The November Garden: Foliage and Fruit

firethorn (Pyracantha coccinea)

firethorn (Pyracantha coccinea)

Looking at the garden in November may dampen enthusiasm for creating bouquets, since many flowering plants have shut down for now and will continue to be bereft of blooms for the next several months. Yet possibilities for vase arrangements composed of leafy evergreen shoots, leafless stems, berry clusters and variously shaped seed pods persist throughout the months of fall and winter. It is simply a question of refocusing the eye, of becoming accustomed to a beauty subtler than that advertised by the vivid blooms of spring and summer.
Variegated leaves — those that are patterned or splashed with white, cream or yellow markings — lighten up the darker, shorter days of fall and winter. Euonymous and pittosporum — those old standby, broadleaf evergreen shrubs — are famous for their variegated varieties. “Old Gold’ euonymous has serrated gold and green leaves, while “Variegated Tobira’ pittosporum is famous for its creme-de-menthe green and white foliage.
Not all leaves are meant for vase arrangements. Euonymous and pittosporum have somewhat leathery foliage, a characteristic that ensures durability. Thinner leaves such as the hydrangea’s, even when variegated, are poor choices for arrangements since they quickly wilt upon being severed from the plant.
Butcher’s broom (Ruscus spp.) provides some of the most fascinating material for dry bouquets. Not possessed of true leaves, flattened leaflike cladophylls decorate the stems of butcher’s broom. It also produces bright red berries. Butcher’s broom happens to be one of the most shade-tolerant plants and is drought-tolerant. It is a curious plant that serves as comic relief in the deep shade garden, which is often a somber, colorless affair composed of ivy, aspidistra and lily turf.
Asparagus is more than a vegetable rich in vitamin A. It is a genus of plants with highly ornamental foliage. Fern asparagus (Asparagus setaceous) is a vining plant with the softest, laciest leaves that you will ever see. It goes well in botanical arrangements of all descriptions. Myers’ asparagus (Asparagus densiflorus “Myersii’) is sometimes called foxtail asparagus on account of its fluffy tail look. Asparagus retrofractus has large foamy sprays of foliage. All types of asparagus, from edible to ornamental, can be grown in Valley gardens in partial sun.
Two words of caution: Many types of asparagus have barely visible thorns, so be careful not to cut yourself when handling them; asparagus plants grow from rhizomes and can become weedy.
Stems of round, silvery-blue eucalyptus leaves are classic additions to dried arrangements. Such leaves are taken from three species of eucalyptus: spinning gum (Eucalyptus perriniana), silver dollar gum (Eucalyptus polyanthemos) and silver mountain gum (Eucalyptus pulverulenta). If you procure one of these trees, you must keep it in a juvenile state — which means constantly cutting it back and keeping it only a few feet tall — for continual production of the desired leaves. Allowed to reach maturity and grow flowers, the leaves on these trees assume a sickle shape and lose their decorative appeal.
Leafless stems of the corkscrew willow (Salix matsudana “Tortuosa’) are highly sought for vase arrangements that need an extra twist. This tree is easily grown in the Valley and makes a compelling overhanging subject in the vicinity of a pond or other water feature. Corkscrew willow stems have as many twists and turns as writhing snakes, mountainous roads and murder mysteries altogether.
Firethorn (Pyracantha) and red clusterberry (Cotoneaster) are known for their clusters of bright orange or red berries that begin to show themselves in late summer and persist on the plant through the end of winter. These berries can be used to vivify an arrangement that is nothing but stems and leaves.
One of the most suitable species for an arboreal colonnade in the Valley is the Australian bottle tree (Brachychiton populneus). It has iridescent green leaves and a columnar trunk. I mention it here on account of its dark- brown pods that split open to reveal seeds that are as yellow and as densely packed as corn on the cob. These seed capsules are well-suited to dry arrangements of all kinds.
TIP OF THE WEEK: One of the most rewarding perennials to have around the garden, also highly suited to dry arrangements, is the bush strawflower (Bracteantha bracteata). The layered daisy blooms of the strawflower are 4 inches in diameter and appear in yellow, orange, pink and burgundy. This plant is easily grown from seed in sandy, quick-draining soil.

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