Monday, July 29, 2013

Thinking outside of the Zone - Part 1

Part One - Tree Treasures of Emeralds and Silvers

George Mallory was once asked why he wanted to climb Mount Everest so much, his response was because it was there!  Sadly his quest ended on the high slopes of Everest, but it's fair to say that us human beings enjoy pushing the envelope and its no different in the garden, albeit safer.

I have for a while been suffering with a case of  jungle fever, craving to grow those plants with big dramatic leaves, but in my zone 7 garden.  My zone denial causes me to constantly push the envelope, much like George Mallory, to prove that plants will tolerate the unthinkable.

Eucalyptus neglecta - Boca Joe
A while back, I eagerly accepted an invitation to visit a garden in Northern Virginia created by a fellow jungle fever victim.  The creator this garden goes by the alias of Panama John and we were also joined by my invitee, Boca Joe.  Both men are self confessed 'zone pushers', looking to prove that many subtropical plants can and will flourish in cooler locations.  All the plants that I would see in Panama John's garden are given little if no shelter during the winter and all grow in the ground. Johns tough love approach really tested these plants and most of what I saw had been growing for at least 5-6 years old if not more.  A sign that many plants are actually more resilient than what we think.


Myself with Panama John next to
a 19 year Eucalyptus neglecta
What first grabbed my attention when approaching his garden was the beautiful cloud of smoky blue foliage from the evergreen Australian Omeo Gum,  Eucalyptus neglecta.  I have a fondness for Gum trees and this is one I have growing in my own garden for the better part of 3 years now.  Johns tree had been growing for much longer and later on my visit they took me to a garden near by to see a tree that has been growing for 19 years plus.  The large rounded leaves of this Gum emit a strong but pleasurable fragrance that hangs in the air.  Apart from the Omeo Gum, John also had another hardy kind called the Snow Gum, Eucalyptus pauciflora ssp debeuzevillei. More upright in growth, this tree was encroaching the upper windows of his house in the backyard.

Eucalyptus pauciflora ssp debeuzevillei
With all these towering gums to look up and stare at it would of been ease to miss one of the smaller ones if its shining silver foliage didn't catch your eye.   Eucalyptus pulverulenta 'Baby Blue', is a staple of the florist industry and used as a foliage accent in flower arrangements.  The round silver-dollar like foliage appears stacked along its stem and presents a different foliage texture useful in plant combinations in containers.  Many people don't realize that in most cases it will survive the winters to make a shaggy bold statement in any garden.  Panama Johns plant was still a young juvenile but already had the sex appeal that makes it popular in the trade..

Live Oak, Quercus virginiana
Apart from the 'Euc's' or Gum trees there were a couple of other trees well worth a mention.  Balancing the front yard on the opposing corner to the first Eucalyptus, was one of our American South's most endearing trees, the Live Oak, Quercus virginiana.  I had always been told that Live Oaks wouldn't survive here, but this one was flourishing dispelling the myth.  Some might say it was a fluke, but within a stones throw was another one growing just as strong.  Being an evergreen tree I had expected to see reminisce of winter injury on its foliage but was assured that it prevails with little harm.



A young Chinese Bamboo Oak, Quercus myrsinifolia
My last tree I was introduced was a mature Chinese Bamboo Oak, Quercus myrsinifolia, growing in the same garden where I was taken to to see the mature Omeo Gum.  This was my first encounter with this rarely seen but fully hardy evergreen Oak to zone 7.  This handsome, well proportioned fellow made me wonder why I hadn't seen it being utilized more in the trade.  Instead, it hides deep within reference books as just a small listing. Admittedly, the Live Oaks popularity and frequent use in Southern landscapes overshadows any one's quest to find alternatives, but the Live Oaks behemoth size restricts its use to only large landscapes.   Alternatively, the Chinese Bamboo Oak offers a fantastic opportunity for smaller urban gardens where it can be utilized as screening tree while being admired for its stately appearance.  Now all I have to do it train some squirrels to pilfer acorns in fall so we can start a evergreen revolution.

Chinese Bamboo Oak, Quercus myrsinifolia
Boca Joe
In Part Two, I'll take you to the tropical jungles of Northern Virginia to expose the myth of some surprising plants.  Trust me, your life will never be the same so say tuned!


Follow this link to read Part Two - Palm Trees without the Ocean Breeze or part Three - Into the Jungles of Northern Virginia


What to read more about Zone Pushing, here's Panama John's and Boca Joe's publication through the Virginia Extension Service





6 comments:

  1. Dave in AnnandaleJuly 30, 2013 at 4:57 AM

    Wonderfully written blog Rob! I was looking forward to this. Eucs need good drainage. I've lost some in overly-wet soil conditions.

    Q. myrsinifolia is wonderful and quite resilient, even in ice and snow events.

    Q. phillyraeoides, the Ubame Oak is another rare evergreen oak which has proven as hardy as myrsinifolia (but only tested for about 6 years).

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    1. Thanks for reading. The visit to Johns garden was quite a trip, seeing all these plants I thought wouldn't thrive here. I need to look up the Ubame Oak, not familiar with that one.

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  2. I love live oaks because they are used extensively in both CA and the deep south, places I've spent a lot of time. I haven't had much luck with zone denial. Many out of zone plants should come with instructions to bend over and pull down your britches because I usually end up getting my butt whupped. The Chinese bamboo oak is quite tempting, though.

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    1. I think it was JC Raulston who once said that he will only believe a plant won't grow for him once he's killed it at least 5 times. Sure theres tricks to all of this but often its just finding the honey spot in the yard that makes all the difference.

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  3. Rob what a great description, glad we could share these gems with you. Boca Joe

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    1. It was a fantastic eye opening trip, thanks for the invite!

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