The season we gardeners live for is in full swing at last! Infant leaves unfurl in tender colors along the branches of weeping willow trees, turning them into chartreuse veils. Tiny orange leaves appear along the branches of 'Magic Carpet' spiraea, while fat buds pop up on lilacs and maples.
The buds of 'Spring Bouquet' laurestinus (Viburnum tinus) look like pink Queen Anne's lace - fresh flowers will open very soon. Each day, red peony shoots grow taller, while daffodils rise up, swaying with every breeze.
What next? That's my question each morning as I look out the big picture window in my office to witness the garden's marvelous unfolding. Ribbons of yellow dot the forsythia branches, and clusters of white flowers adorn the andromeda bush. New buds sprinkled against the dark green leaves of Delaveyii sweet olive (Osmanthus delaveyii) promise fragrant white flowers before long.
The genus Osmanthus has become a favorite of mine for evergreen foliage, interesting leaf shapes and varied leaf colors. Although their flowers are often small and inconspicuous, their fragrance makes up for their size. Osme in Greek means fragrance and anthos means flowers. Osmanthus delaveyi is named for Abbè Jean Marie Delavay (1838-95), a French missionary in China who introduced it to France in 1890.
A plant that's been around for this long deserves a medal! In his comprehensive book, 'Ornamental Shrubs, Climbers and Bamboos,' Graham Stuart Thomas gives it a star, which means a 'really good garden plant,' for its growth habit, leaves and flowers. This is one of my favorite garden books because it reads like poetry, yet is extremely practical. Thomas writes from experience, instructing us about the size, shape and virtues of each plant.
I especially love Osmanthus because it grows well in my garden through all kinds of weather and in less than ideal soil. The variegated form (Osmanthus heterophyllus 'Variegatus') has holly-shaped leaves edged with cream. In my garden, two shrubs underplanted with drifts of pink, wine and white hellebores make a colorful picture for months. I snagged 'Jim Porter' osmanthus at last year's Lan Su Classical Chinese Garden plant sale, when I couldn't stop staring at the wicked-looking leaves, deeply incised at the edges.
I'm learning to treasure the sturdy, time-tested plants, the ones that make it through cold, wet winters and hot, dry summers. After losing too many marginally hardy plants, I no longer find the term 'zonal denial' cute. Reality stares me in the face when dead plants leave gaps in the garden. Now when I shop, I check the zone carefully and pass up plants labeled Zone 8 and higher. Mostly. Every so often I fall in love with an iffy plant and flirt with uncertainty, as long as the price tag is reasonable.
If you're considering a plant, but not quite sure of its merit, you might check the Great Plant Picks website (www.GreatPlantPicks.org) for recommendations. Topnotch nursery owners, horticulturists, garden designers and curators have selected more than 800 outstanding plants for the maritime Pacific Northwest. Descriptions, photos and cultural information about plants for every purpose are showcased at the website. It's easy to find plants listed by type (shrub, tree, perennial, bulb, vine), by foliage color and by exposure (sun, shade).
You can also visit Oregon State University's Horticulture Department's website (http:/hort.oregonstate.edu) for information about research done right here in the Willamette Valley. Type your plant of interest into the search bar, and up come the results of comprehensive field trials. I found the conclusions about Hebe and Cistus especially useful.
Because the information is extremely detailed, I scrolled down to the bottom of the page to cut to the chase. The list of most vigorous and hardy Cistus helped me select Cistus 'Snow Fire' for my garden, even though the flowers are white instead of my beloved hot pink. I'm glad I did as they made it through winter with not a whit of damage. These days, health of the plant overrides flower color for me.
When it came to Cistus, I looked for those that had 0.0 winter damage over several years of testing. Sure enough, choosing from those varieties has led to happier results in my garden. Hebe glaucophylla, H. buxifolia, 'Hinerua,' 'Margret,' and 'McKean' have done well for me. 'Red Edge,' listed as having 0.3 average winter damage has also held its own very well.