Column, Looking Back

Always looking forward to flowering trees and shrubs

By Mary Ellen Shaw

One of my favorite things to look forward to each year is the colorful display of flowering trees and shrubs. Although they may be short-lived compared to a garden full of perennial flowers they certainly brighten the landscape.

With the world topsy-turvy as we deal with Covid-19 anything that resembles normalcy while brightening my day is a plus!

If you decide to plant some flowering shrubs and want early color a forsythia bush is a great choice. It will be among the first to greet you. If they are in a protected area you will see their bright yellow blossoms begin to emerge in late March. By mid-April they should be in full bloom no matter where they are located. Their size can be controlled quite well but if you let them have “free rein” they can get up to 10 feet tall and just about as wide.

When May arrives the wonderful scent of lilacs is in the air. This is such a popular bush that the Shelburne Museum has a Lilac Festival each year toward the end of May. Of course, Covid-19 could change that this year. There is probably no other place in Vermont that can boast of having 400 lilac bushes representing 90 varieties. Purple is probably the most popular color choice for home gardeners but lilacs also come in yellow and white. You can even enjoy lilacs twice in one year if you get the re-blooming variety. The second time around won’t produce as many blooms as the first time but there will be enough to give you your “lilac fix” once again. The proper time to prune lilacs is right after they finish blooming. If you wait too long you will cut off the buds that will produce the next round of flowers.

Late May or early June is when I look forward to my rhododendron bushes putting on a magnificent display of bright pink. They started off in our yard about 20 years ago as small bushes. However, I have let them grow tall and they are now a privacy “hedge” as they have grown together and are 6 feet tall. Because they retain their leaves year round the green color is a welcome sight amid the white of winter.

We tend to think of dogwoods as trees but they are also shrubs. The ivory halo dogwood has attractive variegated leaves with white flowers. In the fall a white berry develops which the birds enjoy. You will get an added bonus in the winter as the shrub’s red twigs add a touch of color against the white snow. They are about 6 feet tall and spread out 8 to 9 feet.

An often overlooked bush is the hydrangea. There are some varieties that have a magical side to them as they are capable of changing color with some assistance from you! How does one accomplish that? You change the pH level of their soil. The more alkaline the soil is the pinker the flowers will be. If you want a pink hydrangea to become blue just increase the acidity. There are easy tests to determine the pH level of the soil. Local garden centers carry the products that you can add to the soil to bring about a color change. Now there is a fun science experiment for you!

In the hydrangea family the pee gee hydrangea is a good choice because you can extend your enjoyment of that variety by drying the blossoms at the end of the season and using them in an arrangement in your home. This variety is more like a small tree with blossoms that turn stunning shades of pink or burgundy at the end of the growing season. To preserve the blossoms cut them and remove the leaves. Place them in a vase with water covering half of the stems. Place the vase out of the sunlight where it’s cooler and let the water evaporate until it’s gone. This will take 2-3 weeks and the hydrangeas will end up dry to the touch. Adding cattails and reeds that are found along swampy areas will make a really attractive fall arrangement.

While flowering shrubs are beautiful in their own right a crabapple tree can really put on a show. Their blossoms can be either pink or white but after looking at white snow all winter I am ready for some color. Right outside our living room window, in the city greenbelt section, is a variety that retains some fruit all winter.

My husband, Peter, and I are entertained on a daily basis as the birds fly in for a snack. Cedar waxwings are among the more consistent visitors.

By selecting the proper shrubs and trees you can enjoy live flowers or dried flowers from spring to fall. Keep your eyes open for them as you walk, run or drive through Rutland and the surrounding towns. Enjoy their beauty!

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