Fragrant blooms of a yellowwood tree

Native Plants: Cladrastis kentukea – Kentucky Yellowwood

My little town has an unusual collection of street trees.  On my block alone there are red maples, dogwoods, redbuds, oaks, and two native beauties – Cladrastis kentukea all planted in the hell strips.  1′ to 2′ abundant clusters of fragrant white blooms on two side by side trees made me screech the tires on the way home the other day.  This isn’t a common tree around here and it is a stunner in every way.  I have to remember to us this beauty in more landscape designs!

Fragrant blooms of a yellowwood tree

Kentucky Yellowwood

Cladrastis kentukea has a loose informal shape suitable to casual settings or as a feature tree in a large landscape.  Its native range is further south – hence the name.  Yellowwood is hardy from zones 4-8, with brilliant yellow fall foliage. It is a large shade tree that can reach 30-50 feet, likes full sun, and has a long taproot so make sure it’s planted where it can stay.

Plants to try in 2011

In my landscape design practice, my primary focus isn’t plants, but that doesn’t mean I’m not interested in them.  In fact, in a garden, plants are the workhorses that hold a design together in a specific season.  I have to know hundreds and hundreds of plants in order to make the best possible choice in any one client’s landscape design.

Just like every other person who is serious about gardens, I spend much of winter pouring over plant and seed catalogs.  That’s where the similarity ends however.  I look for plants that will add to my designer’s tool box that I can use in other people’s gardens rather than developing serious plant lust for my own.   Here are three of the plants I’ve been looking at–some are new introductions, others just new to me.  All are more or less native…some more, some less.

Helianthus x multiflorus 'Sunshine Daydream'

I like this tall and mildew free Helianthus from North Creek Nurseries for its late summer button-like blooms.  So many late flowering yellow perennials have large blooms and this will allow a different scale and will create a show in the back of a late season border.  Massed they’ll be absolutely spectacular.

Panicum virgatum 'Ruby Ribbons'

I use grasses frequently in areas where deer are prevalent and Panicums are a favorite.  This native is a cross between two of my favorites:  ‘Haense Hermes’ and ‘Heavy Metal’ .  Love the red foliage!  Maybe I won’t have to plant so many red fountain grasses in containers to get this rich color–they’re not hardy or native, this is.

Heucherella 'Solar Eclipse'

I’ve been in lust with the variegated foliaged geraniums for a few years now.  I use them in containers for a punch of all season color and textural interest.   Heucherella ‘Solar Eclipse’ from Terra Nova gives me the same warm and tingly all over feeling…but for shade.  I just love Tiarellas and their spawns Heucherellas…don’t you?

What plants are you going to try in the new year?