December is the perfect month to enjoy this eyecatching deciduous holly whose brilliant berries, clustered on bare branches, provide splashes of color to the early winter landscape. Commonly called Winterberry, this North American native is found in the wild from Nova Scotia to Florida, usually growing in low lying areas, since it doesn?t mind wet feet. It is nonetheless adaptable to many soil types and will be happy enough in dryer locations. A large number of clones have been selected for their eventual stature, as well as for variation in fruit color and size.
As you probably know, the genus Ilex is dioecious, meaning there are different male and female flowering plants, and they have to tango for fruit set. Take note that there are earlier and later flowering selections of Ilex verticillata and it is a good idea to plant a male counterpart that blooms at the same time as the female clone. Some of the earlier blooming female clones such as ‘Red Sprite’, ‘Berry Heavy’ and ‘Berry Nice’ should be pollinated with the male clone ‘Jim Dandy’. Use ‘Southern Gentleman?’, a late-blooming male pollinator for ‘Winter Red’, ‘Winter Gold’, ‘Capacon’, ‘Sparkleberry’ and the other later blooming girls.
Ilex verticillata waits until fall to become a star when the berries begin to color, so it is best sited in a spot where it does not have to be commanding all season long. Remember Winterberry does sucker, but this can be useful where you want to create a screen to attract wildlife. A number of years ago, we used it in repetition behind one of our beds that borders a wet area, and the planting now provides us with a bounty of branches for cutting. Eventual plant size is dependent on which cultivars you select, and they range from 3-4′ to 12′ or more. Plants enjoy sunny or partially shaded exposures, soil that is acid to neutral, and are hardy through zone 4.
As tempting as Black Friday Shopping is (or isn’t), why not plan an alternative activity on the day after Thankgsiving. Have a thermos with hot cider ready and invite a couple of friends or family members to wander about your garden to gather greens and branches for wreaths and decorating. You’re bound to find a varied selection of evergreens and branches, bare but structural, or decorated with berries and seed pods.
Don’t restrict yourself to the traditional selections…Holly, Boxwood and Pine. You’ll be surprised how well unexpected clippings work. Junipers provide blue-gray foliage and often have attractive blue fruit. Chamaecyparis offer a wonderful array of foliage colors ranging from gold through amber, bronze and dark green, and I love clipping the branches that are adorned with artful cones. Consider twigs with interesting bark or an attractive zig zag habit which will twinkle when coated with morning frosts. Red and gold twig dogwoods offer colorful linear accents, while birch branches can often be found dripping with catkins.
Word of caution: When cutting for arrangements, first be sure you observe how your pruning will effect the shape of the plant. Stand back and view the subject from different angles. You can prune/improve the shape of the shrub and have branches for arranging at the same time.
Display these cut branches in an outdoor container ensemble right away or wait. The smaller cuttings need not go to waste; they can be used to construct a wreath for your door. If you?re not quite ready to decorate, the greens and cut branches can be stored in a cool space until needed. Indoor arrangements created now will become quite brittle and shatter by Christmas, so you may want to wait or plan to do two sets of arrangements, one for now and one for later.
You won’t pay much attention to Blood Twig Dogwood in spring and summer. The ordinary green foliage is attractive enough, but it does not sing “Here I am!”. It’s not until autumn, when Cornus sanguinea ‘Arctic Sun’ starts to make music in clear apricot tones with the changing fall foliage. Colder temperatures transform its green branches into stalks of vibrant yellow, orange and red which glow in an otherwise increasingly dull landscape.
‘Arctic Sun’ (a.k.a. Cornus sanguinea ‘Cato’) is a compact clone of Blood Twig Dogwood, reaching only 4-5′ tall as opposed to 8-10′, and this size is useful in smaller gardens. It thrives in average to moist soil in full sun or part shade, is deer resistant, and is hardy in zones 4-7, which means it will take temperatures to minus 30F, but probably won?t be happy in mild winter climates. We recommend planting ‘Arctic Sun’ in a location so that the dazzling winter stems can be viewed from an inside perch, perhaps where you sit with your morning coffee, or where you might pass by as you enter and leave your home. You’ll enjoy the show all winter, and may even be inspired to cut a few branches for decoration.
One thing you should note is that the best color on twig dogwoods is displayed on young wood. Every two or three years you should “stool” yours plants in early-mid spring. Stooling is a simple pruning technique where you cut back the entire shrub to about 6′ above ground. The new growth will provide a more colorful display when late fall and winter arrives.
We have fallen in love with the New England forest. It happened several decades ago, but it seems like only yesterday that the spell of fall was cast upon us. We know it’s the maples celebrating, in a festival of color, their happy home. A selection of Japanese Maple, Acer palmatum ‘Orange Dream’ begins this celebration in spring, with leaves emerging orange, unfurling to lemon-yellow with orange margins and finally settling in with yellow-green tones through the summer. Fall harkens ‘Orange Dream’ with a glorious display of yellow-gold. As winter peels off her leaves, the architectural intricacies of this small tree are revealed. Each season bring forth a new song from the branches of Acer palmatum ‘Orange Dream’.
‘Orange Dream’ appreciates an eastern exposure, where her feet will stay cool through the summer. She grows only a few inches a year, but will eventually find her way to 10′ x 10′. Site in a small garden or as an understory and you will fall in love too.
There are rare colors in the plant world, and black is certainly one of them. This new selection of Lenten Rose, from the hybridizing efforts of Ernie and Marietta O’Byrne, is one of the darkest shades we’ve seen. New growth emerges in early March here in New England, gradually sending forth flowering shoots as kinder weather warms the earth. The nodding single rose shaped flowers begin to fade in early May, after which the swollen ovules will burst, dispersing the ripened seed. Seed most likely will not germinate until the following spring, and the seedlings will likely differ in color from the parent plant, as this is a hybrid. New foliage will continue to develop as the flowers fade and the handsome leathery leaves persist through the winter.
Hellebores appreciate being grown in a partially shaded, well drained, fertile, slightly alkaline soil (pH of 7-6). Individual plants usually grow 18-20″ tall, forming sizable clumps over the years, and will withstand temperatures to -20 degrees F.
There is something especially striking about flowers which adorn bare branches before any signs of leaf growth appear. Hamamelis x ‘Feuerzauber’, a German hybrid selection of Withchazel (translation Fire Dragon), is hardy in zones 5-8 and boasts showy orange to red fragrant flowers in late February and March, which are as lovely cut for indoor arrangements as they are gracing the late winter landscape.
We recommend situating ‘Feuerzauber’ where you can enjoy its display from an indoor window. In fact, why not plant early blooming Crocus or yellow Narcissus ‘February Gold’ near its base for one of the first colorful ensembles of spring. ‘Feuerzauber’ will form a large shrub (15-18) with a pleasing upward spreading habit. It may not sing loudly in summer but it will celebrate Autumn with an amazing symphony of orange, yellow and red foliage.
Large Specimens available for nursery pickup.