January color – no flowers today

The pleasures of the garden are many, and while the delights of the warmer seasons garner more attention, I also enjoy the brightly colored red and yellow stems of Japanese maples and shrubby dogwoods in the winter months when there is little foliage and fewer flowers. 

A number of Japanese maples offer interesting bark, with ‘Sangu kaku’ (Acer palmatum ‘Sangu kaku’, above) the most commonly available. It is particularly intolerant of poorly drained soils, so in the damp, lower, rear garden I’ve raised it as high as possible. It seems to do okay.

After years of searching, I finally settled on purchasing a small yellow stemmed ‘Bihou’ Japanese maple (above). Initially, it was planted in a pot on the koi pond patio, but with the addition of a new planting area a year ago it had grown just enough to make a show. I’m hoping that with a year in the ground it will add significant growth this year. I haven’t fertilized anything in decades, but I’m tempted to give a few new maples a splash to get them off to a quicker start this spring.

In my color blindness I see yellow more easily than red, and while the colored bark maples are a bit ordinary in leaf, I think these will be a good addition to the garden. With the colored stem dogwoods I have to look closely to see anything on a few red twigged varieties (above), but the yellow shows brightly. Color is enhanced by pruning stems nearly to the ground to encourage new growth that is more colorful. Perhaps I’ll do this once they’ve gained a bit more size, or if they get a bit large for the area. 

Listings of winter color in the garden must include berries that ornament many hollies (below), but also evergreen needles and leaves. Many fade to the background as flowering trees and Japanese maples step forward into flower and leaf, but yellows and blues stand out in January.

I confess to a horrible inattention in autumn, ignoring a minor incidence of deer nibbling the spotted aucubas (Aucuba japonica ‘Gold Dust’, below). I intended to get around to spraying the deer repellent sooner, but later I noticed many were completely defoliated. I didn’t realize how many aucubas were in the garden until they were bare, and now I must treasure the few that remain with leaves until they grow again in spring.

The garden’s ever increasing shade is ill suited for many evergreens that I adore, but handfuls of Japanese cedar (Cryptomeria japonica), cypress, and spruce (Picea) flourish in the sunnier margins of the garden. Unfortunately, the yellow tipped ‘Sekkan sugi’ cryptomeria is barely more than a lighter green in east coast gardens, but yellow cypress and spruce (Picea orientalis, below) that stand out in the winter months encourage me to add more.

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