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Diggin' It

Variegated forsythia in the fall

By Craig Summers Black / November 4, 2009

The Kumson variety of variegated forsythia doesn't mind a bit of shade.

Photo courtesy of Craig Summers Black.

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I’ve never before gardened anywhere cold enough for forsythia. (Can you tell I devote far too much time trying to dream up advantages to this nasty climate?)

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My Iowa-gal wife has regaled me with stories about growing up with them, her dad’s  love of them, harbingers of spring etc., and any interest she has in horticulture I try to foster. So I knew I our weedy little acreage would have some forsythias in its future.

But …

Most of the year these shrubs really look kind of rangy – humdrum bordering on ratty. And in the spring, those klieg-light yellow flowers look – depending on my mood at the time – either perky or alarmingly strident.

Then I discovered variegated forsythias. Like almost every other variegated plant, they are a good thing. These cultivars are somewhat shy springtime bloomers, so their flowers don’t get all in-your-face garish.

Then – Blackie’s 4F Garden Dictum: Flowers fade but foliage is forever.

The bushes hold your interest all growing season, with variegations ranging from subtle to intense. One variety – Golden Times (see photo at right) – has splashes of yellow so enthusiastic that the tips of some branches have leaves completely awash in it.

The stripes in Fiesta foliage (see Photo No. 2 above) almost glow.

And the more-mottled-than-striped Variegata  at this very moment seems to be seasonally confused; half of the foliage has already turned its fall color and, springlike, it is actually blooming. Again!

But my favorite is Kumson (Forsythia viridissima koreana) – see Photo No. 1 above – which has veining reminiscent of a cathedral’s stained-glass window.

That these plants hold their leaves even after the first killing frosts and hard freezes also makes them near and dear to my heart. We had a record-early snow (Two inches! On Oct. 10!), and their foliage is still looking fresh. Most of the maple trees hereabouts don’t even have leaves, and these guys are still performing.

Next post: A closer look at a fall Fiesta of color.

What else I’m into this week: Dr. Boli’s Celebrated Magazine, horticultural wordplay run amok.

Craig Summers Black is an award-winning writer, editor, and photographer who gardens feverishly on a weedy acreage in the Midwestern heartland. He has found that it can be more than a tad colder in Iowa than at his previous gardens in California, Hawaii, Texas, and Florida.

Editor’s note: Look for more blog posts by The Transplanted Gardener, Craig Summers Black, at our blog archive. The Monitor’s main gardening page offers articles on many gardening topics. See also our RSS feed. You may want to visit Gardening With the Monitor on Flickr. Take part in the discussions and get answers to your gardening questions. If you join the group (it’s free), you can upload your garden photos and enter our next contest.

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