I see the remnants of Christmas trees on my walk every day, ready for trash pick up. Pieces of tinsel hang off the branches blowing in the wintry wind and I feel sorry for them! Destined to be carted off to the nearest landfill, with most of them ground up into chips that will be sold for mulch in the spring.
But I like to keep my tree for a much-needed winter insulating mulch, using the cut up branches under large trees or layered into perennial borders on my property.
Once we pull off all the decorations, we take pruners and chop off half of the branches until we are left with the naked trunk of the tree with some stubs sticking out. Maybe this part would make a good walking stick or even better – a bottle tree!
The evergreen branches are carted outside in a large trash can and laid down as mulch under a large tree that has a lot of pokeweed seedlings come up in the spring. I hope that by laying the flat fans of fraser fir fans on the ground that I won’t see as many pokeweeds in the spring, and that the thick covering will smother any volunteer seedlings.
Another environmental idea is sticking the tree trunk into the ground and hanging suet bags and pine cones filled with peanut butter for the birds.
Last year, I posted about installing a stone labyrinth for a client. We started in the fall, worked through the winter, and just finished up the spring plantings. Go to Healing Labyrinth-Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3, to see how I created and implemented the design and installation.
The theme for the plantings was pollinator friendly shrubs and perennials to surround and embrace the labyrinth to soften the harshness of stone and to bring nature in. When it came time to plant, I had to consider that the site is shady to part sun, with some parts in full sun, so I had to use an entire spectrum of plants that would attract pollinators.
Where the wall surrounds the labyrinth pathway, I left a small space of 6″ to plant something simple but beautiful to soften the stone edge in the shade. Hakenochloa ‘All Gold’ was chosen for its bright color in the shade and its graceful form. It has no attribute as a pollinator friendly plant, but was perfect for the spot. A slow grower that stays under 12″ high, the grass will not outgrow its space and is very low maintenance.
The only plantings that were original were extremely fragrant pink climbing roses on the fence. I kept them as a backdrop for the new plantings.
The garden surrounding the labyrinth is in partial to full sun and I went wild with the pollinator friendly plants. The main shrub that I used was Clethra ‘Ruby Spice’ – seven of them spotted around the space. Clethra is a highly fragrant deciduous shrub that blooms in July and August in shade and partial shade and is frequently visited by an array of pollinators. The racemes of dark pink flowers last for weeks and the foliage turns a bright yellow in the fall.
Butterfly bushes were also used to give late summer color as well as perennials such as stachys hummelo, salvias, sedum, vernonia, hibiscus, coral bells, and nepeta. A few annuals were selected for color and pollinator appeal – petunias and pentas.
The upper slope over-looking the labyrinth was in full shade and was planted with colorful foliage plants-coral bells, hostas, carex, toad lily, Lenten Rose, tiarella, brunnera, lamium, heucherellas, and woodland phlox to give texture and brighten the shady area.
Under the teak bench, I planted Mazus, a steppable creeping plant with tiny purple flowers.
In and among the rocks of the water feature, I planted several Deutzias for spring bloom, and variegated Iris, sedums, annuals, coral bells, and balloon flower. The water feature looked very stark without any plantings, so I was careful to plant things next to and within the rocks surrounding it so that plants would cascade over it.
To frame the picture, and provide some privacy, a screen of Skip Cherry Laurels was planted behind the fence to anchor the new space. These will eventually grow up to over 8 feet and knit together for a nice hedge.
There has been an explosion of black flowers and foliage in the past couple of years in the gardening world. It started out as a trickle and now is a tsunami of everything black! When I go to the nursery and look at new cultivars of annuals, perennials, and shrubs, all shades of black predominates.
But you have to know how to use black for the best effect. I like to place black flowers or foliage next to very bright intense colors, such as hot pink or lime green to get the biggest impact. The black color gives the eye a rest when you pair it with bright vibrant colors. If you place black plants next to darker hued plants, it just doesn’t work and the black color fades in the background. So use black carefully and site it with some thought.
Black plants can also echo other plants that have black stems, black venation or black undertones. I find that if you have a boring or blah border, black instantaneously ramps up the visual interest. It can become a focal point if you have a particularly beautiful black plant. I like this Alternanthera ‘Black Night’ in a container with large glossy leaves that echoes the black spiller which is a trailing Alternanthera.
There are all different hues and variations on black and sometimes the amount of sunlight a plant receives will affect the coloration. Also, juvenile foliage will generally be a darker, more intense, shade. In the plant trade describing many of the black plants, you hear adjectives such as chocolate, deep burgundy, midnight, or coffee.
Jack in the Pulpits
The Japanese Cobra Lily, Arisaema sikokanum, is an elegant cousin to our native Jack in the Pulpit. The spadix is a pure marshmallow white which gives the flower such great contrast. It looks like a flower all decked out in black tie ready for a party! Tres chic! And the scarlet berries make this expensive plant worth the money.
In feng shui, which is used frequently in landscape design, black is the color of mystery and sophistication. Black is the negation of color but next to any other color, it will make the color black stand out.
I love the new black petunias! The colors are novel and I tried them for the first time last year. The profusion of flowers faded by the end of the summer and I am watching to see if they do any better this year. Even if they don’t perform as well as other petunias, I will probably continue to grow them because of the wow factor. I think the black petunias are closest to the true black color.
Black Lace Elderberry, Sambucas nigra, is one of those plants that you can grow not only for the feathery graceful foliage, but also the near black coloration. The foliage is similar to a cut leaf maple but with dark hues for added drama. To complete the picture, umbels of pink-hued flowers appear in the summer followed by berries snatched up by wildlife. Elderberry is a cut-back shrub, like a butterfly bush, and will grow at least 6 feet during the growing season.
For instant drama, in a perennial border, pop in the dark, dark Cannas like Canna ‘Australia’, with a midnight burgundy coloration that holds up all summer long. Topping off the plant at around 5 to 6 feet high are shocking fire engine red flowers that hummingbirds will visit frequently.
The same benefits of using black plants in your borders hold true for containers. Use them with contrasting colors to let the other colors pop.
Sweet Potato Vine
I am sure everyone who does containers is familiar with the Sweet Potato Vine. This annual trailing vine up to 15 feet long is becoming ubiquitous in containers. I like to pop it into the garden to twine around shrubs and perennials. It is especially effective in newly planted gardens with lots of blank spaces to fill. The vine grows quickly – sometimes too quickly! – and then dies with the first frost. Then you can dig up the huge sweet potato that forms underground and save it to plant for next year. This black Sweet Potato Vine is called ‘Illusion Midnight Lace’. There is another one called ‘Ace of Spades’.
Black has reached the plant world in every plant group and succulents are really big now so why not black succulents? I love them, but they can be quite prickly and hard to work with.
No discussion of black plants is complete without mentioning Heucheras or Coral Bells. There must be thousands of varieties of these by now – the plant hybridizers are going crazy with them! I like the black one called ‘Frosted Violet’. This one has dark black venation that makes the leaves stand out. ‘Black Out’ is another Heuchera that I am dying to try. There are too many Heucheras and not enough time.