By Maureen O’Connell
Wow, what a winter it has been for our gardens. Between the frigid temperatures and extensive deer grazing, mine suffered the most damage that I have seen in the past thirty years. Due to the recent cold, wet weather, I was late in assessing how all my plants came through the winter. I was shocked at what I saw. I lost most of my sixty-five rose bushes. The thirty lavender plants never recovered from the cold. The ever-increasing deer population ate most of the leaves from the lower sections of my Nellie Stevens holly shrubs. My hydrangeas, many of them ten to fifteen years old, have barely set any buds on the old, brittle wood, whence the new blooms come. I am waiting for about a week to see if there are any signs of life; if there are none, I shall have to cut them down to the ground and hope they will set out new growth. I will plant new lavender and hydrangeas, but I will not plant any more David Austin or hybrid tea roses. As much as I love them, the winter weather is becoming too harsh for them; their assigned planting areas are becoming too shaded; and I have stopped chemical spraying for pests and diseases. I shall carefully choose only the hardiest and most reliable plants for our area to include in my gardens.
So what are good choices of small (and one large) trees and shrubs in the Monocacy area? From A to V, here are some recommendations.
Abelia x grandiflora was first raised in 1866 at a nursery on Lake Maggiore in Italy. It is a deciduous or semi-evergreen, multi-stemmed shrub with bright, glossy foliage and fragrant, bell-shaped flowers, growing to about four to six feet. It can be used in a border or grown as a hedge. Considered a low-maintenance plant, it does well in sun or partial shade.
Arborvitae Thuja is a genus of six evergreen conifers native to North America and east Asia. ‘Green Giant’ is a superior variety introduction from the United States National Arboretum. Even though it will grow to sixty feet, I am including it in my small tree recommendations because it is such a reliable, low-maintenance, and tolerant specimen for our gardens. It is impressive as a specimen, but many planted together will form a fast-growing, year-round screen or hedge. It is resistant to pests and diseases and will withstand the branch-breaking ice storms and heavy snows that come with our winters.
Buddleia ‘Lo & Behold Blue Chip’ (butterfly bush) is a wondrous, beautiful, reliable, and low-maintenance shrub that belongs in your garden this spring. It made horticultural history as the first cultivar to be released commercially in a new miniature butterfly bush series named ‘Lo & Behold.’ This series is being developed at the Ralston Arboretum in North Carolina. ‘Blue Chip’ grows only two feet tall with intense blue flowers in spike-like clusters blooming continuously from June to September. Several years ago, I planted six in a crescent shape behind four hybrid tea roses and lavender plants. In the spring, I cut them back to about six inches and they grow back beautifully. I will admit that mine are taller than two feet; they are about five feet, but that size is still manageable. What I like about them the most is that they are drought and heat tolerant, deer resistant, a super magnet for butterflies, and can handle our winters.
A shrub that I think is underused in our area is the cotoneaster, especially the dwarf variety ‘Tom Thumb.’ This compact, low-growing deciduous shrub does well in sun to part-shade and has a well-behaved manner. I have several planted along the back wall of my house. It blooms in early and late summer and has very showy fall foliage. This very low-maintenance shrub can also handle the vagaries of our weather.
Ilex opaca, the American Holly, is a species of holly native to the eastern United States. Think of Christmas decorations and songs and you see and hear of holly. It is the state tree of Delaware. From April to June, it blooms with small white flowers. Plants of this species are dioecious, with separate male and female plants. For females to bear fruit, the shiny red berries, a male pollinator must be within two hundred feet of them. Typically it grows as an understory (under trees) tree in forests. In our back yards, this tree plays an important role: the flowers are pollinated by insects, including bees and wasps, its thick canopy provides nesting sites for many birds, and its berries offer food. Unlike many hollies, especially Nellie Stevens, its leaves are not attractive to deer. As I drove around our area recently, I noticed many evergreen trees and shrubs with denuded lower sections. As our deer population grows, they become hungrier and are attracted to many house plantings.
The one rose variety that did not suffer winter dieback this year (or actually any other year) was the Rosa rugosa. I have ten of them, three of them given to me by an avid gardener friend when I moved to Barnesville in 1980. They are my Phoenixes. Every year in the early spring, they rise again from their winter death and bloom profusely again for another summer season. I lost all of my David Austin and hybrid teas roses this year, but like Paris, I shall still have my rugosas. Yes, they don’t have the florist-like look, and their petals tend to flop this way and that, and they have a shaggy, unkempt air about them, but they have character and a fragrance beyond description. My favorites are: ‘Roseraie De l’Hay,’ ‘Blanc Double de Coubert,’ ‘Hansa,’ and ‘Marie Bugnet.’ The garden centers in our area usually do not stock these roses. You have to go online to order them. With rugosas, I think that you will find a new appreciation for roses.
Viburnum is a genus of about 150 to 175 native species of shrubs. Some are deciduous and some are evergreen. They are good additions to your gardens for their showy, fragrant flowers and berries and good autumn color. Among the many varieties, Viburnum x Burkwoodii is a reliable and low-maintenance choice for our area. I have several near my house, and they survived the winter weather very well.
There are many other trees and shrubs that do well in our area. I selected the above as I have grown them in my gardens and they have done very well. Gardens live in a state of flux. As our weather patterns change, we also have to change our gardens to fit into new guidelines. That is the interesting, and sometimes frustrating, side of gardening. The Gardener