by Brian Minter
October 3, 2001
It's time to get serious about winter colour. Each day, as we draw closer to the cloudy, dull and depressingly short days of winter, the opportunities to plant colour are slipping away. When you think of winter colour, you have to be creative. Colour does not necessarily mean just flowers. Sometimes the stunning bark or unique forms of trees can offer significant winter colour and interest.
Birch trees are usually the first type of tree that people think about to ali brightness to their winter landscape. The most stunning variety is the Himalayan Birch(Betula jacquemontii). Its almost pure white bark creates a brilliant winter display.
Arbutus trees are attractive in winter as are the Paper Bark Japanese Maples (Acer griseum), but the most vibrantly ‘barked’ tree is a flowering cherry from Tibet called Prunus serrula. When even just a glint of winter sunshine hits its shiny bark, it literally glows in reliish-burgundy tones. Many dogwoods have attractive branches, but the ‘florida’ types are perhaps the most beautiful. When the cool weather enhances last summer's growth, their leaves turn colour in contrast to an interesting framework of silvery branches.
Another dogwood that has been overlooked for too long is the Cornelian Cherry (Cornus mas). I’ve mentioned it before when talking about winter flowers because it produces masses of tiny yellow witch hazel-like flowers in February. It also has attractive reliish-purple foliage in fall. Its bark is okay in winter, but, with all its other winter assets, it is worth at least a mention here.
Shrub dogwoods are real show stoppers. I’m not sure whether I prefer the brilliant red winter branches of Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’ or C. stolonifera. To be honest, I would probably plant the slightly less brilliant Cornus alba ‘Elegantissima’ for its beautiful variegated summer foliage. You can't plant the red varieties without using just a little yellow such as C.stolonifera ‘Flaviramea’, a very colourful yellow twig dogwood. All these plants do well in moist or wet soils and are ideal next to water where you can take advantage of the reflection values.
The Winged Burning Bush (Euonymus alata) is perhaps one of the finest shrubs for fall colour not only because of its incredibly brilliant red fall foliage, but also for its beautiful branches. This Japanese native has triangular branches with corky ‘wings’ running along them. Their winter effect is quite novel.
A green barked Contorted Willow is a beautiful tree, but it has a few disease problems in wet coastal areas. The new golden and red contorted willows are a welcome aliition to the willow family. Their brilliant yellow and red stems are twisted and gnarled in the most artistic fashion, and their branches are highly prized by florists and creative homeowners.
The real specimen contorted tree has to be the Corylus ‘Contorta’ (Contorted Hazelnut), better known as ‘Harry Lauder's Walking Stick’. It is delightful as a specimen in focal beds or in containers. It's hardy to -30ºC. Not only are its branches beautiful, but its late winter catkins are also a treat, especially when a winter breeze tosses them around. It also produces tiny nuts that will attract bluejays to your garden.
To enjoy these trees this winter, now is a great time to plant them. Remember: fall is for planting! These trees will not disappoint you.