Fifty Shades of Green

During a recent visit to the Biltmore Estate, I was standing on the veranda overlooking the vast countryside and rolling hills. I noticed the many shades of green in the landscape, which were made more apparent by the emerging leaves of the trees. 

The inspiring view
This experience carried with me as I visited the garden of my friend Andy Schenck, plant collector and nurseryman extraordinaire. While touring Andy’s garden, I felt serious plant envy and realized how many shades of green there are, both in tended gardens and in the untouched landscape. While some individuals express discontent over a garden of mostly non-flowering plants, I decided a garden made of up of shades of green can be as interesting and exciting as one made up of flowering perennials and shrubs. 

Andy was as passionate as I about variegated plants. These beauties were sprinkled around his garden like jewels, perfectly placed. The conifer Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Snow’ provided an outstanding display, appearing as though it was dusted with frost in the summer.

Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Snow’

‘Spotty Dotty’ Podyphyllum was another example of the many shades of green in Andy’s garden. This Mayapple nearly took my breath away. 

Podyphyllum ‘Spotty Dotty’
Have you ever seen a more beautiful maple than Acer campestre ‘Carnival’?  I hadn’t.

Acer campestre ‘Carnival’
Another great combination was a variegated American Ginger with Cephalotaxus in the background.
American Ginger with Cephalotaxus

How about Acanthus ‘Whitewater’ combined with Poncirus trifoliata ‘Snow Dragon’ (‘Variegatus’)? 

Acanthus ‘Whitewater’ (background) with Poncirus trifoliata ‘Snow Dragon’ (foreground)
Cacalia delphinifolia was another new discovery in Andy’s garden. How could I not know about this woodland plant hardy to zone 4?  Another one to add to my every growing list of plants to be acquired.

Cacalia delphinifolia
Clethra barbinervis ‘Takeda Nishiki’ was yet another unfamiliar plant to me. A Clethra that grows 20 feet tall with less fragrant flowers than the more common Clethra alnifolia.

Clethra barbinervis ‘Takeda Nishiki’
As I continued to meander through Andy’s garden, furiously documenting the names of plants I’d never seen before, I realized how many flowering or berry-producing plants come in variegated forms, extending their season of interest.

For example, Hydrangea ‘Green Dragon’ looked lovely even when not in flower. Andy also had variegated Winterberry Holly and Buckeye. 

Hydrangea ‘Green Dragon’

Variegated Aesculus (Buckeye)
In addition to variegation, I think texture is equally important in a mostly green garden. This Danae racesmosa, commonly known as Poet’s Laurel, is apparently a dry shade lover, perfect for my woodland garden, yet it is marginally hardy in my area as a Zone 7 plant. Hmmm…still one I might need to put on my wish list! I love the lacy effect the foliage provides.

Danae racesmosa
I fell in love with this ‘Jim Porter’ Osmanthus and apparently I’m not the only one to do so. The Plant Lust website describes this evergreen shrub as a really good looking plant with glossy, spined leaves, growing to 8′ tall and 4′ wide in 5 years with fragrant, nearly invisible flowers in the fall. What’s not to love?

Osmanthus ‘Jim Porter’
Unusual forms also add interest to a mostly green garden. How about this tree? Would you recognize this as an Oak?  I didn’t, but it’s Quercus robur ‘General Pulaski’.  Broken Arrow Nursery describes this plant as one so ugly and so distinct that you can’t help but fall in love with it. Serving as a backdrop in the photo is Cercis canadensis ‘White Water’, a weeping, variegated leaf form of our native redbud.

Quercus robur ‘General Pulaski’ (foreground) with Cercis canadensis ‘White Water’ (background)

After many classes at Longwood Garden and lots of self-study, I thought I would be better prepared to identify many of Andy’s plants, but that was not the case.  Andy was clearly the expert and his plants were unique, many given to him by plant collectors over the years or those he propagated on his own. I was in awe of his knowledge, expertise and plant collection. 

Occasionally Andy tested me. At one point he told me he’d give me $50 if I could name the genus of this tree. I failed, how would you have fared?  Would you have recognized this plant as a Japanese maple?  

Acer carpinifolium – a Japanese maple
As the tour continued through the greenhouse and onward to the vegetable garden and chicken coop, Andy explained how his garden had changed over the years, migrating from mostly lawn where the children played when they were young, to having virtually every inch of his property used as a growing space for an amazing plant. The only grass that remained served as pathways to connect the planting beds. Andy said he didn’t design any of the spaces in his garden. The design simply evolved as more plants were acquired. 

Andy believes there is always room for another plant – I like that kind of thinking!  I went home with some amazing specimens from annuals to perennials and even trees!  Add to that some fresh eggs from Andy’s chickens. How lucky I was to be in the company of such an inspiring person and to witness such an amazing garden. I left Andy’s home grateful to have learned of so many new plants and well equipped to add more shades of green to my landscape!