Welcome Stick Season: In Praise of Beautiful Bark & Colorful Twigs

January 7th, 2019 § 2 comments § permalink

Cornus sericea : Fire in Ice

In New England, winter is often referred to as stick season. It’s not a term of endearment. November, December, January and February are long, dark months, and by March we are truly longing for the green leaves that won’t appear ‘til May. Six months is a long time to live without color and for this reason alone, planning a winter garden is important.

Betula papyrifera: Chalky White Beauty from a Distance and Peachy Peels Up Close

Why do so many gardeners overlook this long season when planning and planting in springtime? My guess is that by May, when garden centers finally open, it’s just impossible for for twigs to compete with flowers! Perhaps anticipating the distraction will provide incentive to design a four season garden in January!

The Backlit Beauty of Acer griseum’s Auburn Curls

Feeling bit of mid-winter cabin fever? Travel back to my winter garden design posts —such as this one from last year— for a little insiration, then take a stroll around your yard with a camera in hand. Now come back inside where it’s warm, pour a hot cup of tea, and pull out your photos and a notepad. How could you add to the picture? Cornus sericea twigs for vertical red or chartreuse lines? Betula papyrifera for peeling, peachy cream scrolls or Acer griseum for curls of orange and rust? Perhaps the multicolored exfoliation of Stewartia pseudocamilla, Cornus kousa or Halesia tetraptera, among others. And remember the many flowering beauties with hidden, winter interest: Heptacodium miconioides, Hydrangea quercifolia and Physocarpus opulifolius to name a favorite few.

I Enjoy the Brilliant Bark of Cornus sericea and Cornus alba Cultivars on Garden Walks as Well as from Windows, Throughout the Winter Months

Article and Images copyright Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden, all rights reserved. All content on this site (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used, reproduced or reposted elsewhere without written consent.

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

January 15th, 2013 § 2 comments § permalink

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.

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“Native Plants: Why We Love Them and How to Use Them” – Free Seminar – This Saturday at Walker Farm in Southern Vermont – Please Join Me …

May 13th, 2010 § 1 comment § permalink

Native mountain laurel, Kalmia latifolia, (here a cultivar named ‘Pink Charm’), are durable, evergreen plants suitable for ledgy, exposed sites… far more hardy than their more tender cousins, the rhododendrons. To read more about Kalmia latifolia, click here.

I am very fortunate. This place in Vermont, where I live, is a true paradise and I cherish it. Every morning I wake up to the beautiful sights, sounds and smells of the Northeast American native forest. The songs of the veery, hermit and wood thrush, the mist rising from the Green River valley and the fragrance of the woodland surrounding my home relax and comfort me. Of course, I am not alone – many people, including a great number of my friends, share this passion for the native forest, and I love hearing about their woodland hikes, experiences and discoveries. I have also traveled throughout North America, and I know that every spot I have visited on this continent -as well as those I have yet to see- has it’s own unique and irreplaceable natural environment. This great love of nature is part of the reason that our native plant species are so important to me. There are many, many beautiful trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants all over the world -and I do have quite the collection of exotics growing here in my garden- but none more beautiful or important than those growing naturally outside my front door.

As is often the case with horticultural terms and phrases, native plant can have different definitions and meanings, depending upon the source of the information. In the strictest sense -and according to The New England Wild Flower Society–  when describing woody plants and perennials on this continent, the term native “refers to plants growing in North America before the European settlement”. Does this definition include species cultivars that have occurred since the European settlement through natural selection? I imagine so. But I would expect that the NEWFS definition excludes individual cultivars and hybrids created via the hand-of-man. My own definition of  native plant is somewhat looser and more tolerant of the various seedlings and crosses commonly found in gardens and in the nursery trade – but I’m no research scientist. Perhaps because one of my favorite North American native trees, Serviceberry, (Amelanchier) , is a horticultural wild-child, (freely hybridizing with neighboring species within the genus), I see the process of plant evolution as inevitable and fascinating. Mother nature seems to approve of variety, as do I !

Beautiful, spring blooming trees of the forest understory, such as North American native Halesia tetraptera, are excellent choices for home landscapes…

Beyond their obvious importance in the natural ecosystem, native plants also make fantastic additions to the garden. In fact so many North American native species, such as coral bells, (Heuchera), coneflower, (Echinacea), gayfeather, (Liatris), and cranesbill, (Geranium), have become such superstars in the nursery trade, that many gardeners have no idea that many common garden center plants are actually wild-flower cultivars. As far as I am concerned, that is good news because native plants, and nursery-grown native cultivars, provide season-spanning food and habitat for local animals and insects, and they also tend to require less water, commercial fertilizer and chemical support than imported plants. And again, I am no purist when it comes to my own garden. I have a great passion for exotic plants – especially Japanese maple! However, I make every effort to garden responsibly, both in my own private paradise, and in the various landscapes where I work as a professional gardener and designer.

This Saturday morning, (May 15, 2010, from 9:30 – 10:30), I will be presenting a free, introductory seminar on native plants for home gardeners at Walker Farm in Dummerston, Vermont. If you are in the area, and you would like to learn more about how to use some of these incredibly beautiful and hardy plants in your own landscape, please stop in and join the fun. The emphasis will be on home garden design; creating season-spanning interest, and wildlife support in your back yard oasis, by choosing trees, shrubs and perennials native to the Northeastern United States. Examples of lesser-known native plants will be on display, and free color handouts, (including design tips, plant information, and online resources), will also be provided. Visit Walker Farm online or call 802 – 254-2051 for more information.

Native Lady fern, (athyrium felix feminina), and selected cultivars such as ‘Lady in Red’, shown here, provide shady habitat for toads and frogs, and durable but delicate beauty for dappled gardens… Especially in combination with other natives such as Heuchera and Phlox divaracata.

An excellent ground-covering choice for acidic, shady areas, native labrador violets are stunners whether blooming or not…

Clethra alnifolia, our native summersweet, is a low-maintenance shrub producing pollinator-magnet flowers in late summer…

Clethra alnifolia ‘Ruby Spice’ is a lovely, select pink-flowering cultivar of our native summersweet shrub, shown above

Aruncus, commonly known as the ‘goat’s beard’, is a statuesque June bloomer for perennial borders and woodland edge…

Fothergilla major, (witch alder), and Lindera benzoin,(spicebush), provide a changing backdrop for gardens all season long…

By combining native shrubs and cultivars, a natural but dynamic, sustainable design can be achieved…

Fothergilla gardenii, our native witch alder, lights up the garden in spring and again in late autumn…


For further information on native plants, I highly recommend the following books by Allan Armitage and William Cullina; two accomplished, renowned, horticulturalists and brilliant and poetic authors I admire…

William Cullina – Wildflowers

William Cullina – Native Trees, Shrubs, and Vines

Armitage’s Native Plants for North American Gardens

Article and photographs copyright 2010, Michaela at TGE

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On a Cold, Wet November Morning the Red Twigs of Tartarian Dogwood are Still Burning Bright…

November 24th, 2009 § Comments Off on On a Cold, Wet November Morning the Red Twigs of Tartarian Dogwood are Still Burning Bright… § permalink

red twig dogwood

Tartarian dogwood, (Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’), at Ferncliff in November…

There’s nothing like a dose of brilliant scarlet color to lift the spirits in dreary weather! On this damp, grey November morning, the twigs of Tartarian dogwood glow like red-hot embers in a bonfire. Isn’t it spectacular? Nature can be quite the artiste! This glorious woody shrub grows wild from Eastern Russia to North Korea and Northeast China. Here in North America, Tartarian dogwood is a well-mannered introduced species, hardy in USDA zones 2 – 7. Best massed for color-effect, each shrub will grow approximately 10′ high and wide. Although I occasionally use a single red twig dogwood in a small garden design, I prefer to see this beauty grouped, (as shown above), for a naturalized look.

Tartarian dogwood, (Cornus alba), is a close relative of our native Redosier dogwood, (Cornus sericea), and although they are difficult to distinguish, (even for trained horticulturalists), in this case I prefer the non-native species to our own. My favorite Russian native, pictured here, (Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’), tends to be more upright in habit than our native red twig dogwood, and to my eye, it is a bit brighter in stem color. The rounded form of the shrub is very attractive in summer, forming a natural looking, verdant backdrop for other plantings. In autumn, Tartarian dogwood holds its burgundy foliage until late fall. And when the leaves drop in late October, the stems shine brilliantly in the gloomy landscape. But this beautiful show is only just beginning! Come winter, the red twigs will make a stunning display against a backdrop of snow white. I like to cut about 1/3 of the stems to the ground in early spring, in order to encourage new woody growth. The younger stems shine brightest in the landscape…

red twig dogwood ll, march 19, 2009

Tartarian dogwood, (Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’), at Ferncliff in March…


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

Please do not take, use or reproduce my photographs or words without contacting me for permission.

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without express, written consent. Inspired by something 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…

Thank you !



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