Winter’s Elegant Survivors

After the snow melts, before spring plants emerge, what’s left?  We’ve been thinking about choices for small evergreen shrubs or ground cover for the border of Cambridge Cohousing’s front lawn, so I took a look at my gardens to see what looks good at this time of year.  (Photos were all taken on March 17, 2011.)

First choice: Cliff Green (Paxistima canbyi).  This looks completely untouched by winter! My only complaint about this plant is that it is only slightly larger than when I first planted it, in September, 2007.  I wish it would spread a little faster. [Follow up note: online search suggests that this plant thrives in alkaline soils, while my gardens are mostly acidic, which may contribute to its slow growth.]

Next up: Dog Hobble (Leocothoe fontanesiana). The commercial landscaper working on our fence border said he’d seen problems with disease with this plant, but it’s done well for me ever since August, 2009. It hasn’t yet covered our foundation, and I look forward to it doing so.  What a great alternative to big box evergreen shrubs.

Two low ground cover plants look surprisingly good for this time of year:

This is Parlin’s Pussytoes (Antennaria parlinii ssp. fallax).  It is not supposed to be evergreen, but it seems to have come through this winter with hardly any leaf loss.  I first bought this as an erosion-control ground cover to replace the invasive Creeping Jenny I found when I got this.  I wasn’t crazy about its looks, but the longer I have it, the more I like it.  Its relatively large leaves cover the ground in green, and it spreads nicely, yet is well behaved, moving around other plants and easy to dig up when necessary. As you can see, I have it in among irises (a family request), that would otherwise leave this area bare this time of year.

Barren Strawberry (Waldsteinia fragarioides) is advertised as an evergreen and its leaves do stay green and glossy through the New England winter.  You can see that they also sustain some winter damage.  On the other hand, the debris you can see on these leaves is from sanded snow shoveled on top of this bed over the winter – in these circumstances, perhaps we should be impressed by how little damage it sustained.

One other plant worth mentioning: Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi). This one turned such a deep bronze red over the winter it doesn’t jump out, but it is nonetheless an elegant survivor.  I have this in a tough place, on a sloping corner where it is often stepped on or run over by trash barrels.  I am going to try another plant in a more hospitable spot in this area.

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