What's Blooming: Colors & Textures of Winter – Board & Vellum Site Design & Landscape Architecture

Landscape Architecture

What’s Blooming Now: Textures & Colors of Winter

By Hailey Mackay
December 13, 2018

Landscape elements you can look forward to in the winter season.

As we approach the depths of winter in the Pacific Northwest, we have a lot to look forward to! Winter blooming plants are beginning to emerge, and with those blooms come bright colors and spicy scents. In addition to appreciating winter blooms, now is the time to recognize our tried-and-true evergreen plants that hold space in our landscapes all year round. Whether providing a glossy, deep green backdrop or a pop of bright yellow-green color, evergreen trees, shrubs and groundcovers are the bones of any thoughtful landscape design.

Oregon Grape

The Oregon Grape genus (Mahonia) is a powerhouse of Pacific Northwest planting design. Primarily native to our region, Oregon Grape species range from creeping groundcovers (Mahonia repens) to statuesque shrubs (Mahonia x media), with a versatile mix of mid-size, evergreen shrubs in between. Our favorite, and arguably the most striking of the genus is the Hybrid Oregon Grape, also known as Mahonia x media. There is a lot to love about Hybrid Oregon Grape. Unique, vertically striped bark has a cork-like texture that creates a striking contrast with dramatic, sweeping lateral branchlets. The leaves are pinnately compound, arranged in whorls around the trunk with an odd number of leathery green leaflets on each branchlet. While the bark and evergreen leaves provide visual interest year-round, the flowers are the real show-stopper.

What's Blooming: Colors & Textures of Winter – Board & Vellum Site Design & Landscape Architecture

Shown Above: Hybrid Oregon Grape - Mahonia x media

The most remarkable of the Oregon Grape flowers, Mahonia x media explodes with huge crowns of brilliant yellow flower spikes in December. These flowers are a favorite winter food source of our resident hummingbirds, who have been known to become territorial and guard especially floriferous specimens while in bloom. Plant as a single statement shrub or in a small grove of three or more in partial to full shade with ample room to grow upright for winter interest, screening or a striking accent in a woodland garden.

Setsugekka Camellia

One of our most used evergreen shrubs here at B&V comes from our climate sister region, the evergreen coastal forests of Japan. With a long bloom season, beginning in October and continuing through late December, this Camellia offers much-needed winter respite with its profusion of vivid white flowers centered with golden stamen. The blossoms tend to be semi-double with slightly ruffled margins and a subtle, earthy scent. The glossy evergreen leaves frame the flowers perfectly and create an attractive backdrop for seasonal accents.

What's Blooming: Colors & Textures of Winter – Board & Vellum Site Design & Landscape Architecture

Shown Above: Setsugekka Camellia - Camellia sasanqua ‘Setsugekka’

The habit of the Setsugekka tends to be more open and flexible than other species, with arching stems reaching 8-10’ tall that can be trained into an upright shrub form or espalier. This species of Camellia is a staple of shade gardens, quickly forming a lush evergreen screen against fences and buildings or a low-maintenance backdrop for planting beds. With slender, flexible branches this is a perfect choice for narrow, shady spaces. Plant in a row for screening or in a corner against an arbor or trellis as an evergreen accent.

Golden Sweet Flag

Often used in boggy areas or the borders of ponds, Sweet Flag (Acorus gramineus) is well-adapted to our wet climate and can thrive in a range of conditions from full sun to deep shade. Similar in appearance to a grass, with long, flexible, upright blades, this groundcover is reliably evergreen in the Seattle area and adds a much-needed burst of bright green to winter garden beds. When crushed or bruised, the leaves emit a sweet fragrance (hence its common name), making it a great sensory accent near walkways.

What's Blooming: Colors & Textures of Winter – Board & Vellum Site Design & Landscape Architecture

Shown Above: Golden Sweet Flag – Acorus gramineus 'Ogon'

While similar in appearance to grass, the form of these plants can also be compared to irises, with clusters of leaves emerging at an angle from a central crown and splaying outward to create overlapping layers of foliage. Also similar to irises and grasses, Sweet Flag spreads through underground rhizomes to fill in open areas and create a consistent, attractive mass. While adaptable to deep shade or full sun, Sweet Flag will not tolerate dry soil and will begin to turn brown and die back if not kept consistently moist. An ideal candidate for shady borders and edges, plant Sweet Flag in groups in front of taller, dark green plants like Camellia to create a clean look with brilliant contrasting colors.

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