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Garden wisdom from deer country!

Gardening in the Sierra Foothills with Carolyn Singer



The seasoned gardener


published in The Union in Grass Valley CA



Variegated foliage brings light into shade
by Carolyn Singer
October 22, 2011

variegated elderberryGarden spots in the shade still have appeal on these warm autumn days, a place out of the midday sun where I can enjoy the subtleties of a changing season. Even as shadows from nearby trees are lengthening, the sun at a lower angle brightens many of the summer shade areas.

One key element in this increased light in the garden is the placement of plants with variegated foliage. In summer, most of these plants need shade, but in fall and winter, the sun is tolerated even on warm Indian summer days. From sunrise until sunset, the bright sunlight plays under the trees, creating a glow to the foliage that lingers through most of the day.

With all the deer in my garden, I cannot plant two of my favorite variegated shrubs, the elderberry (Sambucus, photo, above left) with green and white leaves, and an attractive shrub dogwood, Cornus alba 'Elegantissima' (photo right). Both shrubs should be watered once a week, and mulched heavily to conserve surface moisture.

The elderberry, typical of the growth of other species in this robust genus, grows rapidly to form a shrub twelve feet tall with a spread of eight feet or more. While it is deciduous, the leaves form early in spring and linger well into fall. The red of the delicate stems for the fragrant white flowers and the black berries that follow add a pleasing contrast viewed closely.

'Elegantissima'Cornus 'Elegantissima' (photo right) is true to its name, with striking green and white leaves on red stems. While the stems are similar to the redtwig dogwood (Cornus stolonifera), the growth habit differs. Each shrub is distinct (no spreading stolons), with moderate growth rate to eight foot height and spread.

Gardeners in deer country have choices too. Winter daphne is a favorite in foothill shade gardens, spreading to six feet with a height of about four feet. I once saw a larger specimen at an inn near an old stage coach stop in the foothills, thriving under the cover constructed for the wagon to stop and unload. That must have been a fragrant highlight for travelers in February and March.

PierisThe variegated Pieris in Hazel Whitford's garden on Banner Mountain is a beautiful old specimen, untouched by the deer. This compact evergreen shrub matures at six to eight feet with a spread of five feet.

A much larger deer-resistant shrub is variegated holly. The foliage is beautiful for winter floral arrangements. When a pollinator is planted nearby, berries highlight the green and white foliage. I have a large specimen (ten-foot height and eight-foot spread), growing for more than twenty years where it gets no irrigation other than natural rainfall.

Ornamental shrubs and trees create shade areas where variegated groundcovers, such as the evergreen Lamium and Lamiastrum add light and beauty. Cultivars of Lamium with more white or silvery white on the leaf thrive in the deeper shade, while those with more green on the foliage tolerate a bit more sun. The deer have never eaten these plants in my garden, but when you are first planting them protect with some netting or deer repellant. Plants in nursery containers are usually under the influence of nitrogen and much more likely to be damaged by browsing deer.

Euphorbia 'Silver Swan'A favorite evergreen perennial subshrub (under two feet) is the variegated Euphorbia 'Silver Swan' (photo right) which the deer also leave alone. I've grown it in shade and six to eight hours of direct sunlight, watching it thrive in both locations, if it is irrigated once a week.

While variegated plants are not known for their fall color, an exception is Euphorbia 'Helena's Blush' (photo, below left). The green and white foliage responds to colder fall and winter temperatures with a rosy blush, as our children's cheeks after playing outside on a cool autumn afternoon.
Euphorbia 'Helena's Blush'

©2011 by Carolyn Singer. All rights reserved.

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