Bright, Red Winterberry & Juniper Magic: Lovely, Native Ilex verticillata Sparkles & Glows on Grey, Chilly Days…

November 21st, 2010 § 4 comments § permalink

Ilex verticillata ‘Red Sprite’, paired here with Juniperus chinensis ‘Sargentii’

In the last weeks of late autumn —after the leaves have all fallen and deciduous trees stand naked and rattling in cold wind— the conifers and fruit-bearing shrubs reign supreme in my garden. Late fall and early winter days —laced with hoar frost and sugar-coatings of fresh snow— are brightened by the glow of colorful berries, twigs and richly hued conifers. All of the delicately textured remnants —needles, seeds and tiny twigs— catch falling ice crystals and snow flakes; like sweets coated in confectioners sugar.

One of my favorite late-season shrubs, the Ilex verticillata ‘Red Sprite’ (common, dwarf winterberry holly) planted in front of my Secret Garden, is a knock-out at this time of year. With bright red fruit ripening in September and holding through January or longer, this shrub is invaluable for color in the winter landscape. Chosen for its charmingly petite, compact size (about 3-5 feet high and wide)  I. verticillata ‘Red Sprite’ is a great choice for softening the edges of walls, buildings and fences. I grow several winterberry cultivars, including the beautiful, statuesque I. verticillata ‘Winter Red’ (9′ x 9′), in my landscape; combining them with conifers and other shrubs and trees to create season-spanning interest in the garden. Juniper make great companions for winterberry, and Juniperus chinensis ‘Sargentii’ forms a lovely, contrasting blue-green carpet in front of the dwarf I. verticillata ‘Red Sprite’. Winterberry are extremely hardy shrubs, (USDA zones 3-9) native to eastern North America. These shrubs are long lived and trouble free; provided they are planted in rich, moist, freely- draining, acidic soil in full sun. I use a thick, organic mulch to conserve moisture and keep the root zone of my shrubs cool on hot summer days. When planting winterberry, it’s important to remember that a male cultivar will be needed for pollination -but only the female plants will bear fruit. In the grouping pictured below, the bare twigs in the background are the branches of a male cultivar. The pollinating shrub needn’t be planted in the same grouping -anywhere nearby will do just fine.

In front of my Secret Garden, Ilex verticillata ‘Red Sprite’ looks like a tasty treat in a confectioner’s window. I snapped this picture the morning after the first snow…

Birds love plump, red winterberries, and will often gobble them up before the end of December. I keep planting more to please the crowd…

The bright red winterberries are even more stunning when snow drifts cover the carpet of juniper in a soft, white blanket

Rock candy mountain – Ilex verticillata ‘Red Sprite’, the morning after an ice storm

Our native winterberry (Ilex verticillata) can usually be found in wet, low-lying areas —places like marsh and swamp land or natural, open drainage areas— where it forms dense thickets. In the later part of the year, the shrubs are filled with colorful, red fruits, which hold until late winter unless they are picked clean by wildlife. Although winterberries are inedible to humans (mildly toxic) they are extremely popular with small mammals and overwintering birds. Gathering winterberry for holiday decorations is a tradition for me, as it is for many cold-climate gardeners. If you are collecting these berries from the wild, please be sure to check with the property owner before harvesting — and never harvest from public parks or protected lands. Always gather branches responsibly; leaving enough for the wildlife depending upon this important source of food. Remember to use sharp pruning shears and make clean cuts at a slight angle (clean pruners with rubbing alcohol after use to prevent spread of disease), as you would on ornamental shrubs in your own garden. Because I have a large garden of my own, I grow enough winterberry to both enjoy in holiday decorations and in the landscape, where I can share with local birds. And when January rolls ’round, I deposit my discarded, decorative branches in the snow for field mice and feathered friends.

If you have the room, it makes sense to grow extra winterberry for holiday decorations

Bright red winterberries sparkle in a vase here in my dining room

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Article and photographs ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

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Mellow Yellow: Lovely Lindera Benzoin, North American Native Spicebush…

September 27th, 2010 § 1 comment § permalink

Lindera benzoin (Spicebush) in front of the Secret Garden wall (see complete plant list below)

The question comes up every September in my garden. The meter-reader, oil delivery driver and countless guests have asked: “What’s that bright yellow shrub over there by the wall  …The one covered with birds and red berries?” When I ask, “Have you heard of Lindera benzoin, North American spicebush?”, the answer is invariably ‘no’. And no matter how many times I make the introduction, it’s always surprising to me that this gorgeous shrub isn’t more widely known and used in the landscape. Spicebush’s season-spanning, informal beauty makes her the perfect choice for naturalizing along woodland boundaries and in countless other transitional situations. But as you can see from the photo above, this native plant also works beautifully in a mixed-border; with other trees, shrubs, bulbs and perennials.

512x768xLindera_benzoin_North_American_Native_Spicebush_michaela_medina_harlow_thegardenerseden.com_.jpg,Mic_.d56oqQ6fMB.jpg.pagespeed.ce.d56oqQ6fMB Lindera benzoin blooming in my garden 

The show begins in first weeks of April, when the spicebush’s lightly-fragrant, lemon-yellow blossoms begin to open on the dreariest of days. These early flowers are an important source of nectar to pollinating insects —including native and honey bees—and a welcome sight to my winter-weary eyes. The specimen pictured above — in front of the stone wall surrounding the Secret Garden— has developed a round, mounded shape in full sun (I prune very lightly after the early spring blossoms fade). Lindera benzoin will also tolerate light shade, and the groupings here at the edge of the native forest have developed a more open, but graceful habit. After the early flowers fade, attractive, blue-green foliage (the leaves have a delightfully spicy, masculine fragrance when crushed, and can be used to make tea, herbal sachets or potpourri) makes a fine backdrop for other players in front of the perennial border.

Lindera benzoin, autumn leaf detail

Lindera benzoin in late September (planted here with Juniperus chinensis ‘Sargentii’ and Ilex verticillata ‘Red Sprite’)

As pretty and uplifting as this shrub is when blossoming in April, come September, spicebush really turns things up a notch in the garden when its foliage shifts from cool green to brilliant, lemon-gold. The female plants (this species is dioecious and a male must be planted nearby for the female to produce fruit), with their bright red berries (edible/substitute for allspice), are especially fetching in autumn; attracting birds from the nearby forest by the dozen. Combinations with other showy, autumn shrubs and trees —such as bold red viburnum (particluarly V.bodnatense and V. trilobum), dogwood, witch hazel, and red vein enkianthus— are always gorgeous. And rich purple or deep-blue blossoms —including monkshood (Aconitum) and asters in autumn, and glory-of-the-snow (Chinodoxa), crocus and grape hyacinth (Muscari) in spring— make lovely, perennial and bulb pairings with spicebush on either end of the growing season as well. Conifers, particularly deep green hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) and blue spruce cultivars (Picea pungens) also provide a striking contrast to luminous Lindera benzoin, both in texture and color. And keep in mind the design possibilities of deep violet foliage when choosing a spot for spicebush. Dark, burgundy shrubs, including Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diablo’, P. opulifolius ‘Summer Wine’ and Cotinus ‘Royal Purple’, really bring out the golden hues in Lindera benzoin; as do perennials like purple fountain grass (Pennisetum rubrum) and Sedum ‘Matrona’ or S. ‘Purple Emperor’. In a shadier situation, try spicebush in combination with the purple foliage of Heuchera cultiavars (like ‘Plum Pudding’ and ‘Palace Purple’) or perhaps Actaea racemosa (aka Cimicifuga racemosa ‘Hillside Black Beauty’ or ‘Brunette’).

Lindera benzoin provides a luminous, gold backdrop for other autumn colors (here with Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’)

Hardy in zones 4-9, Lindera benzoin is a native of N. America from the north into Canada and on south to Florida; into midwestern Michigan and Kansas, and southwest to moderate climate zones of Texas. As a landscaping plant, spicebush is relatively trouble-free in the garden or naturalized settings; forming a mound-shaped shrub (6-12′ high and wide) when planted in a sunny location. In the shade the shrub tends to form a more open shape (a bit like Amelanchier); absolutely lovely, though subtle, when in bloom. Lindera benzoin prefers even soil-moisture (dry conditions make for a scruffy looking specimen) with cooling mulch about the root-zone (helpful to preserve even soil temperature and moisture)

Perhaps you’re already acquainted with lovely Lindera. If so, remember to pass on the good word. Mid to late fall is a great time to add shrubs to the landscape (see related post here). This native plant is an important part of our natural, North American habitat, and a significant source of food for insects (bees and butterfly larvae) and birds. But it seems to me that the spring blossoms, red fruit and glorious, golden, autumn color of Lindera benzoin provide all the promotional material any plant could ever need…

North American Native Spice Bush (Lindera benzoin) – Shown here in my garden with Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’ (and in the background Cornus kousa, Ilex verticillata and Juniperus chubebsus ‘Sargentii’, seed pod remnants of Rudbeckia. And to the left Fothergilla major ‘Mt Airy’ and various Sedum)

Photography & Text ⓒ  Michaela Medina Harlow/The Gardener’s Eden. All photographs, artwork, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of Michaela Medina Harlow and/or 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 permission. Thank you!

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Oh, Tutti Frutti: It’s Candy Land Time! Magical & Colorful Ornamental Berries…

September 24th, 2010 § Comments Off on Oh, Tutti Frutti: It’s Candy Land Time! Magical & Colorful Ornamental Berries… § permalink

Circus-like baubles on candy-coral stems, literally cover this (Viburnum lentago) nannyberry viburnum in my garden

Red twig dogwood berries (Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’) bring to mind mini marshmallow bits and and rainbow jimmies

Just like orange-flavored Tic-Tacs – The sight of these Chinese-orange berries on my tea viburnum (V. setigerum ) always gives me a little lift

Oh goody gum drops! Would you look at the garden? Why it’s a living Candy Land out there! Just like an old-fashioned sweet-shop —penny-jars filled with confections— my shrubs are overflowing with orange candy, red candy and purple candy galore. Yes, it’s that time of the year when the woody-plants at Ferncliff go all tutti frutti. And the birds? What a racket they make! If I had an avian translator on hand, I wonder what phrases I would hear?  “Jay, come over here and try some of this grape fizz candy”. “Wait a second Goldie… Get a load of the gob-stoppers this year”.  The autumn garden is a sweet feast for my eyes and, more important, for the bellies of my feathered friends.

With one variety of ornamental fruit ripening right after the other, this confectionary show will go on in the garden for months. September, October and November are always bird-berrilicious in the garden, and later on in winter —when ice and snow coat the remaining branches of fruit— my hilltop turns into a virtual Rock-Candy Mountain. After the heavy freezes in December and January, the crystal-covered red and orange berries sparkle just like sweets in glass jars…

Gummy Gobs – Viburnum trilobum, ‘J.N. Select Redwing’

Callicarpa dichotoma ‘Issai’ – grape fizz candy meets honey-wafer foliage. Read more about this favorite shrub and other autumn beauties here.

Viburnum carlesii – Looks Like Licorice Drops and Hot Balls

Some of my favorite spring blooming trees and shrubs —including Malus species, Prunus, Aronia arbutifolia (red chokeberry), the entire Viburnum genus (especially V. carlesii, V. lantana, V. nudum, V. plicatum, V. setigerum,V. trilobum) and others too numerous to list— are also prolific producers of colorful, bird-attracting ornamental fruit in late-summer, autumn and early winter. Hip-producing roses, such as R. rubrifolia (redleaf rose), R. rugosa, and R. virginiana, provide fruit for wildlife or for human-consumption (usually in the form of jelly or tea). And elderberries, some of which produce both spectacular year-round foliage, are also worth including in a gardens for their berries; both for birds and humans.

When considering berry-producing shrubs for the garden, keep in mind that some of the less-stellar spring bloomers —particularly Pyracantha (firethorn), Callicarpa (purple beautyberry), Ilex verticillata (winterberry holly), Cotoneaster, Cornus alba (red and yellowtwig dogwood), and Rhus— produce some of the most vibrant late-season fruit. (For more information about purple beautyberry — the Callicarpa pictured above— click back to this post here). Always research the cultural requirements of each genus and species carefully before planting, and remember that some shrubs —especially the hollies (Ilex)— will require that you plant both male and female specimens in order to produce fruit…

Juniper Berry – Blueberry Bombs

Cornus kousa… or ch,ch,ch, ch, ch,ch, ch,ch Cherry Bomb?

The berries of  my Variegated Wayfaring Viburnum (V. lantana) could be topping a mint-swirl sundae

Rosa rugosa hips (a relative of the apple) are not only beautiful, but add delightful flavor to tea and jelly, as well as providing food for wildlife

Mid to late autumn in a great time to plant trees and shrubs in the garden, and it’s also a fantastic season to grab great deals at your local garden center or favorite online nursery. Once temperatures cool, and the rainy season returns, dormant trees and shrubs will have time to settle into the garden; all ready  to get growing in spring. For information on planting shrubs in autumn, travel back to last year’s post on the subject by clicking here.

Although most of the berries pictured here are edible or harmless to humans, it goes without saying that you should always use common sense in the garden. If you have small, curious children, be sure to research what you are planting and avoid poisonous fruits. And teach children early —as you would teach them about tiny objects— that all we see should not go in our mouths! Never eat berries unless you are certain that they are fit for human consumption. Enjoy the autumn season, the birds visiting your garden, and all of fall’s beautiful ‘Candy Land’ delights…

Just like Cherries in the Snow! Ilex verticillata ‘Red Sprite’ – Rock candy for birds in January at Ferncliff

Cotoneaster dammeri ‘Eichholz’ – looks like cinnamon dots and red candy apple

Ilex verticillata ‘Red Sprite’

Viburnum nudum ‘Winterthur’ at Ferncliff

For more autumn color-inspiration, you may enjoy traveling back to last year’s series of three posts —The Autumn Brilliance Series— by clicking here.

Inspiration: Why, Willy Wonka {images Paramount Pictures/Tim Burton Productions credit as linked to films}…

The Runaways Cherry Bomb {image from linked soundtrack cover}…

And of course, the original Tutti Frutti himself, Little Richard {image from linked soundtrack}

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Article and Botanical Photographs ⓒ Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

{ All plant photos in this feature were taken at my private garden, Ferncliff }

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

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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…

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