English garden here needs exotic roots Plants: Species of Asian origin often work better than European ones in Maryland's English-style gardens.

January 11, 1998|By Ann Egerton | Ann Egerton,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

As many of us have learned the hard way, having a successful English garden in Maryland's hot and humid summer weather takes much luck and a lot of work, probably more than we're willing to do.

There is an alternative, however: a garden that looks English but is planted with hardier Asian plants more suited to our climate.

Robert A. Schultz, who's been in the gardening business in Maryland for more than 20 years, dates our local enthusiasm for the English garden back to the 1980s, when chintz covered all the fashionable sofas in town and the yuppie gardening boom was under way.

"People rushed out in the '80s and tried to create an English garden, and it didn't work," says the owner of the Robert A. Schultz Co., which sells native and exotic trees, shrubs and perennials, and plans and installs landscapes and gardens. "The plants had to adapt, for one thing, to our late spring and summer heat, which England doesn't have."

An English-style garden usually includes closely planted, tumbling foliage and flowers, often against a rigid background, such as a wall, fence, paving or hedge. But many of the plants that we think of as typically English -- such as delphinium and foxglove, which are natives of Europe -- perform marginally here and are likely to flop or wither in our heat and humidity, and not come back every year the way healthy perennials should.

In addition to our hot and humid summers, another challenge to producing a successful English garden in this area is the amount of labor necessary to establish and maintain it.

"The English are willing to work harder to make their plants thrive than we are," says Schultz. "They look at gardening as an art and are happy fiddling with it and changing plants around each season. They spend more time than we do, weeding, spading the soil, moving or replacing plants.

"English gardening," he says, "is 50 percent nurturing. Americans care more about quick results.

"To get that English garden look," suggests Schultz, "substitute more reliable plants that will thrive in our heat."

Asian plants are a good substitution, and the English themselves rely on many Asian plants and tend to let them seed and wander, a trademark of English gardening.

Since Asian plants are so vigorous, you'd be wise to place your plants farther apart than European and American plants; they can spread out in a hurry. The names of the plants themselves can help you determine their origin; "sinensis" and "chinensis" mean "from China," "japonica" means "from Japan," "koreana" means Korean.

Examples of reliable Asian plants abound. Among perennials, a useful Asian example is Japanese anemone, which has dark-green leaves and pink or white flowers in summer. Schultz specifically suggests Anemone hupehensis, because it blooms (pink) from July through September. Others include Astilbe chinensis, Chinese peony (Paeonia lactiflora) and tree peony (Paeonia suffruticosa), and hosta, which is especially valuable in the shade.

The day lily (Hemerocallis), the same species that blooms along the side of many a Maryland road, is native to China, and we know how hardy it is. A reliable tall ornamental grass of Asian stock is Miscanthus sinensis; fountain grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides) is a midsize one.

If you want to replicate the strong, upright look of the foxglove and delphinium found at the back of an English garden, consider the Asian shrub buddleia, which blooms a fairly long time and is heat-tolerant. Schultz's favorite for this use is a cultivar called 'Petite Purple.'

Other Asian shrubs that work well include purple smokebush (Cotinus coggygria), Daphne genkwa, which has lavender-blue flowers, and leatherleaf mahonia (Mahonia bealei), which has yellow flowers in early spring and blue fruit in midsummer. A popular early spring shrub is Pieris japonica (formerly called Andromeda). A reliable lilac is Meyer lilac (Syringa meyeri); it has very fragrant violet-purple flowers in May. Viburnum X. burkwoodii 'Mohawk' has spicy white flowers in May; its leaves turn orange-red in the fall. Most forsythias, evergreen azaleas, viburnum, hydrangeas and many lilacs are natives of Asia.

While various rhododendron are natives of North America, Asia and Europe, Schultz says the Asian species, especially descendants of R. yakushimanum, are best adapted to our climate here.

Dependable small trees of Asian heritage include paperbark or cinnamonbark maple (Acer griseum); Japanese cutleaf maple (A. palmatum); thuja 'Green Giant,' a fast-growing, narrow hybrid arborvitae; and fragrant snowbell (Styrax obassia), which has distinctive gray bark and white flowers in late spring.

Chinese Stewartia has fragrant white flowers in the spring, exfoliating gray bark and scarlet leaves in the fall.

If you still have your heart set on adding some English plants to your landscape, there are several English, or at least European, plants that are usually dependable here. They include snowdrops, lavender, dianthus, foxtail filly, a blue salvia such as Salvia X superba, and some veronica, santolina and trollius. So hedge your bets; for best results your English-style garden will be multicultural.

Pub Date: 1/11/98

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