February 10, 2017

Snowy Winter, Slow Remodel

This winter has brought nearly six feet of snow to Spokane so far, with more likely to come.   My children have enjoyed sledding and building giant snow forts, but I think everyone is looking forward to spring by now.  I have to remind myself that these long, snowy winters are the reason we have water for the garden in the summers.
My boxwood shrubs have had branches flattened by the snow, but so far they have bounced back without breaking as the snow recedes.  The 'Otto Luyken' laurels are completely brown from subzero temperatures and frigid winds.  Thankfully no tree branches have broken from the heavy snow and ice.

Our remodeling project, originally to be finished by Thanksgiving, still lingers on.  We wait more patiently some days than others!  But after seven weeks with a gutted kitchen, we are very happy to have a functional sink and appliances again.  Backsplash, trim, roof, siding, vent hood, patio, an new pendant shade, seventeen holes in the ceiling to patch, tiles popping loose to be fixed . . . then we'll be done and I'll post more pictures.

 Meanwhile we are enjoying more light from all the new windows.  We hosted a big family dinner last weekend and the new dining room worked just as we hoped it would.  With seven windows, two skylights, and a sliding door, the new space feels like part of the garden.

November 19, 2016

Remodeling Progress

Our remodeling project is continuing with the new dining room coming together.  It has been two months since work began, but the slow pace hasn't been a problem since the work so far has all been outside.  We're hoping things progress  more quickly once the kitchen is torn apart.

We  were relieved to see a lot of progress this week, as we hope to get the new concrete patio poured before the ground freezes for the winter.  There is a big pile of dirt to move first.

Now we have walls, a roof and a big mess!   My sweet husband has begun putting the path back together.  It's a cold and muddy job.

October 26, 2016

Royal Purple Smoke Tree Vs. Red Dragon Contorted Filbert

For the focal point of my main backyard garden bed, I have been waffling between a 'Royal Purple' smoke tree (or smoke bush, Cotinus coggygria) and a 'Red Dragon' contorted filbert (Corylus avellana).  After growing both burgundy-leafed plants for a while, I thought I'd compare and contrast the two.  Above is my Royal Purple smoke tree in late summer.

Royal Purple (zones 4-8) grows moderately quickly to 15 feet tall and 10-12 feet wide, but many gardeners keep it smaller by pruning back to the ground each spring.   Hard pruning reduces or eliminates the 'smoky' flowers (above) in spring, which therefore reduces the amount of pollen released to trouble allergy-sufferers.  I don't have room for a full-sized specimen, so I plan to prune each spring.

Royal Purple prefers full sun (though it grew fine in part shade for me) and keeps its foliage color throughout the growing season, though the new growth is more vibrant than the older leaves.  I enjoy using the stems in floral arrangements.

In  fall Royal Purple turns gloriously red before shedding its leaves.  Its bare branches aren't showy, so it fades into the background in winter.

In contrast, winter might be the best time of year for a 'Red Dragon' contorted filbert (zones 4-8).  The twisted branches are beautiful when bare, and in late winter they break out with catkins that sway in the wind.  The photo above actually shows one of my regular, non-red contorted filberts, as I don't have a photo of Red Dragon catkins yet.

The new spring leaves on Red Dragon are almost black, and then they fade through the season.  I learned the hard way that full sun in summer burns the leaves to a nasty orange-green-brown color, so this fall I gave up on full sun and transplanted my Red Dragon to a part shade spot.

Red Dragon grows moderately slowly to 6-8 feet tall and wide.  It has a more upright shape - stretching out like dragon wings -  than its green cousins.  In the photo above you see the mix of green older leaves and burgundy new leaves that cover the plant through the summer.

Fall color on Red Dragon is not very showy, as you see above, but those falling leaves reveal the lovely twisting stems for the rest of the dormant season.

If you find yourself deciding between these two plants for a focal point, the amount of sun it will receive is an important factor.  Either will do fine with morning sun and afternoon shade, but you'd better choose a Royal Purple smoke tree if you have full sun, and for heavier shade you'd be wise to go with the Red Dragon contorted filbert.  You'll have more pruning to keep Royal Purple to a shrub size, but it has better fall color than Red Dragon.  The twisty branches and catkins make Red Dragon the winner as far as year round interest, though.  Other large shrubs in this size range with dark leaves include 'Black Lace' elderberry (Sambucus, I grow it and like it) and 'Diablo' ninebark (Physocarpus, I don't grow it because the pink/white flowers aren't attractive to me).