A Willow Oak (Quercus phellos) blends the solid structure of the red oak family — think of the Northern Red Oak or the lesser known but similarly impressive Shumard Oak — with the fine-textured appearance of a willow tree’s leaves. Given room to grow in full sun, it is magnificent.
Native plants have virtue. They’re good for the environment. Planting them is the right thing to do. Planting them may even save the planet. How could any gardener or landscape designer not choose native plants? I confess to reacting with a bit of resistance when I first heard statements such as these.
Itea virginica – Virginia Sweetspire – is recognizable in the landscape not for its memorable shape so much as its impact when planted as a mass. A close look reveals the individual features that combine so well to create this effect.
Edges define and create spaces, and these spaces can become important design elements, in a landscape, along a roadway, or in the home garden.
Chamaecyparis obtusa, the Hinoki Cypress (or Falsecypress), stands quietly in the garden, commanding attention but requiring minimal care.
At a lecture earlier this year hosted by Montgomery County’s Brookside Gardens, David Culp, author of The Layered Garden, explained the garden design process at Brandywine Cottage, his home in southeastern Pennsylvania. Plants spoke first, Culp listened and responded, and a garden evolved, built on plants selected for sustainability and designed (or layered, as Culp describes it) for visual appeal in every season.
A native of the eastern U.S., the Sweetbay Magnolia (Magnolia virginiana) grows as a small tree or multi-stemmed shrub with an airy feel, more delicate than the better-known Southern Magnolia. It lightens the garden with leaves that open chartreuse in spring, grow longer than wide, and show silver when turned by the wind. The clustered leaves provide a clear view of the plant’s graceful stems, and in a breeze, the leaf clusters seem to float.
Walking around a neighborhood in the Maryland suburbs of D.C. earlier this year, evidence of winter burn appeared on street after street: hollies, azaleas, euonymus, rhododendron, even nandina, crisp-edged, the outermost leaves appearing blow-torched, dead. What happened?
It’s 34 degrees outside with freezing rain, the shrubs are bending with ice, and you’re staring at your garden, imagining spring. You find a blank space in the landscape, an area calling to be filled in, a problem to be solved. Visions of plants float through your mind, but you wonder, will they work?