Chartreuse leaves enrich any mixed border
By: By JIMMY WILLIAMS Special to The Messenger
I’ve become enamored of late (late, in this case, being the last five years or so) in chartreuse plants.
In our rock wall border, so called, I had, for instance, this season a stand of “green” (actually very chartreuse) zinnias which have been an attraction since mid-summer. They have stood out from surrounding dark green foliage and are notable at quite a distance.
In that same border are some few shrubs with foliage of similar coloration, lightening up the sea of green leaves offered by the perennials, annuals and other shrubs nearby.
New for me this year is a shrub of small stature, a deutzia, Chardonnay Pearls. Like most deutzias, it is a spring bloomer, showing off white “pearls” of bloom strung along the arching stems like, well, pearls.
It is good enough for this bloom, which comes at a time when early perennials in the border are cranking up and some bulbous bloom still lingers.
When the fresh leaves of hostas, daylilies, phlox and other neighbors are at their springtime crispest, the bloom blends well. Then, the leaves turn on their lime green attraction, which lasts throughout the summer and fall, though it turns a bit more toward green later on.
Nearby, another chartreuse leaved shrub is Ogon spirea, this one blooming with typical bridal wreath spirea blooms on bare stems, very early, along with purple crocuses, native spring phlox and Jacob’s ladder. Later, the willow-like leaves emerge bright chartreuse and stay that way until late fall, when they turn to fiery orange.
There are other spireas, summer blooming types, with chartreuse foliage, but the problem with them is that their pink blooms are on with the foliage fully expanded. Pink and chartreuse: neither helps the other.
With Ogon the blooms appear before any foliage, and in any case they are white so there would be no problem even if the leaves were out. Now what breeders need to do is come up with summer blooming types with chartreuse leaves and white, not pink, blooms.
Breeding work has been done in recent years, much of it by the Dutch, on weigelas. Generally considered a second-rate shrub, the old bony, large growing types have been supplanted by smaller and more refined kinds.
Among them are a number of varieties with variegated leaves or solid leaves some color other than green. There are several with burgundy leaves, for instance.
Rita Randolph of Jackson is unquestionably the queen of chartreuse. Everything she can get her hands on in chartreuse she plants or sells in her nursery, known mostly for specialty annuals and foliage plants, but with a smattering of woody things of special note.
Among the latter is a weigela with chartreuse leaves and fuschia colored flowers. If it sounds lurid, it is not. If the blooms were pink it might be, but they are dark enough to go with the chartreuse without a problem.
I have a single plant of it in considerable shade and it is yet too small to bloom. However, in its first summer, the late lamented drought-stricken one, the chartreuse never faded to green, even in the shade. It is probably more toward green than it would be in full sun, but is very acceptable.
A few years ago I first observed a golden (chartreuse) form of the smokebush, Cotinus coggygria, Golden Spirit. It had the brightest leaves you can imagine, slick and smooth and a nice yellow-green with none of the overtones of sickly yellow that sometimes sully these kinds of things.
I finally broke down and bought one for a handsome price, more than I wanted to pay, and it hurt. I am still reeling, because it wasn’t more than a few weeks later I began to see them everywhere, even in discount stores. I eventually bought two more at one-tenth the price of the original.
The leaves are said to turn coral and red in autumn. We shall soon see, but meantime it has been an outstanding foliage plant in a mixed border.
There is a chartreuse form of mulberry that can grow into a large tree or be pollarded every year or two to produce the brightest foliage. I don’t know the variety, since I bought mine at a cheap price without a label, but it has the typical lobed mulberry leaves. One shouldn’t expect fruit, I would think.
For a spectacular eyecatcher in a mixed setting there is a chartreuse form of catalpa. Nobody would want a catalpa tree in a refined setting, but, again, by cutting it to the ground every year or so it will grow to 10 feet or so and produce the most outlandish, heart-shaped leaves all summer.
Editor’s note: Jimmy Williams is production superintendent at The Paris Post-Intelligencer, where he also writes this column.
Published in The Messenger on 11.13.07
Garden Path, Jimmy Williams