The Watnong cut-leaf maple is a tree of consummate beauty. It is pruned at least two times each year so you can see through it and admire the architecture of its branches, framed by clouds of dark green foliage flushed with ruby.
In October its leaves steadily color to an intense burnt umber and scarlet that dazzles in the sun. Then a day comes when the leaves fall all at once, forming a pool of molten ore under the bare branches.
But I think I loved that tree most of all when its graceful branches were etched under a mantle of fresh-fallen snow.
Why, you might reasonably ask, should you give space in your garden to a plant that is found all around us?
Fragrance, that is why, and summersweet, or sweet pepperbush, Clethra alnifolia, has it in abundance. It is spicy, somewhat reminiscent of cloves and cinnamon, and a light breeze casts its perfume over a large area.
Purple is the darnedest color. It attracts us like bees to a honeypot. But get it home and it is nearly impossible to find a spot where it fits in.
After spending entirely too much time on this conundrum I’m coming to the conclusion that purple works well on a small scale or in a large park-like setting. But not in the smaller domestic properties in which most of us live and garden.
Blue hydrangeas are icons of summer in seaside areas along the Mid-Atlantic and New England states. What is summer without them? Well, we are finding out for the first time in decades.
It might be another 30 years before it happens again. However, this year’s washout creates an opportunity to find other hydrangeas that might be even more appealing and better able to withstand an occasional frigid winter.
Mopheads and many lacecap hydrangeas belong to the large leaf or macrophylla species, which has been affected.
Plants with gold foliage have lots of curb appeal and often prove irresistible. Once they are home, however, they can be a challenge to the gardener. Are you looking to make a statement or create harmony with a team player?
Containers are easy, and flower beds, too. Generally, the more color the better. They are both more forgiving than the broader landscape, where trees and shrubs hold sway. When gold and chartreuse foliage is not used judiciously, all too easily the result is a disjointed collection of freaks rather than a garden.
Rooftops covered with plants go back hundreds, if not thousands, of years. In China there is the roof iris, Iris tectorum, so named because it flourishes on sod. In Northern France and England there is an old rural tradition of growing moss, ferns, and hens-and-chicks (or live-forevers) on the roofs of houses, covered entryways, and out-buildings.
There is nothing like being enveloped in a cloud of intense fragrance to jolt you into the here and now. Most of us are not disciplined enough to focus on the moment, but whether in a natural landscape or garden, that is where we ought to be to savor its beauty. Strongly fragrant plants can prod us into engagement with the present.