The beautiful thing about this Garden is something is always in bloom; something is always interesting to see. Of course, each part of the garden has its moment when it is at its best. The Rose Garden is bursting with color right now. Mirror Lake is ablaze in April when the azaleas are blooming. The Butterfly Garden is the place to be in July and August. The Winter Garden is the hot spot in a cool season. We get drawn to these gardens when they full of flowers that dazzle our eyes. But what about the other times of the year? Many plants that grace these gardens don’t get the glory of the peak bloom season. Sadly, they may be at their best when eyes are turned in another direction.
Two gardens are perfect example of this dilemma right now. Most people are drawn to the Camellia Garden in the winter. Hundreds of shrubs blooming when little else is a-flower prove to be a great magnet. But most of the camellias ended their parade last month and the garden is a mostly viewed as a quiet shady green spot now. No reason to visit, right? WRONG! If you ignore this garden, you miss some great plants. A beautiful column of a lacy white flowering Japanese hydrangea vine is climbing up a loblolly pine near the entrance. Of course it isn’t really a true hydrangea (Schizophragma hydrangeoides) but it is related. Another plant with a misleading name is hiding nearby. The silky camellia, (actually Stewartia malacodendron) has just finished blooming. This relative to the camellia is one of my favorites – beautiful white flowers with purple stamens! But unfortunately I often forget it is there since it does not bloom when all the other flowers in that garden do. To see this gem, it requires a special trip. But it is really worth it.
Another garden where people may not be looking is the Flowering Arboretum. It is hard to ignore this garden in the early spring when deciduous magnolias start flowering followed by colorful crabapples, redbuds and cherries. Later this summer, the durable bright flowers of the numerous crape myrtles will beckon visitors again, but right now just a few trees are blooming and it is not unusual for folks to walk right on by. The one tree that will grab their attention is the classic southern magnolia. The trees here are fantastic specimens and a great example of how they should be grown – in an open park-like setting where the canopy can naturally grow to the ground and it tidily holds the leaf litter and the shallow roots under its glossy green skirt of leaves. The large fragrant white flowers are always a show stopper now and that is the Arboretum’s best hope at attracting visitors. If it does, those visitors are rewarded with some other gems. The sweetbay magnolia is a smaller (and more home-landscape friendly) tree that is covered in smaller white flowers that are just as fragrant as their larger cousins. The leaves are semi-evergreen and have a wonderful silvery underside that makes this a beautiful tree on a breezy day. A couple of these are scattered in the arboretum waiting to be discovered.
The arboretum also hosts two different types of Chinese catalpa which are in full glory at this time. These medium trees with large leaves have very ornamental bell-shaped white flowers with dark spotted throats. Later they will produce narrow seed pods up to 30 inches long. Joining them is a flowering smoke tree. The flowers themselves are not particularly showy, but the pedicels (the stalk of the flower) are covered in little “hairs” that provide a very soft, smoky effect from a distance. Maybe they are sending up smoke signals to visitors saying “Look at me please.” A Kentucky coffee tree is standing on the north end of the redbud planting bed. This tree is no longer in flower, but what is interesting are the seed pods starting to form. Velvety coffee colored bean pods look like they could hold some giant coffee beans that would really provide a jolt to the sleepy visitor who tried them. As the summer progresses, these pods will darken and become a little leathery in texture before ripening in the fall.
So when you make plans to come to the Garden, enjoy all the current showy spaces such as the Rose Garden and the Sarah Lee Baker Perennial Garden. But save yourself a little time to explore some of the other gardens and find those special plants that are a little out of sync with their neighbors. You’ll be glad you did.