Planting for Nostalgia

It’s warming up in New Hampshire. We’ve been informed that this area is decidely USDA Hardiness Zone 6, not 5 as my blog title states.  But when asked by customers at the nursery, some employees say to plant for Zone 5b because we can have those atypical winters. That sounded like good advice to me and I followed it.

That was before I spotted two shrubs for sale locally that flourished in my Virginia, Zone 7b garden. I’d never seen them for sale around here. Surprisingly, one was tagged Zone 5 and the other Zone 6. Huh?? I was intrigued but hesitated for a moment because I knew they are semi-invasive or invasive in warmer climes.  Probably because of the drought and low sales, the manager approached me…the only customer… and said “For you, everything is half price today.” Hesitation over. I packed my cart.

Forever and ever these shrubs have screamed Virginia as they’re seen in practically every garden, old and new. Nandina domestica and Leatherleaf mahonia. A slice of Old Virginia in my cart. Nostalgia!

#1. Nandina domestica, imported to England from China and Japan in 1804, is a care-free showy shrub, disease-resistant, pest-resistant, that is widely used for flower arranging both for the attractive lacy leaves that vary from red to green to copper and the clumps of bright red berries that follow clusters of tiny white blooms. The berries are fabulous for holiday arrangements! A common name for nandina is Heavenly Bamboo as the multi-stem plant bears a striking resemblance to the canes of bamboo plants. We will discover whether this Zone 6 plant survives as an evergreen as it does in Virginia. I fear it will die back to the ground each winter and never grow as a 5′ tall ornamental as it was in Zone 7b. Fingers crossed…

Nandina from my Zone 6 garden: flower buds not open; new copper growth:

nandina-bloom nandina-new-red-growth#2. Leatherleaf Mahonia, labeled Zone 5, has been grown for generations in the US since brought from China in 1800’s. Members of leatherleaf are labeled noxious and planting is prohibited in Alabama, Georgia, SC, and Tennessee. A stiff leaved multi-stemmed spiny evergreen shrub resembling a holly but in Zone 7b, it redeems itself with fragrant lemony clusters of flowers appearing in late winter giving a multitude of bees some very early nectar. Those attractive flowers then develop into interesting bunches of blue-ish berries that hang like fat grapes…thus giving its other name, grape holly.

Mahonia photos from my Zone 7b garden: winter blooms; blue berry clusters:

honeybee on mahoniamahoniaI love both of these plants and will probably tent them for winter protection until I discover how they get through our winters.  Ahhhh…. How divine!

5 thoughts on “Planting for Nostalgia

  1. I’m thinking we’re going to need more Alpine slides at the ski resorts. 🙂 I have been working outside a little and once I pull back the mulch it is as dry as a desert. I went out this morning in that ghastly humidity to dig up six mounds of grasses that I don’t want anymore – too tall, too big, too falling over. I thought I was in for the fight of my life and once I put the shovel in the ground, they were so shallow rooted it wasn’t much of an effort at all. Here’s hoping we get some more rain. 🙂

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    • Oh dear. Horrible! I continue to pour gray water on 3 trees and try not to look at other plants too closely in the garden. This is a historic drought. We need a good sustained rain… perhaps a tropical system… before we are okay. Hang in there!

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    • Jean, our nandina will be going through their first winter this year. I think it will die back to the ground and, fingers crossed, flush with new growth in the spring. I will give it a little protection with a sandwich board. My Virginia crepe myrtle would not survive here but there are cultivars for zone 5-6 that die back to the ground each winter. I miss the zone 7 ‘Natchez’ trees that lined my long driveway in Virginia!

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