THIS YEAR’S garden-party game (which I just made up) is a mashup of plants, design and color theory. Each season, I’ll share a color recipe for Pacific Northwest gardens: striking 1-2-3 plant combinations for landscaping your plot or composing your pot. Whether you prefer following a recipe step by step or approach each formula as just a starting place, I hope you’ll find some delicious combinations. Let’s dig in.
it’s winter. It’s dark. It’s cold. Instinctively, we humans draw close to warmth and flames. Kindle a botanical bonfire with this trio of hardy shrubs that ignite the winter landscape for months on end.
1. Of all the twig dogwoods, ‘Midwinter Fire’ (Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’) is especially showy, with thickets of golden stems that gradually shift to orange and deep crimson toward the tip of the plant over the course of winter.
Growing to 5 feet high and as wide, this cultivar is smaller and more compact than other twig dogwoods. ‘Midwinter Fire’ is a good fit for small gardens and creates a stunning seasonal feature in larger landscapes when planted in multiples. A little pruning is necessary, but the best color appears on young growth, which can be maintained by cutting the entire plant back hard every three to five years or routinely removing up to a quarter of the oldest stems in early spring.
During the spring and summer, this dogwood quiets down with fresh green foliage and stems. Golden fall foliage sets the stage for the next round of glowing buckets. The plant thrives in full sun to part shade and tolerates a variety of soil conditions.
2. Nandina domestica ‘Firepower’ is a compact form of heavenly bamboo that forms a mounded 2-by-2-foot tuffet of slightly puckered evergreen foliage. New growth emerges lime-green tinged with scarlet in spring before maturing to a solid deep green in summer. The “fire” shows up in autumn, when the entire plant shifts to a deep red, with the most dramatic coloring found on plants growing in full sun.
3. The dark green foliage of heather grounds this composition in winter and lends spring and summer interest to our plant recipe. New growth on Calluna vulgaris ‘Spring Torch’ emerges glowing red and pink, gradually fading to a soft primrose yellow and back to rich green by summer, when upright spikes of pale lavender blooms appear in late summer. With a similar habit, C.v. ‘Red Fred’ produces showy spring growth and deep pink flowers in late summer — and you can say, “Red Fred.” Both heathers have a mounding habit and grow 2-by-2 feet.
Closely related to heather, ‘Springwood White’ winter heat (Erica carnea ‘Springwood White’) produces forest green foliage dusted with white blooms all winter. The plant has a low, spreading to trailing habit and makes an excellent ground cover, growing 6 to 12 inches tall.
Mix to combine
This winter planting is dominated by the verticality of the twig dogwood, creating a visual and chromal exclamation point in the landscape. ‘Midwinter Fire’ is especially showy when backlit by the winter sun or when sited in front of a hedge or among mixed evergreens.
Skirting the stems of the dogwood with the dwarf nandina provides a contrasting form while fanning the flames of the color study. Come spring and summer, when the plants resume their green foliage, the combination settles into a sophisticated monochromatic composition that integrates easily with other plantings.
Dark green heathers (or heath) complement the predominantly warm color palette. As spring rolls around, the dogwood flushes with blushing green foliage, and the color of interest shifts to new growth on the heathers followed by late summer blooms.