Trees and shrubs can be the stars of your garden. Or mistakes that live on for years.
TREES AND SHRUBS grow up to form the architecture of the garden, so are best selected with care. No other category of plant is as permanent, long-lived and thoroughly satisfying — that is, if you choose ones well-suited for your garden’s specific conditions.
But no point in pretending this is a totally rational process. The truth is that most gardeners fall in love with certain woody plants. I worship hydrangeas and maples. And daphnes and tree peonies. But most of us don’t have room to grow nearly as many as we’d like. So select wisely; some very tempting new possibilities are arriving in nurseries this spring.
Truly dwarf conifers are a low-maintenance dream, because they never need pruning, look good year-round and are drought-tolerant. Add showy yellow needles that mellow to gold, and a useful pyramid shape, and you have the new Picea orientalis ‘Firefly’ from Oregon grower Iseli Nursery. This compact little fir grows only 3 to 6 inches per year before topping out at 6 feet after 15 to 20 years.
A new hybrid maple — a cross between Korean and Japanese species — is a unique cold-hardy hybrid. But what really distinguishes Acer pseudosieboldianum ‘North Wind’ in our temperate climate is its three-season splendor. The leaves open pure red, and while they age to green in summer, the foliage continues to flush out red for a mix of colors. Then as the weather cools, the leaves blaze scarlet and orange. ‘North Wind’ is a quick grower, topping out around 20 feet high.
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Here’s the hit-of-the-season shrub, the plant that those lucky enough to score one will be showing off to anyone even walking past their garden. Fatsia ‘Camouflage’ is newly introduced this spring as part of Monrovia’s Dan Hinkley collection, and it’s a stunner. Fatsias are useful plants because they’re evergreen and shade-loving with dramatic foliage that is shaped and sized like a giant splayed hand. But ‘Camouflage’, with leaves that can stretch 10 inches across, offers remarkable coloration. Each leaf is patterned in shades from jade to lime, with variegation so precise it appears as if someone painstakingly painted each one. Plant this as a focal point in shady borders or large containers. It grows 6 feet tall and 5 feet wide and looks tropical but is hardy to zone 7.
I’d never heard of Diervillas, a new deciduous shrub touted as drought-tolerant and deer-resistant. The common name is “bush honeysuckle,” but it’s not really a lonicera, and doesn’t spread about as invasively as honeysuckles often do. Diervilla rivularis ‘Kodiak Orange’ has yellow flowers through the summer. The foliage comes on coppery-orange, turns green in summer, then blazes bright orange in autumn. Plant it alongside its ebony-leafed cousin Diervilla rivularis ‘Kodiak Black’ for lively foliage contrast. This plant’s purple-black leaves show off the yellow summer flowers, and turn vivid red in autumn. Both kinds grow 3 to 4 feet high; attract bees, butterflies and hummingbirds; and can take sun or shade, even thriving in dry shade.
If you can get past the name Hydrangea ‘Zinfin Doll’, this new smaller-scale paniculata-type hydrangea is beautiful. It blooms early and continues to flower for three months, with large flower heads that start out white. As the blossoms age, they morph pink, the color moving up from the base to the tip, with gradations of peppermint shades along the way.
What will they think of next?