Thursday, January 3, 2013

Yuletide Plantings, Part 1

The ‘Yuletide’ Camellias outside my office are brimming with buds, and I’m anxiously awaiting the initial bloom.  It’s not unlike receiving that first present at Christmas.  Sometimes the anticipation is just as great as the gift.
Monrovia grows 'Yuletide' for nurseries around the country.
Check with them for retailers in your neck of the woods.
And to be honest, these flowers are no sure thing.  Frigid overnight temperatures and a few days of ice and sleet could reduce each bud to tawny mush.  So I wait… in apprehensive hope.

Camellia sasanqua ‘Yuletide’ is my favorite camellia.  When in flower, its Christmas-red petals, surrounding a fat cluster of bright yellow stamens, remind me of Paeonia ‘Blaze’ or even the more exotic ‘Sword Dance’.
'Blaze' from Sandy's Plants in Mechanicsville, Virginia
'Sword Dance' from Viette Nurseries in Fishersville, Virginia
They are identifiably Japanese and yet seem right at home in Virginia’s urban gardens.  Their happy blooms are especially precious this time of year, set against an abundance of glossy, forest green leaves, miraculously delicate and tenacious, just at the start of real winter.
Camellia by Water, in style of Ogata Kenzan
hanging scroll, ink and color on paper, c.1741
from the H. O. Havemeyer Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
We live at the western edge of the Piedmont, and Camellia’s range, and so there’s always a great deal of discussion about which is hardier: sasanqua or japonica.  I’ve heard votes for both.  Camellia sasanqua can handle a little more sun than japonica and tends to be more upright and slender.
The descriptors sasanqua and japonica can be confusing.
Camellia sasanqua originates from a small region in Japan,
while varieties of japonica grow naturally in many parts of Asia.
‘Yuletide’ is particularly charming for its tidy, slightly pyramidal shape.  Some folks trim it into standard tree form and prune the bottom branches.  But the three examples at work have been allowed to grow naturally.  Now, decades old, they are almost 10’ tall but only half as round.  Quite spectacular, really.  And they got me thinking about other plants that could extend the Christmas season throughout the year.

‘Yuletide’ is petite enough for even the smallest garden and would do well in a sheltered spot either as foundation planting or in a small grove of other shade-loving ornamentals.  Too much sun and wind are its greatest enemies.  Use its rich ever-greenery as a backdrop.  Underplant with Muscari armeniacum ‘Christmas Pearl’, Muscari ‘Peppermint’
Check with Brent and Becky's Bulbs for a fresh batch of 'Peppermint' next fall.
and Liriope muscari ‘Christmas Tree’ for a blanket of strappy foliage and pale purple blooms at the very beginning and end of the growing year.
Several years ago, I noticed quaint Liriope 'Christmas Tree'
along the Woodland Walk at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden.
It can be difficult to find, even online and in garden catalogs.
Sandy's Plants supplies nurseries throughout the Mid-Atlantic...
or you can just buy directly from her.
Add some mossy pots of Caladium for a bit of iciness in the middle of summer.  ‘White Christmas’,
and ‘Cranberry Star’
Classic Caladiums, in Central Florida, is a wholesale grower and breeder of Caladium.
They supply garden centers and florists around the country, but you can buy directly from them.
Just know that they usually require a minimum purchase of 10-25 bulbs.
capture the colors of ribbon candy.

Clear white and true red are difficult to breed in Daylilies; but there really isn’t a more cheerful color combination.  Can you imagine Hemerocallis ‘Christmas Wishes’ along a white picket fence?
'Christmas Wishes' from Oakes Daylilies in eastern Tennessee
Plant a swath of ‘Christmas Carol’,
'Christmas Carol' from Bluestone Perennials
‘Arctic Snow’
'Arctic Snow' from Roycroft Daylily Nursery where they only grow Daylilies...
just south of Georgetown, South Carolina
and ‘Carolina Cranberry’
'Carolina Cranberry' is also grown at Oakes.
Oakes, Roycroft and Viette's are all multi-generational, family-run businesses.
in front of Muhlenbergia capillaris ‘White Cloud’.
'White Cloud', at the United States Botanic Garden, was still a showstopper in mid-December. 
Interplant the Daylilies with Tulipa ‘Peppermint Stick’.
From Brent and Becky's Bulbs, near the Chesapeake Bay in Virginia
They all enjoy lots of sun and can handle a little drought.  Plus new growth on the Daylilies will hide Tulip foliage as it dies back.  Don’t worry… it is more subtle than it sounds.  Each species would have its moment, and if planted here in Virginia, the border would provide interest from April until December.

Hosta x ‘Christmas Tree’ and little ‘Ice Follies’ look like they have been edged in frosting.
'Christmas Tree' from Sandy's Plants
'Ice Follies' from Plant Delights
While each leaf of ‘Night Before Christmas’ and its sport ‘Christmas Candy’ seems filled with cream cheese or lemon custard.
'Night Before Christmas' from Sandy's Plants
'Christmas Candy' from Plant Delights
But Hosta ‘Stargazer’, a new introduction from Plant Delights in Raleigh, North Carolina, is perhaps the prettiest.
What a cool, sugary respite for your summer shade garden.

Varieties of Heuchera have been inspired by so many Christmas flavors, including the almost-indestructible Heuchera x brizoides ‘Plum Pudding’,
Check out Bluestone Perennials, based near the southern shore of Lake Erie, for a good selection of Heuchera.
marbled x americana ‘Peppermint Spice’,
From Sandy's Plants
villosa ‘Caramel’ with hints of peach and bronze and green,
You can order 'Caramel' for spring planting from White Flower Farm.
deeply-lobed ‘Chocolate Ruffles’,
and unusual ‘Mocha’ and ‘Ginger Ale’.
'Mocha' actually emerges in copper and then darkens to almost black.
The Missouri Botanical Garden has a lovely display of Heuchera, including 'Chocolate Ruffles' and 'Mocha'.
But Heuchera sanguinea ‘Snow Angel’ is my absolute favorite for its frilly leaves, speckled in grass green and ivory, and wispy rose-pink “coral bells”.
'Ginger Ale' and 'Snow Angel' are both available from Bluestone Perennials.
Polystichum acrostichoides is commonly known as Christmas Fern, probably because it remains green even in winter.  I’ve also seen gardeners include its slightly-olive fronds, sometimes dotted with brown sori, in wreaths and garlands.  Native to most of the eastern United States, leathery Christmas Fern lacks the lushness and rambunctiousness of other ferns.  But its mild temperament makes it a great addition to small gardens.  Waterlogged roots seem to be its main enemy.  Otherwise, Christmas Fern thrives in moist, well-drained or dry shade, even on rocky or wooded slopes, often snatching a spot beneath trees and large shrubs where little else will grow.
These Christmas Ferns were snapped at the Missouri Botanical Garden.
But I purchased mine through Monticello, where they are grown "in-house",
at the Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants.
Gaultheria procumbens or Wintergreen is another “Christmas” plant native to the acidic forests of eastern North America.  Usually found among the groundcovers at nurseries and in plant catalogs, Wintergreen is a minute shrub that will eventually reach 6-8” tall and 2-3’ around.  I absolutely love Wintergreen for its sturdy, thumbprint leaves, in shades from bottle green to bronze, pinkish-white tinkerbell flowers throughout the summer and red, red fruits, like souped-up cranberries, in the fall and winter.
Wayside Gardens stocks Wintergreen year after year, but don't wait too long...
This all-around-great plant always sells out quickly in our area, so don’t hesitate if you find a healthy example at your local garden center.  Gaultheria procumbens enjoys partial shade but needs a little sun, preferably in the morning, to bloom best.  And yes, oil extracted from its glossy foliage is the original source of wintergreen flavoring!

For an interesting tapestry of foliage, plant a corner of bright shade with Christmas Fern, Wintergreen and Tiarella 'Sugar and Spice' and stay tuned for more yuletide plantings!

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