Look for texture as well as color

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 24, 2008

The days are getting shorter and fall leaf drop somehow sends to me a signal for dreary winter days ahead. But, with a bit of imagination, homeowners can constructively use various plant materials for winter interest in the landscape.
Most homeowners say that color is the most important of all design elements in the landscape. Plant materials that produce berries are an excellent source of color, especially in the fall and winter.
Berries can offer much color during the winter season, including many species of holly from deep reds to transparent yellow. Holly cultivars such as Fosteri holly and Savannah holly provide abundant, fluorescent red fruit.
Deciduous hollies are increasing in popularity, with profuse bright berries providing a massive show of color. Holly cultivars such as Sparkleberry or Winterberry are excellent choices for the home landscape. Holly berries provide an excellent contrast against an evergreen backdrop. Hurley Park has a splendid collection of deciduous and evergreen hollies well worth the visit.
Common nandina berries, when properly pruned and maintained, are also an excellent source of color. Showy berries are often used in holiday decorations. Plant breeders have bred nandina cultivars featuring yellow and even white berries.
Color is certainly important, but bark texture is another design element commonly overlooked in landscapes. The loose, papery bark of a river birch or the corky alligator-like texture of a mature sourwood beckons us to look closer or to feel. Hornbeam (Carpinus carolinana), or muscle wood tree, is a native that produces interesting trunk texture resembling flexed muscles.
Consider leaf texture as another winter design element. Magnolias cultivars such as Bracken’s Brown Beauty and D.D. Blancher produce a course-textured leaf with a rusty-brown pubescence on the underneath side. Canadian hemlock offers a very fine, weepy textured element to the landscape. These plants are very picturesque with a blanket of fresh snow.
Deciduous and evergreen vines soften corners and hold down vertical lines of buildings, fences and arbors. The twining effect, with an occasional bloom or berry, creates added winter interest. Winter berry (Celastris scandens) produces a yellow-orange berry often used in holiday decorations. Yellow jasmine (Gelsemium sempervirens Rankii) blooms both in late fall and early spring. These are excellent vines for fences or arbors.
Landscaping involves much more than spring color and massive foundation plantings. Take time to study the finer details of plant material for year around interest in the landscape.
Darrell Blackwelder, Extension Agent-Horticulture, Rowan County Center, North Carolina Cooperative Extension; 704-216-8970.