here’s a link to a recent post about shrubs that provide colorful berries for birds to eat through winter.

Even though it’s grey out, don’t despair!  This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to creative ways to add color to your winter garden.  Stay tuned for more ways to add interest to your garden with colorful containers and unique bark.  If you’re garden could use a little winter pizzazz, we’d love to help!

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