Beyond Evergreens: Dynamic Winter Landscapes

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Evergreens are a staple in a seasonal landscape palette. They perk up even the darkest winter day, and every garden should have them. But if every plant in your garden is evergreen, your outside spaces will begin to look the same, all year round. How do you get a dynamic garden that changes with the seasons, but still looks interesting during the greyest months of the year? Here are a few tips to keep the winter landscape looking less mundane, while still utilizing your favorite deciduous and blooming plants. (Pictured above: Red Twig Dogwood, Feather Read Grass, & Clethra alnifolia)

1. Don’t prune back your ornamental grasses in the fall. Wait until early spring. That way, the waving stems and fluffy seed heads will add drama all winter long. Mounding grasses like pennisetum or prairie dropseed will create waves of texture in the snow or against otherwise bare ground. Upright grasses like bluestem, switchgrass, or miscanthus will persist above snow.


2. Allow some of your summer blooming perennials and shrubs to maintain their stems, seed heads and dried flowers all winter, instead of cutting them back each fall. Consider using plants with persisting fruit or seed heads like cone flower, globe thistle, sea holly, hibiscus, milkweed. They will provide food for the birds and create interesting textures.  (Pictured here are Rose hips, Hydrangea petals, Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus) seed pods and Alder cones).

IMG_0070_altIMG_0108_altrose of sharon2alder

3. Deciduous shrubs with woody stems and interesting bark will add structure to your beds, but still add that ephemeral quality to your landscape that the changing seasons bring. Red Twig Dogwood is a popular winter favorite for a reason. It really stands out against the snow, but even when there isn’t snow, it breaks up the monotony of a more traditional evergreen palette. Only newer stems are red, so be sure to thin the stems by 1/3 in each spring (remove the oldest stems) to ensure continued growth of bright red stems each year.

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4. For an element of surprise, add some winter blooming plants, like Winter Heath, Witch Hazel, or Hellebore. Pictured here, Hellebore and Winter Heath (Erica carnea). If your winter heath begins to look scraggly, you can prune it right after it flowers.

Hellebore_whiteheath 1heath 2

More Plant Choices for a Winter Wonderland:
Interesting Bark or Stems: Persian Ironwood, Stewartia, River Birch, London Planetree, Ninebark, Oakleaf Hydrangea, Red-twig Dogwood, Corkscrew Hazelnut, Paperbark maple, Paperbark Birch, Sycamore, Amur chokecherry, yellow-twig dogwood
Winter Fruit: Winterberry, Snowberry, Roses, Holly, American Crannyberrybush (Viburnum), Chokeberry, Bayberry, Wintergreen
Winter Flowers: Winter Heath, Witch Hazel, Hellebore, Snowdrops, Flowering Quince, Winter Hazel
Plants with Persisting Seed Heads: Black Eyed Susan, Coneflower, Globe Thistle, Sea Holly, Hydrangea, Hibiscus & Rose of Sharon, Clethra, Milkweed, Sedum, Beebalm, Helenium
Ornamental Grasses (Pick whatever you like for summer and fall color or texture, just wait to cut them back until early spring to maximize their winter interest)



Pretty as a Peony

If you’ve considered adding peonies to your garden, we have some tips for capitalizing  on them by incorporating varieties with different bloom times and using hosta as an aesthetically pleasing way to support them. The peony is edible, so it offers countless ways to dress up the table at your next party or gathering. Not only are they lovely to look at, but they’re good enough to eat!

Paeonia officinalis

Many of us who love the boldness of peonies are deterred by their relatively short bloom time, but like daylillies and roses, each peony has a slightly different bloom time. Pick early, mid and late varieties to maximize bloom time. With the right combination of peonies you could have 7 full weeks of bloom. You can find peonies in shades of white, pink, red, and  yellow, in double and single form.

Peony (8)

A perennial with a maximum height of three feet, the peony comes in many varieties with different blooming times:
  • Early (Little Red Gem, Starlight & Roselette)
  • Mid (Moonrise & Miss America)
  • Late (Sarah Bernhardt & Marie Lemoine)


The peony is named for the Greek god of healing, Paeon. Another legend states that the physician, Peon, used the roots to heel the wounds of Pluto. In addition to their healing properties, peony flowers are edible. The versatility of peonies is another draw. Their simple elegance adds the perfect accent to a wedding or other celebratory cake. Float a blossom in a punch bowl to dress up the beverage at your next party, or drop the petals in iced tea for an extra touch. You can even sprinkle them on salads as an eye-catching garnish!

Be sure to invest in a structure/cage, or for a more interesting support system, try interplanting hosta in front and among the peonies to hold them up. This also helps avoid bare spots in the gardens when the peony foliage dies back.
peony hosta 3

Honeysuckle Trouble


Honeysuckle (Lonicera maackii)

Do you have honeysuckle running rampant on your property? It’s hard not to be charmed by the lovely yellow and white sweet-smelling blossoms that are out in droves now. But its invasive nature has gotten it banned from nurseries in Massachusetts, and it is likely to take over your garden and naturalized areas if left to its own devices. There are some types of honeysuckle that are less invasive than others and still ok to plant on Cape Cod. But when in doubt, go native. What can you plant instead of honeysuckle for similar benefits of street level screening and lovely June blooms?

Viburnum plicatum

Viburnum plicatum – Doublefile Viburnum

Our native Viburnums bloom at the same time as honeysuckle, but in addition to a spectacular flower show, they produce yummy berries for the birds, and brilliant fall color. Our favorite is Doublefile Viburnum because the large flowers look like lace-cap hydrangeas or ballerinas in flight and their branches and leaves create a graceful horizontal pattern. But there are lots of other cultivars to choose from including Viburnum prunifolium which has edible raisin-like berries, and Cranberrybush Viburnum whose berries taste like cranberries. Just make sure to get the American Cranberrybush, not the European version whose berries are not so tasty. We wouldn’t recommend eating the berries from the Doublefile viburnum either, they are better left for the birds. Always confirm the cultivar of the plant first before consuming it! Viburnum does best in a little bit of shade. Use it as an understory shrub in a woodland area or along the edge of a street, underneath your street trees.

Viburnum plicatum

Viburnum plicatum – Doublefile Viburnum

Magnolia Daze

While springtime in Japan is characterized by Sakura, here on Cape Cod, the familiar site of the star magnolia, another Japanese bloom, is beginning to dot the landscape.

Magnolia stellata (1)

(Otherwise known as Magnolia stellata)

Blooming sooner than its magnolia counterparts, the star yields white flowers in April, with a delicate fragrance, reaching a mature height of 15-20 feet. Several cultivars also feature pink flowers. In addition to the buds, even the bark itself is pretty, with a rustic simplicity.

Magnolia stellata closeup (1)

The star magnolia works well in small spaces, and can be planted in sun or partial shade, in well-drained soil with a shelter from heavier winds. Therefore, it is ideal for a sheltered garden nook.

Although there is a downside – the propensity for magnolia scale – it is a common pest that is easily treatable with a horticultural oil, making it a wonderful addition to any Cape Cod garden.





Signs of Life

After a long and snowy winter here on Cape Cod, we are finally seeing signs of life! We caught these bulbs and perennials popping up in Falmouth this week. If you want early spring color, consider planting some of these in your garden:



A universal sign of spring, nothing is more cheerful than the crocuses. Plant the bulbs in fall and these bursts of color will reward you repeatedly year after year.


Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’

This succulent brings color to a garden for 3 full seasons, its slowly changing colors truly reflecting the ephemeral nature of a garden. In the spring, its bright green leaves brighten up flower beds. By late spring and early summer it has pretty white buds that change from light pink to dark pink flowers throughout the summer. By fall the blossoms are a vibrant burgundy. Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ is extremely drought tolerant, and hardy. Though it prefers full sun we’ve seen it thriving in some shady parts of the garden.


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Helleborus Gold Collection ‘Pink Frost’

Some of our Hellebores have already been blooming for months, even in the snow. This one is a called ‘Pink Frost’. Put them in your shade garden or near your front door where they will perk up even the dreariest winter landscape.


Galanthus (Snowdrops)

The delicate ballerina-like flowers of Galanthus are perfect for a woodland garden. Plant them with lily of the valley for a carpet of green and white all spring.

Amelanchiers mean June Berry Pie and Running Fish.

Amelanchier x Autumn Brilliance

Amelanchier x Autumn Brilliance

What is Blooming in Falmouth? The Amelanchier.
(Otherwise known as Shad, Serviceberry, Saskatoon and Juneberry.)

This family of spring blooming shrubs and trees grows naturally along stream banks here on Cape Cod. They are also called Shad Trees because when they are in bloom, you know that the Shad Herring are running from the ocean to freshwater to spawn. These trees make a versatile and beautiful addition to the garden. Consider planting an Amelanchier if you’d like:

  • Prolific Spring Flowers
  • Edible Fruit (See the Recipe below for Juneberry Pie
  • Brilliant Fall Color
  • To Attract Birds, Butterflies, Honeybees
  • A Tree for Small Spaces (Reaches 15 to 25 feet tall)
  • Versatility: Trim an Amelanchier up as a specimen tree or allow it to spread naturally into a thicket of shrubs along an embankment or woodland edge.
  • A Full Sun or Part Shade Plant.

Shad Tree Fall Color

Creamy Juneberry-Rhubarb Pie Recipe*:

3 Tbs Flour
1/2 Cups Sugar
3/4 tsp salt
1 Cup Sour Cream
1 Egg (beaten)
1 tsp Vanilla
1/2 tsp Lemon Juice
1 Cup Chopped Rhubarb
2 Cups June Berries

Mix Into a Crumble:
1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup butter
2 Tbs cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt

Pie Crust:
Use the pie crust of your choice. Ready Made or Home Made, I prefer a graham cracker crust with this pie.

Preheat oven to 400F. Mix Flour, Sugar, Salt, Sour Cream, Egg, Vanilla, Lemon Juice together in a large bowl until well blended. Add the Rhubarb and June berries. Pour filling into a 9″ pie crust. Bake at 400 for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 and bake for another 25 minutes. Remove the pie, and sprinkle the crumb topping on top. Bake at 350 for a final 15 minutes or until the topping is brown.* Note: We adapted this pie from a straight Rhubarb pie at If you don’t have Juneberries, Strawberries also work wonderfully in the mix.