Plants (& Colors) of the Week: December 14
With our holiday sale wrapped up and the first snow falling this week, the spirit of the season has taken hold of me. Like many people I find great joy in the holiday tradition of adorning homes and businesses with greens and twigs. I spend a great deal of my days thinking about colors and which combinations would provide an aesthetically pleasing effect within a certain context. When considering the moment’s botanical decor for containers and arrangements, I often choose colors that represent a mood of that particular season.
Some of our native trees and shrubs seem like they’re made for this time of the year, such as Betula papyrifera, Ilex opaca, Ilex verticillata, Magnolia grandiflora, Abies concolor, and Pinus strobus. These plants will never go out of style with the charm and nostalgia they evoke. Despite these plants being most commonly associated with the holiday season, a great many more can serve as excellent substitutes to keep things interesting and horticulturally inspired.
Daphniphyllum macropodum (daphniphyllum) is an Asian broadleaf evergreen that would work perfectly within the typical holiday color scheme. This rare plant has bright red-pink petioles which stand out sharply against lustrous rhododendron-like foliage, giving this plant a common name of redneck rhododendron (unrelated to the derogatory term). D. macropodum prefers full sun to part-shade and exhibits remarkably little leaf discoloration, shaming other broadleaf evergreens with its year-round foliar splendor. The blemish-free quality of the foliage makes it an excellent choice for greens in an arrangement. Plants grow to approximately 15’x15’ and can be used as a large shrub or small tree.
Another broadleaf evergreen that shines at this time of the year is Mahonia x media ‘Winter Sun’ (hybrid mahonia). The spiny, dark green foliage of M. x media ‘Winter Sun’ provides a perfect backdrop for striking yellow flowers which light up the winter landscape. Mahonia flowers are superbly fragrant and develop into attractive blue fruits. The fruits lend many native Mahonia spp. the common name Oregon grapeholly, though M. x media is an interspecific hybrid between two Asian species. M. x media grows 8’-10’ at maturity and appreciates full sun to part-shade. Hardy to zone 5, M. x media prefers some protection from winter winds in Northern climates. This shrub should be sited near an entry or pathway where the floral aroma can be enjoyed.
To count on a snowy holiday season may be futile in the Mid-Atlantic, but even without appreciable snowfall we can still have snowdrops covering the ground in white. While the vast majority of snowdrops bloom in late winter to early spring, Galanthus elwesii var. monostictus ‘Potter’s Prelude’ (one-spotted Elwe’s snowdrop) is a fall blooming variety offering large white pendulous flowers which arrive on cue with the holiday season. This snowdrop selected right here in Swarthmore begins a bloom period in mid-November that lasts into January!
Tune into Garden Seeds for next week’s Plant of the Week as Rowan continues his discussion of the winter colors in the garden.