Oh, this is the joy of the rose--that it blooms and goes.
- Willa Cather
Viewing entries tagged Cotinus Coggygria
After a long break, Hurricane Sandy has inspired me to blog again. At 2:30 in the afternoon on Monday, October 29, we heard a loud thud. My husband and I thought it might be a fallen tree. Sure enough, though the storm in full had not even reached us yet, a large oak had toppled from the hillside onto our main shrub border along the driveway. Its root ball had come out of the ground, exposing the rock it had grown around.
Miraculously, my beloved Magnolia was spared. The oak barely brushed past it as it landed across the smoke bush (Cotinus coggygria), then the Chamaecyparus, the Winterberry (Ilex verticillata), the iron arbor with Clematis and Rose vines, a new PJM Rhododendron and finally, the fabulous Limelight Hydrangea.
This was a shrub border I created from nothing along the edge of my driveway. After a dozen years, it was just maturing to the point that it held together, obscuring the view of the lawn beyond. Now, with the exception of a small Chamaecyparus and a Blue Mound Pine, it is history.
It is heart-wrenching. But I also realize how lucky I am. My home and my family are safe. I have this blog as a release for my frustration. And--after some serious clean-up--the devastated border presents a nearly blank canvas for replanting. Plus, the lost oak will open up my yard to a great deal more sunshine than it had before. I’ll have to watch the light and reevaluate what plantings will work in this location. It is a whole new opportunity for gardening, and I will document it here.
Tags: garden opportunity, Rhododendron PJM, Winterberry, Ilex verticillata, Cotinus Coggygria, Smokebush, Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Crippsii Aurea', shrub border, Oak tree, Hurricane Sandy
As great a fan as I am of our native plants, I can’t deny my gratitude for the beauties that have come from Asia. Since China and Japan share temperate climates similar to ours, we are able to grow many of their plants with great success. And what distinction they bring to the garden!
I have a particular fondness for some of the Japanese evergreens. They offer colors and textures we can’t find among North American natives and make a statement wherever they are planted.
After nursing an American Holly for many, many years in a shaded corner, I finally replaced it with a Japanese Cedar (Cryptomeria japonica). Within its first year, it has settled in easily and is producing extravagant new growth. The branches of this conifer are clothed in long, soft “branchlets” of gray-green needles creating a unique texture. It develops a natural conical shape but can be pruned as desired. This tree does well in shade, so it is a valuable alternative to the overused Hemlocks and Boxwood for evergreen coverage.
In a more open location, in a shrub border, I have a Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Crippsii Aurea.’ This false cypress has lacy, fern-like leaves in a bright lemon-lime color that makes it a wonderful focal point for Zones 4 -8. It is dramatic against a purple Smokebush (Cotinus cogyggria) and Coral Bells Heuchera ‘Palace Purple.’ I have noticed that the yellow is brighter with more sun, and the color tends to get subdued in the winter.
Another false cypress, Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Gracilis’ offers a distinct contrast. Its branches grow in circular whorl-like patterns, with the outer edges a brighter, lighter green than the deep forest green of the inner leaves. Like the Crippsii, it is a slow grower and well suited to a shrub border or a specimen planting. All of them are happy with neutral to slightly acidic, well-drained soil. They all tolerate some shade and have been trouble-free for me.
Tags: Chamaecyparis, false cypress, Japanese Cedar, Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Gracilis', Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Crippsii Aurea', Coral Bells, Heuchera, Heuchera 'Palace Purple', Smokebush, Cotinus Coggygria, Nana, Cryptomeria japonica, alternative to American Holly, alternative to Hemlock, Japanese evergreens, organic gardening, CT gardening, Gardening in New England, gardening in the Northeast, gardening in zone 6, shade gardening
Another benefit to these evergreens is that they are available in compact versions. If the scientific name includes the word, “Nana,” it means that it will grow slowly and remain a modest size for locations where space is limited.
Are you like me, longing to get out into the garden again? Especially on the warm, spring-like days we’ve been having, it is hard to resist. But it is only March 1, and we need to be careful about what we do in the garden this early. It is too soon to dig, and we should avoid walking on the soil. Since the temperatures have been above freezing, the soil is soft and wet and susceptible to compaction. But there are a few tasks we can accomplish now.
First, if we haven’t done it already, we can take down the holiday décor. Then cut a few branches to force for a harbinger of spring: forsythia, cherry, quince and pussy willows can be cut and put in water to bloom indoors. Bringing forsythia inside is like capturing sunshine.
Next we can tackle some late winter pruning. This is a fine time to attend to late blooming shrubs before they put out their new growth. We can thin suckering shrubs like lilac (Syringa species) and Winterberry (Ilex verticillata), cleaning out suckers and removing some of the oldest wood back to the ground. This allows light into the plant and encourages vigorous blooming on the newer branches. Along the way we can saw off the oldest stems of the Elderberry (Sambucus). The mild weather has brought leaf buds already, so the future shoots we are boosting by removing the old are already visible. A swelling bud is still a thrilling sight—especially this early in the year.
Smokebush (Cotinus coggygria) is another shrub that can be cut back now. To keep it compact and to enhance the leaves’ color, we can go back as far as two or three buds from the base.
Late winter is also the time to consider renovating our native Mountain Laurels (Kalmia latifolia). Their natural habit is loose and airy. We should take a good look to decide what works best in our landscapes. If all we want to do is tame them slightly, encouraging more compact, dense growth, we can prune conservatively right after they bloom in June.
Another approach is to highlight the mountain laurel’s architecture by allowing it to remain tall and spare, revealing its wonderfully craggy trunks and weathered, finely shredding bark. This is almost an Asian, sculptural look. (A fringe benefit of this taller form is that the foliage grows above the level of deer browsing. Though all parts of the plant are poisonous, deer are known to feed lightly on Kalmias when their options are few.)
Tags: Bllue Mist Spirea, Caryopteris, Buddleia, Butterfly bush, burl, Kalmia latifolia, Mountain Laurel, Cotinus Coggygria, Smokebush, Ilex verticillata, Winterberry, Syringa, Lilac, forsythia, winter pruning
If, however, our mountain laurels have become scraggly or were damaged by last fall’s storms, we can take advantage of a special feature of this shrub. Kalmias have a swollen collar at the base of the trunk, a burl, which allows for drastic renovation. The burl enables even mature mountain laurels to generate new growth from their woody stems. Now is the time, before they put out any new growth, to prune them back to a few inches above the ground, even down to the burl itself. Numerous new stems will emerge to create a fresh, compact shrub in several seasons. Unfortunately, there will be no blossoms this year.*
Finally, once there is new growth on Butterfly bushes (Buddleia) and Blur Mist Spirea (Caryopteris), they can be pruned back to about 18 inches from the ground. These will recover quickly and bloom this summer.
*The mountain laurel’s craggy branches can be saved for building charming arbors, fences, gates and trellises.
Normally we picture gardens in the sun (in our mind’s eye as well as in photographs). Bright days with the potent greens and vivid colors of our flowers dazzling. But here in the Northeast, we average 50 inches of rain a year, so we are often not strolling or working in a sunny garden.
Raindrops drumming on the roof...sitting under cover, watching the storm move through...seeing the plants plump up and glisten with the moisture. Some of my favorite moments in the garden have been during or just after a rain, when the world is painted in shades of gray and green against the shining black of wet tree trunks, when droplets sparkle on broad leaves and the light appears to emanate from within the plants.
This is a time when foliage takes the spotlight, and some plants' leaves are particularly striking when wet. Ladies mantle (Alchemilla mollis, above) is the obvious example, with ruffle-edged leaves ideal for collecting perfect spheres of water. Hostas, too, with their often dinner-plate sized leaves, serve up each individual drop for appreciation.
There are also sun lovers, though, that truly star in the rain, like purple smokebush (Cotinus coggygria, at right) thanks to the way it captures droplets of molten silver even as its leaves shimmer with translucent color. Sedum Autumn Joy is another, its glaucus leaves a foil for the shiny drops, and bridal veil Spiraea (S. canescens) looks just like a bride sparkling in the glow of her big moment.
Tags: drought, Bridal veil Spiraea, Spiraea canescens, rain, foliage, Hosta, Sedum 'Autumn Joy', Cotinus Coggygria, Smokebush, Ladies Mantle, Alchemilla mollis
The drought of last year made a humbler gardener out of me—and taught me a new appreciation of rainy days. After watching my plants suffer despite my best efforts to keep them watered, I dare not complain about the abundance of rain this year. I’ll just focus on the lush jungle beauty of plants sparkling on a rainy day.