Thursday, September 22, 2011

The value of gold


Years ago, on A Gardener's Diary scouting trip to the Pacific Northwest, I remember walking through a nursery on Whidbey Island and thinking, "These people out here have a gold/chartreuse version of just about any plant you can imagine."

And then, when I got back home, I started seeing that local gardeners had some of the same plants - golden versions of bleeding heart, Boston ivy, tricyrtis, hydrangea, metasequoia, tradescantia, deutzia, forsythia, and on and on, in addition to ones that have been around for a long time like creeping jenny, barberry and spirea.

I love seeing the contrasts golden-chartreuse plants can make when combined with blue, deep burgundy, purple or even dark green.  Plus, there's something exciting about encountering a regular shrub or perennial you've known for so long and realizing it's a totally different color.  At first, you think, "There's something familiar about this plant," and then recognition sets in.  I am thinking in particular of the golden oak leaf hydrangea.  That one threw me for a loop.

One of my favorites along this line is the American native redbud, Cercis canadensis 'Hearts of Gold.'  I first saw it at Scott McMahan's nursery in Clermont, Ga., on a hot day in late August.  I couldn't believe that the foliage on his potted trees was still bright chartreuse and hadn't turned completely green in the heat.  The close-up I took there of the individual. heart-shaped leaves is dazzling - chartreuse, but on the verge of bright yellow.

The above photograph was taken in mid-June in Ryan Gainey's fabulous garden in Decatur, Ga.  Already some of the shaded leaves had turned green, but there was still plenty of bright chartreuse to show how beautiful this tree is when set against dark green.  In a photograph I have of another tree in his garden, the leaves are almost all yellow and chartreuse.

Like other redbuds, this tree has blooms along the branches before the leaves emerge.  The flowers of this selection - found in North Carolina by Jon Roethling, a former employee of the J.C. Raulston Arboretum in Raleigh - are lavender-purple.  The leaves emerge a reddish color and then turn bright yellow.  What a wonderful show for at least three months and still handsome all season long.

I can just picture a mid-blue, large flowered clematis growing in or near this tree.  Or, I like it against any dark green conifers or broadleaf evergreens.   It doesn't get as large as other redbuds, but is pretty fast growing, reaching 10 feet in five years.  Ultimate height is about 15 feet with a spread about that large.  You'd have to give it room to grow laterally.

The fall would be a good time to plant this tree.  Just make sure it's in sun or partial sun and has well-drained soil.  Keep it consistently watered until it is established, and fertilize in late winter/early spring before it blooms.  Do site it where it will have a worthy backdrop (not just sitting out alone in a lawn), and then in spring, after it rewards you with flowers, enjoy a spike in the value of gold.