Sensory Garden surviving unusual winter temperatures

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 7, 2012

The unusual weather experienced over the past few weeks has provided varied results in landscapes throughout Rowan County. No doubt the lower temperatures and frost a few weeks ago have tender plant materials either withered or outright dead. Ironically, above seasonal temperatures this week and arid like humidity have kept some cold-tender plants alive and blooming.

Many perennials in the Master Gardener Pocket Garden Sensory Garden at the Agriculture Center on Old Concord Road have succumbed to frosts and recent frigid winter weather. However, a few plant materials continue with persisting blooms or with interesting branching textures. The Sensory Garden near the Agriculture Center Entrance provides the public new and interesting plants in a test garden.

One of the plants displayed in the garden are Sasanqua camallias. These shrubs are espaliered (mounted on a trellis on the brick walls) and continue to produce blooms. Located in protected areas, these showy plants have bloomed continuously since mid-October. Sasanqua camellias are often considered dual purpose shrubs offering both bloom and lush dark green foliage. Colorful fall blooms provide a fresh alternative to an otherwise stark brick office wall.

Seemingly unaffected by the cold, wormwood (Artimesia sp.) provides a light gray contrast to the now declining perennial plantings. The soft gray foliage of Artemisia tones down brighter-colored flowers in the perennial planting. The leaves of the Mediterranean plant are strongly scented and may be unpleasant when crushed. But the foliage at this time is outstanding and has not been affected by cold or drought.

Adding a burst of orange color to the study garden are Gazanias. These are flowering annuals that typically do not survive past the first frost, yet the annuals are still displaying strong blooms despite multiple heavy frosts and lack of moisture. The daisy-like flowers have continuously provided Master Gardeners with a steady display of blooms since late September. These annuals are available in many colors and flower shapes.

The leaves of the Contorted Filbert (Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick) don’t have fall blooms, but the curled, gnarly irregular branching habit of the shrub provides an eye-catching appeal as a standalone specimen plant. Few winter plants can match its interesting contorted appearance. The plant has yellow blooms in the early spring followed by dangling catkins, however, the contortion of the stems provide the greatest interest.

Another interesting addition to the winter garden without bloom but unusual stems is the Yellow Twig Dogwood (Cornus sericea). Bright yellow stems of the small tree can grow in sun or shade. The tree in the Sensory Garden is containerized in a glazed container. Red Twigged dogwoods are also available from local nurseries and garden centers. Both cultivars also have unusual blooms in the spring.

Darrell Blackwelder is the county extension director with horticulture responsibilities with the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service in Rowan County.

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