Winter Interesting-ing Evergreen

I live in an older neighborhood.  It’s not hundreds of years old, but there are photographs of the roads being dirt roads and stories of the old-time insurance executives coming out to their “cottages” when the neighborhood was established long ago. Some of the cottages still exist and are used as sheds for the homes nearby.

What I would have liked to have been back then was the landscaping company who sold the trees, shrubs and perennials to this neighborhood.  Of the neighbors who didn’t rip out and redo, many of us have the same type of plantings, and almost all of us have at least one Pieris japonica, sometimes known as japanese andromeda, or andromeda or even just japonica (hence the ugly problem of common names rearing its head again) if not more.

Because of the age of the neighborhood, some of these shrubs are quite old, I’m guessing 50 years of so.  And this time of year when I walk the dog it’s a real treat to see the buds on these shrubs already set for next year.  Needless to say, since I’m able to observe these shrubs and not just my own venerable 50-year-old plus shrubs, they are planted near the roadway.

This is one neighborhood planting, anchored on either side by the pieris. Note the lovely red color of the buds.  Because of the age of these shrubs I’m fairly sure this is not one of the named cultivars like ‘Valley Valentine.’  Nevertheless, even at this distance, the winter color is obvious.

The grass is a full lush lawn of zoysia grass–which goes dormant as soon as the temperatures fall below the 50s for any length of time. Nevertheless, the lawn does retain its wonderful spongy texture.

Here is another neighbor’s planting.  You’ll see what seems to be the same cultivar of andromeda.  I seem to have it too in my yard–you’ll see it in a minute.  Notice the lovely mature hinoki cypress planted two plants to the right of that andromeda.

These plants can and do and will take the spray from the roadway all winter.  Our town road crew has shifted away from pure rock salt in recent years and gone to a liquid mix of magnesium chloride.  Some plants do not mind it at all; in fact my roses seem to thrive on it.  My english ivy, on the other hand, gets damaged and dies off–no great catastrophe, but an interesting observation.

These shrubs do not seem to get in any way affected by this new spray for better or for worse.  They hold their colorful buds and foliage well.

This is a third neighbor’s planting.  As the telephone pole on the left side of the photo shows, it is very nearby the roadway.  It is also in full sun all day. And interestingly enough, it seems to be a different cultivar.

Finally, here is my own elderly pieris–planted on the south side of our house, beneath some windows (I’m not sure whose bright idea that was because it’s a constant struggle to keep them trimmed below the window).

Those that are in full south sun may receive a bit of winterburn on the south side if we have a very dry late winter–February and March with no snow or rain may cause their leaves to brown a bit.  But they always seem to recover nicely. The area that appears to have no leaves has been shaded by a japanese maple for many years.  We lost that in the “Snowtober” Armageddon so with a little pruning in the spring I think it will come back.

Finally, those lovely buds open early–as early as mid-March if we have a mild winter–and the native bumblebees really appreciate the flowers.  Some varieties are incredibly fragrant as well.

Birds shelter in this shrub as well–I have seen several types of finches, juncos and cardinals all taking refuge from winter snow and wind in its dense branches.

Overall, this broadleaf evergreen stands up well to winter’s harshest weather, has lovely buds that open to beautiful early (and sometimes fragrant) blooms, and ages well.  What’s not to like?

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