This fall, we are seeing far more designer pumpkins, corn stalks and hay bales, as well as colour-matching large chrysanthemums on front porchesThis fall, we are seeing far more designer pumpkins, corn stalks and hay bales, as well as colour-matching large chrysanthemums on front porchesRead MoreThe Vancouver Sun – RSS Feed

This fall, we are seeing far more designer pumpkins, corn stalks and hay bales, as well as colour-matching large chrysanthemums on front porches

Clean and elegant, colorful stems make holiday decorating easy. jpg

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Indoor and outdoor decorating has become an ever-increasing extension of our lifestyles all year long, but we can be especially creative during the autumn and winter seasons.

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This fall, we are seeing far more designer pumpkins, corn stalks and hay bales, as well as colour-matching large chrysanthemums on front porches. In a few weeks, this decorating trend will switch to evergreen boughs, vibrant red berries, bright stems of shrub dogwoods, contorted branches of willows, and attractive specimen cones.

This natural, outdoor beauty adds a special seasonal touch to our homes and neighbourhoods. Even now, many local growers are getting ready to supply a wide range of colourful and unique branches and stems to garden and floral stores so consumers can plan their outdoor décors.

Foliage of many varieties of cornus, like Arctic Sun, are quite attractive, adding to their year-round value. jpg

These same plants, from which a renewable source of cut stems and branches can be obtained, also make beautiful garden specimens to be enjoyed year-round. I often joke about some of these plants being the best investments we could possibly make in our home gardens.

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Take, for example, beautiful, contorted willows. Their cut branches are quite valuable, and they look stunning indoors or out, especially displayed in tall, slender vases or containers. I know they can be aggressive plants, but when properly root pruned, they are a stunning sight in winter gardens. Salix Tortuosa (zone 4) is a fast-growing willow with twisted branches and comes in three different stem colours. The most common is the natural green willow, which can stretch up to ten metres, but with an annual winter pruning of its attractive branches, you can easily keep it in the three to five metre range. The most impressive species are the red- and golden-stemmed varieties which, as the weather begins to cool, both colours intensify for quite a spectacular winter display. When kept in check, these willows can also make great screening and shade trees.

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Winter is anything but dull. Cornus Midwinter Fire stems will add warmth to your porch pots and arrangements. jpg

Another popular willow today is the old-fashioned pussy willow, particularly the varieties that have amazing catkins. Salix gracilistyla (zone 4) is a large family of plants that need to be regularly root pruned to control their size in home gardens. The weeping forms are far less vigorous and look quite stunning with their weeping branches loaded with small silver catkins. They look particularly amazing when underlit in late winter — all you see at night is a shower of silver. In the Lower Mainland, pussy willows grow natively, with many species having varying bloom times and catkin sizes and shapes. They are generally found on the male forms of shrub willows, which quickly grow into trees. European growers have isolated some interesting varieties that have very uniform catkins and attractive, even spacing along the stems.

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One of the most distinctive willows, Salix Sekka has contorted stems with unique flat catkins that are excellent for indoor décor. This tree is especially beautiful in winter when its leaves have fallen, and you can fully see and enjoy the contorted branches.

There are many different species of black pussy willows (Salix matsudana). Although they don’t show up particularly well in landscapes because of their colour, when seen close up, displayed in a vase with silver or white flowers, they are quite impressive.

There have always been soft pink catkins sold as pink pussy willows, but while attending the world’s largest horticultural show in Essen, Germany, I spotted a vibrant pink pussy willow that was absolutely stunning. It has not yet made its debut in Canada, but it may soon make an appearance in the marketplace as a cut flower stem. Keep your fingers crossed and save a spot in your garden for this one.

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Proven Winners cornus Arctic Fire Red and Arctic Fire Yellow are statement pieces in the winter garden. jpg

The superstars of twiggy showpieces are the many new varieties of shrub dogwoods. Over the past few years, several with more attractive summer foliage have been developed, and their remarkable dormant stems can change the nature of your winter garden. They have all been bred from our native Red Osier dogwood (Cornus sericea) and are very versatile in a wide range of landscape situations, from shade to sun and dry to moist locations. Many varieties are extremely hardy (down to zone 2), while some are more tender. They also vary in height from 1.2 to 3 metres, so make sure you know the mature size of the variety you choose. Foliage, too, can be a concern in wet climates; select a variety that has clean foliage, as well as attractive summer and fall leaves that will add more impact to your garden.

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Some of the best yellow-stemmed dogwoods, such as Cornus alba Budd’s Yellow and C.a. Neon Burst, were bred in Canada. Proven Winners’ Arctic Fire Yellow (zone 2) is also quite a brilliant winter yellow, and it also has white berries in spring, providing food for birds.

One of the oldest and best-known red twig variety is the variegated white and green leafed C.a. Argenteo-marginata (zone 3). Ivory Halo is similar, but more compact. Proven Winners’ Arctic Fire Red (zone 3) has won many awards. This relatively short plant, with its vibrant red stems, is very versatile in the landscape.

Perhaps the most impressive looking dogwoods in winter are the yellow-, red- and orange-stemmed varieties, like C. sanguinea Midwinter Fire, Midwinter Flame and Proven Winners’ Arctic Sun. Rated zone 4 or zone 5 and varying in height from 1.2 to 2 metres, these vibrant winter specimens make great garden plants, and their cut winter stems are the most sought after.

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Pink pussy willows, as seen here in Essen, Germany, are striking. jpg

Shrubs with flowering stems, like the red and white flowering currants, Ribes sanguineum King Edward VII and R.s. White Icicle, and the new compact forsythias, such as Proven Winners’ F. Show Off and Show Off Starlet, not only make an early colour splash, but are also great pollinator plants.

It’s an excellent time of year to plant these valuable winter and early spring shrubs for an explosion of cool season colour for many years to come. It may take a year or two for them to reach their best garden performance, but they are well worth the wait.

When you are looking for both indoor and outdoor décor to add value in winter to your living spaces, wouldn’t it be nice to simply go into your own garden and select a lovely array of unique and colourful branches, stems, berries and winter flowers? These plants will give you that special opportunity … and bragging rights.

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