November 10, 2014


Cornus controversia 'variegata' Just because it is a Cornus (Dogwood) does not mean that it comes from North America- this cornus comes from the woodlands of Japan.
 I think that we often dont think about circumpolar autumn, but in Japan, Korea, China, Switzerland, germany, Russia, Finland - it's also autumn, and so many of our garden plants come from around the world.

The 'Lily of the Valley' tree, or Oxydendrum arboreum, also known as the Sourwood is a small America native perfect for small gardens has outstanding foliage in the fall.

The 'Lily of the Valley Tree', Oxydendrum arboreum reminds me my early college horticulture classes while attending the Stockbridge School of Agriculture at UMASS (I later transferred out of the program to attend Unity College in Maine). It was back in the 70's, and this tree one that I had wanted so badly after seeing it in bloom that later summer while working as a gardener at an estate. A pretty little tree, it seems to grow no taller than 15 or 20 feet from what I can tell, most seem to mature at around 12 feet.

Oxydendrum is one of our great native trees which many seem to pass over for Japanese or other Asian plants, but it is a choice specimen tree if sited well. A great foundation tree for a large puddle of low shrubs that might need a focal point which is not a dogwood. The flowers every-so-slightly resemnle those of the lily of the valley, one might say that they look like 7 or 8 lily of the valley floral stems affixed to the end of each branch and allowed to droop elegantly.  My tree is still young, and has not bloomed yet so I have any photos to offer.

Aesculus parviflora var. serotina 'Rogers' - not your average horse chestnut with surprisingly golden fall foliage

Aesculus parviflora var. serotina 'Rogers'

This bottlebrush buckeye which is native to the woodlands of the southeastern US is rarely seen in gardens, and in most garden centers but it is worth seeking out for it'd overall form which is anything but tree like, more like a dense, deciduous multiple stemed shrub clad with these large palmate leaves, and showy panicles of white flowers - more like a delicate oak-leaf hydrangea presence than an horsey-horse chestnut. This selection is more choice than the typical species, native to Alabama, and it can grow a bit taller than the species with larger inflorescences, and who wouldn't want that! This plant is still young - I planted it two years ago, and it needs to have some time before it generates enough stems for form a dense mound. The foliage is surprisingly bright and beautiful though, don't you think?

Aralia spinosa - the Devil's Walking Stick is native to Eastern North America - but is it garden worthy?
 If you grow this beast, you might be saying 'Matt? Why are you showing this as fine shrub?" The 'Devil's walking stick, Hercules' Club, Prickly Ash -- you start to get the picture. This is one prickly plant with most every surface covered with sharp spines - even the large, compound leaves. Invasive almost to a point (get it?). It also runs, so be careful - this one requires a woodland site.

Yet, I really enjoy this shrub in the garden. The term shrub can be misleading, it more of a multistemmed small tree in most locations. The leaf, which I said it compound, a botanical term for many leaflets on a long petiole - this shrub has the largest compound leaf of any North American tree, with the entire leaf structure often reaching 3 or 4 feet long, even though the individual leaflets are only 2 or 3 inches long. Of course, all are covered with razor sharp spines. Proceed with caution.

If one chooses to masochistically grow this shrub, it's for those large compound leaves, and perhaps the large panicles of blossoms in the summer followed by clouds of deep violet berries (drupes actually) which with all honesty are rather un exciting. The flowers on a large specimen in July and August can be striking, but one plants this shrub more as a textural novelty than anything else. That is until autumn when those large compound leaves turn an amazing gold with a Macintosh Apply reddish bloom. There is no other way to describe it.

All Enkianthus are worthy landscape plants, but few match the autumanl color of Enkianthus perulatus.

In the midst of another cold, windy and rainy Nor'Easter here in New England, and the threat of some light snow tonight, I felt that I should bundle up in some Woolrich and journey out to get a few shots for the blog because even though it was overcast and stormy, the foliage looked brilliant, as it sometimes does on overcast days. These images are a bit blurry due to the late hour when I shot, them, and because of the rain, but I'm afraid that if I waited until Sunday or Monday, they foliage would drop.

Today I drove out to the Berkshire Botanic Garden to hear Mike Kintgen speak about native Amercian flora from the American steppe ( what botanists call the rain shadow climates which are desert like grasslands and scrub forests found in only a few areas on our planet (four, I think - but I am no expert on the steppe, but Mike is, and when his book from Timber Press comes out next spring, we will all know a lot more about the steppe.

After the lecture, I went to lunch with the Berkshire NARGS members, where we discussed some small pots of Enkianthus perulatus which were for sale at the Seven Arrows Nursery in Connecticut.
I mentioned that I've had one for about 12 years and that it was about 3 feet tall,. I could tell that no one seemed to feel comfindent that I indeed had this species - which lead me to question myself too, as like many of us gardeners - I don't always remember exactly what I have. When I returned home and double checked the label. Introduced years ago by the late plantsman Harold Epstein, who are president of NARGS for 16 years, the plant remains rare in American gardens. 

I don't remember where I aquired my specimen which is cloacked in brilliant scarlet-gradating-to-mango foliage right now, but now that I think about it, my specimen may have come from one of the great Pacific Northwest nurseries, because I think I purchased it while attending an annual meeting for the North American Rock Garden Society years ago. I have two Enkianthus species but this one is by far the most impressive, and rare. It's sister, Enkianthus campanulata is nice, but it is far more common, in the trade.One must never turn down any opportunity to plant an Enkianthus, but  E. perulatus has much going for it - a shorter presence, pure white bells in the spring, and a denser habit. Plus it makes rock gardeners drool. 


  1. What a lovely plant, that Enkianthus! I wasn't aware that Kintgen had written a book. I will certainly have to look it up. Us steppe-dwellers have to stick together. For us, your alien world where it usually rains enough that you don't need in-ground irrigation is bizarro-world.

  2. There is nothing more beautiful than the fall and its amazing colors! I'm absolutely in love with the Enkianthus!!! I have to learn more about it!


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