Garden Photo of the Day

Winter Interest in Indiana

Shrubs and more for beauty in the cold season

Pink flowers poking up out of the snow

Today we’re in central Indiana visiting with John Chapin, who has been gardening for over 45 years.

Our four acres of property was just a field of weeds with a small, seasonal creek when we bought it to build our house forty years ago. Most of the land we’ve planted with native trees, including sugar maples, river birch, bald cypress, and white pine, which have matured to provide excellent habitat for wildlife. We have landscaped about a half-acre around the house with a wide assortment of unusual trees, shrubs, and perennials. I always plant for plenty of winter interest. Bright and colorful foliage, twigs, and bark brighten up the dreariest of winter days.

Winterberry covered in snowWinterberry (Ilex verticillata ‘Red Sprite’, Zones 3–9) berries make quite a show, until the birds gobble them up by the first of the year. I appreciate that these shrubs don’t mind damp areas.

red-twig dogwood in snowThe striking redtwig dogwood (Cornus sericea ‘Cardinal’ Zones 3–7), which I prune to the ground every spring to always have the most colorful stems the following winter.

weeping hemlock covered with snowConifers add so much interest to landscapes, both in form and color; I especially appreciate that in the winter. This weeping hemlock (Tsuga canadensis ‘Pendula’, Zones 3–7) becomes even more sculptural with a blanket of snow.

conifer with yellow-green needlesA recent welcome addition to the gardens is a golden dwarf variety of Caucasian spruce (Picea orientalis ‘Firefly’, Zones 4–7), which shines in the winter garden. This is a sport of the much larger–growing ‘Skylands’, making it better suited for most gardens.

stacked stones in the snowStacked rocks, accented with snow, make interesting sculptures in the winter garden. To the surprise of visitors, these are not mortared together but are carefully balanced and surprisingly stable.

birch tree with flacking layers of cream barkThe exfoliating bark of river birch (Betula nigra ‘Heritage’, Zones 4–9) never fails to impress. River birches are messy but are valuable, fast-growing native trees to naturalize wet areas.

Magnolia tree in winterOne of our most cherished trees, which literally shines in the winter landscape, is the hardiest variety of southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora ‘Bracken’s Brown Beauty, Zones 6–10). The glossy, evergreen leaves really stand out. Only the most severe winter will cause the leaves to wither and drop, but they are always replaced with fresh spring growth.

Holly shrub with red berriesI really love the variegated varieties of blue holly. This hardy holly (Ilex × meserveae ‘Honey Maid’, Zones 5–7) looks great in planters over the winter. Then when planted in the gardens along with a male pollinator to ensure berry set, it provides cut branches when larger.

hellebores poking up out of the snowNo matter how dreary the winter, gardeners can always depend on hellebores (Helleborus orientalis ‘Royal Heritage’, Zones 6–9) to be harbingers of spring. Mine bloom as early as late January, and even cold temps and snow rarely slow them down.

native witch hazelNative witch hazels are truly amazing shrubs. I prefer the spring-blooming species (Hamamelis vernalis, Zones 4–8), which is the very earliest of flowering shrubs in our area, often blooming in January during mild winters. The plentiful, fragrant flowers’ ribbonlike petals unfurl on mild, sunny days but will curl up safely if temperatures fall below freezing, unfurling again when warmth returns. The flowers can last for several weeks, and I am always amazed to see plenty of honeybees enjoying this very early source of nectar.


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View Comments


  1. Rebeccazone7 02/18/2021

    Love the rocks and witch hazel. So many varieties of hazel, that I can never make up my mind, and thus end up putting it on next year's list. You're also reminding me to take more winter pictures...

  2. User avater
    user-7007816 02/18/2021

    Lovely. Yes, gardens in winter can be a special treat to the eye. Unfortunately, because of the tough winter, some of my shrubs have become a treat for rabbits. But this will pass.

  3. blondie3 02/18/2021

    You have a wonderful variety of shrubs, I hope you post again when it is not winter as I think your landscape is surely as beautiful, with flowers....thank you for sharing helps me see what I’m missing over here in Illinois!

  4. User avater
    vanhatalosuomi 02/18/2021

    Thanks for posting John.
    We have Cornus 'Sibirica' but I rarely prune it. Four years later or so and we've got pretty big 'branchy' bushes. All the stems are deeply red, despite my not cutting it back yearly as you do.

    I'm guessing that you're in a USDA zone 6 or so. Am I right?

  5. User avater
    treasuresmom 02/18/2021

    Just so very lovely.

  6. User avater
    cynthia2020 02/18/2021

    Hi, John. I enjoyed your photos and the useful information you provided about so many plants. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and skills.

  7. User avater
    simplesue 02/18/2021

    Garden beauty in the pretty!

  8. wittyone 02/18/2021

    Oh, these must be from last year surely. We are in south central Indiana and have almost a foot of snow down as of today. The Lenten Roses do look lovely peeking out of the snow like that. And I may have to invest in a Witch Hazel too, so nice to have something showing some color so very early in the year! And you have a creek too, lots of creek envy going on here. I have always wanted to plant marsh marigolds and candelabra primroses, but alas, I don't have a marshy stream bank to work with.

  9. btucker9675 02/18/2021

    Wonderful!! Love the snowy evergreens and your stacked cairns. Thank you for sharing your beautiful garden in winter.

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