Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
December, 2008
Regional Report

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Shaping a hardy rosemary yields fragrant rosemary stems for cooking and gifts.

That Goes, This Stays in the Winter Garden

We simultaneously notice, then critically eye, a stand of astilbe seed heads. They resemble huge, up-side-down exclamation points -- intact, brown seed clusters on sturdy 3-ft stems. They stay, we agree. The scraggly lacecap hydrangea flowers nearby get thumbs down before we clip them off. Same with the skimpy culver's root tops.

My helpers and I are putting gardens to bed for the winter. We're considering "winter interest" -- what looks good now and might remain attractive into January, February. The 8- by 9-foot oakleaf hydrangea holds handsome, upward-pointing, tan flower clusters against brilliant red, orange foliage. After the leaves drop, its sculptural form and exfoliating bark are winter art.

Upright sedums usually raise the question. Late-blooming 'Autumn Joy', 'Autumn Fire', and 'Matrona' can hold their form and color in one garden yet droop and flop in another. We usually clip off the droopy stalks, commenting on the cute, succulent leaf buds forming a circular base.

We tug to remove dead daylily foliage. Green iris blades stay but the mushy, brown leaves are history. Grasslike liriope (aka lilyturf) stays till spring shearing. Likewise acorus and carex cultivars that hold their own in winter containers.

Heuchera (aka coral bells) are evergreen, holding purple, green, silver, or copper leaves year-round. By spring, some leaves are dried and weathered -- easy to cut away to allow more space for healthy, new foliage. Late-blooming Heuchera villosa 'Autumn Bride' and 'Bronze Wave' have dry, sparse flower spikes we prune or snap off now.

Camellias Winter Delight
The evergreen camellias, with bright pink flowers, catch our attention. Nothing to be done here except stop and admire their astonishing beauty. They open fresh, rose-like blossoms through October, November and December. 'Winter's Fancy', 'Winter's Charm', and 'Winter's Rose' are the hardy fall bloomers I prefer. I've learned that spring bloomers, though sold with the promise of spring flowering, drop their dried-out buds by March.

Mediterranean Herbs
In a flat bed garden, rosemary often doesn't survive winter's water-logged clay soil. On a sunny slope though, rosemary 'Arp' is well-drained and thriving -- almost shrub-like with enough growth to be clipped, shaped, and provide fresh, fragrant sprigs for four appreciative cooks. We carefully trim off 4 to 6 inches, saving every stem. The lavender 'Grosso' on the up-slope plateau hasn't fared well. Cutting away the dead wood leaves about two-thirds of the plant -- healthier with better air circulation, I hope.

Golden Hakone Grass -- 2009 Perennial Plant of the Year
For a bright chartreuse splash in part shade, golden hakone grass can't be beat. En mass, Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola' resembles golden flowing water. Each plant is 12 to 18 inches tall and 18 to 24 inches wide. With five, seven, nine plants in a drift, the effect is a glowing cascade at the bed's edge or between perennials and evergreens.

Hakone grass also grows nicely in the sun -- in moist, humusy, well-drained soil. In deep shade, the blades will be greener than yellow. It doesn't tolerate heavy clay, or poorly drained or very dry soil. Buy lush, well-established plants with substantial roots.

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