Fothergilla gardenii

Fothergilla gardenii    Family: Hamamelidaceae
(foth-er-GIL-lah  gar-DEE-knee-eye)
Common name: dwarf fothergilla, coastal fothergilla
Zone: 5 – 8
Height: 3 – 4 ft (0.9 – 1.2 m)   Spread: 2 – 4 ft (0.6 – 1.2 m)
Aspect: full sun; part shade; full shade
Soil: humus-rich; moist; well-drained 
Water: regular     

Description: A compact, upright, deciduous, multi-stemmed shrub which slowly grows into a 4 ft mounded form. Showy, white-green, apetalous (petal-less), aromatic flowers on dense bottlebrush-like spikes appear in April before the leaves form. Thick, oblong to ovate, green leaves have a serrated edge from mid point to leaf apex and are covered in fine hairs. No serious disease or insect problems.

Special Notes: Native to the moist coastal plain bogs and savannahs of southeastern United States from North Carolina to Alabama. Preference is for a sunny location in acidic, moist, humus-rich soil and regular watering but will also tolerate drier, more alkaline soil in a shadier location, possibly at the expense of fewer flowers. Leaves emerge light green and progress through grey-green to dark green to blue-green in colour. Fall leaf colour is a vibrant chorus of green, yellow, orange, red, burgundy, violet and pink. The sunnier the location, the more colourful the autumn colours.

In our Zone 7a garden:
We find this lovely shrub to be relatively easy care and extremely colourful in the autumn. It is next to a path so every few years the expanding suckers must be removed to keep the shrub from overpowering the path. There have been no insect or disease problems in our garden.


Posted on April 6, 2023

Kerria japonica ‘Pleniflora’

Kerria japonica ‘Pleniflora’        Family: Rosaceae
(KERR-ree-ah  ja-PON-ih-ka)

Common name: Japanese kerria; Japanese yellow rose
Zone: 4 – 9
Height: 5 – 8 ft (1.5 – 2.4 m)   Spread: 4 – 6 ft (1.2 – 1.8 m)
Aspect: partial shade; full shade
Soil: average; humus-rich; well-draning
Water: moderate

Description: Deciduous shrub with multiple bright green, upright and arching stems adorned with small, narrow, double-toothed ovate-lanceolate bright green leaves arranged alternately along the branches. Pompoms of double, golden yellow flowers appear in early spring, lasting for 2 to 3 weeks.

Special Notes: 
Native to Japan and China, this plant cultivar was introduced to Great Britain in 1805 by Scottish plant collector, William Kerr. Tolerant of all soil types except clay and those with poor drainage. Valued for its reliability in producing masses of blossoms in shady conditions. It is also tolerant of sunnier locations when provided with adequate moisture but the flowers will fade quickly in direct sun.

Deer and rabbit resistant. No pest and disease problems with the exception of possibility of kerria twig and leaf blight, a fungal disease caused by Blumeriella kerriae. This causes leaf spots and stem lesions which, if severe enough, may result in defoliation. Control spread by severely pruning out diseased stems, raking up leaves and disposing them. Do not wet leaves or stems of infected plants; water using soaker hoses.

In our Zone 7a garden:
We have two clumps of this plant in our garden; one gets a little more sun than the other, resulting a slightly less floral show in spring. We have found this species to be a fairly fast spreader so dividing every 3 or 4 years is advised unless you have allowed the plant adequate room in the bed. Alternately, you can remove some of the suckering growth annually in late winter.

Other than controlling this plant’s growth habit, we have experienced no other problems, disease or pest.


Posted on February 20, 2023


Leycesteria formosa

Leycesteria formosa      Family: Caprifoliaceae
(ley-ses-TER-ee-uh  for-MOH-suh)

Common name: pheasant berry; Himalayan honeysuckle; Himalayan nutmeg; flowering nutmeg
Zone: USDA 7 – 10
Height: 6-8 ft (1.8-2.4 m) Spread: 5-6 ft (1.5-1.8 m)
Aspect: full sun; partial shade
Soil: moist; fertile; well-draining
Water: moderate  

Description: Deciduous shrub with hollow, bamboo-like, gracefully arching, light green stems adorned with opposite medium-green, ovate, tapering leaves. Pendant racemes of deep red bracts above mildly-scented white flowers appear in summer. Reddish-purple berries start to appear in late summer, maturing to a deep maroon colour in fall. Ripe, soft berries are edible with a caramel-like taste.


Special Notes: Native to forested regions of the Himalayas and southwestern China. This shrub is tolerant of average or clay soils, although it will do better in moist, fertile soil. Relatively drought tolerant once established. In colder regions where temperatures dip to -9.5 °C (15 °F) it is advisable to apply a layer of mulch to protect the roots. Cut branches back to 10 – 12 inches (25 – 30 cm) above soil level in early spring. Flowers on new growth.

Pest and disease resistant. Resistant to slug and snail damage. Propagate by fresh seed sown in pots in fall and placed in a cold frame over winter; by division in spring; by softwood cuttings in summer.


In our zone 7a garden: We are in the northern part of this shrub’s growing zone so pruning technique is dictated by how severe our winter has been in any particular year. If severe, most of the branches will die back to the ground, or at least some of them will. In less severe winters, John only takes off the brown dead parts of the branches. We have never mulched our shrub but are re-considering our game plan after all the branches died right to the ground and new growth was late to appear in the spring of 2019 after we hit a record low temperature of -18.5 °C (1.3 °F) for 3 days that winter.

The berries of Leycesteria formosa are edible, but I am not sure about other Leycesteria species. I find they taste like burnt caramel which I happen to like. However, the taste may not be to everyone’s liking as our taste buds are indeed unique.


Awards: Great Plant Pick 2012


Posted on August 26, 2020


Ilex crenata

Ilex crenata           Family: Aquifoliaceae
(EYE-lecks  kree-NAH-tah)

Common name: Japanese holly; box-leaved holly
Zone:  6 – 8
Height: 5-10 ft (1.5-3 m)   Spread: 5-10 ft (1.5-3 m)
Aspect: full sun; partial shade
Soil: moist; slightly acidic; well-draining
Water: moderate     

Description: Dense, multi-branched, evergreen shrub. Glossy, deep green leaves are ovate to elliptical shaped and spineless. Cymes of 3 to 5 (male plant) or 3 to 7 (female plant), small, four petaled, white flowers appear in mid-May through into early June. Small round black inconspicuous fruits, or drupes, to ¼ inch (0.6 cm) in diameter, mature in fall on pollinated female plants.


Special Notes: Native to forest and mountainous slopes of Japan, China, Korea and parts of eastern Russia. Slow growing, this shrub will tolerate poor soil conditions, shady locations and drought, once it is established. Dioecious, with male and female flowers on separate plants. Female needs pollination in order to produce fruits. Good shrub for topiary as it will tolerate significant shearing and pruning. A favourite plant species in formal-type gardens.

Good pest and disease resistance although may suffer from spider mites in high heat and humid gardens. May need some protection from drying winter winds. Severe winters in Zone 5 regions can cause foliar burn and damage branches. Stressed plants can also suffer twig dieback caused by blight. Leaves will turn yellow in high pH, or alkaline soils.


In our Zone 7a garden: Love this plant! Evergreen interest in a largely perennial garden. Initially planted sandwiched between a large Damera peltate and a much-used path at the bottom of the pond, it did not seem to suffer from repeated shearing to keep its size down to about 3 ft (0.9 m) high and wide. It has been re-located to a more appropriate location in one of the border beds and is flourishing nicely.

What I most love about this plant is the number of bees it attracts in spite of its tiny flowers. 


Posted on August 6, 2020


Aronia melanocarpa

Aronia melanocarpa loaded with berries Aronia melanocarpa Family: Rosaceae
(ah-ROE-nee-ah mel-an-oh-KAR-pah)

Common name: black chokeberries
Zone: 3 – 8
Height: 3-6 ft (0.9-1.8 m) Spread: 6-10 ft (1.8-3 m)
Aspect: full sun; partial shade
Soil: average; well-draining
Water: moderate

Description: A medium-sized, deciduous shrub with a fairly low, spreading growth habit. The dark green, glossy leaves are obovate in shape with a rounded tip. Colour turns a wonderful purplish-red in autumn. Clusters of 5-petaled white flowers open for a short bloom period in May, followed by dark, round, edible berries in autumn. Berries first appear dark purple, maturing to black when fully ripe.


Special Notes: Native to North America, primarily the area around the Great Lakes in Canada and the United States. Once used by the native peoples as a meat preservative in preparing pemmican. More recently, it has been discovered aronia berries have wonderful health benefits. Besides being saturated with natural anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, and anti-diabetic qualities, the berries are rich in anthocyanins and polyphenols…which protect the urinary tract, stimulate the circulation and strengthen the heart. Ongoing studies are showing black chokeberries also contain compounds helpful in fighting certain cancers and heart disease. There is also ongoing research on its benefits for memory loss and cognitive deterioration.

Aronia melanocarpa has few insect or disease problems, although there is some susceptibility to leaf spots…merely a cosmetic problem. Twig and/or fruit blight could also be a slight problem.


In our Zone 7a garden: Our Aronia shrub sits at the corner of the raised bed by the steps leading up to the pond…and beyond. It was relocated to this location in 2013 after being deemed unsuitable in the first spot John placed it when the plant was purchased in 2011. I only mention this so you have some understanding its current size of about 3 feet (0.9 m) tall and roughly 5 feet (1.5 m) wide may not be its final stature. However, this shrub does lend itself to being kept in check through some judicious pruning.

Aronia melanocarpa berriesThis past fall (2016), I managed to beat the birds to the berries. (Warning: you must be quick! As soon as the birds…mainly robins in our garden…pronounce the berries are finally ripe enough to eat, the entire shrub is harvested in two days…three at the very outside.) I froze all of this year’s harvest in batches on a waxpaper-lined cookie sheet and transferred the frozen berries into freezer bags for later use in smoothies. Delicious.


Posted on December 17, 2016



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