Autumn Brilliance Part Two – Plants for Spectacular Fall Color…

October 13th, 2009 § 4 comments § permalink

Callicarpa dichotoma ‘Issai’ (Purple Beautyberry)

Could a gardener be diagnosed with OCD if she compulsively checks her ornamental shrubs for changing berry color? Can a collector’s passion for a particularly beautiful cultivar cross the line, where she becomes a stalker of plants? Sometimes I fear I’ve gone too far; slipped off the raft; teetered past the point-of-no-return. But I think you are with me, aren’t you? We can’t help ourselves. The itch simply must be scratched.

I am obsessed with Callicarpa dichotoma, (Purple Beautyberry). Truly, I am. And who wouldn’t be? Her fantastical berries are pure, poetic inspiration; begging to be written into myths and fairy tales. Just look at all that temptingly plump fruit, beckoning the unsuspecting in a glorious shade of shimmering purple. Why I can hear the old witch now… “Come sample the sweet violet berries my pretty.”  *POOF*  Deep sleep for decades. The gullible heroine slowly becomes enmeshed by lacy vines, lost in a trance, awaiting her handsome prince.

For years I have coveted the bright purple fruit of our native American Beautyberry, (Callicarpa americana), but this autumnal prize is hardy only to zone 6. In my desperation, I have killed several plants while attempting to over-winter them here at Ferncliff. Undaunted, I also tried my luck growing Japanese Beautyberry, (Callicarpa japonica), with similar, necrotic results. But last year, just south of here, I was visiting a nursery display-garden when I spotted something that stopped me dead in my tracks. Yellowing leaves, cobalt violet fruits – my heart raced as I rounded the corner and pushed past the browning hydrangea – could it be… ?

Indeed, it was the elusive Callicarpa. Only this time, the shrub I encountered was a hardier member of the family, Purple Beautyberry, (Callicarpa dichotoma). Graceful, arching, elegant in habit, the leaves of the Purple Beautyberry were just turning gold when I met her, highlighting the candy-like quality of her glossy, purple clusters of fruit. There are two excellent C. dichotoma cultivars, ‘Issai’ and ‘Early Amethyst’, both reliably hardy to zone 5. I have been warned to expect a bit of die-back; to be pruned in spring when I fertilize to encourage new growth. I snatched the last ‘Issai’ from my wholesaler’s lot, and placed it carefully in the garden, protected from wind by the American cranberrybush Viburnum, and alongside the blazing fall foliage of fragrant Abelia, (Abelia mosanensis). The color combination is delighting me this October. Will she survive the brutal winter? Only time will tell if Purple Beautyberry is a permanent addition to my garden. But for now, the fantasy is all mine.

So today I will leave you with images of some other bewitching favorites here in my autumn garden. I will elaborate on some of these woody plants over the coming weeks, as I continue to share my favorite design recipes for fall color …

Acer griseum  (Paper bark maple)

The Hay-scented fern, (Dennstaedtia puctilobula), after hard frost

Buddleia davidii, (Orange-Eye Butterfly bush), blooms past the first frost

Abelia mosanensis, (Fragrant abelia), autumn color

Cotinus coggygria, (Smokebush), with a rosy leaf-glow

Hydrangea paniculata ‘Grandiflora’ (Peegee Hydrangea)

Hydrangea paniculata, ‘Limelight’, turns mauve-purple in cool weather

Hydrangea quercifolia, (Oakleaf hydrangea), foliage variation

Hydrangea quercifolia (Oakleaf hydrangea), drying flowers

Oxydendrum arboreum, (Sourwood tree), a coveted autumn red hue

Acer palmatum dissectum ‘Seiryu’, (Blue Green Dragon), begins to color

Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood’, all ablaze in backlit orange and scarlet

Vibrant Stewartia pseudocamellia with gilded Rodgersia aesculifolia

Stewartia pseudocamellia, (Japanese stewartia)

Article and Photographs copyright 2009, Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden 

All content on this site is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without express written permission. Inspired by what you see here? Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

Behold the Beauty in a Technicolor Dreamcoat: Rhus Typhina, our North American Native, Staghorn Sumac…

September 28th, 2009 § 6 comments § permalink

Rhus typhina ‘Tiger eyes’ ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Wow. Will you take a long look at Lady Rhus typhina? Isn’t she beautiful ? And she is such a keeper. What gardener wouldn’t welcome this stunning, autumn beauty with her technicolor dreamcoat? But there is a catch. I am afraid this lady has a bad reputation. It’s not her fault, mind you. She hasn’t done anything wrong herself. It’s just that she comes from a long line of toxic relatives. It’s sad really. I hate to say it, but her kin will really burn you if you don’t watch yourself. They are beautiful, but only from a distance. Up close, they are quite a nasty group. Perhaps you know the type? Maybe you have met them – I am certain you would remember. A close encounter with her two most famous cousins, Poison ivy, (toxicodendron radicans/rhus radicans), or Poison Sumac, (toxicodendron vernix/rhus vernix), will likely produce an unforgettable, blistering rash. Thankfully, botanists have taxonomically separated these nefarious relations from Lady Rhus, and this has helped to clear up confusion in horticultural circles and classrooms. But word on the street is little changed – the Sumac name still gets a bad rap.

staghorn sumac, september, fruit and early hint of colorRhus typhina, North American native Velvet/Staghorn Sumac, in September ⓒ Michaela at TGE

So lets see what we can do to help her out. In case you haven’t been properly introduced, this is North American native Rhus typhina, better known as Velvet or Staghorn sumac. And as you can see, she is drop-dead gorgeous. All summer long, Velvet sumac charms us with her tropical looking foliage. In fact, as you will observe in the photo below, she almost looks as if she came from a distant jungle, or perhaps an exotic South Pacific island. But she really is just the proverbial, beautiful girl-next-door. In the Northeast, when days shorten and nights chill in the latter part of the year, Rhus suddenly pulls out all the stops when she dons her autumn finery. Her cloak is quite a knock-out. Chartreuse, gold, vermillion, scarlet; impossible hues all blend together to form the most magnificent tapestry you have ever seen. She is quite the fashionista. I think she almost puts the Paris runways to shame. Rhus typhina also produces clusters of hairy fruit that turn a beautiful, dark crimson – a stand out feature in the gray days of mid November and early December. Even in late winter, her velvety stems are worthy of notice, when they catch the hoar frost and glimmer in winter light.

staghorn sumac, up Rhus typhina, looking more Bali than Boston, but a North American native all the same ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Like most wild-things, Rhus typhina must be properly understood to be fully appreciated. A North American native shrub, (or small tree), Velvet Sumac is hardy in zones 3 – 8, (some cultivars have a wider range), and can reach a height of 15-20′ or more, with a similar spread. I think she prefers to be positioned at the outer edge of a garden; perhaps alongside a drive, or a natural boundary. Although this is a suckering plant, and perhaps a bit coarse in winter, she is easy to please and quite benign. Only her name, not her human-compatibility, has been tarnished by the poisonous members of her family. Fantastic cultivars, such as the featured Rhus typhina ‘Tiger eyes’, and hybrids, (often crosses between R. typhina and R. glabra), like ‘Red Autumn Lace’, have proven to be fantastic garden plants. Just imagine the beautiful color combinations in an autumn garden. Violet, magenta and cerulean Asters; deep purple monkshood, (Aconitum); golden Amsonia; ornamental grass – the possibilities are limited only by imagination.

I think it’s high time we put out the good word for our native beauty, Rhus typhina. Autumn just wouldn’t be the same without her…

Rhus typhina, (Staghorn Sumac or Velvet Sumac) ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Close up of Rhus typhina’s technicolor autumn wardrobe ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Rhus typhina ‘Tiger eyes’ begins its autumn alchemy  ⓒ Michaela at TGE

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Article and photographs copyright 2009, Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the sole property of The Gardener’s Eden, and may not be used or reproduced for any reason without express written consent. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

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