I’m honored and delighted to be taking part in April’s Garden Designers Roundtable as a guest blogger. I’d feel out of place contributing on a design-specific subject in the company of all these professional designers, but I never run out of things to say about my favorite plants, so I jumped at the chance to join in on this topic. The hard part was deciding which plants would make the cut. Going with the “landscape” aspect, and attempting to keep this post a semi-reasonable length, I settled on three of my favorite woody plants.
Southern Bush Honeysuckle (Diervilla sessilifolia)
First up is southern bush honeysuckle (Diervilla sessilifolia). I’m not sure why I originally bought this shrub, because honestly, it’s not a dramatically interesting plant, either in foliage or in flower. But it does have a number of good qualities that, taken together, make for a dependable and pleasing garden and landscape shrub.
For me, southern bush honeysuckle has a low, neatly mounded form, likely because I cut the entire plant back to about 2 inches each spring. I understand that when it’s left unpruned, it can reach 4 to 6 feet tall and wide; mine are usually just 2 to 3 feet tall and wide.
The soft yellow flowers aren’t very large, but they’re quietly pretty, and they show off well against the rich green leaves. (Bees love them, too.)
They appear over a long season, starting in June here in southeastern Pennsylvania. Below is southern bush honeysuckle with golden elderberry (Sambucus nigra ‘Aurea’) in late June.
Flowering continues through the summer. Below is a mid-July shot of southern bush honeysuckle with golden oregano (Origanum vulgare ‘Aureum’) and golden locust (Robinia pseudoacacia ‘Frisia’).
The flowers keep coming through August, at least, and often well into September. Below is a late August shot of southern bush honeysuckle with frost grass (Spodiopogon sibiricus) and ‘Karley Rose’ Oriental fountain grass (Pennisetum orientale).
In fall, the green seed capsules darken to a rusty red-brown, which shows up well against the still-green leaves. Below, they’re set against fall-browned frost grass in mid-October.
And here’s a seedhead against Tatarian aster (Aster tataricus) and Japanese maple (Acer palmatum), also in mid-October.
In mid- to late fall, the foliage finally starts to color up. Depending on the weather, it can be anything from bright red to russet to orange with touches of yellow. Below it’s in mid-October…
And here it is in the foreground of a mixed planting in mid-November:
Even the winter form is attractive (below in early February).
Southern bush honeysuckle spreads by rhizomes, which can make it a little challenging to manage in mixed plantings. I don’t find it to be an aggressive spreader, but I wouldn’t recommend planting it with delicate companions. It’s fine with sturdy partners such as warm-season ornamental grasses. I’ve also had luck keeping it in place by snipping off and pulling out the surface runners when I do the spring cut-back. I’ve used those rooted pieces to make many new clumps for mass plantings, or for wherever I need a free filler. I’ve read that the plants can work well as a ground cover for slopes, and I’m tempted to try that out.
Southern bush honeysuckle is native to the southeastern U.S. but is hardy as far north as Zone 4. It thrives in full sun to light shade and reportedly prefers well-drained soil, though it does fine here in rather moist soil. One other good thing: deer don’t seem to care for it.
For a zippier foliage effect, look for the brightly variegated selection Cool Splash (‘LPDC Podaras’). (I’ve written about this one before, in Making a Splash.)
Sources for southern bush honeysuckle include Sunlight Gardens and Forestfarm. One source for Cool Splash is Broken Arrow Nursery.
Silver Willow (Salix alba var. sericea)
When I was a new gardener and busy absorbing British gardening books, I fell in love with silver willow-leaved pear (Pyrus salicifolia ‘Pendula’). Knowing how common the bacterial disease fireblight is on pears where I live, though, I figured I’d never be able to grow it successfully. I finally found a reasonable substitute in silver willow (Salix alba var. sericea).
Like the silver pear, silver willow has slender leaves that are bright silver to silvery gray through the growing season. Silver willow, however, will likely get much larger than silver pear. I’ve read that silver willow can eventually reach 30 to 50 feet tall, but I’m hoping that the descriptions that claim about 20 feet are more accurate.
Below is silver willow with ‘Silver and Gold’ yellow-twig dogwood (Cornus sericea) and ‘Screamin’ Yellow’ baptisia (Baptisia sphaerocarpa), showing the pyramidal habit the plant had when it was young (about 4 years after setting out a 30-inch mail-order plant).
Over the last few years, it has gradually become more rounded. Below, it’s with ‘Karl Foerster’ feather reed grass (Calamagrostis x acutiflora), Joe-Pye weed (Eupatoriadelphus maculatus), and white snakeroot (Ageratina altissima).
I prefer not to limb up my trees, but I didn’t have much choice with this one, so I cleared the bottom 5 feet of the trunks to give the perennials and nursery bed under it more room and light. (So far – after about 8 years – I haven’t had any major problems with planting among the surface roots.)
Silver willow can also tolerate heavy pruning, so I still have the option of cutting it back hard and letting it resprout, though I’m hesitant to interfere with the graceful look it has now.
With its dense, bright foliage, silver willow has turned out to be a great background for a wide variety of colors and combinations.
Above is silver willow behind giant fleeceflower (Persicaria polymorpha) and Mexican feather grass (Stipa tenuissima) in mid-June. Below is the same setting from a slightly different view one year later, with flowering silver sage (Salvia argentea), ‘Caradonna’ salvia, and ‘Brookside’ geranium in front of the fleeceflower and willow.
Above is the willow in mid-September a few years earlier, behind Leucanthemella serotina, blue mist shrub (Caryopteris x clandonensis), and silver sage. Below, it’s a backdrop for ‘Cassian’ fountain grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides), ‘Fireworks’ goldenrod (Solidago rugosa), golden lace (Patrinia scabiosifolia), orange coneflower (Rudbeckia fulgida var. fulgida), and ‘Silver and Gold’ yellow-twig dogwood in late August.
Above is silver willow with ‘Old Spice Mix’ sweet peas (Lathyrus odoratus) in early July. And below, it’s with ‘Crimson Beauty’ fleeceflower (Persicaria cuspidata) and ‘Jocius’ Variegate’ white snakeroot (Ageratina aromatica) in mid-October.
Above is a long view with silver willow behind a border that includes ‘Cassian’ fountain grass; seedheads of purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), spike gayfeather (Liatris spicata), and orange coneflower; ‘Fireworks’ goldenrod; a pink New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae); ‘Dallas Blues’ switch grass (Panicum virgatum); Tatarian aster (Aster tataricus); little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium); and ‘Dewey Blue’ bitter switch grass (Panicum amarum).
Below is the same border one year later but six weeks earlier in the season, with Carolina lupine (Thermopsis caroliniana), purple coneflower, golden lace, ‘Dewey Blue’ bitter panic grass, orange coneflower, ‘Karl Foerster’ feather reed grass, and Joe-Pye weed.
Silver willow needs full sun and thrives in moist soil, but apparently it can also adapt to average or even dry conditions. I’ve found a wide range of hardiness ratings for it, most often Zones 3 or 4 to 8 but sometimes even to Zone 2.
Sources for silver willow include Broken Arrow Nursery and Greer Gardens.
Daimyo Oak (Quercus dentata)
Here’s another plant that I can’t remember buying intentionally. That happened a lot around the time Hayefield House was being built, because a fantastic local nursery was closing that year. I made several trips there to buy as much as I could, and though oaks don’t usually grab my attention, this one – known as Daimyo oak, Daimio oak, or Japanese emperor oak (Quercus dentata) – somehow ended up in my cart.
Like most of the woodies I planted at Hayefield in 2002, this oak was just about 1 foot tall, with a single stem. Over the years, it has outgrown every other tree here (except for the silver willow), putting on at least a foot of new growth every year. So much for oaks always being slow-growing.
I have it planted out front, at the intersection of three large borders, where it makes a gorgeous deep green backdrop for much of the growing season. Below is a view of it behind giant fleeceflower and purple coneflower in mid-June.
Above is the oak in a second flush of growth in late July, with the same giant fleeceflower and purple coneflowers, and little bluestem too.
By late August, below, the oak is back to deep green.
Daimyo oak really comes into its own in fall (mid-November, below), with spectacular autumn foliage colors: usually shades of orange with touches of gold.
Above, in detail: the seedheads of purple coneflower and Culver’s root (Veronicastrum virginicum) with prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis), ‘The Blues’ little bluestem, pink muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris), ‘Sioux Blue’ Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans), aromatic aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium), more purple coneflower seedheads, and species little bluestem. And Daimyo oak, at the far end.
Below is a late October shot with the oak behind ‘Dallas Blues’ switch grass, ‘Cassian’ fountain grass, and a seedling Japanese maple (Acer palmatum).
Above is view from a slightly different angle, with the oak and ‘Dallas Blues’ switch grass as a backdrop for Tatarian aster and the seedheads of Carolina lupine.
And below, one more different view from the same day, with more fall color: red Bowman’s root (Gillenia stipulata), light yellow ‘Dallas Blues’ switch grass, and bright yellow Arkansas bluestar (Amsonia hubrichtii), plus the dark seedheads of orange coneflower and purple flowers of aromatic aster.
The color is splendid even in November (above and below)…
…finally turning brown in December (above). The foliage is marcescent, which means that it hangs on through the winter (below, in early February).
The leaves of Daimyo oak are huge (to about 1 foot long and 6 to 8 inches across), so they really catch the snow and ice. They also make quite a bit of noise when they rattle in winter winds. On the plus side, they provide excellent screening in winter as well as summer and fall.
Finally, after a few warm days around late March, the old leaves loosen and drop, making room for the new growth a week or two later.
Daimyo oak flowers in May and produces showy acorns later in the summer. Mine flowered and fruited for its first time last year, but I missed getting a photo of its frilly-topped acorn.
This oak isn’t for a small landscape: I’ve found reports of anything from 50 to 75 feet as its ultimate height. I probably should have given it even more room at planting time. Even if it keeps growing 1 foot a year, though, I doubt I’ll have to worry about it getting too big for its spot in my lifetime.
Daimyo oak thrives in full sun and average, well-drained soil in Zones 5 to 8. Forestfarm sells plants of the species; Gossler Farms Nursery offers the cultivar ‘C.F. Miller’ and cut-leaved ‘Pinnatifida’.
Ready to find out about the favorite landscape plants of official Garden Designers Roundtable members? Check out these links:
Andrew Keys : Garden Smackdown : Boston, MA
Christina Salwitz : Personal Garden Coach : Renton, WA
Genevieve Schmidt : North Coast Gardening : Arcata, CA
Ivette Soler : The Germinatrix : Los Angeles, CA
Jocelyn Chilvers : The Art Garden : Denver, CO
Laura Livengood Schaub : Interleafings : San Jose, CA
Lesley Hegarty & Robert Webber : Hegarty Webber Partnership : Bristol, UK
Rebecca Sweet : Gossip In the Garden : Los Altos, CA
Rochelle Greayer : Studio G : Boston, MA
24 thoughts on “Garden Designers Roundtable: Top Landscape Plants”
Just gorgeous, Nan. and I especially enjoyed the views through the seasons!
Hey there, Cathy. The multi-season shots make for a long post, but it’s fun to sort through my archives to find them. It’s a great way to mentally get ready for the upcoming growing season.
I enjoyed your posting, Nan. Your photos inspire, as always, but your elegant descriptions are where the real meat is. Since I love silver-green anything, I’m rather smitten by your silver willow. It’s a real beauty.
That willow is Mom’s favorite too, Pam. It’s because of her that I never got around to coppicing it when it was young. She’d get all quiet every time I mentioned my plans of cutting it back. So, while I hadn’t planned on a 50-foot tree there, or even a 20-foot one, I wouldn’t have the heart to cut it now.
Nan, Thanks so much for joining the Garden Designers Roundtable this month. I always find so much inspiration here and this month is no exception. Like Pam, I am taken with the silver willow. It is so elegant and graceful I’d love to add one to my garden. Broken Arrow is less than an hour away from me so I may be taking a little road trip this weekend.
My thanks to the group for inviting me to take part this month. I can’t wait to check out everyone’s picks. You are *so* lucky to be able to visit Broken Arrow; reading their list of offerings makes me drool.
Really wonderful pictures and a great post–as always. I’m especially excited about trying bush honeysuckle on the awful steep slope that runs along the road at the edge of the garden. I would actually love more plants that spread by suckers there.
Yes – great idea for that slope! If you come up this summer, I’ll dig some for you.
Oh Nan, I always love to visit Hayefield…this kind of garden was my first inspiration and I’ve so envied your huge beds and drifted plantings! Thanks for sharing your three treasures and giving us such a great tour through the seasons with each of them. I particularly loved the picture of the new oak leaves emerging…yum. Thanks again for being our honored guest today!!
Thank you so much for visiting, Laura. As much as I enjoy having lots of space now, I always think fondly of small gardens (including my first place), where every plant can be a star, and where there’s more time for paying attention to fine details.
Nan, thank you for joining us this month! Your wonderful presentation makes me want to try all of these plants – especially the oak – although they would be pushing the envelope in my region.
It’s been my great pleasure, Jocelyn. And I’ve learned about a lot of cool plants from other climates today too.
Nan – I have to laugh when you say you’d feel out of place talking about design with us ‘professional designers’ when you’re clearly incredibly talented at designing with plants! Your photos are unbelievable, and I’ve had to go back a few times now and spend some time looking at each one and how you’ve used different plants to create different effects. Such a well-written post with stunning photos. Thank you so much for guest blogging with our group – we’re all honored!
Well, Rebecca, as you know, it’s a lot easier to create certain effects with plants in your own garden, where you can play with them often and make frequent changes as needed. I appreciate your kind comments, though!
Love the seasonality you show – in fact would go so far as to say that love most the dying back and dead aspects of your pics. Incredible range of colours then – such a precious time of the year.
I’m with you, Robert – those are some of my favorite shots too. I’d just convinced myself that cutting everything back in the fall was the best way to go, but after looking back at my past fall and winter pictures and realizing how much off-season interest I missed this year, I might need to rethink that, at least in some areas.
Seeing so many plants I recognize, yet combined with others completely new to me is helping me to think about old favorites in a fresh light. And what could be better than that for a designer? All your photos are so graceful and charming. Clearly a garden tended with love.
Thanks, Susan! The garden is far from perfect, but it definitely is loved. I’m delighted that you found the combinations of interest. I had the same experience visiting other GDRT posts today, enjoying the mix of familiar faces and new-to-me plants.
Nan -that silver willow is beautiful!! I literally saw your post this morning and then this afternoon, pitched it to a client on the fly, and we are going with it. Love it! Though I think I will have to find 2…one for me.
That’s terrific, Rochelle! I hope your client enjoys it as much as I have. I should have mentioned that it doesn’t have much fall color – basically a pale yellow that’s ok but not wow. But then, fall color generally isn’t a big deal with willows anyway.
As always, a wonderful, informative post…is it weird that even with all the great photos of those three plants, I think I’m the most obsessed with the Frost Grass!?! That stuff is stunning…love that habit…and the fall color is great.
I’m not surprised it caught your eye, Scott. It’s a very under-appreciated grass, I think. I like its dense clumps and its sturdy, upright habit, and the way it tends to hold its leaves horizontally. I’ve heard that its fall color can be a rich maroon red. Mine hasn’t ever done that, but the rusty brown to deep brown is very nice.
gorgeous! I love seeing the pics of how a plant has progressed in your garden over the years. So often I put something in ground and get frustrated after a couple of years that it doesn’t look the way it did in the magazines! This is a great post to show that patience is needed- like you showed with the silver willow. It’s beautiful! I wish that I had room for one in my garden- and that it was zone 9!
Oh, but I’m sure you can grow many other fabulous silver-leaved plants in your climate, Carri.
Looking at images of the same border in different seasons and years is a good reminder that single photos in a book or magazine are just one moment captured in time, isn’t it?
Again you shine and we are better for it.
You’re very kind, John. I’m so pleased to have had the opportunity to take part in this special event.
Nan, your photos and words so thoroughly sell these plants! I’m particularly taken with the variegated version of the southern bush honeysuckle. I’m definitely going to be doing some research to see if I can grow these in my neck of the woods.
I wish I could advise you about the adaptability of Cool Splash, but I’m just not sure how it would do in your climate. I hope you *can* grow it. I think it would be rather to busy-looking in masses, but it’s beautiful as a specimen. Not surprisingly (with all that variegation), it also seems less to be less of a spreader than the species.
Such a magnificent garden, Nan, with masterful plant combinations. It was sort of hard to focus on the plants you were talking about, I got lost in each photo, drinking everything in. I am interested in the oak, especially. I love those large leaves. Thanks for putting this together, you are so generous.
Thanks, Frances! I realize that I got carried away with the seasonal shots where the “featured” plant wasn’t exactly the focus of the image, but I hoped that some readers might find them of interest. I’ve read that Daimyo oak is one of the largest-leaved species, if not *the* largest-leaved, and I can believe it. I wish I’d had a shot of last year’s acorn to share too: it was extremely interesting-looking.
Wow. You set the bar really high for any of the other posts both in written and visual content. I’m just now getting to read this month’s posts. As a designer I really appreciate the seasonal aspects of each plant as well as the behavior and growth info you gave on each plant–two of which I’ve never used. Your images make me want to try them all with abandon. Thank you for adding your voice to the Roundtable!–Susan
Thanks so much, Susan. It was great fun to take part in this event.
Thanks for the post Nan! I always learn so much from your posts. And they always have lots of pictures of plants – which I love! You inspire me!
No shortage of plant pictures here, Kim, that’s for sure. I really wanted to include more plants in this post, but I figured that it was already too long. Never mind: I’ll just use them for another post at some point.
As all the others before me have said, your photos are just spectacular! I just love your style and I’m wondering if you do any design/consulting. Thanks!
I appreciate your comment, Kirsten, and I’m glad you enjoyed the post. It’s kind of you to ask, but no, I don’t design or do consulting for clients at this time.
I am just now sitting down with these and practically ran (in virtual, cyberspace terms) over here to read your post, and Debbie was right in her Twitter post: WOW! Just WOW! Absolutely gorgeous! Um, yeah, I knew you’d give us designer types a run for our money. ;-)
I had no idea Diervilla sessilifolia bloomed for so long, and I had wondered what that oak was in some of your other photos (all of which are amazing). Thank you so much again for guest blogging with our little group, Nan!
Always glad to show you something of interest, Andrew. The diervilla surprised me too. There seems to be a lot of variation in the reports of how long it blooms, but here, at least, it’s a very long season.
Your blog keeps popping into my world and I learn SO much–just the photographs alone are a huge help to the beginning gardener, but the “three seasons” posts are a wonder. If my beds look one iota as good as yours one day, I’ll be thrilled, so thanks!
I really appreciate your comments, Val. I often worry about the posts getting too long with all the pictures, but it’s frequently hard to decide which to cut. Knowing that fellow gardeners find them useful makes me very happy!
So glad to find this post. I love so many of the same plants – ‘karley Rose” and the silver willows. I planted one in my last garden in the 80’s after a visit to Sissinghurst – wonder how it is doing! Should get on Google maps to see if it is still seen from the sky!
By this time, the willow just might be visible by satellite, if it did indeed reach the larger reported size. It would be very interesting to find out how tall it ended up.
The Southern Honeysuckle and Silver Willow are my favorites! I really appreciate how you consider all seasons. I am anxiously waiting on your next post. ETA?
~Adam in Indiana
Glad you enjoyed the selections, Adam. Next post is complete and will be up tomorrow, May 15! I usually update every two weeks.
What a fabulous post!! I’ve never heard of a few of the plants but am thrilled you started with diervilla. I just planted a few in my garden last fall after buying them bare root. They are green, happy and blooming. I’m really looking forward to getting to know them better! :o)
They’re tough little guys, aren’t they? They don’t seem to mind much being moved any time, but it’s amazing that yours are blooming already. May you enjoy them for many years!
Dear Nancy, I am so glad I found your site! I find that each post is something to study, and then study again. I find seeing the same garden view through the seasons has helped me begin to think like a garden designer. I was a “floral designer” for years, but there is a lot more challenge to garden design. The culture for each plant and the seasonal changes…. IT IS REALLY EXCITING TO BEGIN –TO FINALLY begin to get a little hang of that ! ! Thanks !
Also I am finding that your books are ones I will want to have… not just check out from the library!
Do in Kansas
Hi there, Do! Working with still-attached flowers definitely is more complicated than cuts, but I bet you find your design skills very helpful in the garden too. I’m so glad you’re finding something useful here. Welcome!
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