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Monday, Jan. 28, 2013

Lemon Cypress adds perfect touch to the cool season garden

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Using shrubs as annuals is an idea catching on across the country and I have to admit, I am delighted with my first winter effort. You may have been a participant in this type of planting and not really realized it. If you have ever planted a tropical hibiscus or maybe a cluster of colorful crotons in your beds way north of the frost-free line, then you are really a visionary.

To be honest, a few marauding pansy-eating deer caused me to take this drastic action in the winter landscape. After having done extensive soil preparation and planting several hundred pansies with flowering kale as companions, I found myself with only the kale, with its boldly beautiful iridescent leaves.

One of my local garden centers had just received a shipment of lemon cypress with its shocking golden chartreuse needle-like foliage. The lemon cypress is known botanically as Cupressus macrocarpa and is native to the Monterey Bay area of California. This is a far cry from the torrid heat of a Georgia summer, but we are talking winter, right?

The lemon cypress looks like the perfect golden Christmas tree or topiary if you prefer. Just think about the possibilities. Many of you already buy rosemary topiaries at Christmas or even the blue needled pinon pine, so why not a lemon cypress? But here is where the discussion makes a turn. Many times these little topiaries are used just indoors for the holiday season and then let die or thrown away. Why not use them outdoors for a longer season if your winter temperatures allow?

If you agree to this concept, then why not take it a step further? Why be jealous of mountain areas that grow firs or spruce? We can all grow a Douglas fir or a Frasier fir using them as annuals in the landscape to create a winter wonderland. In addition to using lemon cypress, we are also using a dwarf Alberta spruce as the thriller plant in a mixed container with pansies and dusty miller.

The price point on the lemon cypress was just right and they have proven to be the perfect complement to the purple foliaged kale. When they get backlit by the morning or afternoon sun, they look like they are glowing. The winter hardiness zone of 7-10 is also perfect for us but may not work for you in which case you will want to pursue other conifer options.

Your dream garden may not be in the winter landscape but summer. You may want to create a pocket of paradise next to your pool or patio in zone 5 and you can do it using shrubs as annuals. It is easy to find great buys on palms, add hibiscus or crotons and you’ll have that Jamaica feeling for the long growing season ahead. It is time to think outside the box with a few well-placed shrubs treated as annuals.

Editor’s note: Norman Winter is the executive director of the Columbus Botanical Garden and author of Tough-as-Nails Flowers for the South and Captivating Combinations Color and Style in the Garden.

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