New Additions

Hamamelis x intermedia 'Aurora'

First, apologies to my handful of loyal readers who have been looking for a new post from me. My excuse is the fantastic mild fall weather my part of the southeastern Piedmont has been enjoying. Any self-respecting, self-professed obsessive gardener who does not get herself working outside on days like my region has been experiencing does not merit the aforementioned description.

I haven’t even started leaf redistribution yet, because the oaks in my yard are only just now starting to discard their recently yellowed leaves. No sense in raking twice, if you ask me. But that doesn’t stop other garden clean-up chores, and when you tend five acres of green chaos, there’s always something to do.

I intended to post updates at night. But after a hard day of yard work, my middle-aged body lacks enthusiasm for any effort beyond softly moaning on the couch with a heating pad. As the saying goes, what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, right?

As you know, fall is for planting in my region. Dormant plants focus on root growth, and our cooling temperatures allow new transplants to avoid heat stress. Water consumption drops, so even if rains don’t come, the water manually added doesn’t instantly disappear, allowing the roots of new plants to settle in and expand, thereby creating plants better able to withstand next summer’s heat and dry spells.

The plant in the photo above is one of my new additions. All my new arrivals were planted inside my deer-fenced north slope. After seeing the enthusiasm of plants not enclosed by wire cages, I’m having a hard time bringing myself to plant anything new outside on of our protected zones. Until I was able to remove the wire cages from the deciduous azaleas I had planted on our north slope, I didn’t realize that the presence of the cages was inhibiting the vegetative growth of the shrubs.

Although some plants will grow right through a wire cage (and get nibbled by deer), the azaleas just stopped growing  when their branches touched the edges of their wire enclosures. I know this to be true, because the first year after we enclosed them within deer fencing and freed them from their cages, every single azalea at least doubled in size.

Because I can’t predict which plants will be inhibited by wire enclosures, it seems prudent to plant all new additions within deer-fence-protected sections of my yard. So this summer, I wandered around my enclosed north slope and pondered possible spots for additions. Then I narrowed down my choices. I knew I wanted a Witchazel. I’ve always loved their late fall/early winter strappy flowers. The hard part was deciding on which cultivar to choose.

I settled on Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Aurora’ because its flowers are supposed to be extra large, showy, and fragrant — yellow with a red tinge at the bases of the flowers. The hybrid vigor of this beauty was evident as soon as I opened the box. Stocky, strong stems are well-branched, and the fall color on the still-attached leaves promised future spectacular autumn shows as the shrub nears its predicted maximum size of ten feet tall and wide. I planted it at the bottom of the hill, where it will receive the extra water it needs to flourish. I even saw a few flower buds, so I’ll be able to see the flowers for myself in a few months.

As I believe I’ve mentioned, I love exfoliating (peeling) bark on trees, and I’m always looking for new specimens with that trait to add to my collection. Cinnamon Bark Clethra (Clethra acuminata) has been on my list to acquire for some time. In fact, I tried it once about 15 years ago, but the deer got it when I foolishly removed its protective cage too soon. I gave it an ideal location on my shaded, moist slope, so I hope it will soon reach its predicted size of 8 feet tall and 5 feet wide. Its long white clusters of flowers (called racemes) will appear in July, and should add a touch of light to its shady site. I didn’t get a great shot of this new addition, but you can at least appreciate the soft yellow fall color of the leaves:

Clethra acuminata

The last new woody addition is a species of dogwood that I’ve been coveting for many years. Corneliancherry Dogwood (Cornus mas) is native to more northern regions of the eastern US, which is why I haven’t tried it before now.  But I’ve always been intrigued by it, because it produces small bright yellow flowers in late winter, and its ripe red olive-shaped fruits are reputed to be highly desirable to birds and other wildlife.  My research led me to a cultivar developed at the JC Raulston Arboretum in my home state of North Carolina. This cultivar — Spring Glow — reputedly can generate blooms without the prolonged cold period required by the species. That’s key in my part of the Piedmont, where winter temperatures rarely stay below 45 degrees for more than a few days at a time.

It took me a while to locate this cultivar at a mail-order nursery I trusted, but I succeeded, and I look forward to pops of bright yellow flowers during the winter months. This small tree should also produce striped barked that will enhance its winter appeal even further. If I can keep it happy, Cornus mas ‘Spring Glow’ should grow to a height of 25 feet, and a width of 12 feet. Here’s a shot of my newly transplanted specimen:

Corneliancherry Dogwood 'Spring Glow'

See the label to the right of the plant? For new arrivals, I add a permanent metal marker on which I write the name and cultivar on the front, and the source and planting date on the back. If the label from the nursery allows, I usually attach it to the metal label, just to make it easier to see the metal label, which can get buried during heavy leaf falls from surrounding canopy trees.

I tried keeping notebooks about plants in my yard, but I never kept them current. To avoid forgetting the names of the zillions of plants we’ve added to our five acres over the last 21 years, the permanent marker system has been the best solution for us.

Since I planted these beauties in late October, my yard has received a total of about 3.5 inches of wonderful rain. This unexpected blessing  could not have been better timed for the new arrivals. My area is still in a moderate drought, but the rains have provided a temporary respite from what could have been a very dry autumn.

Here’s hoping the rains keep finding my yard. But until they do, I’ve got plenty more work out there!

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