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Which Plants to Choose for Winter Color in a New England Garden

Updated on June 19, 2013
Even though I have some spectacular evergreens in my garden, the lack of color gets to you after a while!
Even though I have some spectacular evergreens in my garden, the lack of color gets to you after a while! | Source

How I Learned About Winter Plants

When you live somwhere cold, you gain an appreciation for evergreens and all winter flowering plants. The season seems to go on and on, and while snow and frost have their own beauty, byt mid february most people are longing for something, anything, to relieve the monotony.

Having been brought up in Scotland, I developed an appreciation for the dwarf conifers and heathers which fill so many gardens in Aberdeen, a city which, despite it's latitude has won the 'Britain in Bloom' competition many times.

However, now that I live in New Hampshire, I have to deal with even lower temperatures. This hub is an exploration of the plants I've found, but I welcome comments and information from other gardeners who have more knowledge of how to build a garden in these temperatures.

Plants for color in a winter garden. American Holly, Ilex Opaca
Plants for color in a winter garden. American Holly, Ilex Opaca | Source
English Holly, Ilex Aquifoium. This variety has variegated leaves.
English Holly, Ilex Aquifoium. This variety has variegated leaves. | Source

Holly (Ilex)

My first big surprise. I looked round my garden for the holly tree, and didn't find one. Almost every house I've lived in, at least those that had an established garden, has had a holly tree in it. Some bore fabulous red berries, others carried berries but were even more showy, with variegated leaves in shades of green and silver or green and gold. The plant I was used to in the UK was Ilex Aquifolium and despite that fact that we do grow it in Scotland, I'm told it doesn't grow in New Hampshire where temperatures can fall to -15F or so. So, straight away, it was back to the drawing board.

American Holly is quite different. While in the UK Holly is always regarded as an evergreen, there are many deciduous American hollies. At first, this struck me as appalling. Who wants a holly with no leaves? But holly is really about berries, and many American hollies lose their leaves to show off their berries, so my first purchase for the new garden has been a number of these interesting bushes.

Most hollies are dioecious, female plants produce the berries, but have to be fertilized by a nearby compatible male in order to do so. As a result you'll often find garden centers and catalogues selling holly 'packages' with one male plant and several female.

I purchased a number of plants in August, when we had just moved in to our new home. All are thriving, but so far, no berries have been produced. I am hopeful for next year.

The plants I bought should prove interesting if they do finally produce berries. They are Ilex Opaca Winter Sun which produces stunning orange berries, and Ilex Opaca Canary, which has gorgeous yellow fruit. I'm still hoping to find a New Hampshire friendly holly with variegated leaves, if you know of one, please let me know!

Dog Wood (Cornus)

Almost everyone has heard of dog wood. These trees and shrubs usually have great flowers, pretty leaves or intersting fruit, and many have all three. What I didn't know is that there are varieties with stunning colored bark. These are now on my list to add color to my winter garden.

One of the most stunning varieties is Cornus Sericea, and particularly one called Arctic Fire, which has brilliant red stems.

Cornus Sericea Arctic Sun is similar, but the stems have a brilliant yellow and red tinge. Both have leaves and flowers in summer, but are really outstanding when seen against snow. In summer they produce flowers, but these are not nearly as showy as those produced by other types of dogwood, however, Cornus Sericea Silver N Gold has pretty variegated leaves and is tolerant of shade, in addition to have brightly colored stems in winter. That makes it top of my dog wood list for planting this year.

This could be the perfect plant for a garden in winter. Witch Hazel blooms while the rest of the garden is covered in snow.
This could be the perfect plant for a garden in winter. Witch Hazel blooms while the rest of the garden is covered in snow. | Source

Witch Hazel (Hamamelis)

Last, but by no means least of my winter color choices, is Witch Hazel, sometimes known by the more poetic name of 'Winter Bloom'.

Early flowering Witch Hazel's produce long narrow blooms on bare stems from Christmas onwards. The flowers come in many different colors, from yellow, through orange to brilliant red, most are scented and can be large. American Witch hazels were among the first to be cultivated in the UK, however the original variety, Hamamelis Virginiana, flowers late in the year, rather than early, providing a show in November. I've decided to get both late and early flowering varieties. The only problem is that my garden has few paths and with plants like these you need a path and a bench, where you can really sit and appreciate both sight and scent.

I learned long ago that there is no need for a garden to lack color in the winter. Now I live in New Hampshire, I have had to forsake many of the winter flowers plants I was fond of, but here I have a larger garden and can experiment in different ways. A brief search has shown that there are many beautiful plants to choose from here, so I can look forward to the cold months of next year, confident that even on the darkest days, my garden will have color.

Do You Have A Favorite Plant for Winter Color? If so, please share details here.

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    • Amaryllis profile imageAUTHOR

      Lesley Charalambides 

      5 years ago from New Hampshire

      I keep searching. Unlike the UK, all the garden centers here in NH seem to be closed over the winter, so I haven't found anyone really local I can ask, but I live in hope!

      Thanks for your comment.

    • Amaryllis profile imageAUTHOR

      Lesley Charalambides 

      5 years ago from New Hampshire

      I agree. I had no idea that there was something with so much color which would bloom at that time of year. Shades from lemon yellow all the way through to bright red! Not all are hardy to the same extent, but many can withstand temperatures down to -15F.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment.

    • RTalloni profile image


      5 years ago from the short journey

      I am amazed to learn about Winter Bloom/Witch Hazel/Hamamelis' blooming habits. Thanks for this look at winter garden color.

    • BlossomSB profile image

      Bronwen Scott-Branagan 

      5 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      You have searched well and your garden should be a delight in all seasons. I love holly so I hope you find the variegated one as well.


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