February 26, 2011

Three shrubs for all seasons

The term “winter interest” intrigues me. Frankly, I have no interest in winter at this point, and neither do most people who read blogs at this time of year. But there is some truth and wisdom in selecting plants, trees, and shrubs that display well in all seasons, particularly in northern climates with short growing seasons.

Three shrubs that offer multi-season visual appeal in my garden are:

1. Hydrangea (Hydrangea L.). Some varieties of Hydrangea bloom only on the previous year’s growth, some bloom only on new growth, and others bloom on both. The shrubs I have bloom on both.

In spring, Hydrangeas form new shoots, and buds open on old shoots. The leaves unfurl in late spring and grow to approximately three-by-four inches. The flowers follow, starting as small, compact flower heads which burst into large, colorful mopheads during the summer.

Hydrangeas hold their flowers throughout the summer. The two shrubs I have produce pink, lavender, and blue flowers depending on the PH of the soil. In recent years, I haven’t added anything to the soil to change the color, so they tend to produce pink to lavender flowers. In fall, the leaves are tinged with pink and yellow hues.

I clip some flowers for arrangements during the summer and leave some on the shrubs until late fall, when I clip the remaining flowers and trim the shrubs before winter. The dried flowers can be enjoyed all winter. I took this photo today of a dried Hydrangea sprig that has decorated my powder room all winter.

2. Lilac (Syringa l.). This shrub supplies the most pleasant scent in my garden. The peak of its blossoms and pungency hits right about the time I’m planting my vegetable and annual flower gardens in late May. Just thinking about the scent makes me smile.

Though the Lilac's blooming time is short (one to two weeks), its leaves maintain a lovely bright green hue throughout the summer. In fall, like the Hydrangea leaves, Lilac leaves become variegated with pinks, yellows, and various shades of green. Lilacs don’t hold much winter interest, but some lingering leaves hint at the previous year’s growth.

3. Burning Bush (Euonymus alatus). Burning Bush takes the prize as the most dramatic four-season shrub in my garden. In spring, the leaves provide a lush backdrop to other more showy plants. Throughout the summer, the leaves slowly tinge with color, peaking in a bright magenta/fuschia color that is hard to describe or classify—arguably the most eye-popping autumn color in my garden.

In winter, berries remain on the shrubs until birds finish their feast.

Soon, these beauties will turn the corner on “winter interest” and begin their more dramatic displays of color. (Click on any images to view larger in a new window.)

Burning Bush with Redbud in foreground.

February 22, 2011

Ode to the Hyacinth

I was feeling a touch of the late-winter blahs on my drive to work this morning. When I arrived, this lovely specimen was waiting on my desk.

An unexpected and greatly appreciated gift from my dear friend and gardening mentor, Elaine! Her timing is always impeccable. We have great discussions about plants and gardening tips. This morning, we discussed the fascinating parts of the forced bulb.

The foliage and flower, the parts we usually focus on…

The bulb, which takes on a rich purple hue photographed against a black backdrop…

And the extensive root system, which we don’t see when the Hyacinth is planted in the soil…

What pure joy to observe all parts of the plant while witnessing the slow unfurling of the flower!

Elaine said she has forced bulbs for other friends this year and they are a bit leggy. A little research suggested they may need more light or cooler temperatures. Any other ideas?

February 17, 2011

Evergreen groundcovers and a special award

I had good intentions. The days are longer, the snow is melting, and I thought maybe, just maybe, I could get home from work in time to capture shots of emerging perennials. Two errands later, and after wading through lingering snow and muddy muck, I didn’t have the heart to remove the Oak leaf mulch protecting tender perennial shoots from the elements.

But, as fog and darkness descended on the garden, I did notice three amazingly hardy evergreen groundcovers seemingly unaffected by the harsh receding winter.

Euonymus fortunei

Lamium maculatum

Pachysandra terminalis

I know other perennials will soon poke through, but for now I’m appreciating the evergreens that make their appearance as soon as the great winter blanket lifts away.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

On another note, I’m deeply honored to receive the Stylish Blogger Award from Rosie at My Garden Haven, Karin at Southern Meadows, and Lily at The Suburban Gardener. Thanks, Stylish Bloggers!

In accepting this award, I must:
1. Link back to the person who gave me the award.
2. Share seven random things about myself.
3. Award 15 recently discovered bloggers.
4. Drop them a note and tell them about it.

While I’m a fan of many blogs and bloggers, I’m trying to stick to the rules by selecting new blogs (I think these are all newish blogs). This list does not include all of my favorites, but these folks are definitely worth visiting:

OK, finally seven random things about me:

1. I have two cats (Ginger and Oreo), who drive me crazy, but they’re so cute:

2. Most of my recent ancestors were farmers. I’ve been a “townie” my entire life, but dirt-digging is in my genes.

3. I’m not a fan of long winters. Why do I live in Wisconsin? Family and friends…and lots of time to read great books.

4. I’ve gardened in patio pots, large sunny plots, and dappled sunny spots. The most challenging gardening for me is deep shade.

5. My ideal day: temps in the low 80s, floating on a clear lake, soaking up the summer sun, one cold beer, and a dish of ice cream.

6. I have two amazing kids: a son in college and a daughter who will graduate from high school this spring. I will need Kleenex.

7. My best friend is my dear husband of nearly 27 years. I know I can always count on his support.

February 12, 2011

My imaginary spring bouquet

Since I won’t have fresh-cut garden flowers until late April or May, it’s time to assemble an imaginary bouquet.

1. I’ll start with line flowers and branches, which add height and width to the arrangement. Lupines and a few sprigs of Flowering Almond should do the trick.

2. Next, I’ll add the mass flowers—the focal points of the bouquet. Irises, Peonies, and a few dangles of Bleeding Heart will serve this purpose.

3. Finally, I’ll add filler flowers to fill in the spaces. I think I have some imaginary fresh Lilacs and Mock Orange on hand.

It’s an impressive bouquet in my mind, but I can't really see it. So, maybe I’ll head over to Pat’s Web Graphics to make myself a virtual bouquet. It’s still not the real thing, but it’s a fun way to pass a little time on a cold February evening.

February 07, 2011

Plant of the month: Hellebore

Plants, like people, enter our lives in stages. Some are with us seemingly from the beginning. For me, Peonies, Roses, Pansies, and Lilacs are intertwined with memories of caring relatives who watched over me as a child.

Other plants appear at later stages and become like dear friends so quickly that we find it hard to believe we didn’t know them earlier. The Hellebore (Helleborus L.) is such a plant for me.

I can’t even explain exactly what attracts me to Hellebores. Many factors add to the allure, including that:

  • Rabbits don’t like Hellebores (see previous post, A story about Peter Rabbit);
  • They bloom in early spring—in my garden, just after the Crocuses;
  • They’re perennials that grow well in a shady (but not too shady) garden; and
  • They’re very hardy and easy-care plants that established quickly.

But I think the main reason Hellebores are a personal favorite is just because of the unique form and color of the plants themselves. New growth emerges from the center of the previous year’s arching foliage, which can be cut back as the new plants unfurl. The buds are fascinating even before the flowers fully bloom—pointing downward from the tops of their stems.

The flowers vary in color (purple, red, near black, white, green, pink, and yellow) and pattern (solid, speckled, variegated). As the flowers age, many become more green-tinged.

I found a spot for my Hellebores that appears to suit them perfectly—at the base of a stone wall, interplanted with Hostas, Roses, Lily-of-the-Valley, and Daffodils. The Daffodils and Hellebores take center stage first, followed by Lily-of-the-Valley, and then Roses and Hostas. And the foliage of these plants is complementary.

Several fellow garden bloggers have recently posted excellent photos and information about Hellebores. Among them:

    Obviously, Hellebores aren’t currently blooming in my Wisconsin garden, which is covered with two feet of snow. But they are emerging quite readily throughout the northern hemisphere, and will continue to do so from south to north, and from now until late May.

    I can't wait to see these new "old friends" again!

    February 02, 2011

    Wordless Wednesday: Megadrifts!

    Snow day!

    Shall I open the door?

    Here we go...

    No cookout today!

    The bowl effect.

    Poor Sumac.

    Rabbits still feel welcome on the front walk.

    Close to the front porch the snow is lovely.

    Good day to stay inside looking out.