Pacific Northwest | April 4, 2004Pacific Northwest MagazineApril 4, home
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Temptation Blooms
A fresh crop of trees and shrubs is just waiting to entice us
Hydrangea macrophylla 'Bailmer'
Golden foliage, surprising flower color and generous bloom time are just a few of the qualities breeders have come up with to entice us this spring. The search is half the fun as we set out to track down plants we'd not even imagined a year ago. Those that prove garden-worthy, common sense tells us, will soon enough be less expensive, more plentiful and familiar. But when did common sense have anything to do with springtime?

Plant lust grows as the days lengthen. We're visual junkies craving the newest of the new, scientists longing to test untried plants in our garden labs, and, perhaps most of all, gluttons for a yellow-leafed hydrangea, or maybe a dogwood with scarlet flowers. Happy Hunting!
Cotinus coggygria 'Golden Spirit'
As hydrangeas have dropped the mantle of grandmother's garden and become popular once again, hybridizers have responded. H. quercifolia 'Little Honey' has more to recommend it than a charming name — it may be the perfect little plant for containers or fronts of borders. The oak-leaf-shaped leaves glow as if dipped in gold paint, holding their bright color until autumn chill turns them wine-red. 'Little Honey' takes full sun to part shade, is fairly drought-tolerant once established, grows to only about 3 feet high and wide, and is topped with creamy cones of summer flowers. We've been hearing rumors of this plant for a couple of years, but I actually found it in the nursery this spring.

The common name of H. macrophylla 'Bailmer' says it all, for the claim is that this is the first hydrangea to repeat bloom from June until frost. H. Endless summer has huge, mophead balls of flowers that bloom blue in acidic soils, pink if your soil is more alkaline. It seems quite a feat to come up with a hardy shrub that flowers as long as an annual.
Kalmia latifolia 'Minuet'
If small shrubs are the new manna for gardeners, then Kalmia latifolia 'Minuet' is sure to be a hit. In May, plentiful pink buds open to white, cinnamon-banded flowers, as intricate and lovely as you'd expect from a mountain laurel. But 'Minuet' only grows to 3 feet in 10 years.

People have been talking up a golden-leafed smoke tree for awhile, but it hasn't been readily available until this year. Cotinus coggygria 'Golden Spirit' is vigorous, growing quickly to 10 feet. It has gleaming golden leaves that won't burn in the sun as long as the plant is watered during dry spells. It is a kaleidoscope of a plant, with a soft pink haze of flowers held aloft on elegant plumes in summer, followed by orange, red and coral autumn foliage. Planted to mingle with one of the dark, burgundy-leafed smoke trees, it makes a spectacular study in sun and shadow.
Cornus florida 'Red Pygmy'
We can never have enough viburnums, and in this spirit Heronswood Nursery in Kingston is introducing Viburnum furcatum, a deciduous shrub from Japan that blooms earlier than most other viburnums. It has flat, lacy flower heads, followed by red berries, and crinkled leaves that take on shades of red and orange come autumn.

Cornus florida 'Red Pygmy' is touted as the first red-flowering American dogwood. It truly is a dwarf, topping out at 7 feet. An ideal container tree, it stays a petite 3 feet for its first five years. And the clusters of sweetly-shaped dogwood flowers are a warm, true shade of red.

No point in pairing a new-fangled shrub with an old-fangled clematis. C. 'Crystal Fountain' is a blowsy new clematis with blue flowers centered in white stamen that explode from its center like a fountain. It blooms in early summer and repeats a few months later. Another dependable repeater is C. 'Barbara,' with broad, 6-inch purple-pink flowers that coat the vine in May and then again in late summer. Either clematis could be laced through the viburnum for summer bloom after its flowers fade, or create dramatic contrast woven through the golden smoke tree. For skirting ideas for your new shrubs and trees, next week we'll take a look at new perennials and annuals.

Valerie Easton is a Seattle free-lance writer and contributing editor for Horticulture magazine. Her book, "Plant Life: Growing a Garden in the Pacific Northwest" (Sasquatch Books, 2002) is an updated selection of her magazine columns. Her e-mail address is

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