New gems arriving for our local setting

Posted: Wednesday, January 26, 2000

We won't get every plant we ordered: Demand is so high that we will be glad to get what we can. Many nurseries will be short this season. This makes the reading of the lists so exciting. Many new species that we have ordered will come, but not in as large a quantity as I hoped.

Dwarf Blue Spruces, Weeping Alaskan Cedars and slow-growing, tidy Mountain Hemlocks are coming from one grower. Another will send hardy Magnolias developed for northern Europe and dark purple-leafed Beech trees that shape themselves like a fountain. Two-toned Variegated Norway Maples and feathery red leafed Japanese Maples come along with sturdy multi-trunked Vine Maples from the Pacific Northwest. An entire landscape could be built around any one of these trees. Groups of similar shaped trees with varying colors of foliage underplanted with a sweep of bright purple Rhododendron or those dwarf Lilacs from Korea would really dress up any front yard.

Hardy roses have come to be a real favorite; people are creating rose-filled layers in the landscape. Choosing several colors and growth habits allows these favorites to be mixed into a veritable wall of color and aroma. The worldwide demand for roses that will stand the harsher climates and require less spraying has sent the breeders into wild activity. Roses are being grown that will bloom for three months at our latitude and require almost no winter protection.

Older roses with rich fragrances are being reproduced; we have gone back to the varieties bred during the early 1800's for some of the most aromatic qualities. ``Blanche Double de Coubert'' and ``Belle de Poitevine'' lead the list, followed by more modern ones from the Canadian Breeders. Asia has contributed more ornamental species to western gardens than any other region, and it still sends forth exciting new plants every year.

Hardy tree peonies imported from China have swept into the nurseries in the last three or four years, and names like ``Sunset Clouds'' or ``Cherry Blossom Mist'' are obviously capitalizing on this tide of interest. Having Oriental and Western species together in one's own yard is a pleasure for which we thank those plant explorers who still go scouring mountain valleys in search of new types.

Mail order catalogs, online Web sites and the proliferation of gardening magazines whet our interests, and along with the new things comes increased attention to our local horticultural heritage. Plants derived from the native forests of North America are in high demand now, too.

The spectacular flowering currants, Ribes sanguineum, with their cascades of piercing pink blooms are once again widely desired, and decorative forms of the hardy Elderberry with various colored fruits are available. The number of writers praising these tough, habitat enhancing species is larger than I've ever known.

The blending of the exotic ornamental with the selected native is the most attractive gardening trend going. Creating a designed planting that seems like a natural place with a few embellishments is the goal of many gardeners, and this trend is perfectly suited to our Southeast Alaskan lifestyle.

We can place these gems from the rest of the world into a setting few others can match. Flowering trees planted against deep green spruces glow in the sunshine, and using bright colored foliage to lead the eye into the forest makes the native landscape seem closer and more integrated into our domestic spaces.

Having a nearly intact plant community around us allows huge latitude in our design and planting efforts. The next few years will see more local plants being available for home landscaping as our transplant and salvage efforts are refined. A combination of flowering shrubs that will provide season long interest and an evergreen groundcover made up of local species is an excellent goal.

I want color pouring out of the garden, I want wild birds and small mammals to be at home in my plantings, and I want to get my landscape established, then let it go on it's own. Combining the best of the nursery grown ornamentals with our locally adapted species is a route to that goal.

David Lendrum is a master gardener and, along with Margaret Tharp, owns Landscape Alaska. Any responses or questions can be sent to

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