NEW Trips to Take!

Myrtle's easy when the conditions are right.


NEW Plants to Try!

Louis tries to capture the exact words to describe the fleeting but deep pleasures to be found in these Summer-into-Autumn incredibles.


New Gardening to Do!

Allergic to bees? You can still have an exciting garden, full of flowers and color and wildlife.


A Gardening Journal

Golden Chain Tree

Laburnum x watereri Vossii bud close up 013116 320

The Spring flowers of Laburnum are so spectacular they overshadow the tree's performance the rest of the year. In Winter, olive green stems are tipped with silvery buds. Stems in the background are tipped with a single bud, but the stem in the foreground has five. Does each mature to a raceme of flowers, or will some produce vegetative growth instead?


With Magnolia buds, you know ahead of time. Those that will mature to flowers are noticeably larger than those that are vegetative. Laburnum buds don't seem to be differentiated, so there's only one way to find out: I'll tie twine around this stem so I can locate it this Spring.


Meanwhile, midwinter is another peak in this tree's yearly cycle: It's training time. I'm covering one side and the top of a pergola with Laburnum, but the tree is nothing if not versatile. 

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The Best Season Ever: Weeping Pea Shrub in February, then May

Caragana arborescens Walker 020616 320

One of the best looks in a Winter garden is during and following a blizzard—at least for the plants that are able to wear a mantle of snow with style. The strong, rigid branches of weeping peashrub are particularly attractive then, because they weep stiffly downward and are evenly distributed around the trunk: No matter how heavy the load, it stays centered and stable.


The look is muscular, claw-like, and impervious to any stress of cold or wind, or the weight of heavy snow or thick ice. That's how tough and durable this tree actually is. All the more surprising, then, is how frilly and flouncy it will appear after the foliage emerges in Spring.

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Doing Gardening, Doing Good, Doing Well

At a dinner in Boston last week, a colleague joked that he is always on the lookout for new ways of fundraising for his main cause, his church. “What about indulgences?" he quipped. "Surely, Episcopalian ones would be worth a lot.” 


My main cause is a not-for-profit land trust I board-chair. You have yours, too. Who among us doesn’t? This is the privilege, responsibility—and joy—we all share: being able to help change something for the better.


When I need to think things over from a new angle, I often do so literally: I go out into the garden and—with the ground usually frozen this time of year—climb ladders to prune hedges, pollard trees, rework espaliers, groom pergola canopies, and manicure topiary. Today was for pruning the hedge of American holly. 

Ilex opaca Tilia cordata Winter Orange looking west 012816 320

When my eyes and hands are ten to twenty feet above ground, I see everything from a higher elevation. Today, I discovered a new answer to my friend's questions.

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The Best Season Ever: Climbing Hydrangea

It's the rare deciduous vine that is even modestly attractive in the Winter. (Think of the rat's nest that is most honeysuckles and clematis from October through March.) Only a few vines—wisteria and trumpet vine tied for first place among them—might be grown, even if just in part, for their Winter display of bare limbs.


Climbing hydrangea is in a class of its own. With such an enormous potential for Winter display, you could choose to grow it so as to preclude its "normal" peak, the flowers. 

Hydrangea anomala petiolaris 011616 overall 320

I've begun to form my specimen of climbing hydrangea by growing it up a pole; the ultimate confirmation could be a solid pillar of growth, a standard, or a cakestand of three or four horizontal tiers. Climbing hydrangea is so generous in its possibilities for year-round display that even a modest garden could have four or five specimens, each radically different from the others in size, shape, and propensity to flower. 


For a species with surprisingly few cultivars, climbing hydrangea provides a bumper crop of variety nonetheless.

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