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Diggin' In: Brilliant lights, plants put on a holiday show

December 1, 2014

This time of year, Virginia is home to 100 miles of holiday lights, and two botanical gardens are part of those annual festivities.

When you need an escape from too much holiday hoopla, spend a quiet afternoon exploring the late fall and early winter gardens at Norfolk Botanical Garden in Norfolk and Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden in Richmond.

As summer flowers fade, seasonal beauties like ornamental grasses and hollies gear up for weeks of eye-catching beauty.

"The sasanqua camellias are especially beautiful now," says Les Parks, curator of herbaceous plants at Norfolk Botanical Garden.

In addition to camellias, Mother Nature decorates the landscape with interesting barks, berries, seed pods and grasses, adds Elizabeth Fogel, senior horticulturist at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden.

"The hollies put on a spectacular show, especially Winter Gold, a deciduous holly with a peachy-salmon colored berry," she says.

"Ornamental grasses add color, interest and movement in winter ó and some can provide habitat and food for wildlife such as birds, another enjoyable aspect of a winter garden."

Before heading home, you can also see the botanical gardensí evening light shows.

Norfolk Botanical Gardenís Dominion Garden of Lights invites you to drive through a winter wonderland where more than a million lights celebrate the four seasons of life. Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardenís walk-through Dominion GardenFest of Lights has more than 500,000 lights in seasonal displays

Garden plants to see

Cold-weather plants you can see in the botanical gardens, says Les Parks, include:

Silver and gold chrysanthemum, (Ajania pacifica, formerly Chrysanthemum pacificum). Silver and gold chrysanthemum is grown primarily for its attractive silver and green foliage, which persists year-round, though it does die down some in winter. Clusters of golden yellow flowers open, mixing well with the colors of fall.

Threadleaf bluestar, Arkansas bluestar, or Amsonia hubrichtii. Threadleaf bluestar is another perennial grown primarily for its foliage, which is feathery and fern-like. By the first of November the normally green foliage begins changing to a beautiful golden yellow, and is one of the few perennials famous for fall foliage color. The plant flowers in spring with small star-like, pale blue flowers.

Strawberry tree, or Arbutus unedo. This unusual tree (really a large shrub) has the unique trait of blooming and fruiting at the same time. Clusters of small, bell-like, white flowers dangle from the branches. The fruit, which was produced from last yearís flowers, starts off green, turns yellow, then orange, and finally red, and somewhat resembles a round strawberry.

Sasanqua camellia, or Camellia sasanqua. This species of camellia and its hybrids begin blooming in October, peak in late November and often last well into December, depending on the weather. The individual flowers are smaller and less ornate than the more familiar, later-blooming Camellia japonica.

Winterberry holly, or Ilex verticillata. Unlike most hollies, this native is not evergreen, but seeing its dark bare branches dripping with red fruit in late fall and winter is a beautiful sight. Winterberry comes in male and female forms, with the red fruit only occurring on the females.

Ornamental grasses. There are many garden-worthy species and cultivars of ornamental grass. Even though they are beginning the process of dying back for the season, fall is their time to shine. It is now when their structure, texture and form play a stronger role in the landscape. Donít be tempted to cut them back too early; they should be allowed to stay until mid-winter.

 

 




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