March forth...

enlarge this image

A winning combination, especially in a mild winter when broadleaf evergreens such as grapeholly suffer no- or little damage. Wardi yew (Taxus x media 'Wardii') backs up dwarf Oregon grapeholly (Mahonia aquifolium 'Compactum'), which has a blanket of plumbago (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides), which is itself underplanted with an assortment of bulbs, from snowdrops and winter aconite to tulips and lilies. 

...with fresh eyes, seeking "keepers"

The end of winter is the best time of year to go look at landscapes. Plants are down and out so you can see the garden's bones. What's there that's pleasing is a real gem.

If you like it in March, it's a keeper.
Build on it!

- Janet -

Open your designer's eyes and take a walk with Janet.

Color draws us out. Rich red winter color of dwarf Oregon grape holly (Mahonia aquifolium 'Compactum'). Some winters it goes brown but we risk that to see this. It looks great against a healthy yew's dark green.

The brown at its feet is forgiven; it's the straw from groundcover plumbago (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides) which covers over the spring bulbs in this bed, then blooms blue in August.

Pine with a dancer's grace

We're suckers for an open grown red pine (Pinus densiflora). Such grace, and with the luminous light green that makes the 5-needled pines so pleasing in the dark months. The bark is gorgeous, too.

MarOKRedPineN3673s.jpg  RedPineNoYewsN3673s.jpg RedPineGrdncvrN3673s copy.jpg

We sure wish both the bark and the tree's fluid line was more visible!

Better walk on -- if we stand here and look long enough we're going to start talking about pulling on dark clothing to come back by night and chop those sheared shrubs right out of the picture. Maybe make a big bed of salmony-orange leaf sedum under the tree to celebrate its bark...

Walk on!

Some March finds take more work to identify


Chinese spicebush (Lindera angustifolia). Truly a four season plant. In sun or shade it brings to a landscape early spring bloom (yellow), versatility (grow it as a large shrub, or prune it as we have here to let it grow as a 12' "tree"), fragrant berries plus evergreen foliage that turns a spectacular orange in fall before fading to salmon and hanging on until spring.

Never heard of it? It's fairly new to the North American landscape. However, if you ask for it so garden centers will start to take note, they'll find it for you.


To find a source for this and other plants, Minnesota Landscape Arboretum's plant-grower data base is a great way to find sources, for a single plant or to buy wholesale. Going to ask at your garden center for unusual plants? Take along wholesale grower information and leave it with the nursery manager to increase your chances.

Another big reason to support local garden centers and growers!

We cannot have islands of excellence in a sea of slovenly indifference.

- John W. Gardener -

Biggest coup: A commoner shining gold

One of the biggest benefits of walking and looking in March is that you may find reason to appreciate ho-hum ordinary plants making extraordinary contributions.

As an example, there's this oh so common plant, showing patches of gold.


Truly ordinary. So very common...

Excellence is doing ordinary things extraordinarily well.

- John W. Gardner -



You recognize it now, right? Golden vicary privet (Ligustrum x vicaryii) that can make use of its evergreen parentage during a mild winter. How nice to feel a bit of respect for a plant so ordinary we look right past it, most days.








Spark in the eye is not always a plant

Now there's a different landscape.

RedPolFarN3338s.jpg  RedFencN3341s.jpg

It's probably true that the view into a woods is beautiful every day of the year. Yet what a delight to catch one flash of red and be drawn out to find a whimsy playing a solid citizen role.

Do you see the red that caught our eye, in person, in the left side photo?? Cameras can really see with the myriad focus we do, or zero in so fervently on a single color or motion.

Wishing gardeners would think more often about building a garden or landscape around such non-plant features, we walk on.


Treasure in our own front yards

Back 'round the block to the starting point, we see sun beginning to light the dwarf gold falsecypresses (Chamaecyparis pisifera 'Mops').

Perhaps it's the sun, exercise, air, or our deliberate attempt to take a fresh look, but it's like light bulbs have come on. We see this plant can answer a "something needed here" problem (more in Upgrade to deep foundation). At the same moment we realize that it's a good start on the example that can answer M.R.'s evergreen pruning question.