After looking at the sullen shades of winter, the bright green leaves of spring are a welcome sight, signaling warmth and renewal. Our spirits are buoyed as trees and shrubs leaf out and the grass grows again. Green is surely the primary color of spring.
But not all trees and shrubs, including the "evergreens," (which lose their leaves in spring or summer after their new foliage has appeared) have green leaves or needles. They may be bluish or deep red or they may have a yellow caste. Trees and shrubs that are other than green can add interest to the landscape as well as contrast to the green that dominates.
Sometimes botanical terms within the name of the plant help to identify its color in nurseries. Aurea and aureus mean yellow or gold, glauca and glaucus mean grayish blue, and purpurea and purpureus mean purple, while ruber, rubra and rubrum mean red. Generally speaking, variegated plants are a whole other subject.
Robert A. Schultz, who owns a namesake landscaping company and nursery in Monkton, urges caution when using plants of other colors. "Their introduction without a sufficient backdrop of green can result in a cluttered effect. It is also important to consider the texture of the colored plants," he says. Schultz advises gardeners to be especially careful with yellowish plants, saying that they work better in England than here because they can cheer up a spot during the long gray English winters. "We have more sun here, so yellowish plants, because they reflect glare, can be a little harsh. Be sure to only use them as an accent, and to surround them with a lot of rich green foliage." Blue, he says, is the most popular of the "other colors."
That said, there are some attractive yellowish plants. Spiraea 'Goldmound' is a small but dense and twiggy shrub with yellow leaves and pink flowers. A wonderful dogwood tree, Cornus servicea 'Silver and Gold,' is three to seven feet tall; it has yellow stems, tiny white flowers and large green and white variegated leaves. It needs more moisture than most dogwoods. The yellow threadleaf false cypress (Chamaecyparis pisifera 'Filifera Aurea') is a conifer whose yellowness is not so intense; thus it works better in our climate.
Of the blues, which are crisp and calming, an attractive, low-growing conifer is the blue star juniper (Juniper squamata 'Blue Star'). It is pretty in a rock garden or along a path. A very blue and handsome shrub is the Montgomery dwarf Colorado spruce (Picea pungens 'Montgomery'). It grows to be about six feet tall and becomes quite wide. Two outstanding tall bluish trees are the Colorado blue spruce (Picea pungens Engleman forma glauca) and the blue Atlas cedar (Cedrus atlantica 'Glauca'). The latter grows up to 100 feet tall and can have a 40-foot spread. Reddish- or purplish-leafed trees and shrubs can make a dramatic statement. Remember that red absorbs glare, so a reddish plant, like blue, can tone down a too sunny spot. A dwarf purple barberry (Berberis thunbergii) that Schultz recommends is the cultivar 'Bagatelle.' The more sun it has, the deeper its purple. A pretty cultivar of the native, purplish-flowered, green-leafed Eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis) is 'Forest Pansy,' which has pink flowers and shimmering purple leaves.
Two other reddish trees are the rather common, Burgundy-colored Japanese red maple (Acer palmatum cv. Atropurpureum), which can grow over 30 feet, and Velvet Cloak smoke tree (Cotinus coggygria 'Velvet cloak'). The smoke tree grows to about 10 feet and must have full sun. The largest dark red is the magnificent European beech (Fagus sylvatica), which can grow to 70 feet and which has many purple or copper cultivars. 'River's Eye' is a dark brownish-purple.