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The Garden with Snow

Published in the six Nashoba Publishing papers on Wednesday, March 7, 2001

What plants look the best in snow?

Evergreens, with their color, are reassuring in the cold. My favorite "evergreen" (meaning the leaves stay on all year) is actually not green in the winter. Three-foot Leucothoë catesbaie ‘Zebonard’ turns a dark, handsome purple-red in cold weather. In summer, the glossy, pointed-oval leaves green up; however new growth is always a bright red. The flowers are nondescript. I love flowers, but I also like the interplay of the different colors and textures of foliage; in the winter garden this becomes even more important.

Some plants have forms which stay interesting even when they’re dead and brown. The dry flower stalks of ‘Autumn Joy’ Sedum, for example, make a great sculptural effect sticking up out of snow. Trees too can have great sculptural effects when bare, for example the famous Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick (which is so amazingly twisty because it’s infected with a virus). The front right corner of our yard needs something like this; Harry would get too tall there, though. I’m looking for a little Japanese Maple with just the right lean to it.

In the back yard there’s a place I’m thinking of putting a Tartarian Dogwood ‘Ivory Halo.’ Although this shrub can grow ten feet tall, year-old stems have an intense red color, and so it’s often cut to the ground every spring for color the next winter. I can just see thickets of those bright red stems in snow. (In warm weather it’s striking, too, with variegated leaves.)

Of what I have growing already, my favorite plant in snow is a Purple Reed Grass (Miscanthus sinensis purpurascens). This three-foot, arching grass is supposed to turn red in August; mine, which doesn’t get enough sun, only achieves a golden pink — but it’s still showy. Then the silvery, plume-like flowers open in September, swaying above the leaves on stems a foot taller. When frost hits, the leaves turn beige, but the plant stays decorative, looking like a two-level fountain.

I planted it in the middle of the walk to the front door, in a spot that needed something attention-getting. I was disappointed when Ward didn’t appreciate its graceful shape the first summer. But in February he came in from snowblowing the walk one day, and called me to the door, to see it with snow on the plumes. It sparkled with the magic of snow: a perfect accent, and the high point of my winter garden.

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© Copyright 2001 Catherine Holmes Clark