Country Gardens - - Grassroots -

1 Win­ter­berry (Ilex ver­ti­cil­lata) A de­cid­u­ous holly, it dif­fers from its more fa­mil­iar rel­a­tives in that it drops its leaves in au­tumn. The dark green leaves turn a pleas­ant yel­low­green with pur­ple tinges be­fore they fall. The loss of the leaves highlights the fiery red berries, which hang on the shrub through the win­ter. A na­tive of east­ern North Amer­ica, this shrub pro­vides im­por­tant win­ter food for birds. Look for im­proved cul­ti­vars such as ‘Red Sprite’ (com­pact, 3–4 feet tall), or ‘Win­ter Red’ (to 8 feet tall with par­tic­u­larly heavy crops of berries).

2 Witch hazel (Ha­mamelis spp.) North­ern gar­den­ers must con­tent them­selves with the com­mon witch hazel (H. vir­gini­ana); this of­fers bright yel­low fall fo­liage and sweet-scented, tufted yel­low flow­ers from late fall to early win­ter. Those in Zone 5 and south may en­joy hy­brids such as ‘Je­lena’ whose leaves turn fiery red and yel­low in fall and which bears cop­per­color flow­ers as early as late Jan­uary.

3 Feather reed­grass (Cala­m­a­grostis × acu­ti­flora ‘Karl Fo­er­ster’) The or­na­men­tal grasses add mellow tones to the fall and win­ter gar­den, as well as struc­ture and a haven for birds. One of my fa­vorites is feather reed­grass ‘Karl Fo­er­ster’, which is ster­ile, and so—un­like many other ex­otic grasses—poses lit­tle dan­ger of in­va­sive­ness. Deep green leaves and stems sprout pink­ish, plume­like flow­ers in sum­mer, turn­ing golden yel­low in fall. ‘Karl Fo­er­ster’ main­tains its nar­row, up­right form into the win­ter (3–6 feet tall, 1–2 feet wide). Tom Christo­pher gar­dens and con­sults on sus­tain­able lawns and land­scapes in cen­tral Con­necti­cut.

Win­ter­berry Win­ter in my re­gion of south­ern New Eng­land can be a dreary sea­son, badly in need of bright­en­ing. Many plants can help with this, but I par­tic­u­larly fa­vor the fol­low­ing:

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