I consider every plant in my garden a good friend. A select few have become my pets, but I must admit that a particular plant species will always remain my BFF.
Among the most popular plants in my spring garden are the numerous viburnums. All summer, I hang out with my good friends, the colorful hydrangea; in the fall, I keep company with my ornamental grasses with their showy seed heads; and in colder months, both the birds and I love the Foster Hollies. These are among my preferred seasonal plants in the garden and each year they vie hard with worthy competitors for my attention.
However, my Best Friend Forever in the garden is an all-season evergreen found bordering my promenade to the garden shed. It is the Poet’s Laurel, Danae Racemosa, graceful, arching, elegant and equally as beautiful in the winter as it is in summer. The original plant, started from my mother’s mature hedge that lined her driveway, is now one of ten that line our grassy pathway in the dappled shade of loblollies.
This plant may resemble a shrub but it is an evergreen perennial related to asparagus. Soft bright green shoots develop underground and emerge in spring looking remarkably like asparagus, then gracefully arch to the ground as they mature by summertime. The shoots are not woody and live only two to three years and are then cut back to the ground. Marble size orange-red berries in the fall are quite attractive and especially loved by our resident mockingbirds.
What looks like leaves are actually green, glossy modified stems or cladodes that store water during dry weather and capture light as a leaf would. At the base of the cladodes are the tiny, inconspicuous leaves. Prized by flower arrangers for the long lasting tough green stems, it can be cut brought inside in any season. Propagation by division with a shovel in the fall or early spring is the best method, and one that my mother used for all of her incredible 4 1/2′ x 4 1/2′ plants. Poet’s Laurel also spreads very slowly by rhizomes and very slowly by seed.
This wonderful plant is the mainstay of the winter garden and is equally as interesting in the summertime, a must for a Virginia shade garden. And although I have quite enough, if I see one at a nursery, it cries out to me. I have purchased two at Smithfield Gardens, a very well stocked garden center in Suffolk. To see what’s in stock this fall, click here.
Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester