Persistent Perennials

Lychnis coronaria - Rose Campion @DBG LAH 033We had our first hard freeze over a month ago. Most of the deciduous plants and perennials in my yard are now dormant—some with dry brown leaves still attached, others with bare stems. But remarkably, not everything looks dead. In fact, a surprising number of plants still sport green foliage.

I’ve often chosen or rejected a plant for my garden based on when it leafs out in the spring. Too early and the tender new leaves are withered by a late snow. Too late, and half the season is gone before the yard looks complete. But I never considered the other end of the season—how long will the plant stay green before going to sleep for the winter?

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Rhus trilobata: A Winner by Any Name

Rhus trilobata_Three-leaf Sumac_DenverZoo_20091007_LAH_3355.nef

All summer, the shrub sat in the back corner of our yard, quietly filling the space between the fence and a dry creek bed. The olive-green leaves were a bit drab, but provided a nice, neutral backdrop for an adjacent Blue Mist Spirea (Caryopteris). The shrub had been a bit late to leaf out, and I was contemplating replacing it with something more interesting. I’m glad I waited. In the last few weeks, that inconspicuous shrub has suddenly become the star of the garden. Continue reading

Applauding Leadplant

Amorpha canescens_Leadplant_DBG_LAH_0251

Sometimes I think of leadplant (Amorpha canescens) as the ugly duckling of xeric shrubs. It’s just not appreciated. Consider this quote from the Missouri Botanic Gardens (MBG) webpage:

A somewhat ordinary looking, small shrub with an attractive bloom but otherwise with no particularly outstanding landscape features. Good plant for naturalizing in a native or wildflower garden, prairie or meadow.

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Fabulous Fernbush

Chamaebatiania millefolium - Fernbush_XG_20090720_LAH_7320From a distance, a blooming fernbush (Chamaebatiaria millefolium)  resembles a lovely white lilac bush, but no lilac would be in bloom at this time of year. Growing to seven feet high and wide, these shapely shrubs are covered in upright sprays of showy white flowers from June through August. Individual blossoms are reminiscent of single roses, and attract bees and butterflies. Come autumn, the flowers are replaced by russet seed heads.

A closer inspection reveals reddish peeling bark and the aromatic, finely dissected leaves that give Fernbush its common name. Even in our cold climate, these leaves stay on the bush for most of the year; branches are bare for a mere three to four months each winter. Fall foliage is an attractive copper color.

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Planting a Tree

Improper staking_LAH_5226How do you plant a new tree? Most people know to dig a hole “twice as wide and deep as the root ball” (according to the label I found hanging from the branches), then stick in the tree, making sure the roots are well buried. Amend the backfill with plenty of compost, pile it over the roots and tamp it down firmly. Finally, securely stake the thin trunk so it won’t wiggle in the wind. Right?

Wrong!

This advice was being questioned as far back as 1980, but it is still widely practiced, much to the detriment of the poor plants.

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Pretty, Pretty Coralberry

Symphoricarpos x doorenbosii 'Kordes' Amethyst_Coralberry_DBG_LAH_3100fLots of plants have pretty flowers or showy berries, are drought tolerant, handle clay soil, take full sun or part shade, or tolerate deer browsing on them. But how many plants have all these qualities? Coralberries are clear winners when it comes to choosing plants for our gardens. In fact, the only drawback comes when we try to pronounce their scientific name: Symphoricarpos orbiculatus!

If you’re into plants, you might recognize the genus. Symphoricarpos also includes Snowberries, S. albus, and the plants are fairly similar.

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Sweet, Sweet Honeysuckles

I sat me down to watch upon a bank
With ivy canopied and interwove
With flaunting honeysuckle. (John Milton)

Lonicera sempervirens_Honeysuckle_DBG_LAH_6903Mention honeysuckle, and we think of green hedgerows, sultry summer days, and childhoods spent picking the flowers and putting them in our mouths to suck out the sweet nectar. There are around 180 species in the genus Lonicera. Fast growing and tolerant of inhospitable conditions, honeysuckles have much to recommend them. Many are valuable landscape plants able to withstand Colorado’s challenging conditions while presenting us with beautiful flowers and berries adored by birds.

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