form and foliage

Year round garden interest with minimal care


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A Berry Happy New Year from Form and Foliage!

foliage gardening, broadleaved evergreens

California buckthorn (Rhamnus californica) ‘Eve Case’ has deep purple berries in winter.

The solstice has passed and the new year is upon us. This is supposedly the drabbest, dreariest time in the garden. To disabuse all of the belief that that must be so, we present a gallery of berries to enjoy as we wave farewell to the old year and welcome the new.

malus, ornamental fruit

‘Professor Sprenger’ crabapple is known for its lovely springtime apple-blossom pink flowers, but oh the fall and winter fruit!

Malus

‘Professor Sprenger’ fruit up close

 

crabapple, Malus

Even the immature fruit of ‘Professor Sprenger’ is decorative.

 

Berberis wilsoniae, Berberis wilsonii, ornamental berries

Wilson’s barberry berries range in color from flamingo to salmon, and contrast beautifully with the glaucus foliage.

The genus Berberis, or barberry, has some of the most ornamental berries of any group of plants. From the subtle tones of the Wilson’s barberry pictured above, to much larger, robust fruit on our native California Berberis aquifolium, these plants decorate the winter landscape. When lacquered by raindrops even the berries of the most common species, Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii), are strikingly beautiful. (note: Japanese barberry is invasive in many areas. Seek sterile cultivars if you wish to add this plant to your landscape.)

American barberry, foliage gardening, ornamental berries

The berries of Berberis aquifolium (formerly Mahonia aquifolium). It’s easy to see why the common name is Oregon grape-holly!

 

Berberis thunbergii, berries, foliage gardening

Japanese barberry fruit on a rainy winter day.

Berries are a great way of adding purple to your fall and winter garden, and there are a variety of trees and shrubs that bear berries of regal hues.

Chilean myrtle, foliage gardening

Luma apiculata has shiny purply-black berries that last for months.

 

'Profusion' beautyberry

For purple punch, though, it’s hard to beat beautyberry! (This specimen is Callicarpa bodinieri var. giraldi ‘Profusion’).

 

foliage gardening, evergreen plants

California native Heteromeles arbutifolia (toyon) can hold its own in a berry contest.

 

ornamental berries, foliage gardening

Cotoneaster berries can be very decorative, but make sure to select only non-invasive species.

 

foliage gardening, ornamental berries

Cotoneaster buxifolius is commonly called bright bead cotoneaster. It has an attractive low, spreading habit and wears its berries for months in winter.

 

foliage gardening

Sarcococca ruscifolia (sweet box) is grown primarily for its fragrant flowers, but don’t forget the ensuing berries !

 

Nandina domestica is overplanted, and paradoxically, under-appreciated. Try the ‘Compacta’ version for a more manageably-sized shrub. The cultivars with dramatic foliage generally do not bear fruit, so go with the old standby for winter berry interest.

Heavenly bamboo

Berries on Nandina domestica ‘Compacta’ last for months in the garden, weeks if brought inside as holiday decor.

 

And of course we cannot leave out the traditional holiday berry, the holly! There are many kinds of holly, most with red berries, but some have golden or yellow fruit. Some even have variegated leaves.

Ilex, foliage gardening

Holly is the traditional winter holiday berry.

 

So if your garden is dull on a winter’s day, put ‘berries’ on your gardening shopping list for spring. We have a tendency to buy plants when they are in bloom and most of us don’t visit nurseries during the off-season, so you need to think ‘winter’ even when you’re shopping in April. You will be rewarded when December rolls around.

Here’s to a berry wonderful 2016 from Form and Foliage!

(Note: some berries are poisonous to humans or certain animals. If you have concerns about children or pets, please read about any plants that you are considering.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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8 Comments

The Color Purple

 

smoke bush

Picea pungens ‘Lucretia’ with Berberis wilsoniae and Cotinus x ‘Grace’

In spring the go-to colors are pastels, and the foliage garden certainly has its share of baby blues and soft yellows. However, they often share the garden space with deep, grown-up purple, which contrasts richly with the softer hues. Colorado blue spruce cultivars (Picea pungens cv.) are the quintessential powder blue foliage plants. When paired with other pastels, they have a demure persona, belying the strength inherent in their tough, spiky needles. Around purple, however, the blue acquires a steely note.

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Picea pungens ‘Lucretia’ against Cotinus x ‘Grace’ foliage

Purple works well as a background color, especially if you want the background to be, well, in back. Lighter colors draw the eye, darker ones recede. A purple background allows the plants in front to claim the attention.

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Eucalyptus pulverulenta ‘Baby Blue’ against the purply Cotinus x ‘Grace’

The Eucalyptus in the shot above is about as pastel as it gets, yet takes on a more sophisticated mien when backed by smoky Cotinus x ‘Grace’.

JML_20160521_0083

The blues and greens  gain prominence when backed by purple

Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’ is a lovely, if somewhat awkwardly shaped, small tree. Here it is planted behind a grouping of different shades of blues and greens and serves as a backdrop which adds richness to the scene and disguises its lanky branching.

JML_20160521_0029

Picea pungens ‘Stoplight’ and Mangave ‘Macho Mocha’

Succulents are a good place to look for ‘evergreen’ purples; the Mangave above is another great companion for blue spruce. Not only do the colors provide fabulous contrast but the strappy leaves of the Mangave are a wonderful foil for the spruce’s small needles. And in true F&F fashion, these plants do the job all 12 months of the year.

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A richly hued combination of purple Sedum, yellow Chamaecyparis and orange-tinged grass

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Chaenomeles, Cotinus x ‘Grace’ and Juniperus conferta ‘All Gold’

For a stained glass effect, mix purple with other saturated tones such as the greens and yellows pictured above. Paired with the yellow the purple warms up and creates deep contrast to the other colors.

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This Cordyline has ‘burgundy’ in its name but to us it’s a reddish purple

There are many grass-like plants (and even some true grasses) that add purple to the garden. The Cordyline ‘Design-a-Line Burgundy’ in the photo above adds depth and flair to what would otherwise be a colorful but flat combination, and, like the Libertia peregrinans (the orange grass) and the blue spruce and holly, holds its leaves all year. Many Phormium come in shades of purple and for those that don’t mind the maintenance, there are several Pennisetum cultivars in deep purple tones.

JML_20160521_0141

Leptospermum ‘Dark Shadows’, Cotinus x ‘Gracel and Cordyline ‘Design-a-Line-Burgundy’ repeat the purple notes

Colors work best when they are not isolated; don’t hesitate to echo the tones throughout the garden. If you look carefully at the above photo you will also see a bit of purple in the far back about 3/4 of the way across the photo, as well as some purple tones on the plant in the immediate middle front.

JML_20160306_-4

Sambucus nigra ‘Black Lace’ is really dark purple

Apparently the colors ‘Blue’ and ‘Black’ sell better than the color purple. There are many plants sold as blue or black that are really purple, such as the Sambucus (elderberry) above. Remember, when selecting your plants, go by what the foliage looks like, not what the label promises. This Sambucus is deep wine-purple, and can be grown as a large shrub or limed up to make a small tree.

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Picea pungens ‘Fastigata’ and Coprosma ‘Plum Hussey’

Purple gets more subtle in plants with two-toned leaves like the ‘Plum Hussey’ mirror plant. This cultivar of the New Zealand Coprosma leafs out bright green and the older leaves take on purple-tinged edges until the cold weather comes and drenches them in a deep, plummy coat. You can see Cotinus x ‘Grace’ in the background, striking, as befitting,  a grace note. We can’t seem to stop pairing our purples with light blue, can we?

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The Cordyline in back and the beech in front stake their claim for purple in this mixed foliage garden

The genus Fagus, or beech, is another good place to go purple-hunting. In the shot above the tones of the large Cordyline in the back are picked up and carried forward by the glossy purple beech. The Yucca ‘Blue Boy’ (really purple, but that didn’t make for the alliterative name) in the lower right hand corner continues the theme.

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Yucca desmetiana ‘Blue Boy’ (not to us, it’s not!)

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Fagus sylvatica ‘Rohanii’ leaves up close

Beech trees (Fagus sp.) are  welcome additions to gardens that are climate-appropriate because of not only their beautifully colored and textured leaves–at once both glossy and fuzzy–but also their elegant, silky bark which graces the winter landscape. They do best in spots with ample rainfall but once established will manage fine in even mild Mediterranean climates with little more water than some of the drought-hardy standbys.

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Podocarps elongates ‘Monmal’ (Icee Blue) is flanked by Hebe ‘Amy’ for a subtle hint of purple

Purple doesn’t have to be bold or strident; there are many plants with purple leaf edges or undersides, like Hebe ‘Amy’ in the photo above. ‘Amy’ also has purple flowers, but they are ephemeral. The leaves and stems are purple all year long.

JML_20120430_72

Abies x arnoldiana ‘Poulsen’

For real subtlety, treat purple as an ornament, the way that one might wear an amethyst ring or a garnet brooch. The cones on the ‘Poulsen’ fir are luscious, deep purple and decorate the shrub for months in spring and early summer.

Get your purple on!

 

 

 


13 Comments

Jan Takes the Wheel

conifers, garden photography, foliage gardening

Every time I go through Sara’s garden I see new vistas with mind-boggling color and texture

Our posts have always had their inspiration in Sara’s garden. The concept of ‘form and foliage’ comes from her particular gardening focus. Jan attempts to capture this concept and as she has become more familiar with both the garden and her craft, she has had more of a tendency to go rogue and resist direction. Thus, we bring you some of her favorite images, unrestrained by Sara’s prejudices or guidance. Her comments follow.

Every photographer interprets light and color in their own way, and photographers develop a style or a ‘way of seeing’ that they present in their photographs. Sara wants the photographs to ‘look real’, i.e. the way SHE sees the scene. My reality is not always the same as hers.

succulents, garden photography

Agave ‘Blue Glow’ beginning to flower

The phenomenon of ‘digital darkroom’ technology provides so many tempting opportunities to play with images and take them beyond what the eye sees. The Agave above is a good example, tuned up with Trey Ratcliffe’s Aurora HDR (Macphun) and Adobe Lightroom software.

Senecio 'Staghorn', Pinus contorta 'Spaan's Dwarf', Spirea 'Goldmound', garden photography

I’m always fascinated by color repetition, which leads the viewer’s eye through the scene.

One of the photographers who has inspired me is Dewitt Jones. He doesn’t go out capturing images, he waits for the images to capture him. The above shot caught me due to the wonderful repetition of the steely blues in the Mexican pebbles, the succulent, the copper top of the lamp and the spruce in the distance, all complemented by the vivid red and green.

Cryptomeria japonica 'Elegans Compacta', garden photography

This is an exquisite plant with soft colors, enhanced by the bejeweling water droplets.

Close-up photography is challenging, because composing an image with the right “depth of field”  (how sharp the image is throughout) is very challenging.  In this case, I want to capture the delicate shape and coloration of the foliage while keeping it in the context of the overall characteristic of the plant: an explosion of clouds of needles in shades of burgundy, mauve and pink.  I strive to have just enough background to give context without overpowering the delicate subject.

LeCocq_20160127_0527

When I take close-ups of plants, I am aware of the life that exists in a garden

Our objective on this day was to photograph yellows and blues, both in landscape shots and close ups. I am always attracted to spider webs, because they demonstrate that the garden is teeming with life, much of it hidden. This ladder-like structure is particularly distinctive.

Cedrus atlantica 'Glauca Pendula', conifers, garden photography

I love the structure of the blue Atlas cedar, but it was the combination of colors and shapes on the ground that caught my eye

I concentrate on our focus, which is woody foliage plants, but I can’t control how my eye is drawn to other aspects of the garden. Just as with the spider web, the garden is home to many other forms of life, which ebb and flow with the seasons. The cedar’s bristly, blue needles interact with the fragile mushroom and the rusty leaves to create a completely different perspective. Dewitt Jones has always counseled ‘the first image that you see may not be the one that is most distinctive. You need to move around and look at the subject from different perspectives, and maybe change your lens. In doing that, you may discover something more beautiful than you thought you saw originally.’

Brahea armata, garden photography

Sara wanted a photo of her favorite palm tree. She was startled when this is what I produced.

Sara expected a shot of the graceful blue-gray fronds that fan out over the succulent garden. When I went out to shoot the plant, I found myself fascinated with the yellow teeth along the stems and the fibrous trunk. I ignored the fronds and focused on what spoke to me. It took her a while to understand what I saw. This image now hangs in her home, because the plant took on an additional dimension for her once she understood my perspective.

garden photography, Brahea armata

The Mexican blue fan palm provides a fantastic opportunity for a classic graphic image.

I threw Sara a bone and focused on the leaves. Once again, I produced a different image than the one she expected. I was struck by the color and the steely structure. The pleats emanate from the stem dynamically, creating a sense of movement that I could not ignore. The imperfections make it more interesting.

Mangave 'Macho Mocha', succulents, foliage gardening, garden photography

I’m fascinated by this plant; it’s an amazing combination of reptilian marking and metallic texture, complemented by beautiful colors

I’m really drawn to agaves because of their structure and their prehistoric aspects. This agave hybrid is particularly compelling, and I love the explosion of the lime green from the center to the mottled leaves. If you’re any good at photography, you’ve learned early that you need to go beyond what first captured your attention and seek alternative views.

Mangave 'Macho Mocha', succulents, foliage gardening, garden photography

Complementary colors and contrasting textures make for a pleasing combination

The colors of the mangave are echoed in the colors of the restio, giving the image integrity and continuity. The image is strengthened by the contrast between the broad, strappy leaves of the mangave and the wispy, threadlike stems of the restio, capped with the burgundy seedheads.

Phormium 'Dusky Chief', garden photography

Sometimes I just can’t help myself

I recently got an ‘infrared kit’. I love the way shooting in infrared reveals aspects of the image that conventional photography does not. If the palm shot nonplussed Sara, what do you think this one will do? Stay tuned….

 


14 Comments

A Berry Happy New Year from Form and Foliage!

foliage gardening, broadleaved evergreens

California buckthorn (Rhamnus californica) ‘Eve Case’ has deep purple berries in winter.

The solstice has passed and the new year is upon us. This is supposedly the drabbest, dreariest time in the garden. To disabuse all of the belief that that must be so, we present a gallery of berries to enjoy as we wave farewell to the old year and welcome the new.

malus, ornamental fruit

‘Professor Sprenger’ crabapple is known for its lovely springtime apple-blossom pink flowers, but oh the fall and winter fruit!

Malus

‘Professor Sprenger’ fruit up close

 

crabapple, Malus

Even the immature fruit of ‘Professor Sprenger’ is decorative.

 

Berberis wilsoniae, Berberis wilsonii, ornamental berries

Wilson’s barberry berries range in color from flamingo to salmon, and contrast beautifully with the glaucus foliage.

The genus Berberis, or barberry, has some of the most ornamental berries of any group of plants. From the subtle tones of the Wilson’s barberry pictured above, to much larger, robust fruit on our native California Berberis aquifolium, these plants decorate the winter landscape. When lacquered by raindrops even the berries of the most common species, Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii), are strikingly beautiful. (note: Japanese barberry is invasive in many areas. Seek sterile cultivars if you wish to add this plant to your landscape.)

American barberry, foliage gardening, ornamental berries

The berries of Berberis aquifolium (formerly Mahonia aquifolium). It’s easy to see why the common name is Oregon grape-holly!

 

Berberis thunbergii, berries, foliage gardening

Japanese barberry fruit on a rainy winter day.

Berries are a great way of adding purple to your fall and winter garden, and there are a variety of trees and shrubs that bear berries of regal hues.

Chilean myrtle, foliage gardening

Luma apiculata has shiny purply-black berries that last for months.

 

'Profusion' beautyberry

For purple punch, though, it’s hard to beat beautyberry! (This specimen is Callicarpa bodinieri var. giraldi ‘Profusion’).

 

foliage gardening, evergreen plants

California native Heteromeles arbutifolia (toyon) can hold its own in a berry contest.

 

ornamental berries, foliage gardening

Cotoneaster berries can be very decorative, but make sure to select only non-invasive species.

 

foliage gardening, ornamental berries

Cotoneaster buxifolius is commonly called bright bead cotoneaster. It has an attractive low, spreading habit and wears its berries for months in winter.

 

foliage gardening

Sarcococca ruscifolia (sweet box) is grown primarily for its fragrant flowers, but don’t forget the ensuing berries !

 

Nandina domestica is overplanted, and paradoxically, under-appreciated. Try the ‘Compacta’ version for a more manageably-sized shrub. The cultivars with dramatic foliage generally do not bear fruit, so go with the old standby for winter berry interest.

Heavenly bamboo

Berries on Nandina domestica ‘Compacta’ last for months in the garden, weeks if brought inside as holiday decor.

 

And of course we cannot leave out the traditional holiday berry, the holly! There are many kinds of holly, most with red berries, but some have golden or yellow fruit. Some even have variegated leaves.

Ilex, foliage gardening

Holly is the traditional winter holiday berry.

 

So if your garden is dull on a winter’s day, put ‘berries’ on your gardening shopping list for spring. We have a tendency to buy plants when they are in bloom and most of us don’t visit nurseries during the off-season, so you need to think ‘winter’ even when you’re shopping in April. You will be rewarded when December rolls around.

Here’s to a berry wonderful 2016 from Form and Foliage!

(Note: some berries are poisonous to humans or certain animals. If you have concerns about children or pets, please read about any plants that you are considering.)

 

 

 

 

 

 


14 Comments

Buds, Shoots and Leaves: Rhododendron De-flowered

Rhododendron 'Noyo Dream' has rich green glossy leaves, contrasting beautifully with the graceful, weeping Dacrydium cupressinum.

‘Noyo Dream’ has rich green glossy leaves, contrasting beautifully with the graceful, weeping Dacrydium cupressinum.

Say Rhodendron to most people, and they will envision shrubs dripping with large, showy blossoms. Indeed, the name comes from two ancient Greek words meaning ‘rose’ and ‘tree’. We toured the Mendocino Botanical Gardens and the nearby private Gardens at Harmony Woods last week, but we focused on ‘dendron‘, rather than ‘rhodo‘!

Rhododendron macabeanum graces the stone bridge at Harmony Woods.

Large leaved Rhododendron macabeanum graces the stone bridge at Harmony Woods.

November is not the time of year when Rhododendron are thought to take center stage as garden divas, or are even believed to shine as notable members of the chorus.  However, by selecting plants with attributes other than simply the showy trusses, one can have the exuberant floral display in spring, AND have gorgeous  foliage, bark and structure all year round. The Rhododendron macabeanum, pictured above, has enormous leaves of bright, deep green, which are plenty decorative during the months that the plant is not in bloom.

rhododendron

A hand and arm provide scale; R. macabeanum really has huge leaves!

Many Rhododendron serve year-round as stunning broad-leaved evergreens.  They can have glossy, textured or pubescent (downy) foliage in a wide range of greens, with lovely shapes and interesting branching and bark.

Rhododendron, Mendocino Botanical Gardens

R. ‘The Honorable Jean Marie de Montague’ has chartreuse buds, which are echoed in the surrounding plantings.

Rhododendron provide form and interest to the garden even when most of the other plants have gone dormant for the season. Like Magnolias, they set their buds the year before they flower, so they carry them through the fall, winter and early spring.  Both their leaf and flower buds are structural, and are often contrasting colors of chartreuse, rusty brown or maroon.

Rhododendron, foliage plants, evergreen shrubs

R. yakushimanum x ’Sir Charles Lemon’ is a beautiful shrub with rusty accents.

Many Rhododendron share another feature that requires closer observation, but provides fabulous year-round drama: contrasting leaf undersides.  R. yakushimanum x ‘Sir Charles Lemon’, pictured above, while an attractive shrub from any angle, displays its hidden assets only when viewed from below:

3.Rhododendron yakushimanum x ’Sir Charles Lemon’

The weak autumn sunlight warms up the cinnamon-colored undersides of the leaves of R. yakushimanum x ‘Sir Charles Lemon’

R. neriiflorum var. neriiflorum ‘Rosevallon’ is really coy.  It’s an unassuming plant (which doesn’t even have a particularly showy flower) with narrow, deep green elliptical leaves.  Hidden beneath those leaves, however, are deep claret undersides, which match the tightly furled flower buds.  This is a seldom seen plant–if you encounter it, be sure to turn the leaves over!

Rhododendron neriiflorum var. neriiflorum ‘Rosevallon’

Look at the way the buds and the leaf undersides are color-coordinated!

Other cultivars have extremely decorative leaves, with a range of colors and patterns far beyond what most of us associate with Rhododendron.  This stunner, pictured below, which we saw at The Gardens at Harmony Woods, is not available commercially, and it has been nicknamed ‘The Hybrid’ because it is a result of so many crosses between both species and hybrids.  There are others of similar hue, however.

foliage shrubs, evergreen shrubs, conifers, rhododendron

This Rhodie reads ‘blue’ in the landscape, especially when contrasted with its deep green ruff of Cryptomeria j. ‘Ryukyu Gyoku’.

Up close we can see that the blue cast comes from a fuzzy white coating:

foliage plants, evergreen shrubs

Rhododendron ‘The Hybrid’ with its sugary coating.

R. pacysanthum is another Rhododendron with silvery blue leaves.

species rhododendrons, foliage plants, blue foliage, glaucous foliage

Rhododendron pachysanthum has silvery leaves that are decorative enough to be flower clusters.

There are even variegated cultivars, such as ‘President Roosevelt’, which provides plenty of interest in the autumn and winter garden.  This beauty is part of the collection at the Mendocino Botanical Gardens.

variegated foliage, evergreen shrubs

Rhododendron ‘President Roosevelt’ at the Mendocino Botanical Gardens

Many Rhododendron also have deeply textured leaves, some of which are puckered, which is botanically described as ‘bullate’.

Crinkly green leaves add texture to the autumn garden.

Rhododendron brachysiphon has shiny, bright green crinkly leaves

Then there is Rhododendron edgeworthii, which has not only texture, but cinnamon-flocked stems and leaf undersides.  The Gardens at Harmony Woods has a lovely specimen that we were able to examine in detail:

foliage plants, evergreen shrubs

Rhododendron edgeworthii is worthy of close inspection

There are even Rhododendron that make their statement by the shape of their leaves.  R. orbiculare subsp. orbiculare (that should make it doubly clear to all that the leaves are round!) has crisp green lily-pad leaves with chartreuse buds and veins.  It is one of the most charming plants we encountered, and needs no flowers to assert its individuality or its garden-worthiness.

Rhododendron, foliage plants

The leaves of R. orbiculare subsp. orbiculare look like lily pads

And did we mention the bark? Rhododendron are often big shrubs (remember that ‘dendron’ means ‘tree’) and when the larger varieties or cultivars get some age on them, some display gorgeous, peeling bark, often cinnamon-colored.  This Rhododendron ciliicalyx x formosum is one of the best:

Rhododendron cilicalyx x formosum

This Rhodie, at the Mendocino Botanical Gardens, gives paperbark maple a run for its money

Or take a look at  Rhododendron ciliicalyx, one of the genetic parents of the plant pictured above, planted amongst the ferns at The Gardens at Harmony Woods:

Foliage plants, interesting bark

Rhododendron ciliicalyx

If you must have fall color in your garden, don’t rule out Rhododendron for that, either.  Some, such as the Exbury hybrids (commonly called azaleas) are deciduous and provide as much autumn color as maples and ginkgo.  This one at the Mendocino Botanical Gardens caught our eye and drew us from afar:

azaleas, fall foliage

Rhododendron ‘Exbury Hybrid’ at the Mendocino Botanical Gardens

This little R. ‘Washington State Centennial’ at Harmony Woods was in full fall glory when we visited:

Azalea 'Washington State Centennial', deciduous shrubs, fall color

Hard to believe that this is a Rhododendron!

And if you think that the leaves only get a chance to show their glory in fall and winter, take a look at R. ‘John Paul Evans’ which, in a burst of confused enthusiasm, flushed new growth on one branch just in time for our visit to Harmony Woods:

Rhododendron nuttali form, foliage plants

R. ‘John Paul Evans’ has violet new foliage and large, textured leaves

This nuttallii form was a 2013 American Rhododendron Society pick of the year, and supposedly has huge, fragrant blossoms.  We fell in love with the crinkly violet leaves!

Both the Mendocino Botanical Gardens and The Gardens at Harmony Woods are in USDA zone 9b or Sunset zone 17, meaning that freezes are rare.  However, there are many, many hardy Rhododendron.  If this essay has inspired you to learn more, try the American Rhododendron Society (ARS) for a wealth of information about cultivars and how to grow them.

The Gardens at Harmony Woods are private, but are open by appointment to members of the ARS and the American Conifer Society; members may consult their directories for information.  Non-members: one of the benefits of belonging to these societies is access to wonderful private gardens, which provide enjoyment and inspiration for your own gardening endeavors. Membership is inexpensive and opens up new worlds of plants and people!

 


17 Comments

Trunk Show

Lagerstroemia fauriei

This Japanese crape myrtle at the Raulston Arboretum doesn’t need to be in flower to attract attention

We are known to wax poetic at Form and Foliage over the joys of, well, form and foliage.  Most of the time, that means that we show you gorgeous woody plants and their leaves, with a generous sprinkling of ornaments such as cones and berries.  Now, however, we’d like to direct your attention to a part of the plant that tends to get short shrift in garden photography, and in our view contributes much to a tree’s eye appeal: the trunk.

Quarryhill Botanical Garden

Acer griseum is commonly called paperbark maple and it is easy to see why

In fact, there are some trees, such as this paper bark maple (Acer griseum) photographed at Quarryhill Botanical Garden, that would be worth having even if they remained leafless!  The paper bark maple actually has very nice leaves, albeit not the most dramatic.  But the peeling bark adds texture and interest to the garden all year long.

strawberry tree

Arbutus ‘Marina’ is generally in a multi-stemmed form to get as much mileage from those trunks as possible

Another tree with peeling bark is Arbutus ‘Marina’, a hybrid cultivar of our native California madrone.  The young trees have semi-gloss, cinnamon bark that, when it ages, breaks open to display a chartreuse under-layer.  The evergreen leaves, flowers and fruit of this tree are all stunning, but the trunk is the attention-grabber.

Physocarpus Coppertina

We chose this ninebark Coppertina for its coppery leaves, but now we’re in love with the trunk

While we’re on the subject of peeling, let’s look at Physocarpus, a shrub whose trunk peels with such abandon that its common name is ninebark. We’ve never counted the layers, but we make a point of pruning this shrub to showcase the lovely textured trunk.  Like Arbutus ‘Marina’, ninebark has beautiful leaves (in colors that range from gold and lime to copper and maroon), flowers and berries.

California redwood, coast redwood

The branches on these 25 year old redwoods are now far above our heads, so we focus on the trunks

Not all trunks have to be burlesque strippers to command attention, however.  Some do it simply with grandeur and presence.  The redwood crown provides shade but the trunk adds sculptural and textural interest, as well as rich color that deepens in the winter rains.

Olea wilsonii, fruitless olive trees

Olive trees are one of the best selections for interesting trunks

Some trees, such as olives, are known for their naturally occurring intriguing, twisted shapes, which can be enhanced by careful pruning.  The tree on the right is showcasing the characteristic knobby protuberances that develop as the trees age. These olives were planted as small trees about 12 years ago, primarily for shade, but now also serve as sculpture.

Olea wilsonii, Arbutus 'Marina', Quercus agrifolia

A trunk trifecta of olives, Abutus ‘Marina’ and an ancient live oak

In this trunk trifecta, the olive trunks in the foreground are echoed by the cinnamon trunk of Arbutus ‘Marina’ in the middle and that of the aged live oak (Quercus agrifolia) in the rear. Color, texture, shape—these trunks have it all! And as we remind you repeatedly, they don’t hibernate in winter.

David's maple, Quarryhill Botanical Garden

An enormous Acer davidii at Quarryhill dominates its location with its strong trunk and lovely bark

This David’s maple is less than 25 years old and serves as a sculpture—and a bench!—in the woodland landscape of Quarryhill Botanical Garden.  It stands out against the surrounding thicket and provides plenty of interest, even when bare of foliage.

The Oregon Garden

Japanese larch ‘Diana’, its trunk covered with lichen, is a sight on a frosty winter morning in its leafless sparkle

Larches are unusual amongst conifers in that they drop their needles each year, leaving only bare trunk and branches.  The Larix kaempferi ‘Diana’, pictured above, holds court in late autumn at The Oregon Garden, with its shaggy, sculptural trunk and branches festooned with lichens.

Betula papyrifera

The winter landscape in this Bellingham WA garden is illuminated by the trunk of the paper birch

Some trunks make their statement by their color rather than their form or texture.  The stark white trunks of Betula papyrifera, or paper birch, are much more visible in winter when the tree is leafless.  On drab days they light up the garden and draw the eye.

Cornus stolonifera Arctic Fire

The trunk of this red-twig dogwood is so incendiary that its name – Arctic Fire – is patented!

Red-twig dogwoods (Cornus stolonifera spp) are an easy way to add boldly colored trunks to the winter landscape.  Unassuming shrubs when in leaf, they take center stage when wearing only their bare branches.  There are yellow-twigged versions, as well.

Japanese maple, red twigs, red stems

Vivid stems are the hallmark of the coral bark maple (Acer palmatum ‘Sango Kaku’)

Our ‘go to’ tree for red trunks and stems is the coral bark maple, whose botanical cultivar name ‘Sango Kaku’ means ‘coral tower’ or ‘coral pillar’ in Japanese.  The above shot was taken in spring as the tree is leafing out with chartreuse foliage, and the drama of the complementary colors (remember the color wheel!) is evident.

In autumn the trunk and leaves are nearly the same color

In autumn the trunk and leaves are nearly the same color

‘Sango Kaku’s autumn display is more muted, as the leaves turn to soft yellow-orange.

Japanese maple

Winter is when we appreciate the coral bark maple the most, when the leaves are gone and it is purely a ‘trunk show’

Coral bark maple is a lovely small tree that grows in full sun in our zone 9b.  There are dwarf varieties available, as well, such as ‘Aka Kawa Hime’.  The red tends to be most vivid on new growth, so the dwarf, slower growing cultivars will provide more eye candy at eye level.

Acer palmatum 'Mizuho Beni'

There are Japanese maples with golden trunks, as well, such as ‘Mizuho Beni’

Japanese maples have trunks with all shades of yellow, gold and green, as well as coral.  In addition, they have some of the loveliest shapes, most delectable new growth and gorgeous fall color of any trees.  Surely you have room for just one?

We’ve saved the most unusual trunk for last.  While some may call it a weeping Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii ‘Pendula’), others would just call it an elephant!:

elephant shaped tree

The ‘elephant’ at Buchholz & Buchholz Nursery in Oregon – a weeping Douglas fir


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Slow for the Cone Zone

Bruns weeping spruce (Picea omorika 'Pendula Bruns') has gorgeous purple cones

Bruns weeping spruce (Picea omorika ‘Pendula Bruns’) has gorgeous purple cones

There are lots of reasons to add a few conifers to your landscape, and one of the most compelling is the decorative cones that many bear.  Fir, or Abies, have the reputation for having the dressiest cones, but as you’ll see, even the under-appreciated pines put on some stylish decoration that lasts all year. So slow down and observe when you pass a conifer and enter the ‘cone zone’!

Wine red female cones drip off the branches of Picea orientalis 'Early Gold' in spring.

Wine red female cones drip off the branches of Picea orientalis ‘Early Gold’ in spring.

The following series of three images depicts the cones of Abies koreana ‘Horstmann’s Silberlocke’ through the seasons. This tree wears gorgeous foliage even without its ‘jewelry’, and together with its cones makes one of the most decorative specimens in the garden, even giving floriferous angiosperms a run for their money.

The cones of Abies koreana (Korean fir) 'Horstmann's Silberlocke' in early spring

The cones of Abies koreana (Korean fir) ‘Horstmann’s Silberlocke’ in early spring

The cones start out as small, chartreuse gumdrops and then become lavender and celadon eggs with a texture and design that would make Faberge proud.

Korean fir, Abies koreana 'Horstmann's Silberlocke'

These cones decorate a tree that is already stunning, with its curved silver-lined needles.

By autumn they have dried out and matured  to rich rusty brown, resembling intricately woven baskets.

The autumn cones of 'Horstmann's Silberlocke' Korean fir shatter when touched, leaving their spindles.

The autumn cones of ‘Horstmann’s Silberlocke’ Korean fir shatter when touched, leaving their spindles.

The spruces (genus Picea) in the next two photos, taken at Quarryhill Botanical Garden in Glen Ellen, CA, have similarly shaped cones but with dramatically different colors.  Well, some of us like emeralds and others prefer rubies – it’s the same with cones.

The limey elongated cones of Wison's spruce (Picea wilsonii) complement the turquoise needles on this specimen at Quarryhill Botanical Garden.

The limey elongated cones of Wison’s spruce (Picea wilsonii) complement its turquoise needles

Both Picea wilsonii and Picea likiangensis hail from China, and both get too big for most gardens, but we love to seek them out and enjoy their lovely ornaments.  Both of these specimens are large and laden with cones.

spruce

A cone-studded Picea likiangensis specimen at Quarryhill Botanical Garden.

As a general rule, firs hold their cones upright and spruces, as in the two examples above, have pendulous cones. The quite, unassuming ‘Poulsen’ fir (Abies x. arnoldiana ‘Poulsen’ doesn’t put out a huge display of cones every year, but when it does, it’s a showstopper.

firs, conifers, cones

The black-raspberry cones on Abies x arnoliana ‘Poulsen’ sit pertly atop the branches

They start out in spring a rosy black-raspberry, then deepen to grapey purple.

pine cones

Poulsen fir (Abies x arnoldiana ‘Poulsen’) cones in early summer

By late summer/autumn they have faded to a soft lilac.

Poulsen's fir with

Soft lilac cones of Abies x arnoldiana ‘Poulsen’, a shrubby conifer with a dignified habit

Even though most of us call the cones of all conifers ‘pine cones’, the cones borne by pines look very different from those of the firs and spruces.  Many of true pine cones look like they are carved out of wood when they are young, as with the new cones of one of the mugo pines (Pinus mugo var. mugho).

Like wooden scrimshaw, a baby cone of a mugo pine looks as if it is carved from one solid piece

Like wooden scrimshaw, a baby cone of a mugo pine looks as if it is carved from one solid piece

With its yellow cone in early summer, this branch of ‘Golden Ghost’ red pine (Pinus densiflora ‘Golden Ghost’) resembles a bird with flamboyant plumage. The two-toned needles put on even more of a display than the cones!

Japanese red pine (Pinus densiflora) 'Golden Ghost' in spring with new needles and cone

Japanese red pine (Pinus densiflora) ‘Golden Ghost’ in spring with new needles and cones

In this photo of ‘Golden Ghost’ we see both this year’s cone (the tiny ‘carved’ one on the left) and last year’s mature cone (on the right).

pine cone, pine cones

Two years of cones on Japanese red pine ‘Golden Ghost’

This Japanese black pine (Pinus thunbergii ‘Thunderhead’) is a prolific coner, with lovely green, sculptural cones.

Japanese black pine 'Thunderhead'

Even the ladybugs seem to like ‘Thunderhead’s apple green cones

Since we’re moving through the colors, white pines have great cones, too!  They are much more fragile than those of the red or black pines, and often have a sap glacee that makes them glitter in the sunlight.

pine cones

Sap-glazed cones of Pinus strobus ‘Pendula’

We mentioned emeralds and rubies earlier, but some cones are aquamarines. The cones of this Oriental arborvitae (Platycladus orientalis) don’t even look like cones.

pine cones

These Platycladus cones look more like gems sprinkled along the branches

All of the cones that we’ve shown you so far are females – they contain the ovaries and ultimately the fertilized seeds. But let’s not forget the boys! Unlike much of nature, where the male of the species gets the elegant plumage and fine feathers, in plants the male’s display is generally less showy.  But we think that this crowd of pollen cones on the ‘Golden Ghost’ pine are one of the trustiest signs of spring!

pine cones

Pollen cones on Pinus densiflora ‘Golden Ghost’

So whether you’re walking in your own garden or a botanical preserve such as Quarryhill, when you see a conifer, stop and take a look.  If more people don’t start slowing for the Cone Zone, Form and Foliage is going to begin issuing citations!