Since the cold has descended upon us, the hunt for winter interest in the garden has become a noble quest. The leaves are laying peacefully at the feet of deciduous trees, enriching the soil and providing food for microbes and worms. Flowers are but a memory of warmer times. The foliage of perennials, shrubs and grasses offers something to gaze upon from frosty windowpanes. Now is the season of the giants, the big guys, the trees. The largest dwellers of the Fairegarden are the Loblolly pines, Pinus taeda that hold the eastern border with towering grace. This stand of trees is the only group of its kind left in our neighborhood, surviving the southern pine beetle attack of 2000 that decimated huge stands of pine trees in the southeast United States. They are prized beyond measure, dwarfing the houses and offering a high abode to birds and critters in their sheltering arms. Nothing we have planted will offer this kind of size in my lifetime, but perhaps some of the other trees will someday be revered as these pines are.
Growing under the pines are patches of the native American Holly, Ilex opaca with some that have seeded so close to the pines that they are growing cheek to trunk. Birds scatter the digested holly berries all over the garden, but they are easy to identify and pulled when small. Other hollies have been planted for screening purposes, winter interest and bird feeding. Foster’s, Ilex attenuata ‘Fosterei’, Burfurd, Ilex cornuta ‘Dwarf Burford’, English variegated, Ilex aquifolium ‘Argenteo Marginata’ and Blue Princess, Ilex x meserveae ‘Blue Princess’ have survived in the root run of the greedy giant pines.
The next largest conifers are the Hemlocks, Tsuga canadensis forming a barrier to hide the rectangular chain link fenced perimeter at the top of the hill behind the main house. These were planted as one gallon specimens when this property was purchased in 1996 for our offspring to live in while attending college in this small town. Weeds, vines and pestilence attacked and covered the small trees, but when we moved here in 2000 and had the slope cleared with a backhoe, the Hemlocks were healthy and had grown nicely. So far they too have been spared the attack of devastation, this time by the wooly adelgid. This row of trees has grown now to well over twenty feet in height. They are just getting started and provide a dark green curtain behind the knot garden. The new spring growth is a pleasant chartruese. The young blue cones are gravy.
Still small but rumored to reach a height of forty feet are the two Arizona Cypress, Cupressus arizonica trees just south of the tall pines. There may be some branch intermingling of cypress and pine in a few more years when they have doubled in size. Pruning will be done for shaping but the plan is to let the conifers settle the space issue amongst themselves.
Chamaecyparis is a favorite evergreen family of the Fairegarden, with all sizes represented from the tiny miniatures grown in containers to their larger tree siblings. Three C. obtusa ‘Wells Special’ screen the garage from the street in the center island formed by the circle driveway. These have already surpassed the six foot height on the tag, with the one on the far right reaching for the stars. It happens that way sometimes.
Growing larger than expected, it seems many of these small trees have neglected to read their size tags, the C. pisifera ‘Boulevard’ offers privacy and shade in the southeast corner bed. They have grown considerably since this January 2008 shot, but this image was the most appealing that could be found in the files.
Also growing very much larger than the five feet tall that was anticipated are the hedge of C. pifisfera ‘Gold Mop’ that replaced the Japanese privet hedge that outlined every plot in our older subdivision. The battle against the privet is ongoing, for neighbors have not eradicated their hedges and some even let them grow wild and free, (including all neighbors whose property abutts mine), producing berries favored by the birds. Seedling privet is one of our worst weed offenders, but they are easily recognized and pulled while small. The Gold Mops were given an initial pruning last summer in the effort to meet the vision of golden cones, as well as prevent them from overshadowing the deciduous azaleas planted in front of them.
The Gold Mops are less gold on the north side of the hedge, the side viewed from the house, than on the sunny south side that faces the veggie bed. At the far end is C. obtusa ‘Crippsii’, a much more yellow fellow, said to grow to fifteen feet. So far the Crippsii and Gold Mops are neck and neck in the race to the sky.
Beyond evergreen foliage, there are a couple of trees that offer up flowers in winter. Witch hazel, Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Diane’ bears burnt orange flowers that shine brightly in January,February and into March, a time when color is scarce in the upper plane of the garden.
Blooming in late winter is the sweet smelling Edgeworthia chrysantha. This small tree blooms in downward hanging clusters that resemble furry beasts, with golden bell shaped flowers emerging from the paws. Simply enchanting!
There are deciduous trees and larger shrubs that still offer plenty of color for humans and wildlife. Our favorites are the Winterberries, Ilex verticillata ‘Sparkleberry’ and I. ‘Winter Gold’. Planted beneath the Yoshino cherry tree in front of the main house, they bring a smile whenever we drive up or walk outside. The berries will persist into March, when they become soft and tasty to the cardinals, mockingbirds and many other feathered friends. This type of holly requires a male pollinator, Apollo is providing the escort service to these ladies.
Another type of winter interest comes from the stems of deciduous trees and shrubs. Cornus alba ‘Elegantissima’ (red) and C. sericea ‘Flaviramea’ (yellow) brighten a dreary and otherwise colorless sea of tan grasses and hibernating perennials in the center island driveway bed. To read a post about the colorful stems click here-Twiggy.
This continues the series of posts about How To Have Winter Interest. Links to the others are listed below and can also be found in the How To category section on the sidebar.
How To Have Winter Interest With Non Green Evergreens
How To Have Winter Interest -Garden Grasses
How To Have Winter Interest-Seeing Green
How To Have Winter Interest-Shrubs Small And Large
How To Have Winter Interest-Hardscape
For other posts written by Fairegarden, look for How To on the sidebar page listing or click here.