SHIRLEY -- The gardening season in North Central Massachusetts may be short, but that doesn't mean that interest in your garden has to end with the frost.
At the Gardeners Exchange's first meeting of the year at the Hazen Memorial Library, Going Native Gardens owner and certified landscape designer Karen Longeteig presented many ideas for how to provide interest in the home landscape year-round.
Longeteig started by presenting slides of trees with ornamental bark. Some examples included the young trunks of betula nigra, or river birch, with their thin, shiny reddish-brown bark. As the tree ages, the bark turns orange and exfoliates into large, thin sheets, giving it a "creamsicle" appearance.
Cornus mas, or the Cornelian cherry, also has showy exfoliating bark. Longeteig said it blooms earlier than the eastern dogwood, and has showy, edible fruits.
Stewartia ovata, which is hardier than the non-native S. pseudocamellia, is hard to find in nurseries, but its lovely ridged and furrowed gray-brown bark and zigzag stems make it worth the search, Longeteig said.
Early spring perennials that can extend the early part of the growing season include galanthus, chinodoxa, hellebore and corydalis.
Galanthas, or snowdrops, are tiny bulbs that can be massed together or will naturalize to form impressive carpets of white from February until May. chinodoxa, or glory-of-the-snow, flower in early spring and are 4 to 6 inches tall.
Hellebore, or Lenten rose, has wonderful colors and almost evergreen foliage. Because its blossoms droop downward, the best placement for them is atop a retaining wall so that they are at eye level, Longeteig advised. The hellebores are quite frost-resistant, and hybridizing has increased their color range from greenish-yellow to deep purple.
corydalis, a genus of hundreds of species, bears small, spurred blooms that are reminiscent of bleeding heart. They bloom from late spring to fall on short spikes that decorate a mound of handsomely laced foliage. They do best in shade and evenly moist soil, and generally go dormant in the heat of summer. Longeteig suggested their use for massing and edging shady borders or walkways.
This "false bleeding heart" also comes in white and yellow, the latter giving it the nickname "scrambled eggs."
A photo of C. "blue heron" featured its larger blooms, reddish stems, and bluish-green leaves, but Longeteig noted that all of the varieties have merit.
Scilla, another bulb-forming perennial, does best in full sun or partial shade and provides intense blue color in early spring. It is effective when massed in front of or around shrubs or trees, or planted in large groupings with other early spring bulbs.
"Scilla siberica is such a performer," said Longeteig. "It will spread all over your garden and makes a blue carpet."
"Your secret for today is that when they bloom is the time to move and spread them and arrange them. These early spring-flowering bulbs, including crocus, are best to move when blooming or just after bloom. Otherwise you can't see them."
Shrubs and small trees with winter interest
Witch hazel, or hamemelis, is a shrub or small tree with yellow flowers in early spring that dazzles with backlighting in the evening. "It looks like butterflies," Longeteig said, as she showed a slide of a backlit specimen.
"It blooms much earlier than forsythia, and has a nice, soft yellow, which I find more attractive than forsythia's garish yellow," she said.
The red-twig dogwood is nonnative but has naturalized. Longeteig showed slides of cornus sericea "Budd's yellow" and cornus alba "elegantissima," both of which lose their leaves early to reveal stunning red twigs.
"Elegantissima" has variegated leaves, attractive white berries, pretty fall color, and red winter stems. Its fall color is apricot, gold, and rosy red. Because it is a fast grower that can reach up to 10 feet, Longeteig recommended periodic pruning.
Crabapple Malus "prairie fire," is a rounded, small tree with prolific, pinkish-red blooms followed by purple-maroon foliage that matures to reddish-green. In the fall, the leaves turn red, orange and purple, and its glossy red fruits persist into winter, providing food for birds. Longeteig warned to look for small fruit sizes in crabapples, as large fruit is inedible to local birds.
Sweetspire (Itea) is a small understory shrub that grows in sun or partial shade. "It keeps its purple-reddish fall leaves a long time, and its cone-shaped blossom structures look kind of like fireworks going off in different directions," said Longeteig. "It spreads for a hedge or to give to neighbors."
"Fothergilla major and fothergilla gardenii, which was bred to be small for gardens, have wonderful late fall color," she continued. Fothergilla's fragrant flower clusters are 1 to 2 inches long and shaped like bottlebrushes. It is a rounded shrub that reaches 6 to 8 feet tall and does well in slightly acidic soil.
Euonymus, or "burning bush," is an exotic invasive on the Massachusetts forbidden list, Longeteig warned. "You are not permitted to import or plant it. If you've got it, take a nice look at it and say goodbye, because the birds spread the seeds and it takes over the native species."
"The American highbush cranberry is a wonderful native four-season plant with red berries," she continued, showing a purplish-leaved small shrub. "Viburnum trilobum berries hang on in winter and they are actually edible. Its white flowers are shaped like sedum flower heads."
Viburnum "cassinoides," the witherod viburnum, is a dense, multi-stemmed shrub about 5 feet tall with an equal spread. "It has red lance-like leaves with two to three colored berries. Its leaves stay glossy and shiny year-round, and it is a bird-attracting native plant," said Longeteig.
Longeteig's slides on late-color herbaceous perennials began with a photo of a massive white wood aster, followed by dark red Sedum spurium "John Creech" in the place of lawn.
Next was the sedge Carex morrowii "ice dance." "Just after the snow melts, it pops out in early spring, giving some life and movement in the dreary days of March. It is not a native cultivar, but performs very well for early spring and looks good all year," she said.
"Festuca glauca, or blue fescue, is a pretty blue that keeps its form all winter long," she added, showing it planted with red sedum.
Boltonia asteroides is an upright native October bloomer that resembles an aster. Some grow up to 8 feet high, so they are best kept at the rear of the garden or as a flowering hedge. Cultivated varieties include the 4-foot selection "snowbank," and "Pink Beauty."
Longeteig also showed a slide of Dendranthema morifolium "Sheffield pink," a luminous pink "mum" that spreads well and is easy to grow.
Other season-extending ideas Longeteig illustrated included fencing, lighting and garden ornaments.