Winter Interest, Part 2

Winter interest part 2

I mentioned in the previous post that ways to create winter interest in our garden is to “think of the aspects to the garden that you like through the rest of the year, and then find winter tolerant providers– texture, colour, movement, smell”.

So a quick note on “movement”.

Wind causing movement of feathery plants:

Stipa tenuissima. Photo credit.

Stipa tenuissima. Photo credit.

Feathery grasses that "flow" in the breeze.

Feathery grasses that “flow” in the breeze. This Miscanthus will be brown now in January (picture was taken in July), but that just means you get not only the visual interest but also auditory interest–the crunchy/crackly sound of the dry grass blades.

Water flowing from fountain or stream:


This garden will have movement from the water  as well as the Pennisetum (Fountain Grass), altho’ it’ll be brown now in January, will still be “blowin’ in the wind”.


Thanks to Outdoor Makeover for the picture

Thanks to Outdoor Makeover for the picture

Here in coastal BC, we don’t often have to worry about freezing temperatures when it comes to water. But if you do, you may not have the luxury of letting your fountains continue fountaining through the winter. Check your night-time temperatures, and if it’s going to be below 0° C, just keeping it running through the night might be enough to keep it liquid. Unless it’s well below 0°.

Birds of course create an delightful amount of movement, and even more so if you provide “some of their favourite things”–food and water.

House finches

House finches and a junco at the bottom.

This feeder is filled with mostly black sunflower seed top and middle, and then Nyjer in the bottom section. (I was disappointed to learn that most Nyjer seed is imported from Africa or India. So much for 100-mile diet!) Enlarge the following clip to get  better view of the house finches “eating and spitting”. 

Chickadee having a little drink.

Chickadee having a little drink.

Besides keeping the feeder filled, I like to leave faded flower stems in the garden in the fall instead of doing a fall clean-up, so the birds can enjoy the seeds.

Sedum spectabile 'Autumn Joy'

Sedum spectabile ‘Autumn Joy’–lots of seeds.

Rudbeckia hirta seed heads

Rudbeckia hirta seed heads. You’re right, this isn’t beautiful, but still provides joy when you see the birds pecking away at them.

Crocosmia seed heads. These are a big seed and I don't see much bird action around them. I wonder if I collected some and actually put them in the feeder?...

Crocosmia seed heads. These are a big seed and I don’t see much bird action around them. I wonder if I collected some and actually put them in the feeder?…

Stay tuned for the next post on “Water in the Landscape”.

Winter Blooms

Winter Blooms

For the last few days I’ve had a surprise every time I step out the front door or return to the front door. An unexpected fragrance wafts up from somewhere, and I look around to see what it is. In fact the first day I smelled it–probably one week ago– it didn’t even register as a fragrance, just a different sensation. Really silly, since it came from my Sarcococca, which has occupied the same garden spot for 7 years. But every year the amazing fragrance catches me off-guard, which then becomes part of the delight.

Sarcococca confusa

Sarcococca confusa

It’s really easy to plan or amend a garden to entertain through the dreary cold, wet winter months. Think of the aspects to the garden that you like through the rest of the year, and then find winter tolerant providers– texture, colour, movement, smell (already mentioned).

Sarcococca confusa is the perfect little shrub for a shady spot. In this less-than-optimal raised bed (6’x 1’x 0.5′)  between the driveway and the front steps, it has a civilized habit, not too big, not too small, easily pruned, and always has enough extra branches to allow me to cut some to bring in. (I’m a little sensitive to smells, though, and last year had to put them out the back deck because the aroma was too strong for me.) Be sure to give it enough water; I originally planted two in that tiny border, and the one toward the back (don’t look for it, it’s long gone!) just didn’t thrive. It was a little too sheltered by the roof overhang.

Tiny little flowers, big impact!

Sarcococca confusa. Tiny flowers, big impact!

Helleborus niger or any of the other hellebore species provides great winter interest, especially when you have a few different ones. The ‘Jacob’ below is from the “Hellebore Gold Collection”, and unlike many varieties, the flowers face more upward. These started blooming long before Christmas, and will continue for at least a couple months.

Helleborus niger 'HCG Jacob Classic'

Helleborus niger ‘HCG Jacob Classic’. You can just see more blooms under some of the leaves, so I’ll be trimming those off–new leaf growth will start later in the spring.

Hellebore niger 'HCG Jacob Classic'

Hellebore niger ‘HCG Jacob Classic’–unfortunately a little winter mould on the blooms.



Helleborus nigercors ‘White Beauty’ (?). Leaves look pretty unsightly, and the blooms are cleverly concealed behind them. So now’s the time to cut them all away to expose the flower buds.


Helleborus x hybridus 'Ivory Prince'

Helleborus nigercors ‘White Beauty’

‘White Beauty’ will be the next to open, then other hellebores are later bloomers like this H x  hybridus ‘Spring Promise Elly’:

Helleborus x hybridus 'Spring Promise Elly'

Helleborus x hybridus ‘Spring Promise Elly’

Witchhazel (Hamamelis) is another potentially fragrant item–could be grown as a shrub or a small tree–that is easy to fit into most landscapes. I say potentially, because I don’t at all trust other people’s sense of smell, and beside, even the sources and resources have differing information. My H. x intermedia ‘Jelena’ is fragrant according to Missouri Botanical Garden, but Pacific Horticulture writes “lack of scent”. Mine unfortunately agrees with PH.

Hamamelis x intermidia 'Jelena'

Hamamelis x intermidia ‘Jelena’

But such cute spidery flowers, and lovely vase-shaped growth.

Hamamelis x intermedia 'Jelena'

Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Jelena’. I love this current shape, and will not be doing any pruning this season. You can see the racoon damaged lawn in the background!

Be careful pruning the Witchhazel–it has a strong tendancy to send up suckers and water sprouts, so prune lightly. Once your hamamelis is established and can spare losing a few branches, you can cut some before the blooms open and bring them indoors to force.

Daphne odora starts to show colourful buds as early as Christmas, but they don’t open until much later. And then not only are the flowers cute but wonderfully fragrant as well. But for now, they just offer the hope of colour and frangrance.

Daphne odora 'aureomarginata'.

Daphne odora ‘aureomarginata’. Supposedly “semi-evergreen”, but holding on to two leaves does not, in my book, constitute even semi-evergreen.

Skimmia japonica. Can’t beat it for colour. And for some reason, the birds don’t eat the berries, so they persist a very long time. These have been”in berry” since probably mid Fall.

Skimmia japonica--male and female planted together. Both are needed to produce ber

Skimmia japonica–male and female planted together. Both are needed to produce berries.

Skimmia japonice 'rubella'

Skimmia japonica ‘rubella’

Skimmia ‘rubella’ doesn’t berry because it’s male, and I guess there isn’t a female version. Not knowing that it was male, I planted it in front of the larger variety assuming the first would pollinate the second. I guess not…

Buds will open in late winter, so after the Sarcococca is finished, and before the Daphne opens, the Skimmia, also right by the house entrance, will waft its fragrance up to the front door.

Viburnum tinus ‘Spring bouquet’. Another lightly fragrant winter bloomer, this slow-growing evergreen carries a halo of buds from late Fall, and is just now beginning to open them up.

Viburnum tinus 'Spring Bouquet' with hellebores underneath.

Viburnum tinus ‘Spring Bouquet’ with hellebores underneath.

V. tinus 'Spring Bpuquet'

V. tinus ‘Spring Bouquet’

This is also labelled "Spring Bouquet', and is likely to be correctly labelled, but they surely can't both be the same variety, since this one is much redder in bud, and

This is also labelled “Spring Bouquet’, and is likely to be correctly labelled, having the Monrovia label on it, but they surely can’t both be the same variety, since this one is much redder in bud, and slow, slow, slower growing.

Edgeworthia crysantha. I’d love to show you beautiful pictures of my new Edgeworthia, but unfortunately it’s far from beautiful, still just a stick with a few tassels hanging from it.

Edgeworthia crysantha

Edgeworthia crysantha

The spring flowering deciduous shrub sets its silvery buds late summer,

Edgeworthia crysantha buds in September

Edgeworthia crysantha buds in September

then in Fall, loses its leaves leaving these cute little buds.

Edgeworthia crysantha buds January

Edgeworthia crysantha buds January

Hopefully in future years it will look more like this in January:

Edgeworthia chrysantha, image thanks to Davis Landscape Architect's Pages

Edgeworthia chrysantha, image thanks to Davis Landscape Architect’s Pages


You may be interested in these related articles:

The Winter Garden, 5 Winter Questions, 5 Herbs That Thrive in Winter 

The Winter Garden

This post is all about appreciating the winter garden. I read an interesting article today on one of my favourite blogs, Garden Rant, entitled “The Myth of Winter Interest“. Now, far be in from me to dispute anything written by the esteemed Ranter Elizabeth Licata, so I’ll just express here a different perspective.

I LOVE to watch my garden grow. Pretty soon, I’ll be posting new pics of Spring shoots and the various things I’ll do to ready the garden for this new growth. But in the meantime, there is lots to see and do in the winter. Admittedly, here in coastal BC our climate is such that getting close to the subjects in question is usually pretty easy. Our two “Arctic outflow” spells were short-lived and sunny, leaving us little if any snow, and temperatures hardly cold enough to qualify as “cold” according to most of the country.

Get Out Your Camera

I suggest that the one of the best ways to really appreciate your winter garden is with a camera. With a camera, you can walk around looking for things to photograph. That means you’ll begin to see thing you didn’t know were there. Like this: (from last Spring, a surprise asparagus I’d grown from seed but thought had died.)

Asparagus that I grew from seed in

Asparagus that I grew from seed


Dryopteris affinis ‘Cristata’–you can just see the stems of the fronds radiating out the sides, this is the crown with new growth ready to burst.

Or the crown of this Dryopteris affinis ‘Cristata–Crested wood fern; looks more like some Amazonian spider!

With a camera, you don’t even have to go outside to see fun things:

With a camera you’ll find yourself looking with fresh eyes–almost barren spaces viewed on your computer screen will give you a new chance to see the shape of your trees and shrubs, the presence or absence of structure, whether you have too much or too little evergreen, what areas could be enhanced with art or containers…

Which brings me to the second of two great winter activities–

Review Your Design, based on what the garden looks like in winter. You can’t do that unless you have a really good look, and do it frequently. Even though not much is growing right now in much of the Northern hemisphere, that doesn’t mean changes aren’t happening. Take that rotten squirrel for example. This morning I had lots of rose hips on that Westerland rose, purposely not pruned off so there was colour there all winter long. Now, not so much. Much as I like my garden to invite local fauna, I have a bias against some local fauna, mainly rodents. Do I want to encourage their presence? Will letting them eat the rose hips (as though I could stop them…) help keep them away from the bird feeders?

So if it’s not too cold, or too wet, or too snow-bound, tour your outdoor spaces frequently, check out changes, take your camera (and take LOTS of pics–they don’t have to be gallery-quality!), and enjoy your winter garden. And winter gardening. And then see if you agree with me or with Elizabeth.

Post Script: Here is a follow-up article by fellow Garden Ranter, Evelyn Hadden.


Help, My Lawn Has Been Thrashed!


Female chafers lay 20-40 eggs over their lifespan. They are laid singly, 5–10 centimetres (2.0–3.9 in) deep in moist soil, and take 2 weeks to hatch. The grubs hatch by late July. In frost zones, the grubs feed until November, then move deeper into the soil. In frost-free areas, the larva will feed all winter. Vigorous feeding occurs from March through May. In early June, the grubs again move deeper, from 5–25 centimetres (2.0–9.8 in), to form earthen cells and pupate. The pre-pupal and pupal stages last 2–4 days and 2 weeks, respectively. By June, the new beetles begin emerging. (Wikipedia)

Thanks Wikipedia.

Crow damage

Crow damage

If you live in Metro Vancouver you have seen this, probably in your own neighbourhood, and possibly in your own lawn. This is European Chafer Beetle damage, caused not only from the beetle grubs, but even more from the predators that feed on the grubs.


Crow damage

The C-shaped really disgusting-looking grubs (how could anything called a “grub” be anything other than disgusting-looking?) started the damage by feeding on the roots of mostly turf. Some sources say they’ll feed on other vegetation roots if there’s a shortage of turf, but that doesn’t seem to be an issue yet, since we have lots of lawn. So you will seldom see this kind of damage in a lawn that is thick and green–it’ll have nice long roots preventing the animals and birds from pulling up the turf. You can see in the pictures that the undamaged areas still look pretty patchy. Of course, it is winter…

Then once the predators know the grubs are big enough to provide a tasty morsel, they start to dine–seems to be Fall through Spring. And since the grubs have already eaten away at the roots, the turf is now more like a carpet laid on the soil, so the crows, racoons and skunks don’t have to work very hard to get the turf out of their way.

Crows doing the damage.

Crows doing the damage.

More crows, more damage.

More crows, more damage.


Damage control

Damage control

Trying to keep the “carpet” pinned down will have limited success, since the critters can easily pick away in the spaces. Enlarge the above picture and you can see patchy areas that may have been damaged before the netting went down, or since.

Racoon damage

Racoon damage–just a little.


Same site, different angle.

This was what I found one morning in early December. I’ve had crummy turf, but no CB damage for the 7 years I’ve been here, but since I wasn’t going out of my way to make my lawn really healthy (I keep vacillating on replacing it with…something), an infestation was inevitable–I was disappointed but certainly not surprised. Why racoon damage instead of crow damage? Who knows–I guess because there are racoon families in some of our neighbourhood Douglas-firs.

THIS did surprise me though.

Lots and LOTS of racoon damage.

Lots and LOTS of racoon damage.

Between waking up (in the dark) last Monday morning (I like to look out the front window while I’m brushing my teeth–sometimes I’ll see skunks or racoons ambling by) and leaving the house (in the dark) 45 minutes later, the racoons had had breakfast.

I guess I should be grateful to the racoons, not only have they probably decimated my chafer beetle population, they’ve also made me stop procrastinating making a new design for my front yard. I’m checking out Houzz “lawn alternatives” page.


I’d like to see your lawn protected from this damage in the first place. We’ve got the invasive beetle here in Metro Vancouver, so either you prevent a devastating infestation, or you clean up the mess. Hoping it won’t happen is ineffective management!

The following is taken straight from the City of Richmond “Chafer Beetle” site, a nice concise lawn management guide:

Minimize lawn damage caused by chafer grubs by keeping your turf healthy and thick with proper lawn care practices:

* Increase mowing height to 8-10 cm (3-4 in). Longer grass blades mean a longer root system that is more resilient to the larvae feeding. (Ed. It may also help prevent the female from laying here eggs in your lawn, since apparently she prefers shorter grass blades.)
* Fertilize regularly by top dressing twice a year with compost or by using organic, slow-release fertilizers. Leaving grass clippings on the lawn, rather than bagging and disposing of them (grasscyling), also naturally fertilizes your lawn with nutrients after each mow.
* Water your lawn deeply: 2 to 3 cm (½ to 1 inch) once a week to promote a lush lawn with deep roots that better resist insect damage and drought. Follow the water use restrictions in effect from June 1 to September 30.
* Overseed your lawn annually with a grass seed mix will contribute to maintain a dense, healthy, and weed-free lawn. (EdThis can be done with the “top dressing” of compost.)
* Lime your lawn in fall and spring to counteract the soil’s natural acidity. Acidic soil prevents grass from taking up key nutrients necessary for its optimal growth and health.

If you’ve experienced the damage already, you can, like me, plan a new design that doesn’t include grass turf–or very little of it. If it’s Jan 6 and your turf looks like mine, there’s not much you can do until the weather warms up a bit. For now, you can clean up the mess and cover the bare soil with mulch, and in Feb or early March, if you’re hoping to keep lawn in this area, you can heavily grass-seed the area.

Besides the above maintenance regime, there’s a biological control, Heterorhabditis bacteriophora, or nematodesThese are a microscopic round worm that actually feeds on the the CB eggs before they turn into larvae. So it has only a short window of applicability–the latter half of July, after the eggs have been laid, and before they hatch into grubs. You can get nematodes at any nursery, and they’ll give you instruction on how to use them. They’re not cheap, and depending on your lawn maintenance you may need to repeat every year, so it may be another reason to consider removing your lawn.