It’s just a day away from December as this is written, there’s a thin skin of ice on the pond, but –thank heaven for native plants—there’s still color in the garden. This morning as the sun rose it lit up Itea ‘Henry Garnet’ a native shrub with lovely red and orange and gold foliage which still brightens the bed where it resides. If you grow burning bush for the color, please compare it to this lovely native, who grows with little attention, keeps its leaves late into fall every year, who doesn’t push out other native plants and who feeds the birds as well as your soul.
When my husband and I moved into this house, there were three burning bush (Euonymus alatus). We chain sawed them that spring and thought that was the end of them. A year later, bedeviled by new sprouts, we dug out the unbelievably dense mat of roots left behind. But ten years later, we find tiny burning bushes popping up under shrubs or in the woods surrounding our property—their seeds live on. If you noticed “lovely” red and orange leaves along fences and old stone walls, in uncared wood lots, or on your own property in amongst other shrubs, these may well be burning bush. They provide no food or refuge for native animals. An invader from China, they outcompete the plants that evolved here, eventually taking over woodlands. For their aggressiveness and other unlovely habits, they were put on the Massachusetts invasives list and it has been illegal to sell them here for several years, but still they spread. Do your grandchildren a favor. Cut down Euonymus alatus in your yard and replace it with a Fothergilla or Itea for their pretty spring flowers and their magnificent fall color. Or plant native blueberries for the berries and their dynamic fall color.
A walk through the garden this morning was a reminder that not everything disappears with the first hard frost. Certainly we have the evergreens—the pines, hemlocks, spruce and chamaecyparis. We have rhododendrons, pieris and leucothoe. But we also have perennials that defy the weather. My favorites are the epimediums that manage to look like they are ready to bloom all winter, the heucheras who keep the purples and charteuse, copper and red leaves until its time for their spring trim, the yuccas, now brilliantly yellow against the brown leaves mulching their bed and the Bergenia, whose flowers shine in the spring then sits quietly all summer before the leaves turn a beet red for the winter. Often buried in leaves now, but definitely worth uncovering is Dianthus “rose de mai’, with drought tolerant blue foliage that stays blue all year, though it is buried under flowers in the summer.
These are four season plants that pay for your care and attention with a year’s worth of color. Okay, they may disappear beneath the snow, but you’ll know when it melts, they’ll be there enlivening your garden even before the spring bulbs excite the heart of every gardener.