January Featured Plant List
Kick off the new year by checking out a few of our featured plants! The Cheekwood garden team has hand selected their top plant picks for January from 8 of our distinct gardens. Use this as your guide as you explore the grounds.
Carell Dogwood Garden
Leucothoe axillaris ‘Squazam’/ Coast Leucothoe, Dog-hobble
These native woodland shrubs can be seen in Dogwood bed ‘A’, near the twig dogwoods above the Burr Terrace Garden. They are a very welcomed narrow-leaved evergreen this time of year, turning an attractive purple with a bronze sheen in the fall. This species of Leucothoe will generally reach heights between 2 and 4 feet with a spread of 3 – 5’. The branches are spreading with a zig-zag pattern and fill out to the ground. Blooming in May, the urn-shaped flowers are small and white, developing in the plant’s leaf auxils (hence the specific epithet, “axillaris”). A wonderful front border plant for shade or part-shade, deer usually do not care for it. Like the blueberry, it is a member of the Ericaceae family and is most suitable for acidic soil conditions.
Croton alabamensis/ Alabama Croton
The rare Alabama Croton is truly a stunning plant. With speckled foliage (a bit like that of Elaeagnus) with silver undersides, a profusion of small yellow flowers in spring and brilliant neon orange coloration in the fall through winter, and no real disease or pest issues – OH! and it is semi-evergreen – is there any reason not to include it in your landscape? To add even more allure to this low-growing shrub, the leaves smell like freshly sliced apples. It is endemic only to about 4 different counties in Alabama and a very small section of Texas (named C. alabamensis var. texensis). There is also a county here in Tennessee to which it is native, but it is believed that population has succumbed to local extinction. Alabama Croton can withstand a wide range of soil pH and it will absolutely thrive in sandy soils.
Turner Seasons Garden
Stewartia pseudocamellia / Japanese Stewartia
A member of the tea family, Japanese Stewartia blooms in June with petite white flowers that resemble the those of its cousin, the camellia. In the fall, the foliage turns into spectacular flames, neon orange with hints of purple. During the winter months, the exfoliating bark is the real attraction. Peeling off in strips of reddish brown, the tree exposes irregular shapes in green, white, and shades or orange. The dormant leaf buds, ornamentally arranged and glistening white, like Christmas lights on the zigzag branches until the temperature is just right for break in spring. It’s a small to medium stature tree, an ideal use for lining streets or installing into landscapes where space is limited.
Burr Terrace Garden / Dogwood Garden
Chimonanthus praecox / Fragrant Wintersweet
This specimen of C. praecox has been with Cheekwood since 1987 and its good health is apparent. It has developed a profusion of yellow flower buds that have just begun to open, displaying purple central markings. The flowers are nothing less than exquisite, though the habit of this one has become a little ragged over the years, outgrowing its fountain-like shape. Chionanthus can be cut back to a foot tall in the late winter and it will rejuvenate nicely. The yellow fall color will persist throughout the winter, especially if temperatures are mild, often with a good mix of green, too, which is quite lovely. Well-drained soil will keep this shrub thriving. Plant along a walkway (like we did) or near an entranceway to maximize smelling opportunities. It’s called Fragrant Wintersweet for an excellent reason.
Shomu-en Japanese Garden
Pinus nigra/ Austrian Pine or Black Pine
Pinus nigra is most fitting for a Japanese Garden, which honors the passing of time so sublimely. This pine is known to become more interesting with age as the accumulation of time adds more character to the trunk with color and texture and refines the overall shape of the tree. Its needles are stiff tufts, making it an excellent selection for a mass windbreak planting. The Austrian pine is also quite adaptable, even tolerating heat, humidity, seaside conditions and heavy clay soil. It is not without its issues, however, and has suffered considerable dieback in this region due to pine nematode and tip blight.
Martin Boxwood Garden: Grotto
Sedum SunSparkler® Firecracker / Stonecrop
This tough and colorful groundcover thriving on a frigid winter day is something to be cherished. Growing in our rock garden grotto to the west of the Cheekwood’s Museum of Art, it has colonized over the years to make a beautiful carpet. Stonecrop performs best in full sun and is very drought tolerant once established. Pink flowers occur in late summer. The clusters of succulent foliage are burgundy, intensifying in tone with cooler temperatures. Container gardening with this plant is fun, too. Deer and rabbit resistant, plant sedum in a range of soil conditions – even the most difficult spots.
Bradford Robertson Color Garden
Miscanthus sinensis/ Common Eulalia Grass
The blooms of Miscanthus sinensis look other-worldly in the winter months, warming the garden with its soft billowy plumes. A native grass with multi-seasonal interest, with plenty of sun, space, and water, it can be an outstanding performer. No other ornamental grass has so many cultivars. They run the gamut in overall size, leaf width, flower and foliage color, texture and habit. This grass does not tolerate wet feet very well. Though often seen near bodies of water-if it’s thriving-one can be sure that its roots are not growing within the water table. Eulalia grass is the perfect selection to incorporate movement in the landscape. It also functions beautifully in mass plantings, as a focal point, and as container elements.
Wills Perennial Garden
Serenoa repens / Saw Palmetto
Native to the sand hills and coastal plains of the southeastern United States (TX, LO, MS, AL, GA, FL), we have been amazed to find that the subtropical saw palmetto not only overwinters, but also stays evergreen throughout the year here in the Wills Perennial Garden. For this, we credit the microclimate created by the hardscaping surrounding the plant and the winter protection provided by the rock wall.
The leaves of Serenoa repens are large (up to 3 feet across) and fan-shaped, with pointed teeth along the petiole. In the ideal condition, growing in its native habitat, the plant can grow into a small tree. The flowers are white and aromatic, occurring on plume-like branches growing out of the leaf axil. The fruits begin as orange, maturing to black by winter and are a food source for a wide range of animals, from tortoises to wild boar and even turkeys. Saw palmetto is the larval host top the palmetto skipper moth.