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For the Woods' Edge (part 3)

What interesting shrubs and small trees can I find for the back of my garden, where the forest starts? Here are some that are drought tolerant and do well in partial shade — but sun increases fruit production, and intensifies fall foliage color. They all provide forage for birds, deer, and other wildlife — except one.

That's ninebark, named for how mature stems peel, exposing several layers of bark, colored reddish to light brown. Birds like it; deer not much. Although the native version reaches ten feet high and 15 wide, two cultivars that capture my attention grow smaller. The leaves of 'Dart's Gold' are bright lemon yellow in spring, light green in summer, and golden-bronze in fall; 'Diablo' (or 'Diabolo') has deep reddish-purple leaves. Flowers, in June, are white or pale pink; fruits are red with a green flush. Ninebarks require acidic soil and good drainage. They prefer reliable moisture, but not a lot.

A Rocky Mountain native, Boulder raspberry (Rubus deliciosus or Oreobatus deliciosus) has showy white flowers, no thorns, and cinnamon-colored bark with one layer of shredding. It gets around five feet tall, and reaches out wider in an open, arching shape. In late spring big, fragrant white flowers look like single roses. Opinions differ whether the berries are tasty to humans, perhaps because flavor is better when the bush gets plenty of sun and the summer is hot.

Symphoricarpos flowers aren't showy, but the berries are: clusters of quarter- to half-inch spheres, usually white, that persist after the leaves. Symphoricarpos require well-drained soil; most are under six feet tall and wide, and native to North America. S. orbiculatus, coralberry, has purple-red fruit, and good fall leaf color.

Our native viburnums offer possibilities; particularly the possumhaw and blackhaw species (V. acerifolium and V. Prunifolium). They both have showy clusters of tiny white flowers, persistent blue-black fruit, and great red color in fall — and tolerate not only dry soil but also wet.

V. acerifolium blooms in June; has leaves that look like maple leaves and grows from three to six feet. In heavy shade, fall foliage is pink.

Blackhaw — 10 to 25 feet tall — has dense, twiggy, stiffly horizontal branches and attractive dark green foliage in summer. It blooms in May, and the sweet fruit — if the wildlife doesn't get it first — makes flavorful juice, jam and jelly.

Until now, I've learned mostly perennials; I'm exploring a whole new world of plants!

© Copyright 2003 Catherine Holmes Clark

Published in the six Nashoba Publications papers on Friday, 24 October 2003

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