A Colorful Winter Garden

A good landscape/garden plan  is designed around all seasons.  There should be no dormant or off season for central Texas gardeners, if you choose the right plantings and blend them well amongst other seasonal favorites that are just that – seasonal.

First and foremost,  you will want to have evergreen plants of various textures, sizes, and shades of color.  While perennials and winter dormant plants are taking their rest, these will provide signs of life in the garden.   But what about color?  That can make or break the winter landscape.  With rare exception,  foliage and other ornamental color features must substitute for floral during the winter period.

I took a camera trip around our yard in late January to see what colorful plants stood out and grabbed my attention while everything else was going through the winter blues.   Here are some of them which were planted intentionally for winter color.


Nothing sparkles and catches your eye better than the iridescent red berries of the Yaupon Holly (Ilex vomitoria).  Here they are displayed on the weeping Yaupons that border the front of our home.  Mockingbirds feast on them during winter as well.


Speaking about fruit, this one is for humans, not the birds.  The Meiwa Kumquat is loaded with bright orange fruit during the peak of winter and provide a nice snack when working in the garden.


Here we see a flower spike before opening on a cold tolerant Aloe ‘blue elf’ which will open in a week with bright orange long lasting typically beautiful aloe blooms.


Getting into foliage color, this variegated boxwood is one of my favorite year round plants.  It maintains it’s dazzling variegated color through winter along with a nice compact shape.


For more yellow splash that never fades in winter, there are many variegated cultivars of Abelia that remain compact and display a myriad of colors.  This one I grow was labeled ‘white marvel’.


Here is the winter color on a dwarf variegated Pyracantha.  The pink shades appear in response to colder temperatures but in summer, the coloration is green tinged with white.


Dwarf Pittosporum t0bira ‘Creme de Mint” is colorful in several ways.  The pale bluish green mature foliage contrasts with the shiny green and yellow new foliage.  This plant needs a protected outdoor area to thrive in winter.


Another winter color favorite is variegated Eleagnus pungent.  This cultivar is ‘maculata’ with the bold yellow center. but there are several other colorful variegated cultivars available.  Variegated plants grow much slower than non-variegated so this plant is easy to maintain year round.


A beautiful variegated chinese Holly, Ilex cornuta ‘O. Spring” is a tough as nails plant for central Texas.  Like most hollies, avoid planting it in an alkaline soil as it has a lower pH requirement.


Trachelosporum jasminoides ‘variegata’ better known as Confederate Jasmine, is a very controllable vine that adds much color to the winter scene.  Variegation varies from white to yellow.


This variegated Viburnum tinus ‘Bewley’s variegated’ is a great compact plant that shows off it’s brilliant color throughout winter.


A favorite among central Texas Gardeners is Dianella tasmanica ‘variegata’ or Tasmanian flax.  It requires protection from wintery blasts but stays colorful and evergreen in a protected location.  Henrietta bunny loves it!


Another colorful foliage plant needing a protected spot is variegated Alpine zerumbet ‘variegata’.  Give it a sheltered shady location and it will brighten that area throughout winter.  In hard freezes, it will disappear until spring however.


Sometimes, new growth on a plant provides color in winter such as this dwarf Podocarpus macrophilla.  It also resides in a somewhat protected location but like they say in the realty business, “location, location, location”,  a principal that is very relevant to gardeners also. especially during winter season.


The devil is in the details sometimes.  This is a close up of new growth coming out on Trachelospermum asiaticum ‘pink splash’. It is only the tip of the plant but proves that a walk around the garden in winter sometimes requires closer scrutiny.


Finally, winter interest if often found in texture as seen here in the dying plumage of Gulf Muhly. Not the bright pink it displays in fall when in its prime, the long lasting plumage offers a tinge of white beauty to the garden throughout winter.

One of the blessings we have by living in central Texas is avoidance of severe winter conditions which allow us to enjoy a wide variety of colorful plants in any season.  This doesn’t just happen but requires that your garden planning incorporate intentionally, a variety of plants that will provide that color and seasonal interest.   As I write this, it is late January, but I am already thinking about how to improve my garden not only for the warm growing season ahead, but next winter.  If you missed out on your opportunity to add more color to your winter garden this year, it’s never too early to plan ahead.  We have had a much warmer than normal winter so far in central Texas,  but planning should always anticipate and be prepared for the worst climatic scenario.  Seeing color in the garden during winter is inspirational and keeps my spirits high during the winter down-time.  It really does!