Archive for the ‘Plant selection’ Category

Burning Bush

Last week I was driving through a shady and pleasant part of Wellesley, MA, enjoying the really stunning show of fall colors.  One bucolic road was flanked on one side by a steep wooded hill, at the bottom of which a small stream flowed next to the road.  I noticed that the brightest colors came in that stretch from an almost continuous line of Euonymus alatus, commonly known as Burning Bush or Winged Wahoo (Yes! I couldn’t resist giving this one of its names.).  A few were still green, some had turned brilliant red, and in some that robust red had drained out, leaving the foliage looking delicately pale and anemic.

Ealata wild

I don’t believe any of those Euonymus had been intentionally planted there; more likely birds had eaten fruit from some nearby cultivated Euonymus alatus shrubs, the seeds survived digestion, and found a hospitable niche next to the stream.

Ealata tame

Right around the bend from the stream was this beefy looking Burning Bush, an obviously well-tended accent in someone's yard.

The scene was lovely, but it was repeated all over the woodlands in that area of town — great color, and large quantities of this non-native and now-invasive shrub.  It’s at this time of year that the ubiquity of some invasives become really evident (Oriental Bittersweet — also a member of the Celastraceae family — is another).  Visually, it’s a wonderful treat; ecologically, perhaps a little more challenging.  Euonymus alatus is now on the Massachusetts Prohibited Plant List, which means that nurseries are prohibited from growing or selling it in the state.

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Harvard University has recently been building on Memorial Drive, along the Charles River. The site that had held a garden center (most recently, Mahoney’s, and before that, the Grower’s Market, where I sold Christmas trees one year) is now becoming a park and a graduate student dormitory. The dorm is done; the park (originally slated for a Renzo Piano museum building) is still apparently in construction.

The other day I was strolling past the parcels, and had to stop to look at a planting buffering one of the dorm’s corners. It was so rich-looking, so dense and lush, and yet it stood only a few feet high. Fantastic! What was it?

Two feet high, with thick foliage making a bumper at the building's base.

Three feet high, with thick foliage making a bumper at the building's base.

I leaned in to take a look, and discovered that it was a mass of Fothergilla, a shrub related to Hamamelis, or Witch Hazel.  (I thought at first that it was Hamamelis, wrote and posted an entire blog post on it, and then realized a few days later that I’d been mistaken.  So consider this post a corrective to the other one, which I’ve now taken down.)

I figure that these are Fothergilla gardenii, or Dwarf Fothergilla, given their spacing and configuration.  The plants in this mass are set on 18-24″ centers.  That’s quite close even for a dwarf plant that’s recorded to grow to between three and six feet in height.

Spacing between 18 and 24 inches on center.

Spacing between 18 and 24 inches on center.

We have discussed plant spacing issues in TakingPlace, and have talked about the differing (and equally viable) strategies of planting close versus planting to make each plant a specimen. The jostling that plants do with each other when planted close can make for an interesting and complex arrangement.

Fothergilla gardenii is a suckering shrub that tends to form thickets; perhaps the landscape architect was aiming for a full-thicket look right from the start.  It’ll be interesting to see how the planting grows, and what forms the plants can negotiate in this circumstance (will they be able to sucker where light appears not to reach the ground inside the mass?).

Michael Van Valkenburgh, landscape architect of record for this Harvard site, is known for using close plantings in his projects, and he’s generally pretty horticulturally astute. This planting represents an interesting experiment, one worth revisiting over time to see how it progresses.

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