Making a Christmas wish list for a landscaper

Landscaping in Alaska

Posted: Wednesday, November 29, 2000

What would a gardener like for Christmas?

This is the time of year that the vast supply chain in the sky opens and torrents of goods and services are displayed for use as gifts or more self-indulgent occasions. Some people get catalogs for new electronic gadgets, some are offered car toys, and many of my friends are deciding between kitchen remodels and trips to Mexico. The decision of what to want for a Christmas present occupies inquiring minds of all ages

I am deluged with the offerings of wholesale growers and distributors enthusiastically promoting their new plants and garden hardware. I recently received a list of geraniums that took 15 pages to tell of the colored leaves and various flowers from which I could pick. Battery-powered pruning shears, insulated worm compost boxes and automatic watering systems for the living room compete with fuschias in deep purple and orange, fragrant French Roses derived from the ancient perfume yielding varieties and a beautiful pale pinkish-lavender daylily called "Pink Whispers." I prefer to peruse the lists of new plants and let my fancy go wild.

There is a new Flowering Maple or Abutilon, called "Super Red," that will live here, indoors in the winters and outdoors in the summer. The maple part of the name comes from its delicately pointed leaves and dark twiggy branches, since it is definitely not a real maple. It has huge, 2-inch, fire engine red flowers and will bloom about 10 months of the year. (We carried some of the older golden-yellow styles a couple of years ago, and people have told me that they now have 4-foot tall plants that look like Japanese Maples except for the blooms.)

Dianthus, the carnation and pink family does well here, and the newest introduction from the Denver Botanic Garden called "First Love" looks like a gem. It is a clump-forming perennial getting 12 to 15 inches tall with a succession of blooms opening pure white and turning to deep rose. The individual flowers last over a month and it stays in bloom from May to November. Like all pinks it will need to have lime added to our soils, but this will not deter me from trying it. I love these fragrant little treasures.

Rhododendron hybridizers at the University of Helsinki, Finland, have bred varieties of unusual hardiness. Some I want to try are "Haaga" in deep pink, "Mikkeli" in snow white and "Peterstegt" with white flowers that are flecked with deep purple. There is also a PJM style plant with leaves that turn deep crimson-purple in the winter and lavender-pink blossoms called "Northern Starburst"

I really love unusual conifers and this zone is great for a few species of these evergreen gems. My Christmas list has some on it including an Alberta Spruce called "Rainbow's End;" these are dwarf trees that look like upside down ice cream cones. They are common here, but this one has an unusual summer flush of golden yellow that will show up dramatically against the deep green of the regular foliage.

I really want one of the true dwarf Mugo Pines, called "White Bud." Mugos are nice deep green little trees, but they need to be pruned vigorously to keep them under control. This one will stay tidy and tight so it can be used in entries and small spaces.

A larger specimen with spectacular coloring is the Norway Spruce named "Acrocona." Norways are the tall, fast-growing ones that line the road to the airport, or along the side of the valley post office. This one has bright purple-red cones on the ends of the branches; they cause it to grow slower and broader, so it will look more shrubby. The colorful cones will look like Christmas decorations.

There's a delightful Japanese Maple called "Beni Komachi" that comes into leaf with bright red foliage that stays deep crimson all summer and flares into incandescence in the fall. It has a graceful weeping dwarf shape with leaves that twist and curl so that it always looks like the faint breezes are moving them around.

Plants are great presents, but for the more mechanically inclined of us, there is a riding lawnmower that looks like a go-cart that will speed along at about 10 mph. It will transform an often-avoided chore into a reward that can be offered to kids for good grades or keeping the bedroom clean. I think this could be the first in a wave of tool/toys that will change our lives. Well, Merry Christmas, and happy garden shopping.

David Lendrum is a master gardener and owner of Landscape Alaska. Responses or questions can be sent to

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