A couple of years ago, Duane Hoover, the horticulturist in charge of Kauffman Memorial Garden in the heart of Kansas City, got the notion to paint the trunks of the garden's crabapple trees a dazzling blue. The snazzy paint job, applied after the trees had dropped their leaves in the fall, stirred considerable interest and kept visitors coming to the garden all winter long. Hoover used water-base tempera paint, which did not harm the trees; the color faded away by the following summer.
I loved the effect, but nature doesn't really need that much help: Judiciously planted Midwestern gardens are lively and colorful through fall and into winter. Our native redbud and dogwood trees have bright yellow and intense red autumn foliage, respectively, and, like crabapples, their sculptural structure is as attractive as ever when the branches are bare --especially when outlined with snow. The leaves of Allegheny serviceberry (Amelanchier laevis), above, turn shimmering orange in fall.
For blazing fall color, native blackhaw viburnum (Viburnum prunifolium) and oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) are two of my favorite shrubs. Common witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) has bright yellow leaves and yellow flowers in November; Ozark witch hazel (H. vernalis) is even showier in fall, with glowing orange foliage.
Deciduous hollies (Ilex verticillata), which drop their leaves in fall but hold on to their clusters and sprays of bright red berries, are especially decorative in winter against evergreens or in front of tall, tawny ornamental grasses. 'Winter Red' is one of my favorites, and I recently planted 'Winter Gold', which has yellow berries, for a sparkling contrast.
Learn more about these plants!