Monday, December 6, 2010

Garden Interest in Late Fall and Winter

It is this time of year when I finally notice plants that are not roses. The shrubs that provide winter interest in my garden are usually not dramatic, with the exception of camellias, and are overshadowed by the bounty of rose and perennial blooms the rest of the year.  But I appreciate them now.

I have two Sango Kaku Japanese maples, the one pictured here in full all day sun. The beautiful coral red canes add a lot of color to an otherwise muted garden palette, and this year the foliage turned a vivid orange. I find this maple a struggle to maintain but well worth it at this time of year.

Another plant that is very much forgotten the rest of the year is Nandina, or Heathenly Bamboo. I am not too fond of it as it spreads, reseeds, and gets leggy if not pruned. That is quite a bit of maintenance (even if it does not need a lot of water or good soil) for a fairly moderate return. However, the berries are pretty, and the foliage airy and elegant and usually turns red or orange, although mine didn't this year...

I love our Strawberry Tree (Arbutus Unedo). Its evergreen foliage provides a good screen and copper bark and berries are very ornamental. It does not mind sprinkler irrigation at all, and is, in fact, a very good lawn tree. 

Azaleas are not generally known for fall foliage but some of mine were beautiful this fall.  Azaleas are acidophile plants that require periodic amendment of our alkaline soil, and I am still not sure whether I want to keep the four or five I have in the ground... Their biggest benefit, in my opinion, is a very early bloom time, brightening up the garden well before the roses start their spring flush. Most of my azaleas repeat modestly in November or December.

My most colorful winter display is provided by cyclamen.  My husband and I planted about 20 of them in the fall 3 years ago to line the path to our front door. They have since naturalized and colonized our entire courtyard. The enclosed space keeps the fragrance well, and we enjoy them from about October to April.

I love Daphne Odora for its wonderful fragrance. Also, it blooms in February, when winter is at its bleakest. We first saw (and smelled) it at Hakone Gardens, and I had to get one for myself. The Western Gardening Book says it is prone to sudden dieback, but mine has been in the ground in partial shade for 4 years now, and so far, so good. We keep it by the front door in an enclosed courtyard where the fragrance remains for a long time. It is evergreen, and the one at Hakone Gardens (a much older plant than mine) is only 4'x4'. Mine has variegated foliage. The care tips I have read suggest it needs little summer water, but mine regularly sits in puddles of water because of iffy drainage in the courtyard, and does not seem to mind.

But back to roses. Lots of mine set hips, and I stop deadheading those from which I want hip displays in October. Usually (but not always) the hips will set, ripen and persist through the winter. The most beautiful hips in my garden come from a hybrid rugosa, Purple Pavement.  I actually do not deadhead it at all, and it blooms all through the summer (I have had no fall bloom on my 3-year old plant). The hips are fairly soft and do not last through the winter for me. Birds love them.

The Imposter sets hips enthusiastically and continues blooming too. The hips are hard and last all the way till pruning time. A very easy rose for me, with year-round color, and very healthy. The only thing that is missing is fragrance.

My other roses that set hips readily are Heritage, Regensberg, Joseph's Coat and Francis Dubreuil (Barcelona). This is what hips on Regensberg look like.

Rugosa roses are well known for their colorful fall foliage.

My Purple Pavement is beautiful every fall, sometimes pure yellow, sometimes orange. It provides a nice late fall contrast to an otherwise monotonous green border.

Here is a shot of Therese Bugnet, a rose from the San Jose Heritage Rose Garden that I am taking care of.

And here is Basye's Purple Rose, also the brightest fall plant in my back corder.

It is interesting to observe the different hues they display and it adds greatly to my enjoyment of the garden at a time when not much else is attracting my attention.

The garden is winding down now, with a only few rose blooms here and there, fallen leaves gently rustling in the wind, the intense sunlight gone. Time to prune and think of spring.


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