Saturday, December 29, 2012

Damn good plants - Red twig Dogwoods, Part two

Part Two - Red-Osier Dogwood

Basket - Flickr, Marche Gluharche
The Red-Osier dogwood, Cornus sericea (syn. C.stolonifera) is North America's native answer to the Siberian Tatarian dogwood, Cornus alba.   Found growing from Alaska and east to Newfoundland, in any moist location.  The common name originated from its use in basket weaving and wicker work, where it was referred to as a red willow.  Willows are often called 'Osier's' and the name has become interchangeable between both dogwoods and willows.

The Red-Osier was prized amongst many native American Indian tribes for its use in an array of different purposes. The inner bark was processed and dried for mixing with tobacco in scared pipe ceremonies. It is said to have a mild, pleasing smoke that is not addictive like tobacco or causes any mood changes.  The Potawatomi people who live in the upper Mississippi river region, used the stems to make dream catchers and once used the feathered ends of its twigs as toothbrushes.  Just like the Tatarian dogwood, bows and arrows were popularly fashioned from its long, straight stems.

Apart from weaving, weaponry and dental hygiene,  red-osiers were also used for their medicinal benefits.  Infusions were made from the bark and used as an anti-diarrhea tonic by the Chippewa and Potawatomi tribes.  Shuswap's Indians also created antidotes for weak kidneys and pediatric tonics for children who wet the bed.  The Chippewa people used red-osier dogwood bark to make an infusion to ease blistering caused by poison ivy, one I need to look into.

Natural stand growing along a creek- Flickr, Meg Williams

People aside, wildlife also prize red-osiers for more than just cover to hide in.  The berries ripen in late summer and may persist on the plants well into winter.  The list of birds known to seek out the berries too long to go into any detail but I have included a link at the end of this post for more reading.  The twigs and foliage are valued for nourishment by our four footed gardening friends , much to the disdain of any gardener, unless your goal is to attract wildlife.  This includes many american iconic animals that include, black bear, beaver, raccoon's  skunks and of course deer!  For some other lucky gardeners you can also include elk, mountain goat and the mother of all foragers, the moose.  Do not despair, red-osiers are able to overcome heavy browsing and bounce back quickly to its former glory.

'Arctic Fire' - Proven Winners
However, the reason for this post is to highlight its great value as a garden shrub and many fine varieties have been selected for their ornamental characteristics.  Just like the Tatarian dogwood, it doesn't favor heat or humidity of the south, but instead prefers colder locations more to the north.  Those of us who live in zone 7 should be good but any further south could be problematic.

Below is a list of varieties that have found there way into the garden center and succeed well..  As you'll see, there just as diverse as the last group, offering many different choices for the landscape.

'Arctic Fire', (Farrow)  is a compact dwarf, non suckering form that makes it ideal for smaller gardens.    Unlike most red-osiers that can grow to 8 ft, this one will stay around 3-4 ft.  The dark ruby red stems glow all winter, providing a welcome treat after other plants have faded out.  In spring, fresh green growth covers the stems and allows emerging perennials to use its form as a backdrop.

'Cardinal' - Flickr, Glossaria
‘Cardinal’ by far is one of my favorite variety on the market.  The stems ignited the winter landscape with its fiery red coloration, but in southern locations the stems can take on a yellow to orange tone giving them the appearance of a blood twig dogwood.  The dark green foliage also turns a rich purple-red in fall, alerting people to its presence before revealing its grand show.  Somewhat more disease resistant then others, this variety can grow tall to 8 ft, but manageable with pruning.

'Isanti' is a good, reliable, compact grower to 5 ft with a neat and full habit.  Its growth fully covers the stems all the way to the ground so doesn't need landscaping in front to hide of its naked ankles like other shrubs.  This makes a good choice for screening or hedging.  Its main use is in reclamation work, where its fibrous roots and spreading habit is good for retaining soil on highway embankments in the north. Not a glamorous job description  but nevertheless a beauty when seen in mass, naturalized on the side of the highways or our own backyards.

'Kelseyi' - Thetreefarm.com
'Kelseyi' was until recently, one that I always skipped over, favoring other dwarf types instead.  However, this year I ordered some in for a customer and was smitten by its character.  Now firmly on my wishlist of my own garden for 2013.  Its small and compact (2-3 ft) habit makes it s good choice for mixing in the front of borders, tucking it in with perennials.  During the winter, when the perennials go dormant and disappear into the ground, 'Kelseyi' will carry the show with its bright red stems until spring thaw awakes the garden again.

'Silver and Gold' is a variegated sport from the yellow twigged 'Flaviramea'.  Originating from the famous gardens of Delaware's Mt. Cuba, this variety showed better adaptability to heat and humidity of the mid-Atlantic region.  The bold creamy white leaf margins stand out in summer, but is replace in the fall by striking lime-green to yellowed stems.  The variegation is similar to C.alba 'Elegantissima' or 'Ivory Halo' as discussed in the previous post, making a good choice for those looking to combine red and yellow stemmed dogwoods.

Cultivation of Red-osiers is no different to that discussed before with Tatarian dogwoods.  Both types need to be reduced periodically to regenerate young growth that contain the best color.  Spread can be controlled by cutting back suckers or root pruning with a spade to prevent the spreading, stoloniferous shoots.  Though tough as old nails in the landscape, some disease issues can be problematic here in the south.  For me, a common problem is bacterial leaf spot and stem blight.  Making sure they have good air movement around the plant in summer and preventing irrigation systems from getting the foliage frequently wet will largely reduce the disease risks.  Thinning out the old and congested growth will improve air circulation as well as regenerating the plant again.  As always, prevention of fungal or disease attacks is better than treating once you contract it.  Spraying after the fact will only help prevent the spread onto new growth and not necessary turn around infected areas.

In the last part of this three part series we'll delve into one of the most striking types in the winter, the bloodtwig dogwoods.  So until then, I hope that you've been bitten by the allure of dogwoods to the point of planting one for yourself.

For more on Red-osiers click here: plants.usda.gov/plantguide

Part One - Tatarian dogwoods
Part Three - Bloodtwig dogwoods

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Damn Good Plants - Red twig Dogwoods, Part One

Part One - Tatarian Dogwoods

Nakedness is something you don't often think of when gardening.  Not that I'm advocating naked gardening, time is cruel, and my mental image of myself is far from reality.  Instead, I'm talking about the beauty uncovered when plants shed there robes of foliage, as in the case of red twig dogwoods.  At this time of year, Red twig dogwoods morph from a fairly unassuming shrub into a thing of wonder as their foliage drops to show off their fiery red stems.  No longer a background shrub, it comes out of its cocoon to grab the attention of the observer, changing a dull winter into a festival of color.

Berries - Flickr, Webeyer
There are three types of dogwoods known for their show of vivid colored stems during the winter.  Cornus alba, the tatarian or siberian dogwood, Cornus serica, the redosier dogwood and Cornus sanguinea, the blood twig dogwood.  The first two are fairly similar in growth and can be hard to distinguish apart when viewed by the average eye.  Even for myself, the differences are so slight that I don't concern myself with the technical side but instead focus in on the aesthetics of what it can provide. The blood twigs on the other hand are quite striking and fairly easy to identify.  Each group has its benefits, and in the interest of doing justice to each, I've broken the post into three parts so we can discuss them fully.

The tartarian dogwood can be found from Siberia, down to northern China and into Korea, growing on moist, boggy locations.  The common name 'Tatarian', is from of the ethnic group, Tatar, that live in the same area where this dogwood is common.  The first plants to be grown outside of their range were recorded being sent to  the Chelsea Physic Gardens in 1741, but was never admitted into the garden on account of its rampant spreading behavior   However smaller, well mannered varieties were produced from that first introduction that did make it into western gardens.

Stooled shoots - Flickr, Basswulf

Historically, the stems of this dogwood have long since been used in weaponry with arrow shafts found dating back to the Mesolithic period.  Its wood is extremely hard and has also been used for making cooking skewers and pipes to name but a few.  Some reports also refer to its use in gunpowder.  Charcoal, base ingredient  made from dogwood stems is considered the best for small-arms powders.  Dogwood charcoal was found to burn more rapidly than other woods, producing a stronger explosive to propel a round. Production of wood for charcoal processing could be done annually in a process called 'stooling' or 'coppicing' , where stems are cut down to its base in late winter.  The plant would then regenerated its growth and be ready for harvest the following year, something that is impossible to do with tree type dogwoods.

Below is a list of the varieties that I have seen come through the garden center during my time here.  As you will see, the Siberian dogwood comes in many different forms making the selection process harder when deciding which one to use in your garden.

'Argento-marginata' - Flickr, KarlGercens.com
'Argento-marginata' or also known more commonly as 'Elegantissima', is one of the most popular variegated forms in the market.  The cream white margin on the pointed leaf makes for an attractive show during the summer months.  It is a large specimen, growing upto 6-7 ft but less vigorous than the species.  Like others within the group this is very controllable with pruning   Fall color has a rosey red to add to its already interesting variegation but after leaf drop the vibrant red stem shine all winter long.

'Ivory Halo' (Bailhalo) is a more compact and densely branched form than the one mentioned above, to come out of Bailey's Nursery in Minnesota.    Making it a top pick for a smaller garden, this cultivar has become the one of choice for both landscapers and homeowners alike.  Apart from the reduced height, all other traits are the same as 'Elegantissima'

'Buds Yellow' - Flickr, tobchasinglight
'Buds Yellow', not as widely used as the variegated form, 'Buds Yellow' offers yellow stems instead of the normal red seen in the species.  Considered far more superior to our own canker disease prone C.sericea 'Flaviramea', this yellow form shows well when highlighted against snowy ground.  When combined with red stemmed dogwoods, the effect in the winter garden can be very dramatic.







'Aurea' - Flickr, CiaranBurkeGardenPic
'Aurea' and 'Prairie Fire' appears to be one of the same, both displaying a solid golden leaf.  By summer, the color softens to a lighter yellow on the outer branches, but more chartreuse green towards the interior.  Fall color fires up to a brilliant red before shedding.  The stem color is a rich flaming orange-red in winter.  With a range of attributes it's easy to see how versatile this variety is in the garden.

'Red Gnome' (Regnzam) is an extremely compact and low growing form (3 to 4 ft high, 4 to 5ft wide) suitable for any garden.  The slender green leaves turn a deep ruby red during the fall and give way to slender, upright red stems in winter.  Its height and compact habit makes it useful for hedging.

'Sibirica' - Flickr, Brianpettinger
'Sibirica' is a confused type, often being found named 'Westonbirt' or even as a different species called C.atrosanguinea.  Either way this is still the most popular red stemmed type in production today.  Foliage during the summer is a straight green and displays good fall coloration.  For anyone considering mixing yellow twigs with a red type, this would be the one to use as foliage color is the same.  The coral red stems appear to be more upright and the berries are blueish instead of the normal white, common for the rest of this group, which may of lead to the confusion over its naming.


The Siberian dogwood is somewhat an easy growing plant that doesn't require anything special to prosper.  It will tolerate wet locations and periods of drought once established and can take sun to partial shade.  Young stems produce the best color, so in early spring cut back 1/3 of its growth within 6 to 12" of the ground to encourage new growth.  These stems will shine the brightest in the landscape over the following winter until the next 1/3 to reduced back and allowed to regenerate.

In part two, we'll take a close look at our own red twig dogwoods and highlight some of the top varieties that have emerged from that group.  I hope I have intrigued you to stick around to see why a dogwoods bark can really lead to a bite!

Part Two - Red osier dogwoods
Part Three - Bloodtwig dogwoods

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Damn Good Plants - Mahonia x media 'Winters Sun'

For us at the garden center, Thanksgiving marks the end of the garden shopping calender.  The customers switch gears from working outside in the garden to hanging swags and trimming the Christmas tree. But, for a few who venture out into the quiet shrub sales area, you'll be greeted by the blooming event of Mahonia's.

Often overlooked during the growing season, mainly because of its prickly holly like leaves, Mahonia's put on a show of bright sulfur yellow flowers that sprays out like water from a fountain.  Though missed by fair weather gardeners, die hard types still looking for horticultural fix, get to benefit from this explosion of color.  While the blooming season is magnificent, its habit and display of whorled frond-like foliage, makes for a year round, stately statuesque presence in any garden.

The Mahonia family contains about 70 species often found in woodlands from the Himalayas, to East and Central Asia and into the America's.  Commonly referred to as Grape Hollies, the blue-black semi-edible berries hang in clusters after flowering.  Related to Barberries, Mahonia's have a bright yellow inner bark that contains an alkaloid called Berberine, which is responsible for the color.  The colorant has long been used to dye clothing, wool and leather but is now being studied for its potential medicinal use in reducing cancer growths, lowering cholesterol and over coming insulin resistance.

Mahonia x media (media - meaning middle, or between, referring to the mix of two parents) was a result of a accidental cross between Mahonia japonica and Mahonia lomariifolia that occurred naturally.  Slieve Donard Nursery in Co. Down, Ireland was the birthplace of Mahonia x media, starting in 1952 with the discovery of seedlings showing slight foliage variations.  Six of the seedlings were selected for planting by Sir Eric Savill, who at the time was Director of Forestry to the crown estate of Windsor Great Parks, in England.  When these seedlings began to flower in 1957 it became evident that they were different from what the parent plants were.  The first seedling to make it to market was named 'Charity',and can still be found to this day at Savill Gardens.

'Winters Sun' came from the same linage as 'Charity' and became registered in 1966 after it showed a greater dense, compact growing habit when compared to others in the 'x media' group.  The bright yellow flowers also have a better fragrance, an added benefit for any early winter garden.   I have seen 'Winters Sun' flourishing in an unprotected, full sun location with little sign of stress, provided it has good access to moisture during the hot summer months.  However, all Mahonia's would favor the filtered sun of a cool, woodland garden.  Once established, they can tolerate drought for an extended period with little consequence.   In my garden, it has proved successful in deterring kids from jumping the fence looking for a short-cut around the neighborhood.   Apart from that, it also works well on deer that also dislike it presence.  Growing to a large 8 to 10 ft vase shaped form, it requires little pruning, though some stems can be reduced back after flowering to encourage a shorter, bushy habit.

I have read some comments about Mahonia's needs to cross-pollinate to produce berries, though doesn't seem to be mentioned enough to draw a strong conclusion.  It would still be advisable to include another specimen of its own species or one of a compatible species to ensure berry set.  One reference I read highly recommended our own native Oregon Grape Holly, Mahonia aquifolium, a beautiful, lower growing species, as a suitable partner for Mahonia x media.

Both 'Charity' and 'Winters Sun' are guaranteed to provide season round interest.  Their architectural presence and explosion of color will anchor them as a focal point from which to design other combinations from.  While it's not a shrub that will hug you back should you have the urge to show it some affection, it will grow into a loyal work horse of the garden, commanding respect while extending the season of interest, well into early winter.






Thursday, November 29, 2012

Damn Good plants, Berrying Viburnums - Part 2

Part 2 - Exotic Treasures

In Part 1, we took a look at some of our native berrying Viburnums and highlighted a few cultivars that stood out from the crowd.  In Part 2 of this mini series of posts, I'll delve into the non-native Viburnums that have found homes in our gardens.

I should mention at this point that some of these introduced types are considered invasive in various parts of the country.  While I'm not opposed to using non-natives, and have many in my garden, this is a highly debated issue.  Like anything that produces heavy quantities of berries, you have the chance of the seeds being broadcast over a wide area by birds that consume the fruit as part of their diets.  Though the potential for the plant to have invasive tendencies is there, the environmental conditions have to be just right for a population to explode.  This situation can vary geographically, but as gardeners, we need to be responsible with our selections to make sure that there isn't a concern over it in your area.

However, part of the attraction of gardening is that we can grow plants from many different parts of the world in our own back yard.  A trip to a well supplied garden center is like a walk around a virtual global bizarre, with many curiosities never before seen.  I personally like the fact many of my own plantings aren't what you'll see in other gardens or mainstream nurseries but this can pose some risk without proper knowledge.

Viburnum davidii

Viburnum davidii - David Viburnum


The David Viburnum was discovered in western China by Jean Pierre Armand David, during the period of 1862-1874 and named to honor the Christian missionary.  It is a popular evergreen that stays at a manageable, compact mounding size (4 ft x 4 ft).  The large leathery leaves have three distinct deep veins that run a long the length of the leaf, radiating  from  the noticeably red leaf stalk.  Small, white flowers give way to bright metallic blue berries in October, unlike anything seen before in the Viburnum group.  Confusion surrounds this species regarding the pollination to set berries.  Unfortunately, no one knows for sure and opinions are divided.  I'm of the belief that planting more than one you should get berry set.  However, many authorities believe that a male is needed to ensure berries are produced on the female.  I have yet to see male clones being offered or coming in labeled as so.  The only time to know for sure if it's male or female is to buy them at fruiting time and hope for the best.  Rather than getting stuck in the middle of the debate, check out this post from Cheryll Kinsley, Washington State University, 'viburnum revisited'.  You'll see how confusing the whole issue is.

Viburnum dilatatum - Linden Viburnum


This Asian introduced ornamental was brought into western gardens in the early 1800s, probably from the Swedish botanist, Carl Peter Thunberg. Thunberg was appointed chief surgeon to a Dutch trading post in Japan, but was stationed on a small island as movement of foreigners on the mainland was forbidden. However, he managed to trade his knowledge of European medicines with Japanese interpreters in exchange for plant materials. In 1776 he was finally allowed to accompany the director of the Dutch settlement to visit the Shogun of Edo (modern Tokyo). On route he was able to make significant collections within Japan, the first by any European. In Japan this plant is referred to Gamazumi, but common names include the Japanese Cranberry bush and Japanese Arrowwood, the same as our own Viburnum. In some ways they're all brothers from different mothers. The long straight shoots have been used to make arrow shafts while older, thicker branches are make into handles for tools. Berries are not edible but can be processed into jellies or made into a liquor. Birds don't favor the berries as much which allows them to retain fruits for longer periods. The two varieties that are commonly available in our area is 'Cardinal Candy' and 'Michael Dodge'.
Viburnum 'Cardinal Candy'


'Cardinal Candy' is another excellent from the Proven Winners line-up of plants. It was selected for its improved hardiness when compared to other V.dilatatum types for northern gardens. The bright red clusters of berries make for a stunning display in fall but in spring it is valued for its abundant white flowers that can measure 5 inches across. Its big attraction is that it doesn't require another V.dilatatum variety nearby to set fruit and will happily self pollinate. Also, it mature size of 5-6 foot, high and wide, makes it very desirable for most gardens, where it won't swallow up the whole yard.

Viburnum 'Michael Dodge'
'Michael Dodge' is another splendid introduction that originated out of Winterthur Gardens in Delaware, Maryland. Named in honor of the breeder who made the cross between two different types of Linden Viburnums, to produce a yellow berried version. Most Lindens only bear red berries so a yellow version is highly desirable. You won't find to many other plants with yellow berries! It can get large over time, up to 8-10 ft in height, and will need another Linden Viburnum to enable it to set fruit. However, its worth in the fall landscape, dripping in an abundance of glowing yellow berries, out weighs any negative points against it.

Viburnum setigerum - Tea Viburnum


The common name is a reflection of its use as a medicinal sweet tea made by Monks on Mount Omei, China. It was introduced by the great plant collector, Ernest Wilson in 1901, who I've mentioned in past posts, but who also was responsible for bringing the David Viburnum into cultivation.  The shrub matures to a multi-stemmed upright vase habit, reaching 8 to 10 ft height and spreading to a narrower 6 to 8 ft width.  However, it does lack sufficient growth to cover the bottom third of its base, so you'll need to either landscape around it with plants that can mask its bareness, or trim it to accentuate its form as a small tree.  Despite this minor negative, the fruit display makes up for its short comings with and impressive abundance of orange to red berries that can be prolific at some times.  For its berries, the Tea Viburnum is one of my top picks for its fall display, and definitely commands attention when fruits appear in the fall.  I have not come across any named varieties of the Tea Viburnum, but I do know that one exists for a orange berried form called 'Aurantiacum'.  Still, why would someone want to mess with perfection anyway.

Tea Viburnum - From Flickr.com 'althea in il'

With such a diversity within the group, its easy to find a Viburnum that fit your needs and desires.  Mostly, Viburnums are selected for their flowers but their worth in the fall landscape is equally as important. Viburnums are tough, durable and adaptable, making them an idea shrub for difficult locations.  So, next time you're in the market for a shrub with colorful fruits, take a look at one of these, you'll be pleasantly surprised!

Don't forget to read the first part of this series @ Damn good plants - Berrying Viburnums part 1

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Damn Good plants, Berrying Viburnums - Part 1

Part One - Going Native


The fall's crowning event is undoubtedly the turning of foliage. Rich golds, warming oranges and brilliant reds light up our landscape like a roaring fire. However, once the foliage is gone berries take center stage and shine on, at least until the birds strip them off. The king of all berrying plants has to be the Hollies but, Viburnums have some of the greatest range of berry colors to choose from.

Popular for their adaptability, Viburnums can be planted in a range of different conditions, from full sun to shade, dry to periodically waterlogged. Within the 150 plus species and countless cultivars, some are evergreen, some carry a divine fragrance but for this post I wanted to highlight a few of those that stand out with an exceptional show of berries. Though many produce berries to varying degrees, the ones I've selected below have out-shined others to become my top picks. Due to the large number available to us in the trade, I've broken this list down into a two part series, this first post looking solely at North American natives. The next post will delve into non-native exotic's that are just as garden worthy!

Viburnum nudum - The Smooth Witherod or Possumhaw


Viburnum nudum 'Brandywine'
Maybe it's just the time of year, with business being slower, but the common name left me puzzling over the origin. The best I could find was that a 'Withe' (from old English) is a flexible twig, used in weaving, fence building etc. Possumhaw was more a puzzle, but 'haw' is an old English term for berries though I did find references to enclosures. Possibly, a possum was once seen eating the berries around the same time it was being named. Could it be that easy? This handsome shrub can be found growing in moist areas from Maine down to Florida and as far west as Texas. Though found in wet locations, it can tolerate droughts rather successfully. The foliage is exceptionally shiny, leading you to think it was sprayed with leaf shine to get that glossy.  The two cultivars I see most on the market are 'Winterthur' and 'Brandywine'. 

'Winterthur' was introduced from the Winterthur Gardens in Delaware, as an improved compact selection over the species, growing to 6 ft. The glossy green foliage is bright and fresh through the year but comes alive in the fall with reddish purple hues before dropping. The flattened umbrella of creamy white flowers are followed with white berries that turn hot pink, to red, then maturing to dark blue. 

'Brandywine' is very similar, though I have observed a much heavier berry set. Its desirable feature is that 'Brandywine' will set fruit without the need for another cultivar nearby to cross pollinate, a valuable trait when assessing its worthiness for small gardens.

Viburnum dentatum - Arrowwood


Arrowwoods are another workhorse of the garden, tough as nails while requiring little attention, if any. It's easy to fall in love with this shrub for its glossy, lustrous foliage regardless of how scorching hot and drought stricken the summers get. The margin of the leaf have a coarsely serrated edge like the teeth of a carpenters saw, an important textural quality when designing combinations. It makes an upright, multi-stemmed shrub, maturing to 6 to 10 ft. in height.  Under optimum conditions it could get larger, but controllable with pruning. Though the flowering is not overly exciting, a word of caution would be not to plant it to close to your home. I've found the fragrance, if one can use that term, is reminiscent to an old pair of gym shoes! Thankfully, flowering isn't long lived and when the berries begin to show, you can forgive it of its sins. Native Americans reportedly used its long and straight stems as arrow shafts, hence the common name. A number of cultivars exist, but again the two most popular ones are 'Blue Muffin' and 'Chicago Luster'.

Viburnum dentatum 'Chicago Luster'
'Blue Muffin' is a shorter, compact cultivar that produces clusters of metallic blue berries. From personal observations, the berries aren't as copiously produced as in the picture cards attached to the plants would imply.  I have still yet to see one in the landscape that proves me wrong. However, with the size being more than the average shrub, I suspect most home owners whack it back, favoring size over berries. 

'Chicago Luster' was originally found growing within the grounds of the Morton Arboretum and brought into cultivation by Synnestvedt Nursery, Illinois, in 1967. It has stood the test of time as a worthy garden shrub and will produce an abundance of fruits. Both types are needed to successfully cross pollinate and set fruit, but will not do so if planted singularly. This leads to problems when dealing with small gardens unless two neighbors cooperate and include one of each into their gardens. 

Viburnum trilobum - American Cranberrybush Viburnum


I once read an article that claimed this type to be a 'horticultural sleeper', a very true description for an underused shrub. It's not one that gets a lot of attention in the gardening press and doesn't have any spectacular marketing campaigns to promote it for use in the garden. Still its a dependable shrub, relatively pest and disease free, with maple like foliage during the growing season. Though it carries the cranberry name, it is not actually a true cranberry. The fruits can be eaten, though sour, or cooked into a sauce and served with meat or game. They come in a range of sizes, depending on the varieties, but one can be found to suit any garden.  It's main use though is as a backdrop shrub, rather than a center stage jewel. However, with the on set of fall, they become a focal point and break out in a firecracker's worth of color while the clusters of pearl like fruit can remain well into winter. Care should be taken when selecting a spot to grow this type as it requires moisture to do well. In drought conditions you can expect to see the foliage scorch. Cross pollination is required for it to set fruit, so two different varieties will need to be grown.  Again, two main cultivars dominate the market, 'Alfredo' and 'Redwing', but others exist for those looking for a greater range.

Viburnum trilobum from beautifulcataya @ Flickr.com
'Alfredo' is the new variation of 'Compactum', which is said to grow denser and slightly broader than its old counterpart, to 5-6ft high and wide. Selected by Bailey's Nurseries of Minnesota, it has an upright habit in youth but like most of us, rounds out with age! Most accounts list this cultivar to be sparely fruiting, favoring instead 'Compactum', but neither have stayed at the garden center long enough to tell. 

'Redwing' was new for me this year, and no doubt will be on my orders for the following years to come. Selected for its showy red new growth that unfurls against the back drop of darker green foliage until the spring flush finishes before summer. Fall coloration is a bright red to wine red and of coarse has a heavy set of berries. This cultivar is more like the straight species, though denser, growing 8-10 ft high and wide.

With so many native Viburnums to choose, it's a hard task to narrow such a large group down to just a short list. However, many other kinds exist but with the lack of name recognition, so many never make into mainstream production. Keep a open mind when considering some of the lesser known types.  In many cases they haven't been hyped up as much in the market, but often make excellent additions in the garden.  In Part 2, we'll take a look at some of the non-native berrying Viburnums that have found a home in our gardens.

Don't forget to read more @ Damn good plants - Berrying viburnums Part 2

For more information click on this - Classic Viburnums


Sunday, November 4, 2012

Giving thanks

A few posts back I touched on the subject of exploring the world for plants through the adventures of Ernest Wilson and his hunt for the Dove tree.  The concept of roaming the world for new botanical treasure is an alluring dream that for a brief time I had a little exposure to.  My experiences were quite tame when you compare my stories to those of botanical hunters, heading to lands that had never seen a foreign footstep.  Many never came home, paying the ultimate price to introduce new plants to our gardens, and with the Thanksgiving holiday only a few weeks away, it seems only fitting to give them the attention they deserve.

That's me (young version) on the right, Tasmania
My explorations took me to the highlands of Tasmania in search of alpine plants that are found only on the mountains of the island state of Australia.  Then, into the steamy jungles to traverse to the top of a glacier capped peak of Irian Jaya.  So remote and sparsely  populated, that we were warned of wandering off the road in fear of getting lost and not making it out of the wilderness.   These adventures would have seemed like a vacation to the harden explorers of the past.  I had access to warm, dry lodging; English speaking guides, and most importantly, medicine. I once thought I had contracted Malaria after spending a week in Java, only to be diagnosed with the flu and treated accordingly.


Personally, Irian Jaya is the last frontier and has its fair share of adventure stories.  The most famous is the disappearance of Michael Rockefeller in 1961 while pursuing his anthropological studies of the area.  Heir to the massive Rockefeller fortunes, he went missing  after the boat he was traveling in capsized.  Did he drown?, was he eaten by sharks or crocodiles?,  or even worse, eaten by the head hunting tribesmen of the area?  Some speculate that he gave it all up and assimilated into the tribes of the area, like Colonel Kurtz in 'Apocalypse Now'.  Years later, in 1996 a scientific group from Cambridge University was abducted by an independence guerrilla force operating in central Irian Jaya, two years before I went there.  All were released unharmed but the threat to outsiders was apparent.  As a side note, the common name for Europeans in Irian Jaya is 'Long Pig', for the fact that we are as pink as a pig, and obviously longer. Some will say it's because we taste like one!  Cannibalism was a very real threat and stories exist of explorers becoming the main meal for some tribes.

The Scottish explorer, David Douglas, life ended in a manner fit for a horror film.  He was sent to the Pacific Northwest in 1824 where he sent back to Britain over 240 species.  His most notable introduction was the popular cut Christmas tree, the Douglas fir.  Others include the Sitka Spruce, Sugar Pine, Lodgepole Pine, Ponderosa Pine, Grand Fir, Noble Fir as well as several other conifers that transformed the landscape of Britain along with the timber industry.  In 1834, while escaping the winter of the Pacific Northwest he traveled to Hawaii and died under suspicious circumstances.  The day started with him climbing Mauna Kea, on the island of Hawaii when he apparently fell into a pit trap, set up to catch wild bulls.  Unfortunately, it contained one that gourd him to death.  However, he was last seen visiting the hut of an escaped convict and bull hunter prior to the fall.  When his body was recovered, it was found that the money Douglas was carrying was missing.  Accident or murder? We'll never know.

Wilson's Regal Lily
Ernest Wilson's fate was delayed until 1930 in what would appear as a simple traffic accident.  In 1927, he took on the role of Keeper of the Arnold Arboretum in what seemed to be a retirement from travelling overseas.  It was a life that had been hard on him following an accident in 1910 when a rock slide had broke his leg in the Min valley, China.  After a three day forced march over rough terrain  with his leg braced crudely against the tripod of his camera, medical help was finally found.  His leg eventually healed but was shorter in length, making him walk with what he referred to as a 'Lily limp', honoring the  success of collecting the Regal lily from that valley system.  He was often troubled from that injury as his leg would go numb, a condition that many felt lead to the fatal accident where the vehicle he was driving skidded off the road and plunged down a 40-foot embankment.  The accident  also claimed the life of his wife.

My former employer, the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, in England, was a major center for training collectors, who would be dispatched around the globe on various missions.  Many great names have been tied to this famous institution and in the glory days of exploration, a Kew trained botanist was often on board one of the sailing ships.  One story that I found intriguing was of David Nelson whose career was shorter, but more dangerous.  His first voyage was on board Captain Cooks Resolution, where he collected specimens from the Arctic to the Tropic's. This debuting trip ended suddenly when the legendary Captain was stabbed to death by locals on the Sandwich islands following a disagreement.  Unfazed, he soon signed up for his next ominous assignment,  to introduce bread fruit to the Caribbean as a food source to the then slave trade of the time.  He and another Kew trained horticulturist were sent to Polynesia to propagate and safely transport the young bread fruit on board the HMS Bounty, under the direction of Captain Bligh, second only to Cook in his seamanship.  Most people know the story of the 'Mutiny on the Bounty', but Nelson had to endure watching his precious cargo being dumped overboard,  while being cast away on a longboat.  Many don't know the rest of the story, but Captain Bligh was successful in navigating the longboat, 4000 miles over 47 days, across the Pacific, with limited supplies and no loss of life. Sadly  David Nelson died a few weeks later from a fever, even though he had survived three very potentially deadly events.

Cast away from HMS Bounty

Many explorers never gained the reputation of those who were successful, and unfortunately their names have been forgotten over time.  For others, the toll of traveling and exposure to foreign ailments shorten their lifespan, possibly cut them down in the prime of their lives.  It was a grueling job, separated from friends and family for what could be years, in pursuit of laying claim to a never before seen plant.  We take for granted that plant that grows in our back garden with very little thought about it's story.  Maybe now, after reading this post you'll look a little closer at that plant and imagine the collector running for his life, while being pursued by a mob of angry tribesmen looking for their supper.


Sunday, October 28, 2012

I guess we're fudged!

Gardeners are keen weather followers.  We have to be!  In spring we're watching for late frosts that could do damage to our tender plants, which admittedly we put out way too early.  Then in fall, we're glued to the weather stations to keep updated on when the first freeze is coming.  Still, I do take what I hear with a grain of salt, as too many news stations over-sensationalize what's actually going to happen.  However, today I got an email from one of my west coast nurseries that we buy plants from, to inform us that they have suspended deliveries due to the unprecedented nature of a storm coming our way.  Time to sit up and listen!


Some are listing this as the 'Perfect Storm', just over mainland North America, instead of the Atlantic Ocean!  Three weather systems combine to fuel each other into a mega-storm, with tropical storm force winds being felt 450 miles from the center.   Hurricane Sandy will merge with an early wintery system from the west, then collide with an arctic blast from the north, parking the system to churn over the northeast for days.  Computer models can't even predict the track, many showing the storm double backing and looping in on itself as it stalls over the tops of us.  The colored lines of the weatherman 's maps, showing the different tracks, as each computer comes up with a different path. After a while it begins to look more like a craft project my daughter does than a weather model.


It's not the first time that a major weather event has been issued for this area. 'Snowmageddon' or 'Snowzilla', the ever hard to pronounce 'Duratio' and now 'Frankenstorm' all makes you think of movie titles.  For gardeners around here its just another hurdle we're getting ready to jump over.  Summer drought and highest ever recorded temperatures along with record lows during the winter have tested the steel of our plants and gardens.  It's a miracle that we have trees of any age still standing in our communities.  As a gardener here, I hold my head high knowing that to get anything to grow in this area is a major success.  Trying to create those gardens you see in any magazine is a Herculean task.  It doesn't matter what you might try and do to outwit mother nature, she's always going to remind you who's in charge.

This coming week, I sure will bring stories of tree loss and damage, where the only consolation I can give is one of optimism.   Instead of looking at the damage in a negative way, we should view it as mother nature's way of opening up new possibilities.  We can all get stuck in a rut of not editing out plants that maybe have been with us too long until forced to by a weather event.

"I told you, we should of staked the trees!"
From past experiences, I know some twit is going to come into the garden center at the height of the storm and want to buy a tree.   It will take several people to help hold up the trees so they can make their decision.  It's happen to me before during a lightning storm, sitting on a forklift, hauling trees to their pick-up while bolts of lightening hit the ground around me.  Oh, what we have to do in the name of customer service, but some people are just too busy to wait.  Common sense, or lack thereof, is something I like to rant about if you hadn't figured that out.

Stay safe my friends and let's look forward to sunnier days.  Our gardens always seem to bounce back regardless to what is thrown at it.  With all the alarming reports on the news, I often wonder if being a meteorologist is a gateway profession into depression!

Let's go out fighting!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

New disease alert for Gardeners

Garden advisory - Important Official Warning!

The Department of Gardening Affairs has issued a new warning for gardeners to be on the look-out for; strange Gnome behavior.  Reports have surfaced that the inanimate non-living statues are also apparently non-dead too.  While isolated incidents have been reported, an extended warning has been issued to be on the lookout for potential outbreaks.

Do you have an outbreak?

Frequently asked questions:

What are the signs?
  • Gnome skin tone will change from a baby fresh pink to a dull grey or green.
  • Clothing will look unkempt, messy and blood stained. Don't be fooled by the red pointy hat or blue jackets as the transformation may be in it's early stages.
  • Gnomes may have open wounds or sores and reports have come in about missing limbs that show no signs of glue.
  • Gnomes that have undergone the change may transmit a low audible moaning instead of the happy whistling or giggling sounds often heard.
  • Gnomes will be unresponsive to communication.
  • It you have a Gnome attached to your ankle area trying to chew on your foot, then it's infected! 

What do they feed on?
It has always been believed that zombies required human brains to maintain operational effectiveness.  However, due to their gravitationally challenged stature, they can only feed on our brain material when we lie down.  However, infected Gnomes will also feed on pink plastic Flamingos and little boy 'peeing' statues as the figurines are unable to stop the flow before being inundated by infected Gnomes.  Should you have either in your yard, we suggest raising flamingo's to a higher vantage point and stockpiling diapers for little boy statues capable of holding large amounts of fluids.


What habits should we be aware of?
While Gnome populations are minimal in city landscapes, the frequency of Gnome usage increases in rural areas.  Retirement communities are known to have the highest elevated populations, so safe distance should be maintained around those communities.  Caution must also be practiced in identifying infected Gnomes from retirees living in such communities.  Symptoms can be similar between the two groups, unresponsive to communication, low growling sounds, unkempt and messy in appearance etc.  Correct identification is necessary before applying control measures listed below.

Does the change of seasons affect infected Gnomes?
Yes, cooler temperatures slow down the gnomes movement around the garden but in freezing temperatures they hibernate in dead leaf litter until warmer temperatures return.

How do I protect my home from an invasion?
Increasing your homes fortification will prevent any intrusion from infected Gnomes.  Anti-Gnome fencing is being issued in high infected areas, which comes on rolls measuring 12 inches in height when placed on the ground.  This product was once mocked in the home landscape but is now hailed to prevent attacks and credited with saving live's!



Outdoor Safety

  • Always notify people when leaving the safety of your house.  Give times of arrival, locations to be visited and carry your cell phone about you at all times.
  • Wear protective clothing when venturing outside.  Kinky boots or thigh high boots are recommend to prevent ankle bites.
  • Avoid cauliflower patches, since they can look like brains and may attract larger numbers of roaming infected gnomes.
  • When approached by an infected gnome, stepping over them has proven greatly effective.

Control Measures

The removal of the gnomes heads has shown effective in controlling the spread but removal should start at the back of the head, just below the skull as the beard has proven to deflect the incision.  Lifting of the severed head for disposal, should be done by holding the red pointy hat as the severed gnomes head will still have the ability to bite!
Should you find yourself unarmed, a large terracotta pot will restrict the Gnomes movement before a chopping implement can be found.  As a back up, super glue should always be carried to glue the Gnome in place until such time that its head can be safely removed.  Because Gnomes will often travel and congregate in packs, ride on mowers has proven effective in large scale beheading.


Tests are being conducted under laboratory conditions to see if the infection can mutate to infect other objects.  Early indications have shown that the disease is restricted to just Gnomes, but concerns remain that other lawn ornaments may be subjected to the same infection.

PLEASE USE CAUTION AT ALL TIMES.



It looks like we're too late!

If you like what you see and want a zombie Gnome, check out this site for more:

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Old faithful plants - Elaeagnus pungens

So what does a Russian garden magazine, the Augusta National Golf club, and a golden Arborvitae have in common?  Well keep reading and I'll show you.

For this old faithful post, I've chosen one of my top picks for a screening evergreen.  This shrub is just bulletproof;  no major pest or disease problems, deer resistant, drought tolerant and adaptable in just about any location.  Elaeagnus pungens, AKA Silverthorn is well known in commercial landscaping, for all the reasons listed above, but is still relatively unused in domestic horticulture.  The Silverthorn gets its name from the gun metal, metallic gray coloration of the foliage.  Many variegated types exist, offering an exciting alternative to Japanese Euonymus which deer are normally known to browse down.  For myself, the fall flowering aspect is the crowning accolade, though inconspicuous, they will fill the air with a sweet aroma.

Native to Asia, this plant has gained a reputation for making itself at home in North America.  In Florida it is listed as an invasive species.  However, for us in Virginia, it is not considered a threat.  Elaeagnus angustifolia, or Russian olive, on the other hand has successfully escaped and leaped over the garden fence, beginning to invade as aggressively as crabgrass in our natural landscape.  Russian olive is a copious producer of berries that the bird devour in a feeding frenzy and has the ability to be able to lock up nitrogen in its roots, allowing it to get a foot hold in poor soils, out competing our indigenous plants.   Unfortunately,  the reputation of it's cousin has made some people weary, and to further complicate matters, the Silverthorn is often mistakenly called Russian olive, leading to confusion.


It was in a Russian garden magazine that some good friends showed me, where I first began to learn about the health benefits some Elaeagnus offer through its berries.  Though my Russian is a bit rusty, I was able to learn that the fruit of Elaeagnus multiflora, or Goumi Berry, is a great source of vitamins A and E and has the highest lycopene content of any food, even tomatoes   Sadly, our Silverthorn isn't well known for its fruit for which I have only seen a handful of being produced, but that's what keeps this species in check and stops it from running away.

E. 'Fruitlandii'
For those looking for the metallic luster of its foliage, two main cultivars rival each other for the spot light.  'Ebbingei' is widely believed to be a hybrid between E.pungens x E.macrophylla but is very difficult to tell apart.  'Fruitlandii' is the commercial king of the group, with slightly larger, wavy foliage.  It was named for the now extinct nursery that introduced it into commerce, Fruitlands Nursery in Georgia.  The history of Fruitlands has dropped into obscurity over the years but it has been credited for the success of the peach industry in the south.  The owner, Prospector Berckman, a Belgian national, took over the nursery in 1858  and grew it into one of North America's most successful nurseries of that time.  Another one of his introductions that bears his name is Thuja 'Berckmans Gold', a wonderful golden oriental arborvitae.  As with most things, the business slipped away with the passing of the owner, leaving his siblings to continue for a while.  The old home still stands to this day as the clubhouse for the Augusta National Golf Club, where the rest of the nursery was remodeled into the prestigious golf course.  In fact, many of Berckman's plantings still stand around the course to this day.

E. 'Gilt Edge'
Of the Variegated forms, only two seem to be popular in my area (Gilt Edge and Gold Splash), but 'Maculata' deserves a mention at the same time.  'Maculata' is an old favorite of mine that is used extensively in England. However, here on the east coast of North America I haven't discovered anyone producing it, unless you find it in a mail order nursery.  'Gilt Edge' however, does seem to be readily available from Monrovia Nurseries and is a good alternative to 'Maculata'.  The foliage has a prominent band of soft yellow around the margin of its leaves, and is much slower in growth than its parent.  Though difficult to find, 'Eleador' aka 'Gold Splash', is still my favorite, a faster growing form with varying golden coloration.  Either way, both are extremely valuable for their golden winter color that will brighten up a otherwise grey day.

E. 'Eleador'
Height and spread of any Silverthorn can be around 8 to10ft, but they accept heavy pruning with no complaints.  I have found that it is necessary to hack and whack at least once a year to encourage an overall fullness to it's body.  Otherwise, the long whip-like stems can make it slightly less attractive.  As mentioned before, they have no major pest or disease issues to be concerned about, and once established, don't require much aftercare. Hardy down to zone 6.

For some, this plant doesn't register high on their list of most desirable.  In fact, I have a sales rep (who will remain nameless), that regularly refers to them as 'ugly-agnus'. However, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and to quote a line from a famous plants-woman and celebrated garden designer of her time, Gertrude Jekyll, "there is no such thing as a bad plant, just a plant used in a bad way".  I always get a kick out of discovering how one plant can be connected to so many things.  Just like a spider's web, the common thread can touch many elements at the same time.






Sunday, October 14, 2012

Gardening therapy

Design school can only teach you so much, concept and form, elements of design, construction, you name it, they'll cover it.  However, real world experience is where formal education can come up short. Particularly, how to deal with challenging customers.

I did a nice little consult for an elderly couple who needed to replant a small triangular shaped bed in their backyard.  It was a nice, simple combination, something with height to hide a telephone terminal box, with the rest of the planting to transition down.  The plants needed to be deer resistant, and by the looks of the photo's brought in of the previous plants, somewhat easy to take care of.  Needless to say, the previous plants had been completely stripped down.  The garden backed onto a golf course, where the deer roamed freely, from garden to garden at night.


I had my suspicions that deer weren't the key cause of the plant's failure. Azalea's, being shallow rooted, don't favor a lot of sun particularly when baked dry.  Not to worry, "We have an irrigation system!"  Right, the irrigation story again.  However, I couldn't get them to agree on a single thing, beginning with what the space looked like.  The husband would say one thing, the wife would dismiss it and claim a different version.  At one point I found myself stuck between the two of them, as both told me their differing stories at the same time. I wasn't sure of who to look at, so my head switched between the two of them like a Meerkat out of it's hole watching for predators.  It became comical to watch them fight for control of the camera, tugging it from each other, and arguing over what picture was what, so they could give me a synopsis of the lay of the garden.

Oh, I say, that not British!
I had to bite my tongue when the wife mentioned that she wanted a tall straight evergreen with a pair of boxwood's either side, finished off with "fluffy shrubbery" around the base.  I wonder what was on her mind?  I'm sure if I asked the husband he would be looking for the two big, round, voluptuous evergreens in a bed that would curve down in an manner that was easy on the eyes!

It was also interesting to hear where the emphasis should be placed on the direction in which the area would be viewed   The husbands concern was of the view from the golf course side, making a point that it was next to the sixteenth hole, which is a par 3!  Not being a golfer myself, he might as well have been speaking Spanish, but I'm guessing that's where he escapes too.  The wife was obviously concerned with the aesthetics from the house.  Another divide of interests to overcome.


The mediation ended with the two opposing camps reaching a successful resolution.  In fact, they left the decision up to me, being the neutral third party with no underlying agenda.  It was smooth sailing until I helped to load their car, then heard the wife beginning to instruct him on how to plant the shrubs.  Let the battle commence, it's going to be a long drive home for someone.

Reflecting, as one does, on my afternoon in the war-zone,  I began to feel that those golden years of retirement, that you work so hard to achieve, might just be a pipe dream.  I always thought it was all about kicking back, playing golf and enjoying your two fingers of scotch every now and then.  But, in reality we need to carve out our own space, a personal sanctuary of inner peace.  Gardening can do this, provided that both partners aren't actively involved at the same time.  I know for me, when the kids are screaming the garden is a great escape.  That is until they find out where I am.  Maybe in design school, that was what they meant by 'spacial awareness'!

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Quiet on the set.....and action!

I'm not one to blow my own horn but, toot toot!  My 15 minutes of fame has gone on a little longer than predicted, with now the release of my 'keepers' television commercial. This is the rough version, the one for airing still needed some airbrush work as I think there was some grease on the lens that made me look fat.  


 I've had more than my fair share of time in front of a camera, from appearing on the live Merrifield Garden Adviser on local cable, to being featured on four episodes of HGTV 'Curb Appeal' as a landscape designer.  The down side with all this filming over the years, is now I can watch how time has been unfair to myself.  Looking back, I've been able to watch the progression of my fine head of hair thinning out, while the joys of indulgence building up.  I blame the hair loss for the comfort eating, I'm a very sensitive guy!  Still, I now wear a cap just to make sure the rest of my hair doesn't blow off, though the cameraman claims it cuts down on the glare.  P.allen Smith doesn't have these troubles, though I wonder if his fine head of hair is real.  It never looks out of place, even on a windy day.

Pre-parenthood - Getting shiny on top but no gray hairs just yet

Though I sound like I'm complaining, it is a very nice perk of the job. You don't see many other companies having their employees featured on commercials.  I dread to think what would happen if a few places I know of did it, a blank stare is sometimes too much work for some of their employees!

If I was told all those years ago, that I would end up on television in a different country, I would've thought you'd been smoking crack.  Now, someone challenge me to run for president, anything's possible now!

"Don't look into the camera", but it's in my face!

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Damn good plants - Abelia chinensis

I cannot deny that I have a fondness for Abelia's.  You might of noticed it with one of my first post about Abelia 'Kaleidoscope', its a shrub that once it starts, it just keeps on giving.  There are about 40 species with the Abelia family and though not popular by itself, the Chinese Abelia, Abelia chinensis, is one of the parents of today's commercially successful glossy Abelia, Abelia x grandiflora. (A.chinesis x A. uniflora)

Even Abel's portrait
oozes arrogance
Abelia's received their name to honor Dr. Clarke Abel (1780 - 1826) who collected seeds and plants of the Chinese Abelia around 1817.  He was the Chief Medical Officer and Naturist to Lord Amherst and member of a party sent to China to improve diplomatic relations with the court of the Emperor.  At the time, the British were only allowed to collect plants on the Portuguese controlled island of Macao as tensions over perceived arrogance from the British towards China had grown.  However, when Lord Amherst learned that he had to bow before the Emperor, he refused, leading to him and his group being sent packing.  Not sure where the Chinese ever thought the Brit's were arrogant?  It was only until 1842, with the Treaty of Nanking, that the British were allowed to enter the country again.

During their short stay, Dr. Abel had managed to collect samples of the yet unnamed Abelia, in Ta-Koo-Tang, south west of Shanghai. Fortunately for Abel, a small sampling of the material was left with a colleague in Canton, which proved fortunate as trouble was ahead.  It started when the ship he was traveling on, run a ground on uncharted reefs off the coast of Sumatra, Indonesia. In an effort to stay afloat, a seaman jettisoned the cargo, which included his collection.  The day after, they returned to the site of the wreck on a smaller boat in an effort to salvage the plants, but were attacked by pirates who were looting the site and suffered capture.  Dr. Abel did finally make it back to England and eventually, the small collection that Abel had left in Canton, was returned in safely in 1844 also (18 years after Abel's death). Abel published his adventures in a book called; Narrative of a Journey in the Interior of Chinain 1818.  Though not plant related, he also mentioned recording the first Sumatran Orangutan, also named in his honor, as well as having an audience with Napoleon Bonaparte whilst in exile on St. Helena. Call me a geek, but I love reading how historic events crisscrosses with one another.


Now back to the plant in question.  Chinese Abelia can be a large growing, deciduous shrub, reaching 5-8ft with long flailing pendulous branches.  Pruning can be carried out in early spring if you need to control the height, by cutting back as severely as a Forsythia and at about the same time you would prune a Forsythia too.  The straight species is seen rarely in gardens and is scarcely available in the trade.  Reports from the J.C.Raulston Arboretum describes this shrub as attracting more Butterflies than any other plant in the garden.  It's without question a flowering machine, beginning in mid-summer, and continuing all the way until the first frost.  The arching stems produce large trusses of white, nectar rich, fragrant flowers, set against soft pink bracts creates a marvelous two tone effect.

Abelia 'Rose Creek' with Solidago 'Fireworks'
The Guru of all things woody, Dr. Michael Dirr, was responsible in producing two very exciting forms worthy of any garden.  Although, the flowers were open pollinated and some questions remain over its lineage, I feel that they both fit the mold of a Chinese Abelia.  'Rose Creek' is by far the best, non variegated form.  Low, but uprightly mounding, this 3x3 ft shrub has a lot of charisma!  Its seems to be more floriferous in the early part of the season, but the Rosy pink calyx's persist well into fall.   'Canyon Creek' is the larger brother, growing well into 4-6ft in height.  New leaves emerge coppery-orange turning into a soft yellow as the foliage matures.  Warm reds highlight the leaves prior to leaf drop in fall, but further south, it will remain evergreen.  The flowers have a soft pink glow, and just like Rose Creek, show off the Rosy-pink calyx's for just as long.

Proven Winners, also have released there own form, 'Ruby Anniversary', a new colored form.  The dark glossy foliage has a ruby red hue as both new growth and fall color are produced.  Last year was the first time I brought this in to the garden center and was blown away by its performance and the speed it sold out, both at the growers and in the store .  

Photo credit - Proven Winners, Abelia 'Ruby Anniversary'
Like all Abelia's, the Chinese Abelia is heat and humidity tolerant, pest free and deer resistant.  Once established their watering needs are minimal and can be left to put on a show with little or no interference. Modest, yet free from arrogance, unlike the person connected to its history, this Abelia will certainly be a pleasure in any garden.  The best part, you don't have to travel to China, its already here!

Abelia 'Canyons Creek'