Q: Kate, my garden looks forlorn and pitiful all through January and February. What can I do to liven things up?

A: Unless you can afford to traipse around the tropics from November to March, it’s smart to design your garden with year-round beauty in mind. Sure, all those shrubs that flower in April and May are great after a long, sensory-deprived Portland winter. But with a little planning, you can have a lively, colorful garden that keeps you looking out the windows even as you huddle inside. 

Shop now for plants that look great during this season and will strike a blow against next winter. For winter flowers, plant a glowing yellow, orange, or red witch hazel tree, fragrant winter sweet or winter viburnum shrubs, sunny yellow winter jasmine or delicate winter clematis vines, or charming, low-growing hellebores. Deciduous trees lose their leaves but not their bark, so go for color. Try burnished red-barked paperbark maple or madrone trees, or shrubby orange-twigged willow or dogwood. For all-important winter structure (plants that add dimension, depth, and texture to outdoor space, especially when others are bare) plant broadleaf evergreens like resin-scented Cistus, ornamental grasses whose dried flowers and foliage last through February or—get crazy!—a hardy palm. Some plants, like super-fragrant winter daphne, strawberry tree, and cinnamon-barked manzanitas offer winter flowers, interesting bark, and evergreen foliage, all in one plant.