Ugliness is in the Eyes of the Beholder

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This is a juniper. At least the evergreen on the right is–on the left is a weeping Norway spruce. But for the purposes of this post, I am talking about the juniper.

When this garden was put in back in 1993 (before I married the house and gardens, as I say), the juniper was one of those crazy ornamental things with 5 or 6 pom-poms at the end of branches.

Time, heavy wet snows, ice storms and other things have caused it to revert to its natural shape. Several times the Spoiler and I have discussed removing it. And always, just about the time when we decided it needed to go, something would happen like a neighbor who planted their swingset on our property line. It’s amazing how much this big shrub blocks.

The final “it stays, and as it is,” decision came one February as I looked out my second story den window in a snowstorm. I pretty much overlook this garden from my den.

In this juniper, in the snow, I counted 14 American robins–and there could have been more. They were feasting on the berries.

So that was all I needed to see. The shrub stays–and of course the more shrub there is, the more berries there are.

Bring on the robins!

Persistent Fruit?

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Back when I worked in retail gardening, there were certain plants that everyone wanted–until they understood what was required for fruiting. Hollies (the genus ilex) was one of these. Everyone wanted the red berrying hollies.

No one wanted to plant a male plant (in other words, one without berries) so that they could get the red berries. If you knew how many times I answered the question about “but my neighbor has a holly. Can’t I just use theirs for the male?”

So we sold far fewer hollies than we should because they are lovely, deer resistant native plants for New England and they have persistent fruit (meaning their berries stay on the shrub and don’t fall off and make a mess) until they ripen after the winter. That’s why the birds harvest them in the spring and why they’re available if you choose to cut them for winter decorations.

Since my retail gardening days, hollies have come a long way as well. Breeders are making smaller shrubs and more heavily berrying shrubs. You still need plants of both sexes for most kinds of hollies to get berries–but now at least, the sizes of the shrubs are a bit more manageable for home gardens!

Another small tree that was a near impossible sell was the crab apple. Crab apples have come a long way and they too have persistent fruit. But many folks remember the older variety that dropped messy “apples” and so won’t even consider them.

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Crabapples are another fruit that remains on the tree throughout the winter and is available for returning migratory birds in early spring so it’s a valuable resource.

Take a little time to learn about our new and improved plants the next time you are shopping for a small tree or evergreen shrub. You might be pleasantly surprised.

The Hibiscus For You if You’d Prefer Not to Have Hibiscus Hedges

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Remember this photo from last Wednesday? This is a lovely hibiscus syriacus called Sugar Tip and not only does it have variegated leaves but it has double flowers. The double flowers are sterile so they don’t have that tendency to self-sow the way older varieties do.

There’s an “improved” variety of this plant as well called Sugar Tip Gold that has even more variegation in the leaf.

I am of two minds about this plant. I love the fact that its sterile and doesn’t seed itself all over my property. But I do see bumblebees all over it. I hate to see them wasting their time for a plant where there’s nothing for them.

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Still, there’s no denying how lovely this flower is!

Non-Native Shrubs for Wildlife

This may look like an out of control mess (more about what’s actually gone on here in a moment) but this wild hedge of hibiscus syriacus actually serves a wonderful purpose. As you might actually be able to tell from this photo, the land approaching this garden–which is not mine–in a slope. You can see the hibiscus flowers lying on it.

My neighbor mows it with a riding mower. For years I struggled with this garden and with painfully hand pulling the grass that his riding mower threw into the garden (actually it was the grass seeds, which then germinated–but I digress). Now that I have the Great Wall of Hibiscus, it fairly impenetrable.

Ironically, it wasn’t supposed to be this way. (And in another digression, isn’t this what gardening is all about? Happy accidents–and some not so happy ones?) That huge white hibiscus you see is one that was sent to me as a test shrub. It is called Lil’ Kim and was supposed to be 3-4 feet tall.

So, as I always say, plants can’t read–but in this case, Lil’ Kim apparently reverted to her parentage, whatever that was.

Here’s the true Lil’ Kim. You can probably tell that her foliage is more delicate and her flowers are smaller than anything in that gargantuan hedge.

By comparison, here is her “reverted” sister, parentage unknown. Same color scheme, same type of flower, just much larger.

So why do I let this behemoth stay? Simple–the wildlife love it. Bees and hummingbirds adore it. The fact that it has created a hedge from the grass clippings is an unintentional bonus.

And you might have noticed some purple hibiscus in my photo too. Both these plants, when they self-sow, occasionally throw off purple seedlings. I let them stay on the idea that purple is a desired wild life color.

Here’s a close-up of the the “purple” one. I guess it’s more lavender. Anyway, I like it. Coming up in the kolkwitzia, it makes it look as if it’s blooming a second time–almost.