Festive Colors Ring in the Season
by Bill Klausing
Sonoma County Master Gardener
Already the strings of lights are appearing on Sonoma County residents' homes and gardens, a sure sign of the upcoming end-of-year holiday season. We’d like to discuss holiday reds, but we’re not referring to our local wine! Rather, we’d like to show you how you can bring festive color into your own garden during the holiday season. With our typical warm and moist autumn, many plantings, both evergreen and deciduous, are vibrant and lush and provide a festive and natural way to decorate your holiday garden. Smart planning for the winter season can also provide habitat shelter and food for our feathered friends.
Leucadendron salignum ‘Chief’
For very small spaces, you might choose a low growing perennial such as Ceratostigma plumbaginoides (plumbago); the periwinkle blooms have
disappeared, but the foliage turns a bright red before losing its leaves in wintertime. For larger spots consider Salvia microphylla ‘Hotlips’ or ‘Graham’s sage’ which will continue to bloom red most of the year. I give mine a hard prune around Labor Day which yields a new burst of blooms around the holidays. Nandina domestica varieties are terrific choices as their red foliage and berries remain all winter. Nandina varieties range from about 2 ½’ x 2 ½’ to over 6’ tall. All of these plants are on our list of Top Plants for Sonoma County. A recent discovery for me is Leucadendron salignum ‘Chief’, a member of the Protea family and native to South Africa; this variety is a stunning evergreen shrub whose red and green leaves, stems and bracts are perfect for the holiday season; it is pictured here for reference.
Many members of the Rose family can provide large-scale holiday color. Cotoneaster and Pyracantha are both good choices with red berries during the holiday season. Photinia will give you bright red foliage as soon as the wet
season begins and through the remainder of winter, especially the variety called ‘Parbri’, sold as Fireball Red. Crataegus laevigata (English hawthorne) also yields red berries (which botanically are pomes, like apples) during the winter; ‘Paul’s Scarlet’ is a variety that is on the wish list for my own garden. Liquidambar styraciflua (sweet gum) will hold its leaves most of the winter and gives a terrific display of varying shades of red for months. Pyrus calleryana (ornamental pear), which I wrote about earlier this year, also holds its leaves late into winter and turns a vibrant red to purple. Depending upon your own micro-climate, you might also still have some holiday color with deciduous trees such as Pistacia chinensis (Chinese pistache) or Acer
freemanii (maple) both which turn beautiful shades of red before dropping their leaves. You could even plant a holly; nothing could be more traditional in the holiday season. My favorite is Ilex x attenuata ‘Fosteri’; this holly has deeply green glossy leaves year round with red berries in winter. Stretch your imagination and creativity to design a natural holiday wonderland in your own garden.