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A couple weeks ago I wrote: “my garden is finally a place where I find myself winter engaged.” Today I thought I’d focus on a few of those plants, the ones that keep me sane through the winter. Key plants that look good, individual things that I can concentrate on. A garden with layers and layers of interest isn’t as needed in the wintertime, I don’t spend that much time outdoors. Something that grabs my attention and briefly pulls me into the garden is all I ask. An occasional unexpected surprise is nice too, a sort of reward for my time and investment.

There are three categories my winter-interest plants fall into. First are the evergreen stalwarts, the plants that just always look good (Old Man Winter permitting).

First off Agave weberi, because who doesn’t want a big bad agave right outside your door?
Agave weberi

Schefflera taiwaniana, I lusted after this plant for what seemed like forever. My desire was not misplaced as it’s lived up to the hype.
Schefflera taiwaniana

If you like the S. taiwaniana you’ll love Schefflera delavayi. Both species look a little tender but have proven to be quite tough. Stars of my winter garden.
Schefflera delavayi

Although there are some who feel palms don’t “belong” in Portland I certainly don’t fall into that group. Trachycarpus fortunei lends a touch of the tropical but is hardy to USDA Zone 7.
Trachycarpus fortunei

The second category is made up of plants that change in some way over the winter, or have a characteristic that becomes more obvious and thus appreciated. 

It’s true what they say, winter in Portland can be a touch grey. The silver glow of Lupinus albifrons is lovely year round but really stands out during the darker months.

Lupinus albifrons

The blooms of Callistemon viridiflorus are striking, but the seed pods left behind add interesting structure in every season.
Callistemon viridiflorus

Magnolia laevifolia carries these fuzzy brown buds all through autumn and winter. They’re almost as fetching as the blooms.
Magnolia laevifolia

Cold weather turns the petioles of Daphniphyllum macropodum (and the variegated version shown up top) a bright “look at me” pink.
Daphniphyllum macropodum

And the finally, the “winter” bloomers are a most welcome addition. Who doesn’t love the promise of spring in the form of January flowers? 

I don’t think I’ll ever become one of those gardeners who gets all giddy over hellebores, but I wouldn’t be without a few of them. Helleborus x hybridus ‘Jade Tiger’

Helleborus x hybridus 'Jade Tiger'

This was an impulse purchase last winter, I had no place in my garden for another small tree – naturally I bought it anyway. Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Early Bright’ has an amazing fragrance and I look forward to it getting big enough that I have to prune it, indoor branches!
Hamamelis x intermedia 'Early Bright'

Arctostaphylos x ‘Austin Griffiths’ is covered in flowers this year, the hummingbirds have already discovered it.
Arctostaphylos x 'Austin Griffiths'

Euphorbia rigida, not quite flowers but they’re working towards it.
Euphorbia rigida

Watching the tips change and color up is my kind of entertainment.
Euphorbia rigida close up

It’s also true I never stop looking for new (to me) plants that look particularly attractive this time of year. Not that I have room in my garden, but you know…a gardener is always looking for more plants! Visiting nurseries continues throughout the winter months, and yes living in a USDA Zone 8 climate does help. Our nurseries always have plants for sale…

Pinus contorta ‘Chief Joseph’ is a favorite of the nurseries in the winter months. This tiny  little guy was selling for $59.
Pinus contorta 'Chief Joseph' at PDX 59

I didn’t bother to see what the larger ones were going for.
Pinus contorta 'Chief Joseph' at PDX

I’m on a green on green variegation kick right now Euphorbia x martinii ‘Ascot Rainbow’ fits the bill nicely (and I’ve bought three!).
Euphorbia x martinii 'Ascot Rainbow'

Drimys lanceolata, oh those red stems!
Drimys lanceolata at PDX

I was intrigued (to say the least) when I spotted Illicium floridanum
Illicium floridanum 1

Nice foliage, and those flowers! I quickly learned why it’s common name is stink bush, and backed away. Perhaps a good one for gardeners who like to look out their windows in the winter and not actually venture outside?
Illicium floridanum 2