Magnolia brooklynensis 'Black Beauty'

Magnolia Lust

As part of my job as a landscape designer, I regularly walk the growers and nurseries to see what is new and what looks good.  I learn about plants new to me that I may want to trial and try. Like many other designers, I get on a plant jag and have a love affair with a group of plants for a while and then move on to flirt with something else that catches my rather short plant attention span.  Today I have plant lust.  I was at the fabulous NJ wholesale grower, Pleasant Run Nursery yesterday and fell for Magnolia x brooklynensis ‘Black Beauty’ that is just now in bud.

Magnolia brooklynensis  'Black Beauty'I didn’t buy it because I didn’t know it.  I came back to the studio after laying out some plants on a project, poured a glass of wine, and had a ‘first date’ to find out more.

Blooming later than the masses of M. soulangiana that are in my neighborhood, it reliably blooms after the late freeze that sometimes causes magnolias to loose their buds and hence their bloom. It’s dramatic and different. It is hardy to Zone 4 and is a small tree reaching 15-20 ft (most say smaller)–a perfect size for small gardens and suburban lots. There is nothing not to like!

I think I will have a long term relationship with this tree and it will be the first plant added to my home garden.

 

Trials and Neglect in my Home Garden

I’m not a landscape designer who has a wonderfully designed garden that is a terrific advertisement for my craft at my home. I should, I live on a corner, but as I’ve shared here before it’s mostly a neglected mess with good bones and a rotating cast of plants. My home garden is quirky and in a constant state of flux. Since my landscape design practice is design only, I don’t have a crew I can ‘borrow’ for the big tasks, so they wait and are ignored for as long as possible. I’m mostly not very motivated to work in my own garden after spending my days designing beautiful ones for others.

This spring I wanted to do a major switch out of some elements in the garden to enable me to try some new plants and design ideas.  I grow plants to observe and trial that I want to try in my design work and I have limited space. That means every few years some have to go to make room for others.

cleaned out garden at hedges

Beyond my own neglectful gardening style, my garden is under siege. Deer, rabbits, feral cats, squirrels, chipmunks and voles and dogs who are allowed to pee on my plants are the culprits.  The yard is unfenced and I don’t water regularly or provide much in the way of added nutrients beyond compost and good soil to start with. Usually the plants that I take out are victims of their own success.  Over a period of  time they have proven themselves to me as worthy.  All have been in my garden a minimum of three full growing years  which is my loose time frame to trial a plant.

Here are my anecdotal notes on some of the plants which survived and thrived  and were removed yesterday to make room for others.  There is also a plant that I was sorry to see gone…I wasn’t ready to wave goodbye to it just yet.

Amsonia hubrichtii– I grew this from a 4″ pot and it became a monster–the one remaining plant was almost 4′ across and 3′ high.  It was never bothered by deer but it was also not a a plant I loved beyond the lovely light blue bloom in mid-spring.  Mine never had the brilliant fall color–just a dull gold.  The pests never bothered it.

Cornus alba ‘Elegantisima’–Grown from a big box cast off 1 gallon pot.  I loved the variagated foliage and the red twigs in winter, but it was too big even when coppiced regularly.  It is a vigorous grower and has a loose informal shape when left to its own devices. The pests left it alone completely. The image below was taken just after a freezing rain.

Cornus alba 'Elegantisima'

Vernonia noveboracensis–I like really tall perennials and I love this plant in the wild.  I’d rather have plants that don’t self seed everywhere in my garden since I don’t have time to edit them.  The exception to that is Verbena bonariensis.  As for the Veronia,  I don’t have enough room for this garden giant that thrives on neglect!  Over 6′ tall with violet blooms in late summer. I just got tired of it. No pest problems whatsoever.

 

Vernonia noveboracensis

Rhus typhina ‘Tiger Eyes’ and  Persicaria amplexicaulis ‘Firetale’–These are paired together because I bought them as a pair.  The thought was to have the pink Persecaria grow up through the yellow leaves of the Rhus.  They did for one season.  I over romanticized the Rhus, it is a rangy looking thug. It looks fantastic in a pot though.  I can see why people fall for it and I would consider using it in a container.  It spread on its root stock into the lawn and other areas of the garden.  The Persecaria is supposed to be a thug…it’s a dud.  It didn’t thrive on my neglect and lack of ample moisture.  The good news is that neither were bothered by much of anything else.  The critters left both alone.

Rhus and Persecaria

 

The plant that bothered me to remove was a prized Styrax japonicus ‘Emerald Pagoda’.  Two years ago when the 17 year cycle of cicadas had them chomping leaves and creating garden mayhem everywhere–except my town, my young Styrax was the only plant  in my garden that was attacked. I decided to watch it and hope for the best.  I didn’t get my wish and it sadly went to the compost heap yesterday.

So what is going to take the place of everything I removed?  Plants I’ve never grown before…