If in January the sun much appear,
March and April pay full dear.
Some people cower under the fear of retribution virtually all their lives. The sword of Damocles, as it were, hangs over their heads just waiting to fall at any moment.
Come some open day in January, say, with sun and moderate temperatures, and what do they do? Wring their hands over the certainty approaching payback time, i.e., March and April.
Why not enjoy these moments while you can, few as they might be in the dead of winter? I would posit all is not dead. There are things to see in January and February in your garden and mine.
I have been taken lately at the attraction of yellow and chartreuse in my winter garden. Most of it has been there for years, but I failed to appreciate it. It is no coincidence that firefighters and other emergency workers are assigned bright fluorescent yellow clothes for visibility in less than perfect conditions. That latter phrase equates to the winter conditions in ornamental gardens, smothered as they are in gray and brown. Yellow and chartreuse make them horses of another color indeed.
I have a number of ‘O’ Spring’ hollies. They are of Chinese holly origin and thus none too winter hardy. They have, however, lasted through 10 years or more. Only last winter’s four below zero maimed them slightly, browning the tips of the leaves a bit. They shook it off with no problem. The leaves of ‘O’ Spring’ are variegated green and cream, giving the impression of pale butter yellow at a distance. One of them stands out like a light at the end of our rock wall border, where it has achieved some six feet or more in a shapely fashion.
We use the variegated leaves in mixed Christmas arrangements. It is unfortunately male and bears no berries, but interspersing the variegated leaves with other hollies that have berries, the absence is never missed.
Several varieties of euonymus likewise. A ‘Silver King’ euonymus has been trained to a stake in the middle of that same rock wall border. The variegated leaves of green and pale cream also have a cream cast at a distance, but with more green showing. It is some six feet high by two feet wide.
A lower euonymus is the ubiquitous ‘Emerald Gaiety,’ with smaller leaves in the same coloration. This one crawls where it chooses if not controlled. One of mine has hit a pillar of a pergola and climbed to the top of it, while the largest portion of the plant has spread into a 4-foot wide patch at the bottom. It gets a lot of attention.
Similar is ‘Moonshadow’ euonymus, with the same growth habit but having leaves yellow outlined with green. It appears a little more garish in the winter landscape, but in January and February, we’re not looking for restraint but excitement.
The recent introduction of ‘Sunshine’ ligustrum should take the world by storm, but restrictions on selling it in Tennessee have squashed such ambition, even though the plant is sterile, and produces no blooms or berries. It is bright yellow year round and not so vigorous as other yellow ligustrums (privets.) This neat growing shrub can be held to just about any size desired with yearly pruning. Maybe you can find one in Kentucky, where they are legal to sell.
From woody plants now to herbaceous things. The everyday monkey grass of the genus Liriope most often seen in its green form, has some variegated ones of white and green and yellow and green that appear cream or chartreuse at a distance and show up well in the winter landscape. A newer yellow one, chartreuse in shade, is ‘Peedee Gold Ingot,’ which has become very popular, and deservedly so.
Yuccas lost popularity generations ago. The common wild varieties were planted thither and yon without any complementing other things in the neighborhood. Recent times have brought out variegated varieties such as ‘Color Guard’ with bright yellow centers on the leaves that can tinge pink in cold weather. ‘Bright Edge’ reverses the variegation with yellow outlines on green. I think it makes up into a more attractive plant.
All these plants, and others, will add immeasurably to your winter garden.
JIMMY WILLIAMS is the garden writer for The Post-Intelligencer, where he can be contacted on Mondays at 642-1162.