By Robert Woodman, Plant Specialist
I’m an Englishman. So gardening is in my blood.
Before I left my home in England and joined the MGC team in 2005, I was involved with a couple of Botanic Gardens around the world.
The most famous one - the Royal Botanic Garden in Kew, England - has one of the most impressive and comprehensive plant collections ever assembled. It was a wonderful experience to be a part of such a remarkable place. One of my responsibilities was to travel around the world and collect plants.
I considered it an honor to hike through the high alpine mountains of Tasmania and the tropical foothills of Irian Jaya for them. Now the desire to explore is ingrained in me. I’m always looking for new, different or just curious plants to work into my garden.
With this fall’s rain, the itch to plant has become obsessive. Here’s a short list of shrubs that have seduced me into trying them in my own garden. These shrubs are for adventurous gardeners. That’s because we know the rough heights and preferred garden locations of these plants, but their availability has been limited until now so little is known about how they will grow in our area. The chance to pioneer a new plant takes me back to those earlier days of exploration.
One shrub that has caught my eye is a new introduction from Proven Winners called Hydrangea involucrata ‘Blue Bunny’. At first glance, it looks similar to a lacecap big leaf hydrangea. But on closer inspection, you can see that the foliage features an attractive fuzz that is carried up to its rounded, peony-style flower buds. The buds unfold to reveal a light blue lacecap flower.
Mahonia Eurybracteata ‘Soft Caress’ was recently introduced. I was cautious about its claims, as it looked tender and perhaps intended for a warmer zone. But several customers have experienced success, even through the ferocious winter we just endured. Its ferny, bamboo-like leaves offer a unique texture to the garden, while the sulfur yellow flowers add spice to the overall look.
In late spring, I planted a Blue Leaf Isu Tree. It made it through the summer unscathed by the heat. The foliage first reminded me of Eucalyptus leaves with their slight, blue tones, but the layered, lateral branching made it stand out in the pack.
Through the years, I’ve learned that not all new introductions will make it the first time around. However, I’m frequently surprised by the resilience and perseverance of plants if given a second chance in a different location. So don’t give up if you fall to such a fate. Just try to imagine how different the story of Johnny Appleseed would be if his first seedling died!