“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” This proverbial phrase is meant to encourage optimism and a “can do” attitude when faced with adversity. Given the recent weather phenomena’s, particularly Sandy, I thought it would be a good time to consider talking about improved garden design and some interesting plants to consider in the New Year. Sandy literally ripped apart our landscapes and left many with vacancies and an appreciation for what once was. Enormous conifers and deciduous trees that once provided shady habitats toppled over and left many with full sun areas. Customers have since engaged me in conversation and without exception never truly appreciated the shade; privacy and pleasure their missing “green friends” had given them and their gardens.

It is not feasible, for most, to go forward and replace the same size trees that were lost. That said, Sandy’s wrath has given us all an ability to look at our gardens differently and go forward planting new and exciting plants. Before you visit your local independent garden center this spring I thought it would be useful to suggest some plants that have proven themselves, reliable, interesting, durable and suitable for residential landscapes. Some may not roll off your tongue as easily as others you may have heard of, but believe me, all have proven themselves time and again in landscapes.

Leading off are the deciduous trees, (those trees that lose their leaves come winter). First and foremost, as you consider replanting larger trees, be mindful of your surroundings so as not to put back too big a tree in too small an area. Shade is great for your garden, but there is no need to have your entire property swallowed up in it unless you truly desire that. Small trees (those that grow 15-30 feet) and medium trees (those growing 30-50 feet) are more than adequate for residential landscapes. Japanese maples, Fringetree, Silverbell, Redbud, Dogwood, Hawthorne, Maackia, Parrotia, Japanese Snowbell, Stewartia and Sourwood are all storybook trees. Each, in their own right, offers multiple assets and would all be a topic of conversation when guests arrive. Flowers, bark and outstanding fall color are all certain to happen on most and some possess all these traits.

Japanese Cedar, Cryptomeria japonica, has been part of many a conversation in recent months. After Hurricane Sandy hit I began to take notice of all the large evergreens that fell. Norway Spruce and Eastern White Pine were at the top of this list. As I patrolled surrounding neighborhoods and engaged other professionals in conversation, about this issue, we all agreed that very few Japanese Cedars were seen down, at least around us. This stately conifer is “a tall, lofty, pyramidal or conical tree with a stout trunk” (Dirr’s Hardy Trees and Shrubs). Blue-green markings on some, I prefer the cultivar ‘Rein’s Dense Jade’ whose rubbery, “unusual texture and rich jade-green needles gives this handsome form of the species a compelling look. Tightly held foliage which turns a striking purple-bronze in the winter, gives its branches a well-defined, formal appearance”(Iseli Nursery). With 54 of these acting as a garden wall around our gardens, not one lost even a needle during Sandy. And while my conversations with colleagues has academic merit, it was still an informal study concluding that Japanese Cedars may, in fact, anchor themselves better into our landscapes in the New York metropolitan area. “Certainly a beautiful evergreen and worth considering as an alternative to pines, spruces and firs” (Dirr’s Hardy Trees and Shrubs). Did I mention it’s deer resistant too? While so many have a knee-jerk reaction to planting Leyland Cypress, Arborvitae and the fore mentioned spruce and pine, Cryptomeria, in my opinion, should become a dominant, large evergreen to plant. After all, they are doing exceedingly well on the north, south, east and west ends of our garden.

The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The next best time is now (Chinese Proverb). Gardening should nourish the soul, inspire us and bring out our creative sides. In closing I would like to share a passage from a Christmas card I received several years ago from Michael Dirr. In it he wished “his best to a fellow gardener and plantsman. May the New Year bring peace, good health and improved gardening.” My wish is the same for all those gardeners out there who go forth and tackle new, thoughtful and exciting garden projects.