Like a flower girl scatters rose petals ahead of a wedding procession, European white birch, Betula pendula, tosses its small deltoid leaves soon after turning soft yellow with autumn chill. Color may not last long on the trees, but becomes a delightful mess for those who appreciate such assets. The primary allure though, is the slender strikingly white trunks, accented with black furrowing.
European white birch is very informal, but also elegant enough for formal landscapes. To best display their gently leaning white trunks, they are popularly planted in relaxed groups. Their canopies are neither broad nor dense, so a few fit together nicely. As lower branches get pruned away, pendulous upper branches sway softly in the breeze. Mature trees are mostly less than fifty feet tall.
Himalayan birch, Betula utilis or Betula jacquemontii, which has become more popular than European white birch since the 1990s, has a completely different personality. Its strictly vertical trunks and upright growth are appealing separately, but incompatible with European white birch. When adding trees to an established grove of any birch, it is very important to procure more of the same.
It is unfortunate that, like Easter lilies and poinsettias, most kalanches, Kalanchoe blossfeldiana, are enjoyed while actively blooming, and then discarded as their blooms fade. It is so easy to simply snip out the deteriorating flowers, and grow the small perennials plants for their appealing succulent foliage until they bloom again. They do not get much more than half a foot tall, so can stay in small pots indefinitely. They seem to prefer the porosity of clay pots. Because they can rot, they should be watered when the surface of the soil seems to be getting dry, and their drainage saucers should not be allowed to hold water too long. Kalanchoes like bright but indirect sunlight. They can be acclimated to direct sun exposure, but might seem to be somewhat stunted. If brought in before frost, they can be happy out on a patio. The clustered small flowers can be white, pink, red or bright or pastel shades of orange or yellow.
Ah, something vintage! Remember Hollywood juniper, Juniperus chinensis ‘Kaizuka’ (or ‘Torulosa’) flanking big two-car garage doors of mid century modern homes? Those that are still around after half a century are big and strikingly sculptural, like miniature Monterey cypress for home gardens. They get about fifteen feet tall and ten feet wide, but have potential to get significantly larger.
Hollywood juniper is an old classic that is still reasonably available in some nurseries. Their densely foliated stems twist and turn picturesquely upward, typically leaning one way or another toward sunlight or away from prevailing wind. Some say they look like frozen green flames. Their gnarly trunks and flaking bark can be exposed as they grow tall enough for low growth to be pruned away.
Because of their very irregular branch structure, Hollywood juniper is more adaptable to free-formed pruning than the presently trendy junipers with strictly upright or conical form. They must never be shorn, but do not mind if obtrusive limbs get pruned back to the main trunks. Therefore, they are actually more adaptable to smaller modern gardens than some modern cultivars of juniper are.
It is almost never planted in home gardens, but the native red willow, Salix laevigata, has a sneaky way of getting where it wants to be. The minute seeds go wherever the wind blows them. Because it is a riparian tree, red willow prefers well watered spots. If not detected and pulled up in the first year, it can grow rather aggressively, and overwhelm more desirable plants, although the somewhat sparse canopy makes only moderate shade.
With a bit of grooming, red willow can be a handsomely asymmetrical tree, with upright branch structure. However, even the healthiest trees rarely get more than thirty feet tall, or much more than forty years old. The leaves are a bit shorter and wider than those of the more familiar weeping willow, and do not color as well in autumn. There are actually a few other native willows that are also commonly know as red willow. Some are quite similar, while others are very different.
The ‘X’ preceding its Latin name ‘X Cupressocyparis leylanii‘ designates Leyland cypress as a hybrid of two distinct genera, namely Monterey cypress and Nootka cypress. (Those who consider the parents to be two species of the same genus know Leyland cypress as Cupressus X leylandii.) The many cultivars combine desirable qualities of both parents, but also innate weaknesses.
Rows of Leyland cypress grow fast to become densely evergreen windbreaks or informal screens within only a few years. However, they are very susceptible to cypress canker, and are likely to succumb within twenty five years or so. Farther inland, they may not last half as long. That may be quite acceptable for temporary windbreaks in front of slower but more permanent shrubby trees.
Common Leyland cypress develops a distinctly plump but conical form, with slightly grayish foliage. Most other cultivars are more columnar. Foliar color ranges from bluish green to gold. The tiny scale leaves are densely set in flat sprays. Healthy trees can get nearly thirty feet tall in ten years. Most stay lower where exposed. Crowded trees that live long enough exceed a hundred feet tall.
As the colorful deciduous trees go bare, the evergreen trees get more attention. A weeping white spruce, Picea glauca ‘Pendula’, really stands out. It grows slowly to only about fifteen feet tall and maybe five feet wide, so does not need as much space as a typical spruce tree. What makes it so distinctive is the weirdly pendulous stems that hang limply from a strictly vertical trunk. It is hard to believe that it is only a different variety of the same species as the dwarf Alberta spruce, which is very short, dense and symmetrically conical, with stout little stems. The foliage of weeping white spruce is lighter green than that of most other spruces, but is not as blue as that of blue spruce. The short and stiff needles are rather prickly to handle.
The narrow and weirdly sculptural form of the weeping white spruce is no good as a shade tree, but is an excellent trophy tree for a prominent spot. Full sun is best. A bit of shade can cause the main trunk to lean toward sunlight. Young trees should only be staked if they need it, since they can become dependent on stakes. The lowest limbs can be allowed to creep over the ground.
Of all the Official State Trees, the coastal redwood, Sequoia sempervirens, of California is the grandest. Seriously, it is the tallest tree in the World, so it really ‘is’ the grandest! The tallest is 380 feet tall! Although the related giant redwood of the Sierra Nevada develops bigger trunks, the bulkiest coastal redwoods are thirty feet wide at the base! The oldest are more than 2,000 years old!
All that sensationalism is not so practical for home gardens though. A thirty foot wide trunk on a sixty foot wide city lot would likely be a serious obstacle to gardening for whoever lives there 2,000 years from now. Although, those below the thirty-fifth floors of adjacent buildings might appreciate the foliage. Redwoods are exquisite evergreens in the right situations, but need plenty of space.
Cultivars are more compact than wild trees are, with more strictly conical form. ‘Soquel’ is the most popular. Redwoods are incredibly stable, but as they age, can eventually drop limbs from great height. Trunks are nearly vertical. Limbs are nearly horizontal, and sag with age. Leaves are less than an inch long, but messy as their flat browned tufts shed in abundance through late summer.
Mild autumns and arid summers keep chrysanthemums on a different schedule here than in most other regions. They can get planted in spring to grow through summer and bloom through autumn; but because they can take a bit of work, they are more often planted while blooming in autumn. Although commonly grown as autumn annuals, they are perennials that can regenerate next spring, grow through summer, and bloom even better the following autumn.
Centuries of development in Japan have produced more varieties of chrysanthemums than can be documented. There are really some weird types grown for cut flowers or by hobbyists. Garden varieties are mostly limited to simpler flowers that do not need much thinning or staking. Color ranges through all sorts of hues and shades of yellow, orange, red, pink and bronze, as well as a few purplish colors, cream and white. Many have yellow centers. The aromatic foliage is alluring to some, but objectionable to others.
It really would be nice to be able to transform a pumpkin into a chauffeured coach to ride to the ball, just by waving a magic wand over it. A Buick would be even more excellent! Over the years, as the variety of new Buicks has diminished to not much more than a few SUVs that are scarcely more stylish than pumpkins, the variety of pumpkins has grown crazily. Form is not following function.
You see, for longer than anyone can document, pumpkins were grown merely for food. They still make much better pie than other winter squash would. Many varieties produce nicely edible seeds and bloom. In fact, some types are grown specially for their hullless seeds, which are known as pepitas, or for pumpkin seed oil. Nowadays though, pumpkins are more ornamental than culinary.
Decades ago, bright orange pumpkins with relatively thin shells became more popular than the more brownish orange and thicker shelled culinary types. They are more colorful, and more easily carved into Jack-O’-lanterns, but not quite as richly flavored. Since then, white, yellow, pink, red, green and bluish gray pumpkins have become available, in all sorts of shapes, sizes and textures.
The recent unseasonably warm weather was no problem for any remaining moss rose, Portulaca grandiflora. They usually start to look rather tired as the weather gets cooler this time of year, and eventually succumb to the first frost. Where allowed to do so, they can regenerate next year from seed. I like to collect their seed during the summer or autumn so that I can sow them after the last frost of the following winter. Through spring and summer, I find that additional plants are easy to grow from cuttings.
The inch wide flowers are white, pink, red, orange or yellow, with only a few ruffled petals. Modern varieties that have rufflier ‘double’ flowers and richer colors still seem to be less popular than the more delicate traditional types. The cylindrical and succulent leaves are only about an inch long. The small plants can get more than six inches deep where they are happy or crowded. Moss rose likes good exposure and decent soil, but does not need the rich soil that most other annuals demand. Nor does it necessarily need such regular watering.