The Elusive Oregon Grape Holly

Now I finally know what serious bird watchers feel like – you are on the look-out for that bird rarely sighted in your area.  Early off when you first started bird watching, this bird was on your list – but over the years, you resigned yourself to the bird being rare.  Yet in the background your antenna is always up.  And wow – there it is after years of not spotting it – can you believe it?  You weren’t even seeking it. Well that is how I feel about finally stumbling into Oregon Grape Holly or Mahonia aquifolium..

Mahonia aquiflorium 'Orange Flame'

(Photo: Mahonia aquiflorium 'Orange Flame'/MyShadyGarden)

Mahonia aquiflorium is neither a grape nor a holly but a member of the barberry family. The specific variety I purchased is ‘Orange Flame’. The leaves are about 2 inches long and ringed with spiny teeth making them rabbit and deer unfriendly. New leaves are orange-bronze and stand out against the deep green mature foliage.  They bear clusters of fragrant yellow blooms followed by powder-blue to black grape-like fruit.

‘Orange Flame’ does best in light shade, but will tolerate full sun if kept well watered. It will grow to become 2 feet tall and 3 feet wide. It also has a wide pH tolerance unlike holly that requires acid soil and in my garden means amending the soil.  Oregon Grape Holly is also supposed to be completely immune to insect and disease problems – we shall see.  But it does seem that this shrub is easy, and easy is what I am looking for. Continue reading

Lookin’ Good – Hydrangeas on Parade

'Snow Queen' Oakleaf Hydrangea

(Photo:'Snow Queen' Oakleaf Hydrangea/MyShadyGarden)

I happen to really like hydrangeas.  These shrubs come in all different colors and shapes and work in my shady garden.  I have the space and enjoy having several types of hydrangeas.

One of my favorite summer shrubs has just now coming into bloom – the oakleaf hydrangea.   I planted ‘Snow Queen’ Oakleaf Hydrangea (quercifolia).  It grows 4-8’ tall and is native to North America.  We planted in front of a white stucco wall and thought that the oak leaf would be able to show itself off against all that white stucco.

The oakleaf hydrangea really is a shrub for all seasons – though now is one of the most glorious. In summer it bears conical clusters of single petal white flowers that are unlike most hydrangeas.  And the leaves that give this bush its name are large and lobed like an oak.

In fall those leaves turn a beautiful blood red and are striking next to the dried and faded blooms, which become kind of a mottled tan colored.  In winter/early spring the bark is cinnamon colored and hangs loosely – kind of exfoliating to give it interest before it leafs out. Continue reading

Ahhh – Sweet Scent is in the Air

'Miss Kim' Lilac

(Photo: 'Miss Kim' Lilac/My Shady Garden)

Lilacs go hand in hand with spring – more than a bit late this year in Chicago as we have had such a cool and rainy start to the growing season.

In Chicago, most of the lilacs are done blooming now – even in this very late spring, but one variety ‘Miss Kim’ is at its peak.  And that is the variety I have in full bloom in my garden right now.  ‘Miss Kim’ has light lavender colored blossoms that are among the most fragrant of lilacs.

As I turn the corner of my house, their intoxicating scent beckons.  I’m in heaven. If these lilacs could be improved, I’d have them last longer and have the blossoms be a darker color so as to show off against my white stucco.   Though they kind of make up for it in fall when the leaves turn a beautiful burgundy color.

The smell of lilac brings back memories.  It takes me back to childhood where I remember just nuzzling my face in the lilac bushes around our house, inhaling the sweet fragrance that is lilac.  It also reminds me of being a newly wed and a new home owner.

We had moved to Lombard – the lilac capitol of the world!  A few blocks from my former house is Lilacia Park with every kind of variety of lilac that there is – at least that is what they claim.  And the park has a beautiful display of tulips and daffodils  - all to celebrate with the lilacs. Continue reading

Boxwoods – the understated structure of a garden

Boxwood Border

(Photo: Boxwood Border/My Shady Garden)

Boxwoods are wonderful broadleaf evergreen shade shrubs that define the garden space.  No, they are not the sexy, showy plants that get a lot of attention.  But they provide the structure, and dare I say the formality, of a garden throughout the year.  In winter when the showy plants are gone this evergreen has a chance to stand out.

Boxwoods prefer partial shade but adapt to full shade or full sun with sufficient watering.  They like being mulched because their roots grow close to the surface.  It is best not to disturb the earth around the boxwood once the shrub is established for the same reason.

They make excellent backgrounds for brightly colored plants that show up well against the even, dark green surface of the boxwood and they are the perfect backdrop for the drama of the garden. Continue reading

Lemon Daddy Hydrangea

Lemon Daddy Hydrangea

Lemon Daddy Hydrangea / My Shady Garden

One of my favorite bushes are hydrangeas.  They come in so many varieties and are reliable, often constant bloomers.  They tolerate full sun to full shade and a perfect  shade shrub for my garden.

What is great about Lemon Daddy hydrangeas is even when it is not blooming, you get a pop of color from the leaves which are a hard to miss chartreuse or lemon color.  The more sunlight they get, the more lemony the color, the more shade the more chartreuse (yellow green).

Last year I ended up moving some Lemon Daddy’s I had planted two years ago because they got too much shade and never bloomed.

I planted one near my front door for a vibrant welcome, one near my kitchen window and one in the back yard near my peonies (vestiges of my sunny garden).

I actually like them so much, I bought three more as replacements for some potentillas near my sunroom.   The bright lemon color pops from behind the boxwood and is visible to passers by from the street.  Continue reading

Japanese Kerria (Kerria japonica) – My Favorite Early Spring Shade Shrub

Japanese Kerria

(photo: Kerria Japonica 'Golden Guinea' 5-1-11/My Shady Garden)

The showiest early spring shade shrub I have in the garden is the Kerria japonica.  It has beautiful bright yellow flowers that just say “spring. It is a prolific bloomer even in fairly dense shade.  It provides a show in late April to mid May with that bright yellow pop when no other bushes have even really leafed out.

Continue reading