Sharon Hull, This Week in the Garden | Colorful plants to add to a gray winter

Peninsula Premier Admin

Each year, when the chilly, short and often gray days of winter arrive and much of the garden is devoid of color, I realize once again that I need to plant more things that are at their best during the winter. While it is easy to populate our gardens with plants that look great in spring, summer and fall, winter offers more of a challenge. However, if I make a list of winter beauties that like our climate, I am gladdened by how many colorful and interesting plants came to mind. If you too notice that your garden is sadly lacking in “winter interest,” consider one of the following:

Shrubs or small trees

Daphne spp. – Evergreen shrubs, unsurpassed fragrance from winter flowers, shade or part shade. Needs perfect drainage. Flowers are opening now so visit your favorite garden center to experience the delectable aroma of the dainty pink or white flowers.

Acer palmatum ‘Sango Kaku’ (Coral Bark Maple) – Small deciduous tree, develops bright coral branches and twigs in winter. Sun or part shade. Lovely form, handsome foliage.

Heteromeles arbutifolia (Toyon) – California native shrub with bright red berries in winter, attracts fruit-eating birds, full sun or part sun. Easy, tough, very decorative.

Camellia sasanqua – Evergreen shrub with winter flowers, most in white, pink, rose or red, many fragrant. Shade or part shade. Give good drainage.

Camellia japonica and hybrids – Big shrubs with late winter or early spring flowers, also in pink, rose, white or red, some bi-colored. Shade lover; needs good drainage but prefers soil with lots of organic matter. Amazingly drought tolerant once established. Very showy with glossy evergreen leaves. Excellent as background, visual barrier or focal point.

Some salvias bloom in winter. (Sharon Hull — Contributed)
Magnolia soulaneana. (Sharon Hull — Contributed)

Magnolia species – Vary in size but all need sun, decent drainage. M. stellata with white flowers is often the earliest to bloom but many others, with pink, yellow and mauve flowers are in their glory in January and February. Shop for them now while blooming.


Hardenbergia violacea ‘Happy Wanderer’ – Evergreen vine for sun, with abundant clusters of purple flowers in winter. Likes good drainage; tough vigorous plant.

Gelsemium sempervirens (Carolina Jessamine) – Evergreen vine with tubular yellow flowers in winter. Tolerates heavy soil, freezing weather. Full sun best for flowering.


Helleborus niger, H. orientalis (Lenten Rose, Christmas Rose) – Perennial unrelated to true roses. Winter flowers in soft pink, rose, purple, plum, occasionally yellow, some with spots or streaks in interior. Deer resistant, for shade. Tolerates dry soil once established. Handsome leathery evergreen leaves.

Clivia miniata – Tuberous rooted perennial from South Africa. Evergreen strap-like leaves, red, orange or yellow flowers, some fragrant. Variegated plants are collectors’ items. Drought tolerant but frost tender, though freeze-damaged plants usually recover. Likes shade.

Primula (Primrose) hybrids – Many colors from pastels to bright reds, purples, fuchsias. Tolerates some shade but better in winter sun.

Salvia species – Not all but several are reliable winter flowering. They include but aren’t limited to S. gesneriiflora, S. madrensis, S. involucrata, S. elegans and certainly the well-known and often planted S. leucantha, commonly called Mexican Bush Sage. These plants not only cheer up a winter garden but provide food for our over-wintering and early arriving hummingbirds.

All of the plants on this list are fairly drought-tolerant once established. The one exception would be the primroses but since most of us treat them like annuals, removing them once our rainy winter season is over, their preference for moist soil is not an issue. You can probably add to my list of good plants for a winter garden. Go out now and decide if your garden needs one or more of these wintertime lovelies.

Garden tips are provided courtesy of horticulturist Sharon Hull of San Lorenzo Garden Center. Contact her at 831-423-0223.

Contributed by local news sources

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