Star Gardener: Yellow for Winter Cheer

The bright and clear yellow running up and down the center of the grass cuts through the drear and subconsciously lifts the spirits
Yellow variegated Japanese white pine Abby Jane Brody

    Would you like a tip on how to convince yourself it’s a bright and sunny day when the reality is quite the opposite?      
    Use plants with clear yellow, evergreen foliage.

    There are only a few clumps of carex with narrow yellow and green striped blades emerging from the snow near the shaded kitchen entrance of Calista and Ira Washburn’s house in East Hampton. However, in this long winter of perpetual snow, the bright and clear yellow running up and down the center of the grass cuts through the drear and subconsciously lifts the spirits.

    Similar carexes with white instead of yellow are elegant in warm seasons, but fade in snow and the glare of the low winter sun. Evergreen shrubs with white variegation, like pieris and cherry laurel, remain attractive but must be admired from up close, as the white does not carry over any distance.

    So yellow is the way to go, and there are a few selections that are particularly good, or that I am partial to this winter.

    Mrs. Washburn picked up her nameless carex years ago as a pass-along plant at a Ladies Village Improvement Society summer fair. It keys out to Carex oshimensis Evergold, and we liked it so much we ordered a batch for the garden club plant sale over Memorial Day weekend. The dark-green margins provide the framework for the yellow central stripe to “pop” and carry the color over long distances.

    Evergold is easy to grow and forms a dense mound of finely textured foliage that spills over. It readily forms a good-sized clump, and responds well to being separated into smaller pieces. That makes it easy to have enough to use as an accent or in groups in the garden or containers.

    Rick Darke, the guru of grasses, finds it one of the most beautiful and ornamental of all the grasses. It is widely available, but because of confusion with names (Carex morrowii Aureo-Variegata, Old Gold and Variegata), it is best to purchase it in person. The key to remembering: fine blades with central yellow stripe edged in dark green.

    Beauty begets beauty, and that describes the all-yellow C. oshimensis Everillo that was discovered in an Irish nursery in a container among the Evergolds. It has only recently made it to the United States and is available from Plant Delights, the online nursery in North Carolina where I purchased a plant last year. Tony Avent, owner of Plant Delights, calls Everillo one of the most exciting shade plants of the last decade.  

    The color, canary yellow, holds through the winter. To maintain the brightest color, plant it where it gets morning sun. Everillo matures to one foot tall by two feet across. The blades emerge upright but then weep downward.   

    In September I came across it in an English garden, planted by itself, cascading over a container to wonderful effect; that’s an idea I shall borrow.  Everillo (a terrible name) would also be excellent in mixed containers or in the open garden. I have it surrounded by the dark-leaved heuchera Obsidian, although it would also look good with hostas.

    In years past I’ve written the praises of the golden evergreen greater wood rush, Luzula sylvatica Aurea, growing in front of a golden bleeding heart.  Everillo wins the beauty contest hands down. 

    The yellow variegated Japanese white pine, Pinus parviflora Ogon Janome, is a small tree that casts bright light in the winter garden. Its needles have horizontal broad bands of yellow alternating with green. It is most effective when sited with the sun behind it and with dark green foliage nearby. 

    Ogon Janome, after 15 years in my garden, is nearing five feet high. Its needles are soft and it mixes easily with other trees and shrubs — a team player, not a diva.

    There is a much showier native pine with variegated golden needles, Pinus virginiana Wate’s Golden, that some may find appealing. 

    The golden Hinoki, Chamaecyparis obtusa Crippsi, is rightfully popular.   Recently, though, I’ve come to think it is difficult to site properly on the East End, perhaps because of our light. In winter the gold turns harsh and you want to see it from a distance, not close up. 

    At LongHouse Reserve, Crippsi grows behind another excellent golden conifer, the oriental spruce, Picea orientalis Skylands, and they both are backed by dark-green conifers. This grouping is best on a gray day, viewed from the distance.

    It’s a two-tone world out there, with fat, wet flakes falling as I write.  It probably will be one of those days when it’s necessary to bundle up and venture outside with a broom to shake off the heavy snow to prevent the weight from damaging the plants.

    But that means that tomorrow after daybreak, the yellow highlights of Pinus parviflora Ogon Janome will convince me all is bright and well with the world.