A Gardening Journal


Must Have: 'Gold Standard' Scholar Tree

Gardening would be intolerable without the certainties: Plant this, and it will thrive. Prune that, and it will become bushier. But a garden of only certainties would be a bore—while a garden of only surprises would be a nightmare. It's the balance of the two that rings the bells the best.

Styphnolobium japonicum Gold Standard limb National Arboretum 122616 320

Hooray for plants, such as this gold-stemmed scholar tree, that provide both certainty and surprise.

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Must Have: Wintersweet

For humans, December is a peak month for parties. It's the depth of dormancy for most plants hardy to zone 6 and colder but, for a few contrarians, the season's short days and sharp winds are encouraging: December is their month to party, too.

Chimonanthus praecox National Arboretum flowers fingers 122616 320

Here's a stem of a Chinese shrub known in the West as wintersweet. The flowers and buds may look pale and scattered, but no matter: this plant's December celebration is about fragrance, not appearance. Spicy and sweet, to me the wafting perfume recalls carrot cake smothered in cream-cheese frosting.

Wintersweet won't debut in my own gardens until 2017; this picture is one of several lusty specimens in flower by Christmas at The National Arboretum in Washington, DC. What have I been waiting for?

Read more: Must Have: Wintersweet


Fabulous in the Fall: Teton Pyracantha

Pyracantha fruits are profuse and durable. And they're at their best all fall, while so many other plants slide into winter dullness. Fruits of this Teton cultivar are unusually pale; although some cultivars have yellow fruits, most are deep orange or veering to red.

Pyracantha x Teton pomes fingers 121516 320

The shrub itself is a mixed blessing, being fast-growing, less hardy than you'd like, and requiring pruning—but with vicious thorns that punish any lack of concentration in the process. Every pyracantha is fertilized, if only minutely, by the blood of its human caretaker. But for those fruits—and the many ways the shrub can be trained—this shrub is worth it.

Read more: Fabulous in the Fall: Teton Pyracantha


Fabulous in the Fall: Coral Sun Koelreuteria

Even the straight species of Koelreuteria paniculata is unique: it's the only hardy summer-flowering tree whose blossoms are butter yellow, not white. Below-left is its Coral Sun cultivar, which does everything but flower. Given the spectacular show the flowers of the species make, it's incredible indeed to suggest that with Coral Sun, you won't miss them. 

Koelreuteria paniculata Coral Sun Canna Wyoming Galphemia gracilis closer 101616 320

Coral Sun provides eye-popping and complex displays each season of the year, involving separate shows of the leaf blades and their petioles, as well as the bark of its young stems. Compared to such dextrous versatility, mere flowers would be so obvious. Here, then, the first of many looks at this remarkable tree.

Read more: Fabulous in the Fall: Coral Sun Koelreuteria


Fabulous in the Fall: Frosted 'Rock Garden' Holly

Plants differ in their ability to display frost, snow, and ice instead of just being battered, broken, or buried by them. One sunny morning after a recent and sharply cold night, just the edges of the leaves of this dwarf holly were encrusted with dense ice crystals. For a few hours until the sun's warmth melted it, the frost brought spectacular white variegation to the foliage of a shrub that's normally solid green.

Ilex x Rock Garden close up 120616 320

Why is there frost just on the leaf edges? And why frost at all, not solid ice? Details of the plant, its place, and the weather determine the particulars of the show. This time, the synergy was toward the aesthetic. Hooray!

Read more: Fabulous in the Fall: Frosted 'Rock Garden' Holly

 
 
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