Posts Tagged Loropetalum rubrum var. ‘Zhuzhou Fuchsia’

Loropetalum: Be Careful What You Wish For

Blooming out of season in my yard two days ago.

Blooming out of season in my yard two days ago.

Years ago — maybe 18 or so — I was a member of an arboretum that gave out rooted cuttings of free plants to subscribers at a certain level of membership. These were often plants relatively new to the horticulture trade that the arboretum was testing for my area. One year, they offered a three-for-one deal: cuttings of three different varieties of loropetalum (Chinese witch hazel). This was a new plant for me then, the description sounded appealing to my tastes — purplish leaves and magenta flowers, so I tried them.

We chain-sawed one to the ground this year. It grew way, way larger than promised, and it was crowding out plants I like better. So — off with its head!

The maroon leaves are lovely almost year round.

The maroon leaves are lovely almost year round.

I do still love the leaves that emerge purple, and with some varieties, remain a deep maroon. And I love the pizzazz of the magenta flowers. But these shrubs are not native here; Asia is their native land. And after 18 years of observation, I can affirm they do absolutely nothing for the local ecosystem that justifies the space they take. Why? Nothing eats them.

Loropetalum 'Zhuzhou Fuchsia' -- the one sample I got that made it widely into the horticulture trade.

Loropetalum ‘Zhuzhou Fuchsia’ — the one sample I got that made it widely into the horticulture trade. This was taken about 5 years ago, when the shrubs were smaller.

These plants are shunned by every insect and warm- and cold-blooded native animal that lives in my yard. They must taste very bad indeed. The only life I observe in these shrubs — which are 15-feet tall and 10-feet wide now — are birds, which use them as shelter during storms and as nesting sites in spring.

Loropetalum 'Zhuzhou Fuchsia' flower close-up

Loropetalum ‘Zhuzhou Fuchsia’ flower close-up. Note the total absence of visiting insects.

I wanted these shrubs to screen the front of my house from cars entering my driveway, and they serve that purpose admirably. But so would any number of native evergreen shrubs and small trees.

Some of you may be thinking that I am crazy to want to remove plants unbothered by “pests,” but if you’ve been reading my blog for long, you’ll recall that the rapidly increasing eradication of native southeastern forests is leaving native animals with diminishing options for survival. For more information, try this post or this one.

Native Ilex opaca

Native Ilex opaca is evergreen and feeds wildlife.

We gardeners are on the front lines of the battle to save our native ecosystems. I didn’t fully realize this when I happily acquired and planted three tiny new purple non-native shrubs almost two decades ago. Every plant choice we make contributes to the preservation or destruction of the natural world we love.

The more I think about it, the more certain I am that Wonder Spouse and I are going to have to figure out a way to remove these giant purple sterile shrubs and replace them with well-adapted natives. I am a sucker for purple leaves and flowers, but in the future, I will stick with native options. I owe that to the natural world that nurtures my mind, body, and soul every day.

Be careful what you wish for.

Be careful what you wish for.

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A Passion for Purple

Chives and friends

Chives and friends

Color in the garden is a personal choice, and you will find entire books devoted to this subject. Personally, my eye is not offended by a rainbow of blooms of many species decorating my landscape, but I know that some gardeners with a perhaps more finely tuned aesthetic sensibility prefer to coordinate flower colors with more precision. In my landscape, however, pretty much anything goes.

That being said, I do have a special fondness for the color purple in all its myriad shades. Purple has always been a favorite color of mine, and because it is a mix of red and blue, I think it serves to help many other colors blend harmoniously in my landscape. Truthfully, I don’t much think about harmony when I add another purple-blooming and/or purple-leaved plant to my landscape. I just don’t seem to ever get enough variations on purple to stop me from wanting more.

The chive flowers above are on the lavender side of purple, but they still say “purple” to me. The red flowers in the distant background are those of Crimson Clover, a winter cover crop I sow to protect and enrich dormant vegetable beds.

The bit of delicate bronze/red/purple foliage in the back right corner of the photo is Bronze Fennel. The leaves of this herb are a subtle purple-red. The plant grows to about three feet, then sends up zillions of flower stalks that add another two feet to its height. Leaves impart a delicate anise scent/flavor to the nose and palate. It draws admiration from all visitors and requires no work on my part. I grow it for its beauty, and to serve as a food source for the caterpillars of the Black Swallowtail. We have a deal: they leave my carrots and dill alone, and they can have all the Bronze Fennel they want. The fennel always survives without significant impact, and I get more butterflies — win-win!

Today, I want to show you some of the purple plants currently (or recently) showing off in my landscape. I think they all bring passion to my garden.

Siberian iris, cultivar forgotten

Siberian iris, cultivar forgotten

Spring is iris season in my yard. I love all of them, but the three main types I grow are Siberian, bearded, and Louisiana. I’ve lost track of the name of the cultivar of the above Siberian iris, but its gorgeousness doesn’t need a name, does it? Irises thrive in my yard, I think because they receive nothing but benign neglect from me. If you make sure their rhizomes aren’t too deeply buried and that they get at least four hours of sun a day, the Siberian and bearded varieties do the rest of the work, multiplying steadily every year.

Here’s another Siberian iris whose cultivar name I’ve lost:

On the magenta side of purple, another Siberian beauty.

On the magenta side of purple, another Siberian beauty.

Bearded iris remind me of my mother and her mother. Both always grew lovely irises, mostly the pale lavender ones that smelled like bubblegum to my nose. I grow somewhat fancier ones. I invested in several varieties about twenty years ago, and they’ve been multiplying and beautifying ever since.

I knew its cultivar name once, long ago.

I knew its cultivar name once, long ago.

And here’s another one in the purple family:

Delicate in color and form, but actually quite sturdy and long-lasting in the landscape.

Delicate in color and form, but actually quite sturdy and long-lasting in the landscape.

I’ve showed you my other bearded iris variety before. This one’s name I remember, because it is named for how it looks:

Bearded Iris 'Batik' was a gift from my thoughtful mother-in-law many long years ago. Thanks again, Jerree.

Bearded Iris ‘Batik’ was a gift from my thoughtful mother-in-law many long years ago. Thanks again, Jerree.

My bearded irises are just finishing their bloom period, and the Siberians are about half done. But just yesterday, my Louisiana iris cultivars began their blooming cycle. Louisiana irises originated from that part of the US, but I’m not clear on the history of this type. I do know that they thrive in wet conditions, which is why I added them to some of the soggier parts of my floodplain, and one cultivar is planted beside the water feature in my front yard, where I can be sure it gets extra water.

The Louisiana iris by my front water feature is especially lovely. Its first bloom opened yesterday during a brief sunny spell between rain showers.

Louisiana Iris, cultivar forgotten

Louisiana iris, cultivar forgotten

Although it looks a bit pinkish in this photo, its color is really in more of the magenta family. I think it looks especially fabulous surrounded by my Tradescantia cultivar ‘Sweet Kate,’ which is in stunning full bloom right now. A happy accident on my part is the way the yellow center of the iris echoes the color of Sweet Kate’s foliage.

Here’s a close-up of the flowers of Sweet Kate, so you can more fully appreciate them:

Sweet Kate draws admiration from every visitor who sees her.

Sweet Kate draws admiration from every visitor who sees her.

After I noticed the above iris blooming, I made a quick hike to the floodplain and discovered that the water-loving varieties down there are just opening. They will bloom in waves for several weeks, especially if the wonderful rains keep coming.

A truly purple, well lavender anyway, Louisiana Iris

A truly purple, well lavender anyway, Louisiana Iris

I don’t just love purple flowers, however. I’m also a huge fan of purple-leaved plants. Most of these have new leaves that start out purplish, then morph into green that might be tinged with purple. But some plants retain leaves that are distinctly in the purple family. Take for example, this ridiculously enormous Loropetalum:

At its feet is long-blooming, almost indestructible Verbena 'Homestead Purple.'

At its feet is long-blooming, almost indestructible Verbena ‘Homestead Purple.’

Many Piedmonters have fallen in love with the native Redbud cultivar, Forest Pansy. If you site the tree so that it doesn’t get too much direct afternoon sun, the leaves will remain purplish all season.

Cercis canadensis 'Forest Pansy.' Of course, the spring flowers of this tree also feed my passion for purple.

Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy.’ Of course, the spring flowers of this tree also feed my passion for purple.

One other purple-leaved beauty that I haven’t written about yet is Cotinus ‘Grace.’ It has been adorning my landscape for at least fifteen years now, and I really must show you its flowers and cotton candy puffs of pale pink seed heads when they appear this year. The contrast between leaves, flowers, and seed heads is made more dramatic by the distinctly purple color of the leaves.

Cotinus 'Grace.' If you click to enlarge the photo, you can just make out the just-emerging flower stalks.

Cotinus ‘Grace.’ If you click to enlarge the photo, you can see the just-emerging flower stalks.

These are a few of the purple highlights of my landscape at the moment. Even the wildflowers get into the act this time of year. The Lyreleaf Sage, for example, is currently adorning all parts of my lawn. But for now, I’ll close with another favorite purple perennial:

Baptisia 'Purple Smoke'

Baptisia ‘Purple Smoke’

This cultivar was developed by the talented folks at the NC Botanical Garden in Chapel Hill, then introduced into the horticulture industry, so that gardeners everywhere can enjoy it. The only trick to this beauty is to plant it exactly where it will thrive, because it doesn’t do well when you try to relocate it. Baptisias thrive in sunny, well-drained sites, reflecting their heritage as prairie natives. Site them wisely, and your reward will be ever-expanding, trouble-free plants adorned by long-blooming spires of lovely lavender pea-like flowers. What more could anyone afflicted by a passion for purple desire?

 

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Hello, Spring?

Bloodroots nearing peak bloom

Bloodroots nearing peak bloom

On behalf of winter-weary gardeners everywhere, I bid you welcome! Spring — you are here, right? It is, of course, the day of the vernal equinox, that astronomical milestone that marks your onset. I ask, because, well, you seem to be a bit more capricious than usual this year.

Yes, the plants in my yard are showing definite signs of moving toward a new growing season, as evidenced by the beautiful native wildflowers in the above photo, blooming yesterday in my yard. They are just beginning to reach peak bloom; the ones in my north garden only yesterday peeked above ground. By last year’s vernal equinox, these flowers were nearly done.

Likewise, my beautiful Magnolia ‘Butterflies’ was well past peak bloom by last year’s equinox. This year, flower buds are just now swelling, as you can see here:

Magnolia 'Butterflies" flower buds are just now displaying a hint of color.

Magnolia ‘Butterflies’ flower buds are just now displaying a hint of color.

The native spicebushes (Lindera benzoin) are reaching peak bloom just in time for your arrival. Last year, they maxed out two weeks earlier. I love the tiny specks of bright yellow that adorn every branch.

The diminutive size of Spicebush flowers are difficult for my camera to capture adequately, but you get the idea.

The diminutive size of Spicebush flowers are difficult for my camera to capture adequately, but you get the idea.

One non-native early bloomer — my large Winterhazel — is about a week and a half behind last year’s peak blooming moment. The photo here was taken yesterday, and you can see that the flower clusters are just now pushing out their pendant strings of sunny bells.

Winterhazels are just beginning to bloom.

Winterhazels are just beginning to bloom.

My other big non-native bloomers — the loropetalum shrubs — seem to be more attuned to daylight changes than temperature. Flower buds are brimming with magenta color; a few are flaunting their bright strappy petals. But I’m guessing that the full spring display will occur just about the same time it did the previous two years.

Loropetalum flowers on the verge of exploding into neon magenta splendor.

Loropetalum flowers on the verge of exploding into neon magenta splendor.

That’s all well and good, Spring. A little variation in bloom time among the ornamentals on my five acres of North Carolina Piedmont is entirely to be expected. That variability is actually part of what keeps gardening exciting; I never know when and what each season will bring.

On the other hand, your capriciousness is also a source of frustration. You see, I had a feeling you were going to take your time coming this year. So I started my spring greens in the greenhouse later than last year, planning to transplant them into their permanent beds about now. I expected later frosts, maybe even a light freeze, but because I cover the transplants in protective garden fabric, I figured they would remain unharmed.

But, Spring, you have turned my planting schedule upside down with this predicted ten-day bout of well-below-normal temperatures that includes a very hard freeze tomorrow night. The weather seers are calling for a low of 26 degrees Fahrenheit at the local airport. Here in the boonies, that will likely mean a low hovering in the mid-teens.

I can’t put tender transplants into the ground when you are bringing winter temperatures to my garden. That would be plant murder! Meanwhile, right on schedule, my onion starts arrived in the mail two days ago. Somehow, I must persuade them to be patient, because I can’t plant them yet either.

Raring to go!

Raring to go!

Spring, it’s getting crowded in the greenhouse. The greens are itching for permanent digs. My pots of ornamental plants that overwinter in the greenhouse are all putting out new growth, gaining size and enthusiasm for your arrival daily.

I know I can’t stop your games, Spring, so I’ll do my best to convince the greens to be patient a few days. I think I know what you’re up to. After lingering early and long last year, you don’t want to party here at all. I think you’re planning to pound us with winter weather until April arrives, and then depart almost immediately, letting summer’s temperatures sear us before the canopy trees are even properly leafed out. The models of the weather forecasters seem to agree. They are calling for above-normal temperatures for most of the US during the month of April, which is why I’m going to sow tomato and pepper seeds in the germination chamber in my greenhouse later today.

I love you, Spring, really, I do. But, frankly, your whimsy is one of the reasons my hair is as white as the new snow covering Boston — again — this week.

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Blog Highlights for 2012

This Eastern Fence Lizard was a new species in our yard this year.

This Eastern Fence Lizard was a new species in our yard this year.

Happy Last Day of 2012, everyone — unless you live in New Zealand or other countries where 2013 has already arrived. Here in my patch of southeastern US Piedmont, we were treated to a spectacular final sunrise of the year. A cold front is just arriving from the west, and a high-altitude wind is pushing herds of puffy sheep clouds across the sky from west to east.

When I looked west early this morning, the silvery sheep were nearly invisible in a lilac sky. But as I followed the herd across the sky to the east, they began to glow pink, as light from the rising sun reflected on their undersides. Turning to the ridge line that marks our eastern horizon, the sky was aflame with deep reds and oranges, reflecting fire onto the water of the creek. The cloud sheep in the east were peach and pink puffy masterpieces. Along the far south horizon, one sliver of vivid turquoise colored the sky where clouds had not yet arrived. The sun topped the horizon, and the colors muted to pastels as the sky directly above me deepened from lilac to azure. An eye blink later, the show was over as the sheep coalesced into a solid sheet of gray.

The rain won’t arrive until tomorrow, so the weather seers predict. The blanket of clouds will keep midnight revelers warmer than last night. Temperatures here fell to nineteen degrees Fahrenheit before the clouds showed up. Personally, I think a wet start to the new year is most auspicious. The drought here has lingered for most of the past decade. I estimate it would take an inch a week for the entire year to bring my area back up to the water levels it once enjoyed.  Here’s hoping we all get the weather we need in 2013.

Meanwhile, the folks at WordPress have been hard at work crunching year-end statistics for my little blog. As I did here last year, I thought I’d take a quick look at which posts you folks read most frequently.

First, let me remind you that I began this blog in January of 2011. Today’s post makes the 251st entry since I started. For 2012, this is the 73rd new entry. These new entries include 460 new photos.

This year, the day with the most page views was March 29, when the blog attained 208 views in one 24-hour period. I have no idea what happened that day, but I suspect someone in the Webiverse with readers linked to this site, resulting in the astonishing increase in traffic. The most popular post that day was a piece I wrote about my Loropetalum shrubs. Here’s the link, and here is that often-viewed photo of one of the shrubs in full bloom.

Loropetalum 'Zhuzhou Fuchsia'

Loropetalum ‘Zhuzhou Fuchsia’

It does make quite an impact, doesn’t it? This year, the most frequently viewed entries were all posts I wrote in 2011, and all but the first one dealt with specific plants in my garden, which reinforces the fact that most of you find my blog while searching for information on specific plant-related topics.

Top posts from last year include:

Going deeper into the most-viewed list reveals the top five entries written this year:

Personally, I was gratified that my posts on invasive exotic species were sought out frequently. This issue will only increase in significance in the coming years, so I’m glad folks are starting to pay more attention to this growing threat to our native ecosystems.

At this moment, my blog has been viewed 46,952 times since the first entry — 11,732 views in 2011, and 35,220 views in 2012. Average views per day in 2011 totaled 33, but climbed to 96 views per day for 2012. I think this is pretty good for a blog I’ve never advertised. I attribute the increased numbers to diligent tagging, enabling search engines to find relevant posts.

I can’t end this retrospective without acknowledging the amazing self-described “happiness engineers” at WordPress.  Their work to continually enhance and improve the functionality of their blogging software is most appreciated by this writer. Just this month, they’ve added a new statistic to the mix. I can now differentiate between the number of daily visitors and the number of daily views, thereby allowing a calculation for average views per visitor. Most interesting! And I must give a shout-out to Happiness Engineer Bryan, who through a series of e-mail exchanges, politely and patiently walked me through how to use some new functionality their interface now offers. Thanks again, Bryan!

And many thanks to my readers, especially those of you who take time to comment on my offerings. It is gratifying to know that sharing my gardening obsession is perhaps of some utility to others out there. I hope we can continue to help each other as weather challenges mount and new plant varieties arise.

Of course, the imminent arrival of a new year also brings a new gardening season. I’ve already placed my seed/plant orders, and I’ve been mentally building a to-do list so that the garden will be ready when planting time arrives. I’ll share my thoughts about all that in an entry next year.

Meanwhile, I wish all of you a Happy Gardening New Year!

R. flammeum 'Scarlet Ibis'

R. flammeum ‘Scarlet Ibis’

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Monochromatic Sunrise

A December Surprise

I am an early riser. As day length shortens with the approach of Winter Solstice, my early bird nature is often rewarded with breathtaking sunrises, like the one I wrote about here. However, today did not bring fire to my eastern horizon.

Today as diamond stars faded into a pre-dawn pearly sky, a pale lavender herd of fluffy cloud sheep galloped toward me from the south. A solid wall of steely clouds loomed close behind them. As the sheep fled northeast before the approaching cloud bank, the eastern horizon showed hints of promising pink and pale gold. The race was on: clouds vs. sunrise.

The cloud sheep multiplied, their color deepening to lilac as the sky behind them darkened. Where the sun usually first appears, hints of tangerine promised warmth. Just as I expected to see the first golden rays, the sheep fled, replaced by a sobering wall of gray nothingness. No sunrise for me today.

A flat gray sky rules the morning; steel trees silhouetted against it reinforce the monochrome landscape. But Nature has not surrendered to the gloom. Sharp-leaved hollies glow greenly, their crimson berries brightening the dull air.

Hollies fight the monochrome

And then there are the flowers.

The weather here has been so inconsistently cold that many of my plants have been fooled into precocious blooming. Some summertime flowers have still refused to retire for the season: Sweet Alyssum and Verbena ‘Homestead.’ My loropetalums are blooming sporadically, as you can see here:

Fooled by late autumn warmth

And, as the flower opening this entry shows, one of my flowering apricots has been in full bloom for a week now. I confess, I don’t remember the name of the variety. Its perfume does not share Peggy Clark’s signature cinnamon scent. But it is still lovely – sweet, but not cloyingly so. I have never, ever, seen it bloom in December. Sometimes by late January, but never early December.

Peggy Clark has always bloomed first. Her location next to the garage gives her a flowering advantage. And her buds are close to opening. I’m guessing Peggy will be perfuming my yard by midweek. However, this season, this pale pink Prunus mume wins the race. I’m going to cut a few branches to bring indoors before the next cold snap threatens. She has earned a place of honor for her sweet blossoms.

But today I’ll enjoy all my December flowers where they grow, and appreciate their colorful punctuation of a monochrome near-winter landscape.

Too soon for slumbering honeybees

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Fuchsia Punch for Early Spring Piedmont Landscapes

Loropetalum ‘Zhuzhou Fuchsia’

Even on a cloudy day like today, there’s no missing this eye-popping shrub. It is Loropetalum chinense var. rubrum ‘Zhuzhou Fuchsia’. Chinese Fringe-flower, a hardy member of the witchhazel family, blooms intermittently through the year, but early spring is when it really struts its stuff.

There’s a white-flowered, green-leaved form too, but why would you settle for green and white when you can have deep purple-maroon leaves and bright fuchsia flowers?  Here’s a close-up of those flowers:

Loropetalum ‘Zhuzhou Fuchsia’ flower close-up

I got my specimen from a local arboretum about ten years ago. It was a benefit of membership, and my rooted cutting was six inches tall. It is now ten feet high and still growing. My references say ten feet is its maximum height, but judging from my experience, count on a bit more.

As you can see from the first photo, I’ve limbed up my shrub into a more tree-like form, but it will maintain branches all the way to ground level if that’s your preference. The leaves are somewhat fuzzy, making them less palatable to deer, which only take occasional spite-bites as they pass.

Heavy snows and ice storms do break some branches of this shrub, but it grows so vigorously that you can’t really see the break points by the end of the following growing season. This non-native shrub is ideal for any southeast piedmont landscape. It doesn’t attract pollinators, but it does provide dense cover for birds. A pair of cardinals nests in mine every year.

If, like me, you’re a sucker for purple-leaved plants, consider finding a spot for this shrub in your yard. It’s guaranteed to wake up any early spring landscape —  even on cloudy days.

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