Designing a garden that offers up novel impressions for every season is an exciting challenge. After the leaves have fallen, you’ll discover that a number of warm-weather woody plants, with their unusual branches, can also provide shapely elements over the course of a long winter.

American sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua), with its lobed leaves, resembles a maple but for its branches, which develop cork bands – particularly visible in winter – that lend it a compellingly gnarled look. The burning bush or winged spindle (Eonymus alatus) has similarly noticeable cork bands. Both trees also offer a magnificent fall color. The wingthorn rose (Rosa omeiensis f. pteracantha) remains eye-catching in winter, sporting unusually broad, luminously red thorns on new growth.

Just as interesting are trees with naturally peeling bark, such as Erman’s birch (Betula ermanii), the white-barked Himalayan birch (Betula utilis ‘Doorenbos’), and the copper birch (Betula albosinensis). The corkscrew hazel (Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’) is an unusual treat for the garden or large containers, as it grows slowly and with branches so bizarre, they actually almost do twist as tightly as corkscrews.  They look like artwork produced by the gardener, when in fact it’s the whims of mother nature that form them. Due to their impressive form, they’re a favorite for floristry or as an ornamental display in vases. The branches of corkscrew willow (Salix ‘Tortuosa’) are formed just as whimsically. The fantail willow (Salix ‘Sekka’) is also an interesting tree. Its brownish-red shoots turn capriciously at the ends and can be markedly broad and flat. They’re all real eye-catchers in the wintertime garden.


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