Foliage Friday – Trees & Shrubs & Peonies oh my!

Aesculus hippocastanum – the horse chestnut. I took home a seed gathered at a local park about 12 years ago. The tree is about 20 feet tall now, and although it has yet to flower, its unfolding leaves entrance me every spring. At the height of a very dry summer it will lose most of its leaves but if we have more consistent rainfall the leaves will stay on until normal leaf drop in the fall. This tree is native to southeast Europe, and is easily differentiated from the American chestnut – Castanea dentata. Here’s a great fact sheet for more details about the two.
Aralia spinosa – Devil’s Walking Stick – is supposed to be a large shrub or small tree, but mine hasn’t grown nearly as fast as I had anticipated: just an inch or two a year since I planted it three autumns ago. The bible of trees, Michael Dirr’s Manual of Woody Landscape Plants, says it grows almost anywhere and quickly when young so I’m not too sure what’s going on. When fully unfurled these bi or tri-pinnately compound leaves are a lovely green and HUGE! Its trunks are extremely prickly so it needs to be situated in a well thought out spot, where it can grow up to eight metres high and become quite shrubby.
The Paeonia tenuifolia – fernleaf peony – is the first of the peonies to emerge and bloom in my garden. It’s fussy where it grows, preferring rich moist soil, but the frilly, delicate looking leaves are deceptive since it endures many frosty nights and early spring snowfalls. The flower petals are a lovely deep red.
The second peony to bloom in my garden should be this tree peony – Paeonia suffruticosa. It supposedly has lovely yellow flowers and perhaps this year I’ll see it bloom. I planted it three years ago but so far the flower buds shrivel and dry up, without blooming. I love the leaves anyway – they get large and tropical looking, and as you can see, emerge in dramatic fashion, surrounding and protecting the flower bud. That’s a stream of Muscari sp. behind it.

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