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Sharing Your Garden

When I look at my own garden, I can see all the things I love about it, all the things I hate about it, and all the work it takes to keep it looking its best.

The great thing about visiting someone else’s garden is that all you see are the beautiful things that make up the garden.

There is something to be said about the simple pleasure of a friend’s garden—the discoveries and joy brought on by someone else’s choices and hard work.

If you simply walk yourself around someone’s garden, you won’t experience the true essence of the garden space. Requesting a tour by the gardener gives you special insight into the history of all that surrounds you.

What’s even more exciting is, when you gaze upon a plant you have never seen before or haven’t seen in its true glory, it drives you to want to plant one for yourself.

I have known about buttonbush, Cephalanthus occidentalis, for years and experienced it growing in a variety of locations, but one particular sighting remains etched in my memory.

One hot summer evening, while touring the garden of some friends’, I rounded a corner and before my eyes was the most beautiful buttonbush I had ever seen. It was full of flowers, and they were perfectly set off by glamorous glossy foliage. I was surprised because I had read about how glossy the foliage could be, but I had never seen buttonbush foliage with more than just a dull sheen.

This native shrub typically grows 6 to 7 feet tall with equal width. You’ve probably seen it growing natively in the woods, bordering streams, ponds, and lakes. Natively, it tends to be a loose, open shrub, which is how I was accustomed to seeing it. However, in cultivation it seems much fuller and dense.

The flowers are quite interesting, grouped together in a round or sphere-shaped bundle with a soft, subtle white coloring. The fruit is also sphere-shaped and reminds me of the fruit of Cornus kousa, the Kousa dogwood. Flowering on the buttonbush occurs for a long period, compared to many shrubs, and can last from July to early September, when the fruits start to develop fully and color up and stay on for two months. You will be rewarded with a beautiful shrub from May through October.

Growing conditions
My small garden is certainly too dry to grow buttonbush, but you may have the perfect location. A partly sunny, consistently moist area is perfect. Even occasional standing water is not a problem.

A unique addition to the right garden space, this natural, subtle beauty is not always easy to find. Not every nursery plant will flower profusely and look its best growing in a confining black plastic nursery container. This plant isn’t going to beg you to buy it unless you have seen it growing in someone’s garden and know its potential.

I have often commented that the most popular landscape plants seem to be those that look great in a small nursery container. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always mean it will look great in your landscape in a few years. So it always pays to check a plant out completely before purchasing it to ensure it’s a good choice for your personal garden environment.

When giving garden tours of my own garden, I find myself to be an eternal optimist—giving out all the great information and all the reasons I love my garden, and sugar coating or omitting all the mistakes and hard work it takes to build a garden you truly love.

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