Boring Yard Busters For May

I am a little late on my BYB column this month due to the usual distraction of it being the busiest month of the year in the nursery business.  That being said, here are a few ideas to jazz up the yard in May, and even early June.


Dogwoods have been spectacular this month, especially the most dominant eastern “florida” species.  Many gardeners don’t realize that there are a couple of wonderful dogwoods that have been crossed with our Pacific Northwest dogwood and the Korean species.  “Starlight” and “Venus” are two such varieties with creamy white flowers that are an incredible 4 to 5 inches across.  They are drop dead gorgeous right now and you have to see them for yourself.


A lot of visual interest in spring comes from foliage rather than flowers.  There is nothing quite like the fresh new leaves on a plant, still unblemished from insects and diseases, as they emerge from their winter slumber.  Barberries are a classic example of the diverse range of colors that foliage can present itself in.  One of the hottest new introductions is a stunner called “Limoncello”.  Forming a tidy, round mound, this new barberry has striking chartreuse foliage with an unusual red, almost dotted, pattern around the margin.  It is a compact grower maturing around 3 feet tall by 3 feet wide that does best in full sun and has stunning fall foliage of oranges, yellows and reds.


How about a foxglove with lipstick?  There is a new hybrid foxglove called “Digiplexis Illumination” that has crazy colored flowers.  Some might call Illumination cheap and trashy, but I think she has style.  Unlike our native foxglove, that only blooms for 5 to 6 weeks, Illumination will entertain you all summer long in a riot of hot reds, corals and persimmons.  While her glitz is tantalizing she can be short lived in the garden, often not surviving our winters, so just treat her as a seasonal delight and enjoy the show.  


Looking for something a bit bizarre?  Euonymus japonicus “Rokujo” is a dwarf shrub that only grows 6 to 8 inches tall in 10 years and makes a great conversation piece in the garden.  Place it in a container, trough or rockery to highlight its unusual character.  The foliage is tiny and stacked in piles, much like a stalagmite.  I’ve had one on my patio for years and it never ceases to elicit comments such as “How interesting, I just love it” or “What the heck is that ugly plant?”.  Either way, owning one of these fascinating creations is sure to turn heads in your garden.


Purple colored foliage is a dime a dozen when it comes to sunny locations, but for shade it is almost impossible to find a plant that will hold its dark purple leaves without fading away to a dull green.  Not anymore!  Say hello to Hydrangea aspera “Plum Passion”.  To quote from the Monrovia website: “This first ever purple leaved Hydrangea for American Gardens was discovered in China and brought to us by Dan Hinkley. A unique shrub with greenish-purple new foliage, the leaves age to deep purple with rosy purple undersides. Wispy flowers nicely contrast with the dramatic, colorful foliage.”  “Purple Passion” grows about 6 feet tall by 6 feet wide and is a dynamite addition to the eastern or northern sides of our gardens or in dappled shade under large trees.  My challenge now is to decide what I am going to remove to make room for this beauty.