First of the Year


Hellebore bouquet

Hellebores, Viburnum, Autumn Fern

In the past I’ve just nipped off Hellebore blossoms and floated them in a bowl.


Pretty, but today I went foraging in my garden. (Can I call it “foraging” if I’m not collecting food?)

More Winter Interest

More Winter Interest

This time of year there are lots of blog posts about having multi-season interest, and especially Winter interest, in your garden. I love THIS from The Gardener’s Eden. Beautiful colour, strong contrast, everything you could want to take your mind off the bone shattering cold.

Or from Monrovia’s Top 7 Garden Trends for 2019: subtlety, wistfulness, peace. 

Unfortunately, most of these beautiful scenes depend on sun, snow, or both to really show the virtues.

Unlike the torrential rains, winds and gloom that is the usual lot for us in coastal BC, or coastal PNW (this past week notwithstanding…). 

So here we need to look for plants (or structures or art pieces) that can hold their own not only in the absence of glistening snow and soft winter-low sun, but in the presence of that pounding rain. The flowers of the Pennisetum (above in the Monrovia image) wouldn’t have maintained that lovely mounded shape through the deluge over the first couple days of 2019, but other grasses, like Carex ‘Frosted Curls’ (one of my all-time faves) can still give you the mounded shape, the potential for this frosted effect (real frost) when it happens, without the risk of total loss.

Carex ‘Frosted Curls’–actually frosted.

So assuming you don’t have the acres that for example Anglesey Abbey in Cambridge has…

Cornus stems and Rubus cockburnianus provide interest in the winter months. Credit: Jason Ingram The English Garden

…and that you don’t have California warmth and New England sun, here are my best tips for winter interest: berries and gold foliage.



Clockwise from top left: Pyracantha ‘Flava’; Callicarpa bodinieri ‘Profusion’; Skimmia japonica

The Pyracantha and Skimmia will glow in pretty much any location, partly because they have evergreen foliage to frame the berries. The Callicarpa however is deciduous, and really needs some other evergreen colour to set off even these neon purple berries. The above pic was taken in late Autumn, when the grasses were still vivid. They aren’t now, so be sure to plant something else around your Callicarpa that will still be present at this time of year. Which leads to the next category of winter interest for dour dreary coastal BC:

Gold Foliage

Gold foliage

Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Fernspray Gold’; Choisya ternata ‘Goldfingers’; Acorus gramineus ‘Ogon’

One of the great things about gold foliage is that it serves equally well as background colour and foreground colour.

gold foliage

Hamamelis ‘Diane’ in foreground, Chamaecyparis ‘Fernspray gold’ in the background

Had to borrow this picture of Euonymus japonica ‘Aureomarginata’ since my own has been badly eaten by root weevils.

Honourable Mentions

Everyone should have some creeping sedums in their garden.

creeping sedums

Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’ and Sedum spurium ‘Fuldaglut’–both put on extra layers of colour when it gets cold.


Winter Projects Part 1

Winter Projects Part 1

Helleborus Spring Promise ‘Elly’. Spring Promise is a series from Helleborus Gold Collection. Most have a very upright flowering habit.

one of the many newer upright hellebores–stlll can’t find a tag…

Those pictures are from a few years ago. I want to see the garden looking like above, but this is what it looks like now:

Hellebore in winter before pruning. The flowers haven’t started to show yet, but the foliage has no redeeming virtue as it looks now, so it goes.

Pre-winter pruning. This is ‘Mary Lou’; foliage looks good, but scroll down for more…

I’ve written about pruning your Hellebores several times before, so now I just want to amend the suggestions. Specifically, leave the foliage if you don’t need to cut it, and for some, cut the foliage before you think you need to.

Extremely ratty looking Helleborus nigercors

Regardless what the flowers are doing, early winter flowering, late flowering, short or tall, leaves that look like this should have been cut long ago. But it’s winter, and always wet, and I waited until the roofers had finished replacing my roof. In the meantime, the flowers started to grow tall, and making sure yesterday that I got the foliage and spared the flower stalks was a challenge.

And much as I love hellebores, this particular one never looks very beautiful. I may move it and see if it will do better in a little more sun. It’s currently in the shadiest spot possible–not only does the sun never hit that spot even on June 21, but it’s also growing underneath an evergreen shrub.

Helleborus nigercors ‘White Beauty’. Except not very beautiful.

But back to pruning. Below is ‘Elly’. It has no flower buds pushing up yet, and the foliage is actually in great condition. So I’ll leave it for now, and check again in a few weeks time.

Helleborus orientalis ‘Elly’

Helleborus orientalis ‘Mary Lou’

Mary Lou on the other hand is really trying to be seen, so despite the foliage looking quite good (see above), she should have had a haircut weeks ago as well. Can I remember next year to do this before Christmas? And again, carefully sparing the flower stalks while cutting all the leaf petioles–I was down on my knees with my head upside down. Uncomfortable. Fortunately, most of the petioles are green and most of the flower stalks are red.

Post pruning. Ahh, much better.

Mid-Winter Blooms

On the infrequent dry winter days here on the Wet Coast, I have to go outside to see what’s new in the garden. When you’re planning your garden makeover, be sure to include winter-interest items.

Witchhazel--Hamamelis x intermedia 'Diane'--

Witchhazel–Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Diane’.

Lenten Rose--Helleborus niger 'HCG Jacob Classic'

Lenten Rose–Helleborus niger ‘HCG Jacob Classic’

I've made an exhaustive but unsuccessful search for the name of this Hellebore. Alas.

I’ve made an exhaustive but unsuccessful search for the name of this Hellebore. Alas.

'Julia Child' Rose. This bud has been happily sitting here through two frosts, almost unending rain, and at least two months,

‘Julia Child’ Rose. This bud has been happily sitting here for well over two months, through two good frosts, and almost unending rain.

Sarcococca humilis. This insignificant flower has absolutely WOW fragrance, right by the front door.

Sarcococca humilis. This insignificant flower has absolutely WOW fragrance, right by the front door.

Viburnum tinus 'Spring Bouquet'. Can't beat it for all winter buds and blooms.

Viburnum tinus ‘Spring Bouquet’. Can’t beat it for all-winter-long buds and blooms.

Rhubarb. Not exactly a bloom, but more colourful than anything else in the garden right now.

Rhubarb. Not exactly a bloom, but more colourful than anything else in the garden right now.


Winter Planter

This client’s front garden was designed to have a large planter in the centre of a flagstone spiral. But finding the right container took us longer than anticipated, and in the meantime she saw a winter-decorated planter that she loved. So this is what we created, using the original planting plan, modified.

Winter planter

Winter planter.


Bowl shaped container, 34″ diameter, 31″ height

Cephalotaxus harringtonia (Plum Yew)

Osmanthus heterophyllus ‘Goshiki’ (Goshiki False Holly)

These were planted as normal in the container. I planted them quite high, leaving a trough around them, and then filled the trough with blocks of pre-soaked florist foam. In the spring we’ll remove the foam and fill the container with more soil to plant around the edges, per the original plan.

Boughs: Incense cedar–the very drapey lowest level; White Pine–long needles; Noble fir–excellent firm statuesque branches; Magnolia branch tips; boxwood harvested from the hedge to fill in bare spaces.

The red berries are artificial, from Michael’s. Winterberries or pyracantha berries or cotoneaster berries are all lovely and would  probably be more beautiful, but would only last until either the birds found them, or the frost or wind dessicated them. So I went with faux. And just a few springs–it’s easy to overdo.


The Irish Yew will fill in over time, but for now we can see the winter planter through the hedge. (Click for larger image.)

Winter container.

Winter container.