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TideWriters Tales
Gardening Tips~Enjoy flowering plants year round
By Tom Belden and Zack Loesch

     Ask the average people in Tidewater, Virginia to imagine flowers blooming in their yards and typically they would envision a combination of daffodils, camellias, azaleas and dogwoods. All of these bloom in spring. It is the time of year we all associate with gardening and flowering plants. As wonderful as spring gardening is, it does not have to be the only season of interest in the garden. Here are some suggestions for plants that will add variety to garden and landscape design. They are intended to add color in seasons other than spring thus making the garden attractive at other times of year as well. We have enjoyed good results with these plants at a number of commercial and residential job sites in the Williamsburg area. We recommend them to any Chesapeake Style readers who desire to create a versatile garden or yard that will offer something of beauty throughout the year. 

     There are a number of plants that are quite striking in appearance during the coldest months. Something as simple as an ornamental grass will maintain its willowy stem and seed top throughout the winter. The ornamental grasses have become more popular with landscape designers in recent years, especially in wet low-lying areas. Another interesting plant in wintertime is the Peggy Clarke Flowering Apricot, a small tree that features rose-colored scented blooms from January to March. 

     There are a number of shrubs that are attractive in winter. Witch Hazel (Hammamelis Virginiana) is a native shrub with yellow flowers that appear in late fall and last well into or through the winter. The Winterberry Holly (Ilex Verticillata) is a very hardy shrub which produces bright red berries that last into early winter. Red or Yellow Twig Dogwoods are shrubs whose colorful stems are very showy in the autumn and winter. Nandina Domestica and the Dwarf Nandina varieties are multicolored shrubs with red berries that persist through the winter on the full-sized or mature plant. The dwarf plants grow slowly and feature reddish-purple foliage. Finally, the winter Jasmine is an attractive shrub which begins to show yellow blossoms during the first warm days of late winter. 

     Other than winter perhaps summer is the slowest season in the garden. Yet again we find that a number of plants are especially appealing in summer. The Yellowwood (Cledastrus Lutea) is a native tree that exhibits white flowers in June and yellow foliage in the fall. Summersweet (Clethra Alnifolia) is a native shrub that grows well in wet areas. It does well in both sunny and shady locations. Its exceedingly fragrant white flowers bloom in midsummer. This plant provides a bright yellow fall color. St. Johnís Wort (Hypericum) is a plant that is often used for ground cover. During the Middle Ages this plant was used medicinally in bandages and was thought to have healing properties. In the past year or so it has been in the news because of its use as a dietary supplement. It produces golden yellow flowers in summer. The Anthony Waterer Spirea is a shrub admired for its reddish pink flowers that bloom throughout June and July. Spirea has been popular with gardeners in Virginia for many years. The Japanese Stewartia is a small tree with unusual exfoliating bark and white flowers seen in midsummer. The Vitex is another small tree that blooms in summer, blossoming in white or blue flowers at the end of the season.

     There are a number of plants that might be mentioned in connection with the fall or autumn season. The Fortunes Osmanthus is a large dense evergreen shrub with fragrant white fall flowers. The Chuck Hayes Gardenia is an improved Gardenia selected for cold hardiness and heavy flowering which occurs during the month of June and then again in October. It can withstand cold temperatures as low as five degrees Fahrenheit. It grows to a mature width and height of about four feet. Many plants admired in spring for their flowers are also appreciated for their colorful fall foliage and fruit, so it may be said that they have a multi-seasonal appeal. For example, the Shadblow (Amelanchier Canadensis) is a native tree that blooms with white flowers in spring. Small red edible fruits follow the flower and the leaves of this tree are known for their good fall color. The Chinese Dogwood (Cornus Kousa) flowers about four weeks after our native variety and produces a colorful fruit. Virginia Sweetspire (Itea Virginica) is a native shrub that bears white fragrant flowers in mid-spring. This plant grows well in wet areas and has crimson red autumn foliage. The Red Chokeberry flowers in May with white blooms and produces an abundance of red berries in the fall. Its fall foliage is a brilliant scarlet red color. The Oak Leaf Hydrangea is a shrub enjoyed for its deep bronze red leaf color in fall. It features white flowers in June. Another interesting native plant is the Fothergilla, noted for its sweet-smelling white bottlebrush flowers that bloom in mid spring. Its colorful fall foliage is seen in yellow-orange or red. Many of the Viburnum shrubs will hold onto their foliage in cooler weather, much like an evergreen. One variety with small white flowers, the Chesapeake Bay Viburnum, seems to be one of the few plants that the deer in our area do not enjoy eating. The deer will eat the viburnum but will eat everything else first. Last but not least in this inventory of garden plants with year round interest is the humble ground cover known as Coral Beauty Cotoneaster, a hardy evergreen used on slopes or where poor soil is found. It blossoms with small pink flowers in mid June and produces attractive red berries in fall.

     Our generally mild climate in eastern Virginia allows gardeners to grow a great variety of plants and to enjoy them all year long. Yet to avoid losing plants to the occasional severe winter experienced every several years or so, it is recommended that the hardier varieties of any species be selected for use whenever possible. With this in mind, gardeners might seek to cultivate an interest in plants that they may use in a design with great visual effects at almost any time of year.

© 2001 Tom Belden & Zack Loesch. All rights reserved.

Editorís note: Tom Belden has worked for more than20 years in the field of landscape design and construction. A Williamsburg native, he began his studies in Horticulture at Christopher Newport University and graduated from a landscape design program offered at Virginia Tech. His father, Frederick Belden, acquired some local notoriety as a Landscape Architect at Colonial Williamsburg for many years and was also greatly respected for his fine work in many civic and community organizations. He founded the business his son, Tom, continues to operate today. Tom Belden may be contacted by phone at 757-564-0535. Zack Loesch is a local author with an interest in gardening. He holds several degrees awarded by Old Dominion University. 

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