Your Garden in Winter

Readers of this newsletter know that we pay attention to the wildlife value of garden plants. Another aspect that I stress is discipline and foresight – giving thought to the consequences of what and where you plant. One of the perennial infirmities of gardeners – it afflicts us all – is that we think mainly or only of spring. Glorious but brief… In the case of a native garden, if you are disciplined (or lazy) and don’t water much, a garden loaded for spring will not have much going in summer, autumn, and winter. Spring is the party; summer is the morning after. A discerning person can see interest even in the dormant season but most will want a little more positive feedback from their gardens – to hell with sophistication. In a future article I will talk summer; in this one, I talk winter.

A garden planned with one eye cocked on winter is not difficult. Go for a walk in the woods or the countryside in winter and see how nature, the great teacher, does it. Nor does the winter garden preclude color or interest in other seasons. What is it that appeals to you? Is it the shiny, smooth, yellow stems of the dormant willow or the coral red of the creek dogwood; the hummingbird – attracting heather bells of manzanita; the contrast of dark brown fronds of lady fern partially covering new bright green ones; the large, waxy white snowberries on thin, ramifying branches, so beloved by birds as they descend warily by degrees to ground level, checking for danger all the way to their water source or feeding ground; the elongated clusters of brilliant red translucent berries of California honeysuckle; emerging scallop-margined, blue-green leaves of columbine; woodland strawberry creeping through a carpet of decaying tree leaves; coffeeberry and wax myrtle with their abundant fruits that sustain birds through winter? Are you enchanted by the winter bloomers (usually January) – slinkpod with its striking fawn-spotted, pleated leaves and odd but beautiful purple-brown flowers on long thin pedicels; silk tassel bush bearing long pendant catkins and handsome tough leaves; and the popular pink currant? And don’t forget that cheerful harbinger with all those apt names – footsteps of spring, yellow mats, bearpaws.

Those are some of my winter visions. Thev can’t all be combined in one scene, of course. If I could realize my fantasies in a small city garden it would include a calm body of water bordered by snowberry, lady fern, and columbine, and reflecting bare stems of willows and dogwoods – and rocks, rocks, rocks covered with many species of lichens, liverworts, and mosses.

We endeavor to provide many of these plants at our annual plant sale to make your winter dream a reality in your own garden. Fantasize.


  • Bear paws – Sanicula arctopoides
  • California honeysuckle – Lonicera hispidula var. vacillans
  • Coffeeberry – Rhamnus californica
  • Columbine – Aquilegia formosa
  • Creek dogwood – Cornus sericea
  • Currant – Ribes sanguineum var. glutinosum
  • Footsteps of spring – Sanicula arctopoides
  • Lady fern – Athyrium filix-femina
  • Manzanita – Arctostaphylos spp.
  • Silk tassel – Garrya elliptica
  • Slinkpod – Scoliopus bigelovii
  • Snowberry – Symphoricarpos albusvar. laevigatus
  • Wax myrtle – Myrica californica
  • Willow – Salix spp.
  • Woodland strawberry – Fragaria vesca
  • Yellow mats – Sanicula arctopoides