In the Garden:
I love clipping sprigs of holly for holiday decorations, but I always leave plenty for hungry birds.
End-of-Season Report Card
I think December is an excellent time to take inventory and honestly assess your garden's performance. Cooler weather may slow the pace of gardening here in the Pacific Northwest, but in our maritime climate we can coax a good eight to ten months of beauty and productivity from our gardens. All it takes is a little advance planning and some comfortable rain gear.
Cull the Poor Performers
In my garden if a plant isn't performing as expected, I move it to a different place, or remove it completely. If it's healthy but reluctant to flourish, I pass it along to a friend or family member who may have better luck with it. Sometimes I am able to strike up a deal, exchanging my unhappy plant for one of theirs.
I think now is a great time to place new plants in prepared beds. Overcrowded woody perennials can be lifted and transplanted during the remaining mild weeks before winter weather officially arrives. With abundant seasonal rainfall, most plants won't even notice they've been moved.
Extend the Flowering Season
When selecting new plants for your garden, choose those that will help extend the season by providing fragrant flowers, showy berries, or striking foliage late in the year. Plants in peak performance right now include the orange-and-gold-flowering crocosmia; Aster frikartii in a range of flower colors from white through pink, purple, lavender, and blue; and Acanthus spinosus. Acanthus produces showy white flowers hooded with purple bracts. Another favorite is the smoke bush (Cotinus coggygria) with its rich, purple-bronze leaves that redden as the temperature dips.
Plant a Shrub
I have a special affinity for well-behaved, berry-producing, low-maintenance shrubs. Oregon grape (Mahonia nervosa) and red huckleberry (Vaccinium parvifolium) fall into this easy-care category. Another favorite is American holly (Ilex opaca), a widely adapted, non-native shrubby tree. These plants produce attractive berries that persist throughout the winter months.
Other winter-blooming shrubs include witch hazel (Hamamelis mollis), which produces fragrant, bright yellow flowers; and various cultivars of heath and heather. My heaths and heathers are mounding, about 24 inches tall, and in bloom every three to four months throughout the year. The 6-inch spikes of lavender, purple, white, and pink blooms make attractive additions to fresh flower arrangements.
Add Gorgeous Ground Covers
If you have empty space, you can count on Algerian Iris (Iris unguicularis), a native of Greece, to brighten up a winter border. It's a ground cover for a sunny spot, and it thrives in poor, dry soils. The lavender-blue flowers have a honeysuckle scent that's especially noticeable when you cut them and bring them indoors. Another reliable ground cover is the common snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis). I love the drooping white blossoms against the dark green foliage.
However you change or rearrange your garden this month, you're sure to enjoy the results for years to come.
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