Category Archives: shrubs

All yellow, all the time


Maple in the cemetery

That seems to be the theme with this year’s fall colors, which have been slow to develop.  Though I miss the brilliant reds we usually get, the golden, cheddar, bright, and light yellows are lovely, too.


Dawn redwood

These two images above are from a walk through the Fredericksburg National Cemetery (Union) with Ann, Shelley and Tena the day after the election.  Here’s a yellow maple that was carpeting the sidewalk below the college.


Maple below the college

On today’s morning walk I saw lovely yellowy apricot maples.



Closer to home, the always reliable bottlebrush buckeye.fall-bottlebrush

The fothergilla has gotten quite big.fall-fothergilla

And somewhere is a picture of the Solomon’s Seal that, like the hostas, turned yellow as it ripens and fades away.

The Goldilocks tree

For the last couple of years, I’ve planned to take out the butterfly bush that anchors the northern end of the sunny border and replace it with the perfect small tree or shrub.  It can be tall but can’t be too wide lest it impinge on the neighbors’ driveway, which they are very proud of and guard jealously. Ideally, it would be a native that supports lots of wildlife AND has at least two-season interest.

Well, perfect is the enemy of the good, as we all know, and I’ve been paralyzed.  Here are just a few of the possibilities.

The first is probably too big:

yaupon_hollyIlex vomitoria commonly known as Yaupon is native to a variety of areas including sandy woods, dunes, open fields, forest edges and wet swamps, often along the coastal plain and maritime forests, from Virginia to Florida, Arkansas and Texas. This is a thicket-forming, broadleaf evergreen shrub or small tree that typically grows in an upright, irregularly branched form to 10-20’ tall and to 10’ wide, but may grow taller in optimum conditions. Elliptic to ovate-oblong, leathery, glossy, evergreen, dark green leaves (to 1.5” long) have toothed margins. Small greenish-white flowers appear on male and female plants in spring (April). Flowers are fragrant but generally inconspicuous. Pollinated flowers on female plants give way to berry-like red (infrequently yellow) fruits 1/4” diameter) which ripen in fall and persist into winter. Birds are attracted to the fruit.  -Missouri Botanical Garden

The second is one that Anne Little had recommended for the back garden:


Magnolia virginiana, commonly called sweet bay magnolia, is native to the southeastern United States north along the Atlantic coast to New York. In the northern part of its cultivated growing range, it typically grows as either a 15-20′ tall tree with a spreading, rounded crown or as a shorter, suckering, open, multi-stemmed shrub. In the deep South, it is apt to be more tree-like, sometimes growing to 60′ tall. Features cup-shaped, sweetly fragrant (lemony), 9-12 petaled, creamy white, waxy flowers (2-3″ diameter) which appear in mid-spring and sometimes continue sporadically throughout the summer. Oblong-lanceolate shiny green foliage is silvery beneath. Foliage is evergreen to semi-evergreen in the South, but generally deciduous in the St. Louis area. Cone-like fruits with bright red seeds mature in fall and can be showy. See also Magnolia virginiana var. australis which primarily differs from the species by being somewhat taller, having more fragrant flowers and being more likely to be evergreen. -Missouri Botanical Garden

It’s said to prefer moist soils but everyone claims that once it’s established it would be fine through a Virginia summer.  But does it have more than spring interest?  And, 60 feet tall??  Though I’ve also read that it’s easily pruned.

Doug Tallamy recommends the native black cherry because it is a host plant for so much “vertebrate and invertebrate wildlife.”  However, a Dave’s Garden poster says:

In the garden or small property, I give this thumbs-down. It does not make an ornamental specimen, even in full bloom. The flowers are tiny and I don’t find them at all showy. I also find them mildly malodorous. The foliage is consistently troubled by tent caterpillars and webworms, and the twigs are commonly disfigured by black knot.

Like most cherries, it has thirsty, competitive roots. It self-sows weedily and aggressively. The wood is brittle and presents a hazard when it breaks. And the cherries stain everything black when they fall, those that the birds leave. Read more:

Too bad…

Tallamy also recommends a river  birch,  but they suck up all the water and get too big for my space.

Now, I do love crabapples, and he says that the non-native species seem to attract just as many creatures as the natives do, so maybe that’s the way to go.  Maybe Michael Dirr can recommend a small variety.

At least I have a silver (?) maple and a white oak, which both host myriad species.  I have yet to see a moth on the oak tree, but on the other hand I’ve only just started looking.




Slash and burn

Well, I don’t have to be that drastic, but there is certainly good reason to divide and move these perennials come fall.

DSC03638The hellebores are so happy in my garden that they’ve gotten too big for their britches and are overpowering the space.  I think they are easy to divide and probably take it in stride.  They have also self-sown like crazy, and it’s time to transplant the babies.  I think the walkway garden could use a few.  Maybe just pot up the rest and offer them to anyone who’s interested.

DSC03634I have struggled with this shrub border, and here is a photo showing it at its worst.  The ‘Annabelle’ hydrangea is thriving, but the autumn ferns in front of it have gotten way too big.  I did plant a few in front of the trellis but they seem to have been overtaken by the daffodil foliage and are looking a bit weak.  Not quite sure where to place them.  And that iris should move, too – I like its leaves contrasting with the shrubs but it’s gotten too big.

Then there are the shrubs in front.  The baptisia and the amsonia are way too big for the front garden, so it’s time to move them, too.  But where?  Well, if they can take part sun, even less than they have now, maybe this vast wasteland?DSC03671

This is taken from the least flattering angle possible – the trellis hides the compost pile from view and I’m rarely standing right here to see the mess.  But the weeds in the middle of this photo, between the compost pile and the wood pile, could perhaps be replaced by some amsonia, which is beautiful in spring, then dull all summer and then glows with yellow foliage in the fall.  A good filler.

The pink garden

The raised bed is on the side of the house where the neighbors tend to see it more than I do, since it abuts their driveway.  It’s been sort of a mess over there – scraggly grass, bulb cutting garden that soon flops over, self-sown datura and more recently bronze fennel that gets out of control.  But since I installed the ‘Antony Waterer’ spirea to complement the dark pink crepe myrtle that hangs over the fence to the back yard, I’ve thought of it as the pink garden and have begun to proceed accordingly.

The spirea is now accompanied by a variety of sedums, including ‘Autumn Joy’ and ‘ Matrona.’  I’ve also planted several dahlias, my experiment this year in doing it right.  Six of the nine I planted seem to be thriving (the other three, I think, were planted too shallowly).  Otto’s Thrill, Park Princess, Fascination, Lambada and Renoir are planted here and on the edge of the sunny garden.  Here’s someone else’s picture of the latter:dahlia RenoirSo far they are just sitting there, awaiting their stakes, which of course I should have inserted at planting time, but one does what one can.

The other part of the so-called pink garden is the raised bed I put in a few years ago.  I’ve had pretty good success but it tends to get out of hand at the height of summer, particularly since I’m inclined to let self-sown plants have their way.  This year I vowed would be different:  orderly rows of vegetables, bordered by flowers that would bloom all summer.

Here’s a look at phase one, two rows of Tuscan kale (from seed smuggled in from Florence), plus arugula and lettuce, a few chives, and some self-sown potatoes that I can’t quite let go of.  Discipline is already failing…  DSC00975But the rest of the story is the scraggliness of the grass in that corner.  I had been planning for some time to lay weed block cloth and cover it with mulch, and I finally did.  In the course of this project, I also moved the edging rocks and made the garden beds just a few inches deeper.  It may seem contrary to eliminate plants (grass) for mulch, but see how much better it looks already?  Here’s the before:

DSC00976Note that the dahlias have not yet been planted, and the perennial pea vine is running wild.

Here’s the after:

DSC01003A few weeks ago I planted marigolds and zinnias along the edges of the raised bed.  The arugula is already going to seed, as is the cilantro in the whiskey barrel.  There’s a tomato in there that will take over soon.  The green pot is for the squash seedlings, if they are still alive in a few days.  Need more potting soil first.  And I’ve moved the two blue glazed ceramic pots to the mulched area with some idea of planting something in there.  A work in progress, the pink garden, but looking better and more intentional already.

Dreams for the sunny border

As usual, my plans for the expansion of this border are all over the place.  I do keep coming back to the idea of anchoring the lower end with a small flowering tree.  Crabapple, kousa dogwood, sweet bay magnolia and native cherry are just a few that have auditioned for this spot.  This morning, reading Margaret Roach’s blog about the sweet-scented Carl’s viburnum, I remembered how much I loved the one Mom and Dad planted at the corner of the house and how, as everyone says, the scent wafted through the breeze.  Margaret links to a listing here of a smaller variety that might just work well in the spot I’m considering. Of course, it’s not a native…