A Gardening Journal

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.

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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

Fabulous in the Fall: Weeping Dwarf Siberian Elm

Gardens are the result of countless choices made day by day and decade by decade. Which plants? How to handle them? What layout of beds, pathways, and grass? When to switch to Plans B, C, and D?


The weeping habit of this dwarf Siberian elm is so intense that I couldn't resist the project of growing it long-term in a container. Not this cracked black nursery pot, mind you. Nor would the ultimate habit be the current weeping-just-on-this-side one.

Ulmus pumila Dwarf Weeper overall 120316 320

What with brittle wood and insect-ruined foliage, Siberian elms are bad actors when planted as street trees and windbreaks. No one should plant their full-sized forms and, to my knowledge, there are none locally. So perhaps a crazy little potted specimen could escape the bugs, while showcasing the quirky features. Many choices will be made along the way.

Read more: Fabulous in the Fall: Weeping Dwarf Siberian Elm

Fabulous in the Fall: Variegated Shrub-Mint

Fall foliage is so much the province of woody plants that we're shocked—shocked!—that there are even a few slaggards. Perennials are the yin to this yang: only a few provide a credible show of fall foliage. Below, a vivid mash-up of prairie dock (the huge still-green leaves) and variegated shrub-mint. Spring and summer, the leaves of the latter were green splashed with white. For fall, most of that green has been ditched for pink and dark purple that would make any coleus proud.

Silphium terebinthenaceum Leucosceptrum japonicum Mountain Madness 101716 320

Even as this perennial's foliage shouts that fall is here, its spikes of fluffy white flowers continue to develop, seemingly, in merry defiance. Like the prairie dock leaves, the shrub-mint flowers remain center stage regardless of merely cool weather; only serious frost brings their curtains down.

Read more: Fabulous in the Fall: Variegated Shrub-Mint

Gold-leaved Pheasant Berry

Leycesteria formosa has always been a bit of a taunt for we gardeners where the plant isn't reliably hardy. In winter, the green stems are supposed to be leafless, but bamboo-like. In September and October, graceful pendulous racemes of white flowers emerge from prominent burgundy bracts—and are succeeded in almost too a cooperative haste by round fruits the color, shine, and size of chocolate-covered raisins.


A cultivar whose new foliage was butter yellow has emerged, making the taunt too strong: I simply had to grow this shrub, and Golden Lanterns was the chosen form.

Leycesteria formosa Golden Lanterns flowers fingers 101016 320

Before attempting establishment directly in the garden, I wanted to enjoy this shrub as "conservatory" specimen by growing it year to year in a container that's overwintered in the greenhouse. This report is eighteen months and counting.

Read more: Gold-leaved Pheasant Berry

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