So how is this relating to landscaping? Well, surprise in the landscape is underrated. All those boring books you can read on landscape design always talk about color schemes, patterns, plant selection, some may even venture into “rhythm”, whatever that means, but they never talk about having fun. Take Lycoris, a bulb. In front of my house are clumps of the green strap-like leaves of Lycoris, commonly named “Naked Ladies”. Yes, Naked Ladies. Because you see, these leaves will grow all spring into the summer, then die down to the ground. In September, seemingly from out of nowhere, pink flowers on long stalks emerge from the ground, naked of leaves. (I’ve always said plant people like Latin names because it eliminates confusion, but this may be the real truth, apparently. Common names are embarrasing.) For the botanically inclined, they are related to Amaryllis, which do the same thing but backwards: flowers, then leaves, then dormancy.
I’ve planted at my house a surprising hemlock, “Gentsch White“. A green hemlock where the new growth is a surprising (and beautiful) white. I’ve planted one of those at Middlebury, and not telling where.
Why I’ve been thinking about this is another easter egg plant in its glory right now, a Norway spruce cultivar. Picea abies ‘Rubra Spicata’. A full size tree, not a dwarf, ordinary in almost every way, except for a glorious week or two in the spring (now), when the new growth emerges a bright red. The picture is a tree at my house, but I bought one from Rocky Dale last year, and planted it amongst two other normal Norway Spruces. When they mature, one tree in a clump of 3 bright red, well, it’s no flight simulator game, but still.
Like the Star Magnolias, this tree was probably planted here because of its proximity to a steam line. (That’s not a guess, there is a Magnolia right next to it.) This little pocket on campus is a unique little microclimate, which is a gardener’s way of cheating zones.
Flowering Dogwood, Cornus florida, is a decidedly southern plant, hardy to zone 5, but just barely. Does best in Zone 6. Zone 5 means it can’t really take temperatures below -20, and this winter saw -22 at my house. Zone 6 is no lower than -10, so you can start to see how special this dogwood is. The actual flowers are puny little yellow things, but it is the bracts that command all the attention. White, although pink ones exist as well, they are effective in the landscape for at least two weeks. Their asset in the landscape is the horizontal structure of the tree, which can be used to break up a monotony of vertical lines, as most tall trees can seem when amongst them.
You can buy Flowering Dogwood around here, go to any large chain home center, they will be glad to sell you all sorts of plants that don’t live this far north. If you are lucky enough to have a microclimate like the front of Allen (and yes, I’m talking to you Middlebury town residents), brag about it on my friend’s blog, he’ll set you up, responsibly. Buy local, and buy from plant geeks, and you won’t go wrong.
Once in a while, though, a particular piece jumps out. I don’t know the artist, the class, or the professor, but hats off to this piece. Next to one of our favorite trees, a massive Black Willow disintegrating before our very eyes, this piece (don’t even know the name) has captured, I think, the spirit of the surrondings perfectly. I’m no critic, and the only art classes I’ve had are in landscape design, but I know what I like. And, to whoever made this piece, well, I’ll quote my grandfather when I’d graduated high school. “You done good”.
These trees are also a good lesson in topping, a terrible thing to do to a tree. Well before my time, some of the trees near the FIC parking lot were deemed to be “too tall”, so they were topped, or reduced in height by chopping the top off of the tree. That has caused those trees to sucker profusely, and have hence become a maintenance nightmare. Contrast that with a great, unpruned speciman, the pear near the east door of Bicentennial Hall. This is at maximum height, about 25 feet (ironically only about 10 feet higher than where it was topped), and does not sucker, so it hardly needs pruning at all.