Brightening the Winter Landscape with Bold Bark & Colorful Conifers . . .

January 15th, 2013 § 2

Red Twig Dogwood (Cornus sericea) in a Sea of Green Conifers ⓒ 2013 Michaela Medina Harlow - thegardenerseden.comA Shot of Luminous Color in the Wintry Landscape: Cornus sericea Lights Up the Entry Garden in January

It’s easy to create a colorful garden in June, but can beds and borders still be bright in January? Of course! While undoubtably more subdued than midsummer, a midwinter landscape can include a complex variety of hues. When perennials are fast asleep beneath snow and deciduous trees and shrubs stand skeletal in the wind, the winter landscape relies upon broadleaf evergreens, conifers and the pigment-rich bark of deciduous woody plants for color. Individually, these trees and shrubs add tremendous interest to the winter garden, but when used together, even more dramatic results are possible. I like to play green, blue, rust and gold hues of conifers against one another, and in combination with the colorful red, yellow, orange and multicolored bark of deciduous trees and shrubs to enhance their impact.

Microbiota decussata (Siberian cypress) with a Dusting of Snow ⓒ 2013 michaela medina:thegardenerseden.comSiberian Cypress (Microbiota decussata) is a Long-Standing Favorite. Form, Texture & Four-Season Color: This Gem Has it All! Shown Here is a Section of a Mass Planting of Microbiota in My Own Garden. Notice How the Background of Canadian Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis), Brings Out the Rust-Red Color of the Siberian Cypress. Proper Pruning of Both Plants is Critical to Keep the Edges Feathery and Light.

Some of my favorite trees and shrubs for colorful, stand-out bark include red osier and red/yellow twig dogwood (Cornus sericea and Cornus alba, respectively), willow (Salix), striped maple (Acer pennsylvanica), paperbark maple (Acer griseum), and paper birch and river birch (Betula papyrifera and Betula nigra, respectively). When it comes to conifers —although I have a tough time choosing— I admit a soft-spot for feathery Canadian hemlock (Tsuga canadensis), colorful Siberian cypress (Microbiota decussata) and brilliantly hued false cypress (Chamaecyparis), as well as textural Juniperus (juniper) of all species and colors. I’m also quite fond of the silver-blue spruce clan, spiky, multicolored pines and dramatic, two-toned firs.

Betula papyrifera with Juniperus in snow ⓒ 2013 michaela - thegardenerseden.comThe Peeling, White Bark of North American Native Paper Birch (Betula papyrifera) Creates Beautiful, Peachy-Cream Vertical Lines in the Landscape. When Played Against Green Conifers, the Effect is Quite Stunning on a Winter’s Day.

Never one for wrapping, tenting or coddling woody plants, I demand a great deal from all of the trees and shrubs in my own landscape, as well as in the gardens I design for others. In New England, deciduous trees are bare for nearly half  the year. So when designing gardens for my clients, four season beauty is always a top priority. In addition to color, many deciduous trees offer textural interest with exfoliating and curling bark. These elements add wonderful dimension to the landscape, even during winter dormancy. When choosing and positioning woody plants in the landscape, consider placing shrubs and trees with colorful or exfoliating bark in front of or near conifers with complementary and contrasting hues to bring out the best in both. If space allows, plant in masse for greatest impact, and combine with a foreground or side accent of sturdy, ornamental grasses (such as Miscanthus) for buff and blond hues and softness. For more about textural bark, click back to my previous post on the subject, here.

Photography and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All images, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Please do not take my photographs without asking first. Thank you! 

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Mild Days & Mid-Winter Pruning

February 19th, 2012 Comments Off

Although the Ice and Snow are Beautiful, Winter Damage Must be Cleaned Up Every Year & Now is the Best Time to Tackle Major Structural Tasks (Above: Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood’) …

Although the old “prune in June” rule applies to certain woody plants in some situations —-those that blossom in early spring, such as lilacs (click here for how/when to prune lilacs) or the removal of suckers from the base of tree trunks, for example— and of course broken branches can and should always be removed whenever they are noticed, major structural pruning of deciduous trees and shrubs is best tackled during winter dormancy. I love winter pruning tasks, and find that warm, sunny days in late February, March and even early April (depending upon your climate, of course) are perfect for shaking off cabin fever and getting back in the garden! But, before you start cutting, take the time to clean and sharpen your tools, and take a long walk around the garden; examining the skeletal form of your plants while keeping an eye out for winter damage caused by heavy snow-loads, ice and wind. See any cracked branches or snapped limbs on your ornamental trees and shrubs? Any damaged trees or large shrubs located near power lines should be dealt with by a professional landscape contractor or arborist. But small pruning tasks —especially those within easy reach— can be handled by most gardeners at this time of the year.

Red Twig Dogwood Adds a Beautiful Glow to the Winter Landscape. I Thin 1/3 of the Stems Each Year —Cutting Each Shoot All the Way Back to the Ground— in Late Winter or Early Spring to Encourage New Growth with the Beautiful Bright-Red Bark! (Of course, always wait ’til the ice melts before pruning branches and limbs).

Much as I love sculpting trees and shrubs to achieve their finest form for my clients, I get even more excited by the opportunity to teach other gardeners how to correctly prune the woody plants in their home landscapes, all by themselves! And as intimidating as it may seem, there’s nothing complicated about the process of pruning. A good book (such as this favorite by Lee Reich), a sharp pair of bypass pruners, and a broken branch or forgiving/neglected old shrub are all you really need to get started. For an introduction to pruning basics, travel back to a post from 2009 by clicking here.

Crushed Witch Alder (Fothergilla major): What a Mess! Click Here for Tips on How to Prune Out Winter-Damaged Branches

Below are three basic pruning cuts to practice. Remember, always clean and sharpen blades between specimens. For more specific tips, begin by revisiting my previous introductory article, and the cut-specific posts linked below!

Removing a Broken or Damaged Limb: Learn how to correctly make this cut with a Grecian Saw: click back to a detailed, tutorial post by here.

Learn how to properly prune plants with opposite budding patterns, like this Hydrangea, by clicking back to my tutorial post on the subject here.

Shrubs and trees with alternate budding and branching patterns require a slightly angled cut, sloping away from the bud. Learn more about how to prune alternate branches in my previous post here.

Post-pruning clean-up time. All pruning tools are cleaned with rubbing alcohol, sharpened with a whetstone, and oiled before returning to the garden room for storage

Felco 8 bypass pruners are the perfect tool for tending to the small branches of ornamental trees and shrubs as well as fruit-bearing woody-specimens in your landscape. Click here for more pruning tool suggestions.

Lee Reich: The Pruning Book – I Consider This Book an All-Time, Garden-Maintenance Classic!

Photographs and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All photos, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions) are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

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The Wonderful Wizard of Winter: Native, Snow-Draped Canadian Hemlock

February 10th, 2011 Comments Off

Tsuga canadensis – Native Canadian Hemlock

I try very hard not to play favorites with the plants growing in and around my garden. In fact, you may have noticed that I’ll refer to a preferred species as ‘one of my favorites’, as opposed to ‘my favorite’. After all, I truly love each and every one of them, and I wouldn’t want to hurt any of their feelings. Still, there are a few stand-out, four-season beauties that I can not imagine living without. And in the great world of conifers, I must admit that I am quite partial to our native Tsuga canadensis, commonly known as the Canadian or Eastern hemlock. Though graceful and verdant year-round, Canadian hemlock is a true stunner in the winter garden. After a snow storm —when Tsuga canadensis is cloaked in a fresh coat of powder or ice— it’s impossible not to think of the enchanted forests of fairy tales. I absolutely adore this feathery, magical evergreen.

A few years ago —when I was planting an informal hedge of Canadian hemlock at a private residence— one of my garden clients told me that the shape of the hemlock tree reminded her of a wizard’s hat. Well I already liked this woman, but as soon as she said that, I knew I was going to love working with her. For long as I can remember, I’ve always thought of the Canadian hemlock as a Winter Wizard or even a Warlock (a masculine witch). And as a child, I loved playing beneath the tent-like boughs of hemlock stands; draped in heavy, sparkling white robes after a snow storm. Hemlock is a magnificent native tree; one I never grow tired of praising.

The pliant boughs of Tsuga canadensis are less likely to break when covered in heavy snow and ice

The outer branches of hemlock trees, as well as the tip or leader, are narrow and flexible. The pliant boughs give hemlock the distinctly cascading, somewhat melancholy appearance I find so enchanting. But more importantly, the springy quality of the outer wood gives this native tree an ability to shed snow and ice, avoiding winter breakage –a common problem for other conifers, such as white pine. Hemlock needles are softly rounded; blue-green on the top and silvery on the reverse (the shiny-whitish color is created by tiny openings along the backside of the needles called stomata, which —for lack of a better word— allow the tree to ‘breathe’). When breezes blow through a hemlock’s bows, the pale undersides of its needles are exposed to light; creating a subtle, shimmering effect. Growers have worked with this trees beautiful cascading habit and needle coloration, developing cultivars with mint-tinged branch tips and weeping forms. And because it responds well to pruning, eastern hemlock offers four-season privacy screening when grown as a soft, ever-green hedge in semi-shaded, moist sites. The feathery, deep green needles provide a lovely contrast and sensual backdrop in many of my garden designs.

The Tops of Canadian hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) boughs are covered with dark, blue-green needles

On the reverse side, Tsuga canadensis needles have a light, almost silvery-green color. And when wind blows through the branches, lifting and exposing the undersides of needles to flashes of light, the Canadian hemlock takes on a subtle, gorgeous, two-tone appearance.

With a North American range spanning from Nova Scotia southward to the mountains of Alabama and westward to Minnesota (USDA zones 3 – 8/9) Tsuga canadensis is commonly found in moist, shady woodlands; often along forest streams or cool, north-facing ridge lines. Because of their wide-spread but shallow-root tendency, hemlock are vulnerable to drought, but are less likely to be knocked down in high winds. Here at the northeastern crest of my ledgy site, substantial stands of native hemlock provide a safe haven and nesting habitat for local birds as well as food (seeds, twigs, bark and needles) and shelter for various mammals (including squirrels, porcupines and deer). Although hemlock can grow over 100 feet in ideal conditions, they typically reach 40-70 feet within their native range. When grown as a specimen tree in the open —or planted in small groups—hemlock will develop a soft, full, conical shape (yes, shaped quite like a wizard’s hat).

Because hemlock trees produce acidic tannins, they are quite disease and insect-resistant. However, there exists one recent and notable exception: the wooly adelgid (Adelges tsugae). Closely related to common aphids, this invasive insect pest —introduced from Asia— has the potential to wipe out native, eastern hemlock populations (read more about this pest and how infestations are treated at the UMass Extension Service website here). Although I have not seen the wooly adelgid in my immediate area, I am constantly on the lookout for this destructive insect when pruning hemlock hedges for my clients in early spring. Currently, the only effective, organic treatment for wooly adelgid is thorough, repeat applications of horticultural oil. Entomologists continue to search for natural, biological adelgid controls, and I have high hopes for the tree’s survival. I simply can not imagine the northeastern landscape without my beloved Winter Wizards…

This Canadian hemlock trio forms a soft, four-season screen at the northeastern edge of my garden

Here in late November, the Tsuga canadensis trio provides color and textural contrast and backdrop to the red-twig dogwood, birch and ornamental grasses in the foreground of the entry garden

This beautiful, weeping hemlock (Tsuga candensis ‘Pendula’) —pictured here at The Bridge of Flowers in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts— is one of the finest examples, and uses of the pendulous form, that I have ever seen. See more photos, and read a bit about The Bridge of Flowers by revisiting this post (click here).

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Article and photos are ⓒ Michaela at TGE

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Golden Light & Glistening Gardens on a Frosty Winter’s Morn…

January 12th, 2011 § 2

Sunrise on the Frosty Tufts of Miscanthus sinensis

As a winter snow storm swirls about outside, my thoughts drift back to yesterday’s frosty morning, and the glistening, pink-gold sunrise. If today she reveals her wild fury, I am reminded that this tempestuous season more often shows us her beauty…

Morning Light on Humulus lupulus (Golden Hops Vine) with Frost Crystals

Silhouetted Branches of Viburnum x burkwoodii ‘Mohawk’ at Sunrise

Frost Crystals on Rudbeckia hirta, Gleam and Glisten in the Golden Sunlight

Gilded Korean Dogwood Branches (Cornus kousa) and Luminous Viburnum x burkwoodii ‘Mohawk’ at the South-Eastern Edge of My Winter Garden

Silver-Tipped Twigs Strung Along a Chilly Cable-Rail (Humulus lupulus)

These Star-Dusted, Feathery Plumes Seem Fit for the Most Glamorous of Shoulders (Miscanthus sinensis purpurascens)

The Beautiful, Crystal-Flecked Tea Viburnum Berries Remind Me of Shoulder-Grazing, Ruby Chandeliers

In this Moment, Could January be Upstaged by June?

Perfect Prisms – The Delightful Geometry of Frost Crystals in Pink-Gold Sunlight

At the Edge of the Garden, Saplings Form a Crystal Curtain

The Frosty Red-Twigs of this Japanese Maple Glow Brightly Against the Native Hemlock Forest

The Stillness of a Frosty Morning and a Perfect Winter Sunrise

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Article and photos are ⓒ Michaela at TGE

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Papery, Peeling, Striped & Shaggy: Textural Bark Brings Warmth & Beauty To Stark, Wintery Landscapes…

December 15th, 2010 § 1

From peach and cream to reddish brown, the peeling bark of our native, paper birch (Betula papyrifera) is one of my favorite textures in the winter landscape…

Brr… It sure is cold outside. With temperatures hovering around 15 degrees fahrenheit here in Vermont, it takes an awful lot to stop me in my tracks for more than a minute or two. And yet this afternoon, as I walked up the garden path from the driveway, I couldn’t resist lingering outside to enjoy the light and snap a few quick photos to share. Winter is an incredible time for appreciating the subtler forms of botanical beauty -particularly the colors and textures of twigs and bark. Although most of the trees and shrubs in my garden were chosen for the quality of their form, foliage, flowers and berries, bark always plays a part in my plant selection as well.

Living in a remote forest-clearing, I’m lucky to be surrounded by woodlands filled with beautiful, native trees –including one of my favorites, the dramatic, white-barked paper birch (Betula papyrifera). Paper birch trees are gorgeous any time of the year, but in winter, the peachy-cream and cinnamon hues of their peeling bark really stand out against dark hillsides and brown tones in the landscape. The trunks of other native trees, including the common striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum) with its snake-like bark, and dramatic shagbark hickory (Carya ovata), also add tremendous beauty to winter’s fine tapestry of hues and textures. Naked though they may be —stripped of their foliage for nearly six months out of the year— the deciduous trees and shrubs of New England remain a constant source of fascination to my eyes.

A dusting of snow enhances the cinnamon-colored bark of this oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) like a sprinkling of sweet sugar

Taking my cue from nature, I’ve added a wide variety of trees and shrubs with peeling, papery, striped and shaggy bark to my garden; adding visual interest throughout the quiet season. In winter, the surfaces of these textural plants enhance the beauty of outdoor spaces —including beds and borders, paths and walkways— as well as the views from the doors and windows of my house. Come December —as snow and ice begin to settle into the nooks an crannies on tree bark, woody stems and twigs— the colors and textures of these plants are intensified; adding to the winter-wonderland surrounding my home.

Now is great time to bundle up and make note of the subtle details in your home landscape. Conifers, as well as the brightly colored twigs and berries of deciduous trees and shrubs add an immense amount of beauty to the winter garden –of course. But also, keep the texture of shrub and tree bark in mind as well. In addition to the specimens pictured here, you may wish to consider Striped Maple cultivars (Acer pensylvanicum cvs.), Japanese maple (Acer palmatum), River birch (Betula nigra), Katsuratree (Cercidiphyllum japonicum), Cinnamon Clethra (Clethra acuminata), Dogwood species and cultivars (Cornus), Dawn Redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides), Black Tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica), Sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum), and one of my all-time-favorite trees (and recent garden addition) Persian ironwood (Parrotia persica), among other texturally dramatic choices for the garden.

Come and take a peek at some of the beautiful colors and textures I enjoyed outside in the garden today; snapping photos until my fingers grew numb…

The peeling, cinnamon colored bark of Hydrangea quercifolia stands out beautifully against a backdrop of Juniperus squamata ‘Holger’ and Ilex verticillata ‘Red Sprite’

The reptillian-looking bark of this Mountain Silverbell (Halesia tetraptera) is beautiful year-round, but when the leaves drop, it really stands out against a back-drop of snow…

The textural branches of native ninebark and cultivars (Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diablo’) adds color and movement to the winter landscape. Here, a tiny strip of peeling, patterned bark catches the wind on a December day…

Although the trunk of this Stewartia pseudocamilla will develop far more texture and color as it matures, the bark is still beautiful and interesting in youth…

Both the luminous cinnamon-red color —particularly when backlit as here— and curling texture of beautiful paperbark maple (Acer griseum) make it one of my favorite trees…

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Article and Photographs are ⓒ Michaela at TGE

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