Nancy Brachey

Great choices for Charlotte gardeners looking to make their winter landscape bloom

The unusual shape and color of Jelena witch hazel stand out in winter
The unusual shape and color of Jelena witch hazel stand out in winter Observer file photo

Plants that make winter bright and pretty are often overlooked when people make selections for their landscape.

People shop for plants less in January and miss seeing them in bloom. Some people don’t even realize that there are some outstanding plants whose moments of glory are in the winter. Still others are so focused on creating a brilliant spring landscape they do not even think about other possibilities.

The color and texture of bright berries, softly hued blooms and even the rough or peeling bark of trees all contribute to an interesting winter landscape. This is not hard to accomplish. You just have to think about it and factor these attributes into your plans. And your plan should be to have something blooming or interesting, every day of the year.

Camellias are, of course, the major player among blooms from fall to early spring. Well-known and much loved, they earn their place every day, contributing much, demanding little.

But there are more to choose from. Among the great ones are the hybrid witch hazels such as Jelena, Primavera and Arnold Promise.

These are big plants, 15 feet or more, and best given a back corner where it can reach full beauty and stature without pruning into an unnatural size and shape. Though best as background plants, witch hazels present interesting blooms of colors varying from clear yellow to orange and red, a real spirit-lifter.

Another choice is the aptly titled winter honeysuckle, Lonicera fragrantissima. But this is a medium-sized, roundish shrub, not a vine. It is useful for a back corner of your landscape where it can be noticed in bloom and ignored the rest of the time. The white flowers have a lemon scent in mid-to-late winter from tiny white blooms that are delightful to bring indoors.

A third of these lesser-known winter wonders is called wintersweet, Chimonanthus praecox, which should be planted more often for its fragrance and early blooms – yellow on the outside and purple on the inside. Wintersweet not only makes a statement with its scent, but its size.

This is another big shrub, rising 10 to 15 feet and about 8 feet wide. The shape is sort of like a fountain and it is lovely in one of those big corners you need to fill or against a tall blank wall, at least two stories. Let it stand out for its shape, flowers and scent. It loses its leaves in fall, but flowers appear on the bare stems in winter to create a striking effect in both the landscape and indoors, with stems in vases of water.

They are all lovely, especially for their flowers that have the nerve to bloom in what other people call the dead of winter.

Nancy Brachey: nbrachey@charlotteobserver.com

Ask Nancy

Q. I wanted to plant a new shrub when I was off from work last week but the soil was so wet and heavy, I stopped. How soon do you think it will dry out from the December deluge?

A. Try again this weekend. Sink your shovel into the soil and see if it is damp, but not wet or soggy to a depth of about eight inches. If it is wet, wait another week and check again. A handful of soil should crumble, not hold tight in a ball, for best planting.

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