Our theory is, if a plant looks fantastic in the September garden, it merits attention. And if it is attractive to pollinators, has winter interest, grows quickly to a reasonable size and is easy to keep happy, then you should absolutely consider finding a spot for it. As I was driving though our little town of Dartmouth the other day, I had to pull over when I saw a picture perfect candidate of such a plant, Heptacodium miconoides, gracing a small streetside garden.
Heptacodium miconoides, or “Seven Son Flower” is relatively new in cultivation here in the US, having come ashore from China in the 1980’s. It bears attractive green foliage, resembling peach leaves, and finally in late summer and early fall, it produces panicles of fragrant, jasmine scented white flowers, which last for a couple of weeks, after which showy rosy red bracts remain. The common name “Seven Son Flower” refers to the 7 branches of blossoms of each panicle. We acquired our first specimen as a plant dividend at the Arnold Arboretum’s Fall Plant Sale in 1989. To our delight, it grew quite quickly, putting on as much as 3′ in a season. We learned after a bit that Heptacodium wants to be a multi stemmed shrub, unless pruned to one or several strong leaders. Our preference was to show off the handsome exfoliating bark, so we removed all but the strongest 3 trunks. If you would prefer to have a single trunk, select a young plant and stake one stem for straight growth.
Heptacodium merits attention for its adaptability to a variety of soil conditions, including soils that remain dry for some time, although occasional supplemental watering wouldn’t hurt. It is tolerant of salt spray, making it useful near the seashore. Other big plusses: Heptacodium is deer resistant, and the butterflies and bees absolutely love the blossoms. Provide it with lots of sunshine. Pruned as a small tree it can be the focal point of a small garden, or planted en masse it would make a showy hedge. It’s perfectly hardy in zones 5-8.
Shrubs and trees which flower on old wood, just before the leaves unfurl, have a special charm. Think Witchhazel, Native Dogwood, Redbud. One that we especially love and isn’t so well known is Stachyurus chinensis ‘Celina’. This shrub bears pendant racemes of creamy white/yellow flowers in early spring (April for us). We have ‘Celina’ planted in a sheltered spot from winter winds, which can desiccate the flower buds. This area is shaded by a Japanese Maple and gets 4-6 hours of sun. Our 7 year old plant is about 4′ tall with arching branches from the base, reaching to about 6′ in width. We expect it will grow to 8′ x 10′ eventually. Fall color varies year to year, but we’ve seen it take on yellow and orange tones. hardy in zones 6-9.
I am just smitten with this Magnolia’s nuanced loveliness….chalices of buttery yellow petals infused with plum and pink appear here in early May, waiting for the last frost to come and go. Yes, it blooms before the leaves unfurl, providing that magic of color against bare wood.
Bred by the late Dr. Augie Kerr, Magnolia ‘Sunsation’ is a hybrid of ‘Elizabeth’ and ‘Woodsman’, and is considered hardy in zones 4-9. ‘Sunsation’ blooms precociously … very young plants try to put on a show which pleases those of us who tend to be impatient. Her form is upright and pyramidal, reaching heights of 25-30′.
Grow ‘Sunsation‘ in a rich well drained soil in sun or partial shade.
Mahonia x media ‘Charity’
What shrub has evergreen foliage resembling both holly and fern, blooms in late fall/early winter with a candelabra of fragrant primrose yellow flowers, is drought tolerant once established and not a favorite of marauding deer? Answer: Mahonia x media ‘Charity’, a hybrid of the two species, M. japonica and M. lomariifolia.
Ever since I saw a form of Mahonia blooming in winter in the Plymouth MA garden of my friend Susanne, I have wanted to have this plant in my garden. Certainly, this is pushing the hardiness limits in our neck of the woods, so I have been scouting for a very protected spot (thinking of a clearing in our now dense grove of Yellow Groove Bamboo). ‘Charity’ is hardy to 0 degrees F, but we usually dip below that for at least a day or two each winter.
Of course all of you who live in balmier zones 7-9 should consider giving this winter interest plant a try. It is a broadleaf evergreen, and so it would be prudent to choose a site with protection from winter winds and strong western sun. Plants develop a vase shape and usually grow to 5-7’ tall but can reach 10’ in mild climates, with a width of 3-6’. The flowers begin forming in late October, providing unexpected color when you need it most from late November into January. The multiple upright racemes of small flowers are magnets for bees, who may venture out on mild days. Rich blue fruit follow in spring, thus the common name Grape Holly, and these are relished by birds. Older foliage may take on reddish tones in late winter, and tarnished leaves should be pruned once fresh growth begins to unfurl.
Mahonia can be grown in full sun or dappled shade, but if grown in full sun it it may require a bit more watering in dry spells. I should also add that the foliage has rather unfriendly sharp edges, and can deliver a “look but don’t touch” message to passerby.
Do you grow any forms of Mahonia and how have they performed where you live? Please share your experience.
Enkianthus fall foliage
Redvein Enkianthus is about to betray its quiet charms any day now, with a display of technicolor fall foliage in shades of gold, orange, fiery red through purple. In mid to late spring it delights in a more soft-spoken way, bearing dainty clusters of white or red bells, depending on the cultivar. E. ‘Lipstick’ has white bells delicately edged in brick red, ‘Red Bells’ are colored, as the name suggests, coral red, and ‘Showy Lantern’. A slow growing shrub at first, it is often listed at growing from 6-8′ tall and 4-5′ wide, but with age it can easily reach 15′ or more with a wider reach. In fact, Enkianthus campanulatus can be pruned to from a lovely small tree. It is a perfect candidate for the partially shaded garden, both large and small.
Enkianthus c. ‘Red Bells’
Enkianthus c. ‘Showy Lantern’
Grow Redvein Enkianthus in full sun or partial shade. It enjoys an enriched, well drained, acidic soil that stays evenly moist, although we have found it to be quite forgiving of dry spells, once established. It is deer resistant, but please note that deer will eat almost anything if hungry enough. Perfectly hardy in zones 5-8, with some reporting success growing it in zone 4B.
Magnolia macrophylla ashei foliage
There is no other way to say it: Ashe’s Big Leaf Magnolia is boldly beautiful. Folks often grow Magnolias for their early spring bloom, but you will want to seek out Magnolia macrophylla ashei for its large green foliage (up to 2+’ in length) which is undersided in a lovely shade of silvery celadon. (Floral designers take note: the foliage is gorgeous when cut and dried for winter arrangements.) Early summer flowers are sweetly fragrant with white petals accented with a red brush stroke and are large as well, up to 1′ across.
Magniolia macrophylla ashei, a Southeastern US native, forms a large shrub or small tree. It’s tropical appearance belies its hardiness as it is easily grown in zones 6-9 (with reports of it also growing in zone 5 with protection). The form ashei is a smaller tree than the straight species, and is often seen as a multistmemed shrub but can be pruned to form a small tree, growing to 15′ tall in its northern most range, and up to 25′ tall in milder climates. Big Leaf Magnolia prefers a sunny or partially shaded place in a border with rich evenly moist soil that has good drainage. Very windy spots are not recommended, as the gorgeous foliage will get damaged. Another positive note…Big Leaf Magnolia is deer resistant.
Hydrangea serrata ‘Kiyosumi’
More subtle and nuanced than the big mop heads, the species H. serrata hails from the higher elevations of Japan and Korea and is considered more reliably cold hardy than most H. macrophylla. What caught my eye about this particular selection H. ‘Kiyosumi’ , even before the blossoms developed, was the attractive brick red tint to the new foliage. The 4-6″ lace caps are composed of tiny rose tinted fertile flowers, accented with a skirt of larger florets colored white to pale pink with a rim of brick red. This compact selection grows 4′ x 4′, and is hardy to -10F without stem dieback. H. serrata ‘Kiyosumi’ does bloom on old wood, and I can vouch that it survived the winter of 2014-15 quite admirably.
Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Snowflake’
An old favorite for the shade garden is the double form of Oakleaf Hydrangea, H. ‘Snowflake’. The bold oak leaf shaped foliage is handsome all season, but in early summer it bears long (10-15″) panicles of exquisite double white to celadon green florets which age beautiful to shades of pale green and rusty rose. It’s grace and beauty never ceases to draw compliments.
Like all H. quercifolia, ‘Snowflake’ blooms on old wood, so care should be taken when pruning so you are not sacrificing too many potential blossoms. H. quercifolia ‘Snowflake’ grows 7-8′ tall and wide, but the weight of the blossoms gives it an arching habit. Although this particular form can be grown in full sun if it has evenly moist soil, it has always been happier in our cooler, shady border. It is hardy in zones 5-8.
Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Zebra’
I was recently alerted about the new Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Zebra’ from my gardening friend Barbara Smith, who suggested it as a great Hydrangea for cut flowers. (Didn’t need much convincing; I bought 3). This new patented selection is a sport of the all white cultivar H. ‘Schneeball’ (German for Snowball) and is distinguished not only for its 3.5-5″ trusses but for its very dark green foliage and almost black stems. I hear the flowers age to a wonderful pale green. Plants form compact shrubs 3-4′ tall and wide. I suspect that this form will only bloom on old wood, so I am trialing one in a protected area and the others in a more open spot in the garden. The literature says it is hardy to zone 5, but we’ll see if that means bud hardy, won’t we?
Would you like to meet ‘Lawrence Crocker’, the easiest little Daphne we know and grow? It was discovered and named for one of the founders of Siskyou Rare Plant Nursery, and thought to be a hybrid of D. arbuscula and D. collina. Daphne ‘Lawrence Crocker’ is a little gem for the tiny urban garden, alpine or otherwise, as long as you can provide it a well drained soil, adequate moisture to establish and at least a half day of sun. ‘Lawrence Crocker’ was one of the first specimens we planted in our rockery (20 years ago, at least), and it continues to charm us each spring with its fragrant dark pink blossoms.
Remember this is a diminutive plant. It is suitable for trough gardens, but in the open garden it can grow up to 12″ tall and up to 18″ wide. It has proven durable and hardy for us in zone 6A.
Salix chaenomeloides ‘Mt Aso’
Even though the sun was shining today, I was still feeling discouraged by yesterday’s snowfall. As I went out to make sure all the greenhouses were properly closed for the day I caught a glimpse of pink, shimmering in the late afternoon light. Greeting me with optimistic charm was the pink pussy willow Salix chaenomeloides ‘Mt Aso’ . I had planted one last fall, and it was set off quite dramatically by the freshly fallen snow.
Salix chaenomeloides is the Latin name for giant pussy willow. It is native to Japan but adapts well to a wide range of garden situations including sandy, average and even quite moist soil. Plants can get quite large, 15′ or more, but in order to have a steady supply of branches which will bear the rosy red catkins (which are male flowers by the way, are you surprised?) you should coppice (cut back to 1-2′ above ground) every 2 or 3 years. This will keep plant size a more reasonable 6-8′, and provide you with an ample supply of cut branches for winter arrangements
Salix chaenomeloides ‘Mt Aso’ is hardy to zone 4. You know you want one. Go for it. I guarantee that if you plant ‘Mt. Aso’ this year, you’ll be smiling next March, even if “return to winter” weather tends to make you grumpy.
It would be a difficult choice, but if I had to select one deciduous tree for my garden, it would have to be the Korean form of Stewartia pseudocamellia, and this is why: here is a small tree (25-30′) with striking interest in all 4 seasons. In winter, a mature Stewartia pseudocamellia var koreana shows off its handsome narrow pyramidal shape, which broadens a bit with age, and lovely exfoliating bark, exposing shades of tan, pink and gray. In spring, it breaks anew with fresh dark green elliptical leaves, arranged alternately along its branches. In early summer, lovely 3″ white camellia like flowers are displayed. Each blossom only lasts a short time, but there are so many produced over several weeks that you never feel it is not performing. In autumn, Stewartia pseudocamellia is truly mesmerizing, flashing you with foliage in shades of brilliant red, orange, gold and green.
Stewartia pseudocamellia is native to Japan and Korea, and the Korean form is generally considered a bit hardier. The Korean form tends to have a more narrow pyramidal shape than the species found in Japan. In its native habitat, it is found growing with Clethra barbinervis and Enkianthus campanulatus, both exceptional large shrubs or small trees, with multi season interest. Stewartia pseudacamellia var. koreana grows best in sun or partial shade in a humus rich but well drained soil, out of strong wind. It is hardy to minus 20F and grows well in zones 5-8.