December color

Today I’m on the road, traveling through nurseries in the southeast searching for plants to fill the garden centers in March. In setting travel plans for the second week of December I presume that the weather will be warm, even if not sunny, but temperatures have been cold and breezy, and southerners are bundled in their warmest wools and fleece.

Before flying out at the past week’s end the Knockout roses and Encore azaleas were struggling to open their few remaining flowering buds, but with little success in the frigid temperatures. The partially opened buds show just a hint of color, but brown freeze injury at the margins assures that blooms will not develop.

‘Winter’s Joy’ (above) and ‘Winter’s Star’ camellias remain in bloom with little evidence of damage from the cold, though the flowers fade more quickly than a few weeks earlier. ‘Winter’s Interlude’ shows no signs that the buds are swelling, and I expect that I will see no blooms from it unless temperatures in January are quite mild.

I have recently highlighted the marvelous red-berried evergreen hollies, but the deciduous hollies (Ilex verticillata ‘Sparkleberry’, below) deserve mention for their clusters of berries, which are more evident on the leafless stems. In the garden Sparkleberry has contorted itself over and around evergreen camellias and hollies, and though the unremarkable shrub is obscured from view for most of the year the berries shine like a beacon. 

Also shining, but a brilliant and brazen yellow, are the arching blooms of ‘Winter Sun’ mahonia (Mahonia x media ‘Winter Sun’, below), which began to flower early in November, and will continue for a few weeks longer, and often into early January. 

As winter approaches, and who would argue that the season has not arrived already, the bright berries, gold and blue foliage of evergreens, and scattered blooms in the garden are greatly appreciated, a splash of color to tease the gardener until the first blooms arrive late in February.

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2 thoughts on “December color

  1. I’m enjoying reading your blurbs. My yard is also an acre, but it’s out in horse country (between Marshall and The Plains) and was an acre of lawn when I bought it 4 years ago. I have tried to preserve the open vistas (such as the Blue Ridge on the horizon) and parklike atmosphere, so I have been much more stingy in the use of trees than you (and yes, there are so many more that I would love to plant). I’m attempting to grow a praire (I’m from Minnesota)/meadow on 1/4 acre (much more difficult than I could have ever imagined), and a mini-Waikiki Beach & Diamond Head with waterfall surrounded by hardy hibiscus (I used to live in Hawaii). I’m pushing the envelope on some of the species, such as a Paper Birch forest, a Quaking Aspen, and a Giant Sequoia, but in general have tried to stick with plants native to our area. But the reason I am commenting is to disagree with your description of Sparkleberry Holly. It is not a variety of Ilex verticillata but rather a hybrid of I. verticillata and I. serrata. No big deal, but I’m kind of anal that way. Anyway, I look forward to reading more.
    Greg Carlson
    The Tree Tutor

    • Thanks for the correction. Too often I’m lazy on my taxonomy, and perhaps in other areas also. Good luck with the birch, aspen, and sequoia. In the past I’ve planted varieties of white birch and a columnar sequoia, but they eventually succumb to our humidity.

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