I am at heart a lazy gardener, and these days I have little to do with zone-pushing plants that require more than just a wind wrap in the autumn. There has been far too much money squandered in the past on what can only be termed “woody perennials” – those shrubs and trees which are laid low by my 7a frost hollow and whose roots only survive the winter through the miraculous intercession of St. Fiacre.
Such literal fragile flowers have since been divvied up to various masochistic gardener friends who believe themselves to be in possession of mysterious zones called “microclimates” and “heat sinks” and more power to the lot of them.
The gardeners are happy – having been in receipt of expensive rarities – and I am happy – given the opportunity to indulge in a Shadenfreude smirk when I see them struggling in someone else’s garden. In fact, the only loser is the plant itself, which faces yet another winter with ice coating its one remaining stem.
Meanwhile, here in the Old Meadow (which, thanks to natural laws of forest succession, now identifies as a woodland), we have been working with those plants that actually want to thrive here. A novel concept in the gardening world, but I think in the end, a solid one.
Top of that list has to be elderberry (Sambucus spp.) in its many forms. I’m growing the European S. nigra which may or may not be the American subspecies canadensis depending on who is visiting my garden that day (the differences being slight) and the highly ornamental ‘Black Lace,’ and ‘Variegata.’
S. racemosa is exquisitely represented by the yellow giant ‘Sutherland Gold’ (which tends towards a bit of foliage burn), and her daughter ‘Lemony Lace,’ (who doesn’t and is slightly smaller). As it’s all about patents these days, assume some of the above have a ™ after their names and don’t try to propagate (elderberries are easy) unless you’d like to tango with the mysterious plant police on some dark and stormy night.
Sambucus is fairly unmolested by pests – even the dreaded Japanese beetle has found better grazing ground, and the berries on S. nigra are prolific and wonderfully tart. They are also dangerous when fermented for two weeks in a two liter water bottle with the lid tightly closed – as I found out many years ago in Normandy. I have not attempted to make homemade hedgerow wine since.
The weigelas are thriving – though many would say, “don’t they always?” The answer is no, as they do need fairly reliable moisture and light levels and do not take well to silver maples stealing all the drinks out of the cabinet.
When I transplanted the well-known W. florida cultivar ‘Wine & Roses’ to the new place, it was little more than a few sticks with attached leaves. A year later it was thriving and as a result I did not refuse the gift of some new weigela hybrids at a conference. Now I am the [very] proud owner of ‘Maroon Swoon,’ and ‘Tuxedo’ – the latter a black foliaged stunner with white blossoms, and the maroon in swoon turning out to be a very respectable red. (I feared magenta).
Again, plants that make me look like a genius with no effort on my part. For smaller spaces – ‘Fine Wine’ is a terrific alternative to ‘Wine and Roses’ and generally available now.
One would think that a dappled woodland situation would create the perfect environment for Hydrangea macrophylla and H. serrata – and to some extent this is true in the front garden – but we recently had a tulip poplar removed and I now have a huge whole in the canopy which lets in punishing southern rays for a full five hours.
H. paniculatas like ‘Pinky Winky’ and ‘Quick Fire’ have thrived, and indeed so would ‘Limelight’ if I hadn’t moved it down to the meadow last year in a bid for more sun. I know there are readers who are dealing with similar changes in exposure due to failing trees, and I sympathize. The process is frustrating, but it does stir the creative juices.
There are others, but as usual, I am pushing my copy space and must save them for another day.
Reprinted with the permission of The Frederick News Post.