Like distinctive art or furnishings, uncommon ornamental trees and shrubs help make a landscape a personal expression of the designer. That is why many people have taken up the art of collecting such plants for their landscapes; to create a conversation piece or to simply demonstrate creative genius. Uncommon trees and shrubs may not only be rare; they may provide different shapes, leaf colors or leaf textures.
Forms may be weeping, twisted, broad or vertical while foliage may be variegated in white, pink or other colors. Some provide unusual flowers or may flower at uncommon times. Like the most popular plants, they may also provide food for birds or other animals.
Smart Plant Selection – Whether you are a novice or an experienced collector of living art, there are a few basic things to know about selecting an ornamental tree or shrub. The first step is to decide the placement of the specimen before visiting the nursery. Understanding the climatic and environmental conditions of the site will help you select a plant that will be well suited for its new home. It is also a good idea to consider the amount of space that is available around the site. Envision the tree fully grown. Look above and below the chosen site to consider both overhead and underground utility lines or other obstructions that might affect growth.
Choosing an Ornamental – With all the varieties of trees and shrubs that are available today, how does one go about starting a collection? Whether your budget is large or small, the goal is to maximize the potential in each space by working with plants and design concepts that meet the conditions of the site. Depending on the specimens that are best suited to your property, you may choose to:
Create a Theme – Examples include modern, historic, cottage, Japanese, seascape or naturalized.
Plant Successionally – Plant ornamentals so that each specimen flowers or produces an interesting visual feature (leaf texture or color, fruit, bark) at different times throughout the season.
Commemorate an occasion or establish a living heirloom The birth of a child, anniversaries and other momentous occasions will always be remembered through the planting of an ornamental.
Whatever your intended result, it is best to shop at nurseries that carry a variety of specimens. Choosing the perfect ornamental is much easier (and more fun) when you can personally view, touch and enjoy them. Use the following list of great specimens to begin your search.
European Hornbeam( Carpinus betulus) Hornbeam is a slow-growing pyramidal tree while young; it is rounded at maturity. Light gray bark covers its smoothly ridged or flattened trunk. Delicate elm like leaves and a dense branching habit characterize the tree. The seeds are borne in hanging clusters or leaflike bracts.
Stewartia ( Stewartia pseudocamellia) Its slender arching branches feature cupshaped white flowers which bloom throughout July and August. In fall, its leaves turn shades of yellow, red or purple; in winter its attractively flaking bark creates a striking effect.
Dawn Redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) Dawn redwood was believed to be extinct until 1945, when a Chinese botanist discovered some growing in a remote valley in central China. Three years later a botanical expedition obtained seeds from these trees and distributed them to botanical gardens throughout the world. It is a fast growing pyramidal tree with a tendency to grow late into the season and leaf out early. Its loose, feathery, needlelike foliage is attractive and drops quickly in fall.
Katsura Tree ( Cercidi-phyllum japonicum) This is an attractive tree that develops into a round-headed shade tree. New leaves, which are similar in shape to the redbud’s, have a reddish-purple color that changes to medium green in summer. Fall color is yellow.
Umbrella Pine ( Sciadopitys verticillata) This unusual evergreen is extremely slow growing. Its flat, thick, glossy green needles radiate around its stem, providing the effect that gives the plant its name.
Zelkova (Zelkova serrata) Sometimes called Japanese Zelkova, this tree was once considered a replacement for the American elm because it is a relative that grows with a similar shape and has good resistance to Dutch Elm Disease. Trees develop a basic vase shape while leaves are dark green with a medium-fine texture.
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