Bunches of berries

I prefer plants that require little thinking, ones that do what’s expected without a fuss. There’s more than enough to think about with sunlight exposures and drainage. If I have to consider who’s a male or female, or where a pollinator will come from (if a separate one is needed), I’m in trouble.

While most hollies consistently bear heavy crops of berries, a few don’t, and in the case of a clump of winterberry hollies, I was confounded that the once heavy crop of berries diminished annually until recent years, when there were none. The resolution was several years in the doing as I was slow to notice, then negligent in planting a male after I traced the problem to removal of the pollinator when a grove of bamboo overwhelmed one end of the holly grouping.

Happily, a male winterberry holly (Ilex verticillata ‘Apollo’) planted in spring just as female hollies were flowering had the desired effect. With smaller and more scattered berries, ‘Sparkleberry’ is likely not the best of the winterberries, but these were planted years ago, so there’s no changing at this point. Now, with ‘Apollo’ nearby, at least there are berries again.

Koehneana holly requires a pollinator, but I’m not certain what other holly assures consistently heavy berries.

American hollies in the garden and neighboring forest do not have berries, so I assume these are males, and potential pollinators for other hollies.

Heavy crops of berries are expected on most of the garden’s hollies without having to consider where the pollination is coming from. Perhaps some are pollinated by American hollies (Ilex opaca) that are native to the neighboring forest (and one tall seedling in the garden), or by other hollies that have both male and female flowers (monoecious). As long as there are berries, I don’t need to think about who’s pollinating who.

Centennial Girl holly does not berry as heavily as Koehneana, but it is dependable.

Variegated English holly has exceptional foliage, but never berries in this garden. I presume that nearby potential pollinators do not flower to coincide with English holly.

At least mildly disappointing is the variegated English holly, which has never had a berry. It’s foliage is reason enough to include it in the garden, but the holly would be more splendid with red berries tucked between the distinctive variegated leaves. There is no male English holly in the garden, and without space enough, there probably never will be. Other hollies should be potential pollinators, but the timing of flowering must be wrong, or something, and as it is I don’t have much hope that I’ll ever see berries.

Nandinas often produce berries in large enough clusters that branches arch under the weight. Berries remain red through the winter until early spring when they turn brown and drop.

There are more bunches of berries in the garden, and while bitter tasting berries of nandinas (Nandina domestica) are rarely eaten by birds, the abundant berries make it clear that bees are attracted to the flowers. Nandina is often included on lists of invasive plants, but I’ve seen nothing of the sort in the garden or in the neighboring forest. Yes, a few seedlings pop up within a foot or two of the clumps, but this is as far as the seeds can roll. To become a pest, birds would have to eat and distribute the seeds. I see a few robins peck at the berries in late winter, but they don’t appear to eat more than a few, so by winter’s end most berries remain.


Autumn fading

Flowering of camellias was exceptional through earlier parts of autumn, and though twenty degree nights brought ruin, many buds assure continued flowering for weeks. With nightly freezes common, even with mild afternoons in the forecast, white and pink blooms will frequently be bordered with brown. Still, there is no complaint.

With regular overnight temperatures in the twenties, this developing camellia flower is likely to be damaged.

While the foliage of many Japanese maples turns early in autumn, several delay into November, and these were damaged by freezes, turning immediately from green (or red) to brown. Certainly, there has been another year when this has occurred, but none that I recall. While repeated comments claim an early onset of cold, I suspect this is not at all unusual.

The Fernleaf Japanese maple was a few days from its peak autumn color when consecutive twenty degree nights turned leaves to brown.

The effect is that the typical process has been interrupted. Leaves that would fall after turning red and yellow are now brown, and clinging to trees. While unusual, there is no reason to suspect that any harm has been done.

The foliage of Oakleaf hydrangeas (above) typically turns late, and leathery leaves were not damaged by freezes. As always, with only evergreen foliage nearby, the large, burgundy colored leaves stand out. Also, I note that while foliage color of blueberries varies from year to year, leaves stand out as nearly as darkly colored as the hydrangeas.

Blush Pink nandina is colorful though the year, but colors become more intense with cold weather.

Colorful evergreens such as variegated English holly stand out when neighboring trees and shrubs are bare.

Flowers after the freeze

Despite repeated pleas by my wife, we will not be heading south for the winter. Not that I enjoy the Virginia winter, but her plan sounds costly.

I’m not a fan of the cold, so I’ll be overjoyed if the winter is mild (again), though unusually warm temperatures through the winter did not improve productivity in accomplishing chores a year ago. The mild winter did encourage more abundant winter flowering, so I walked the garden more, and while many of the garden’s successes are mostly a matter of luck, careful planning brings one thing or another into bloom every day through the winter months, frigid temperatures or not.

The newly planted Marvel mahonia is a few weeks behind Sinter Sun in flowering, though Several Winter Sun, Charity, and Underway mahonias that are more shaded are just beginning to bud. These will flower into the new year.

A week ago, consecutive twenty degree nights brought ruin to an inordinately floriferous mid autumn in the garden, though some flowers survived the freeze. Blooms of hybrid mahonias (Mahonia x media ‘Winter Sun’ and ‘Marvel’, above) are just getting started, and only when temperatures drop into the low teens do they suffer a chill. While many flowers of camellias suffered in the freezes, several remain heavily budded (below), and these will open in coming weeks with typical late autumn temperatures.

Many Encore azaleas were flowering right up to the cold nights, and though many swollen buds remain, few will flower with temperatures regularly falling below freezing. ‘Autumn Amethyst’ (below) is the exception, and while this azalea is never covered in blooms, occasionally it will flower into December.

‘Ogon’ spirea (Spiraea thunbergii ‘Ogon’, above) typically flowers in mid March in this garden, but a few stray blooms are not unusual in November. Unexpected, is flowering of Rankin jasmine (Gelsemium rankinii, below). The vine paused through the chilly days, then resumed flowering. Certainly, this cannot continue much longer, though there are numerous buds ready to flower. This is most curious since Rankin performed poorly, with few flowers through the year. I suspect it prefers drier ground than I’ve planted it into, but this week I’ve no complaints.

Too close to winter

I’ve just returned from a delightful week along the Gulf Coast with daytime temperatures around eighty and few signs of autumn anywhere, much less of winter. I have nothing against winter, except that I’d rather it not be winter, though the cold is clearly necessary to grow the plants I treasure.

I stepped off the plane as the sun set, with temperatures dropping into the low twenties, and already spoiled by my week of tropical temperatures.  A few minutes after I returned home, I was out  on the back patio in the dark and cold dragging pots of agaves and elephant ears into the basement. The sharp spines and heavy, waterlogged pots are the reason this was not done weeks sooner, at our first frost, but with this cold night it was fortunate that I returned home and not a day later.

A week ago, foliage of this lacecap hydrangea was beautifully colored. After two nights in the low and mid twenties, brown leaves hang limply (above).

There was a significant change to the garden after a single night that dropped into the low twenties, but after a second the garden has clearly moved into its winter phase. Leaves of several Japanese maples that typically turn late, instead changed from green to brown overnight. Hydrangeas were green, with some small flowers and a several buds a week ago, but now leaves and flowers have blackened.

While much of the garden is covered by a blanket of fallen leaves, foliage remains on scattered trees and shrubs. Leaves of Oakleaf hydrangeas (Hydrangea quercifolia, above) are late to turn, and more shaded shrubs remain green while ones in part sun have begun to change. The colorful leaves often remain into January.

A week ago, I mentioned the varying colors of leaves of witch hazels, and now, after freezing temperatures, the Vernal witch hazel (Hamamelis vernalis, above) has turned to a splendid, rich yellow, with scattered branches of red. While the nearby ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba, below) has recently dropped all leaves, as it does almost overnight, colorful foliage that does remain is particularly appreciated. 

After the freeze

A single twenty degree night changes the garden. A day before, coneflowers (below), azaleas, camellias (2nd photo, below), and toad lilies were flowering despite repeated frosts and a light freeze a few weeks ago. After this freeze, flowers remain, but in an altered state that shows effects of the cold.

This coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) seedling began flowering in early November. Predictably, the bloom is short lived after a typically cold November night.

The garden’s camellias were in full bloom until this freeze. It is likely that flowers will continue through the next month, or longer, with blooms damaging on very cold nights and buds opening after a few mild days.

While some extol the beauties of seedheads and browned grasses, I prefer leaves and flowers to the dormancy of winter. The silhouettes of Japanese maples (below), and particularly of Harry Lauder’s walking stick (Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’), can be quite marvelous, and colorful berries attract bluejays and cardinals, but these are small consolation.

With recent cold, leaves of the Fernleaf Japanese maple (Acer japonicum ‘Aconitifolium’) have turned mottled colors ranging from yellows to reds.

Paperbush (Edgeworthia chrysantha) holds its deciduous leaves until the first hard freeze. After a twenty degree night, leaves hang limply, and these will soon drop.

Though damaged blooms will not recover, unopened buds of camellias (below) will continue to flower for at least another month, and there could be additional blooms on Encore azaleas. Flowers of ‘Eternal Fragrance’ daphne are slightly damaged in the cold, but there are likely to be more blooms if mild temperatures return.

Though flowers of camellias remain colorful, damaged blooms will fade quickly to brown.

Numerous unopened buds remain on camellias that will flower through periods of mild temperatures.

‘Winter Sun’ mahonia began flowering in late October. Other hybrid mahonias are following, and most will flower into the the new year.

Flowers of hybrid mahonias are not damaged by cold. ‘Winter Sun’ (Mahonia x media ‘Winter Sun’, above) began flowering several weeks ago, and ‘Charity’, ‘Underway’, and the newly planted ‘Marvel’ (below) will follow and are likely to flower through repeated spells of cold into the new year.

‘Marvel’ mahonia is a new and welcome addition to the garden. One in part sun begins to flower while another in shade is just starting to bud.

Foliage and flowers of early November

After a lengthy delay through an unusually mild October, leaves of swamp maples (Acer rubrum, below) in the forest that borders the garden have turned to their typical yellow. Selections of this same tree, then called red maple, are preferred by local homeowners for red autumn foliage, but leaf color of most native trees is not so desirable. On a breezy afternoon, leaves fall from the towering trees, and with glowing yellow leaves of thickets of spicebush (Lindera benzoin) also dropping, nearby houses are visible that have not been seen for months.

Following recent frosts and a single freeze, the Fernleaf Japanese maple (Acer japonicum ‘Aconitifloium’, above) is beginning to show color that will intensify in the next few weeks. While other Japanese maples are often splendid in autumn, the Fernleaf is consistently extraordinary.

Seriyu Japanese maple is green leafed until early November.

Viridis Japanese holds its yellow autumn foliage for weeks.

While foliage colors of a variety of witch hazels are usually short lived, this first week of November is their peak. Hybrid witch hazels ‘Arnold Promise’ and ‘Jelena’ (Hamamelis x intermedia) display shades of red and orange, and portions of the vernal witch hazel (Hamamelis vernalis) turn yellow one large stem after the other until the shrubby tree has turned completely.

There are a surprising number of flowers in the garden for November, many of which have been featured recently on this page. As often happens, there are few strays out of season. The threadleaf spirea ‘Ogon’ (Spiraea thunbergii ‘Ogon’, below) flowers in early spring, but a few November flowers are not unusual. 

The autumn flowering hybrid camellias are at peak bloom, which is rare since flowers times are typically spread over weeks, and sometimes months. A year ago, flowering was particularly disappointing until the unusually warm January and February.

In mild temperatures, Encore azaleas continue to flower. A cold night will ruin flowers, but buds will continue to open with warmer days.

Leaves of Ruby Spice clethra turn to yellow in mid autumn.

Bluestar (Amsonia hubrichtii) makes an exceptional show in mid autumn,


Coneflower magic

After mediocre, or worse, results with coneflowers in prior years, it suddenly seems I’ve gained a magical touch. In recent years, only a lone white flowered ‘Coconut Lime’ has survived, which is remarkable since it must peek out for sunlight from beneath an ever spreading cypress.

A year ago, after repeated failures with purple coneflowers that any novice can succeed with, I planted a second white, ‘Powwow White’ (above), with the reasoning that if one white can succeed, perhaps a second will also. And, it has.

In fact, ‘Powwow’ has now spawned several vigorous seedlings, all in shades of purple. These are thriving, and in truth it is clear that I have done nothing except plant this coneflower in an ideal situation. Which is, of course, as many of the notable successes of this garden are, a complete accident since the coneflower was planted in one of very few spots open at the time.

Most remarkable, it is now the first of November and all coneflowers are again flowering. Certainly, some extraordinary care has been necessary to bring this about, you must say. But, I’ve barely been able to keep coneflowers alive in recent years. I cannot say if this late bloom is unusual or not, though I expect that unusually warm temperatures through October are the cause. Be assured, no special skill should be attributed to this event.