The Commercial Appeal

Don’t wait for spring to enjoy flowering shrubs

- CAROL REESE

Occasional­ly a traveling group determines our display gardens a fine place for bus-weary travelers to stretch their legs. We can offer guided tours if schedules permit, but even without an escort, the gardens offer much beauty and most plants are labeled.

I sometimes field the calls that assess the possibilit­y of a tour, and a common question is “Will there be anything to see that time of the year?” This always makes me smile and think gratefully of the expertise of Jason Reeves. He is the garden curator and research horticultu­rist here at the UT West Tennessee Research and Education Center, and over the years has installed hundreds of plants specifical­ly selected for offering different seasons of interest. Sure, if summer annuals are your primary plant addiction, then late summer and early fall are ideal times to visit, but experience­d gardeners know that sometimes the most pleasure is derived when beauty is most needed ... during the winter months.

I’ve written frequently and often about our colorful conifer collection, and the bright berries on our deciduous hollies, but if you are that gardener that must have flowers, guess what? We have those in winter, too. The blooms of cold hardy camellias, winter jasmine, witchhazel­s and hellebores brighten our winter landscape — but the paperbush is the one stealing the show just now.

The big white buds begin to show before New Year’s fireworks have cooled, and as days lengthen, they develop exquisite detail. Closely examined, each flower is a tightly packed bundle of numerous frost white tubes that dangle chandelier-like from the branches. When we have a few balmy winter days, the bottoms of these tubes flare open with golden yellow petals that breathe a distinctiv­e sweet fragrance. Not everyone loves the scent, but then, not everyone loves pie ...

The architectu­re of this plant is a lot of its charm. The trunk divides immediatel­y above the surface of the soil into numerous golden brown branches that further subdivide, resulting in a canopy that makes a nearly perfect half-moon. Picture a large umbrella minus the handle.

Nor is it a plain Jane in summer, when its flowers are long spent. The leaves are large long ovals of silvery blue green, and some peculiar characteri­stic of the leaf surface causes any water droplets to stand rounded upon them like beads of mercury. Fall color is an insignific­ant yellow.

It is fun to watch gardeners convince other gardeners to buy this plant at our plant sales, as anyone that has it wants to share the joy. It needs shade from hot sunlight and good drainage, and that site that is a bit warmer in your landscape. Best to plant in spring to make sure it is well establishe­d before winter.

It will be available at the Madison County Master Gardener spring plant sale, May 6. Learn more and see photos on Facebook page UT Gardens Jackson.

Carol Reese is ornamental horticultu­re specialist for the Western District of the University of Tennessee Extension Service

 ?? PHOTO COURTESY CAROL REESE ?? The paperbush offers winter color and will be available at the Madison County Master Gardener spring plant sale on May 6.
PHOTO COURTESY CAROL REESE The paperbush offers winter color and will be available at the Madison County Master Gardener spring plant sale on May 6.

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