Gingerbread In Your Garden

The holiday season is upon us and the pressure to check everything off your holiday “to do list” may be growing. Add to this, the Christmas tree shortage continues and prices are up, as is with most commodities today. However, if I could take a step back and breathe, one of the biggest joys for me, during the holiday season, is homemade gingerbread cookies. A simple, nostalgic treat made with sweeteners and often flavored with cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon and, of course, ground ginger. A spice believed to have been brought back by Crusaders of the 11th century, ginger, Zingiber officinale, is a flowering herbaceous perennial whose fat, knobby rhizome, ginger root, enhances the pastry I love. So, I got to thinking… what plants, cultivars or common names, share the names “Ginger or Gingerbread?”

Perhaps the least “hardy” of the plants discussed here is Ginger lily, Hedychium coronarium. Friends in South Jersey can appreciate this perennial as its cold tolerance is zone 7. Nonetheless, the flowers of Ginger Lily are large and fragrant, held above and within a verdure that reminds me of the tropics. Appreciating hot and humid summers and moist soil types, Hedychium translates to “sweet snow”, possibly referencing its blooms or “the white insides of the edible, spicy tubers” ( This full sun to part shade perennial can reach and surpass 4 feet tall, growing a few feet wide.

One of my favorite trees, prominently planted in our front yard is ‘Gingerbread’ (Paperbark) Maple, Acer griseum x nikoense ‘Ginzam’. A tree I wrote about, for this publication back in December 2010, is a cross between A. griseum & A. maximowiczianum (formerly A. nikoense). A quintessential tree with green trifoliate leaves turning shades of red and orange in the fall. ‘Gingerbread’s’ exfoliating bark shreds, tears and folds with older bark developing a sort of crosshatch pattern. A small to medium tree overall, ours faces northwest and is picture perfect.

The spicy scent of this next deciduous tree is something I still long for. The senescing leaves of Katsura, Gingerbread or Caramel tree, Cercidiphyllum japonicum, supposedly has a cotton candy type smell to them. An “olfactory delight” I have been deprived of every autumn.  However, something I can appreciate is its blue-green foliage with hints of red throughout its growing season. Caramel tree’s initial spring growth is purple-bronze, and the fall color is a kaleidoscope of scented clear yellow, orange, apricot, and red, which again only some can appreciate. Any soft breeze has its foliage dancing, reminding me of those magnificent aspen trees, native to the cooler parts of North America. A more majestic candidate for your garden, expect heights north of 60 feet, or greater, in time. Necessary for its success are rich, moist soil, supplemental watering, during drought conditions, and protection from drying winds.

A Witch Hazel type, Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Gingerbread’, is a harbinger of spring complete with “curly, crimped burnt orange flowers”. Flowering in February into March, this hybrid is a cross between Japanese and Chinese types (H. japonica & H. mollis). Full sun to part shade, ‘Gingerbread’s’ early flowers are fragrant and held in axillary clusters against bare stems. Offering a powerful punch to your landscape, standing just 8-10 feet tall and wide, additional attributes include smooth bark and quilted ovate-rounded foliage with purple tones in the spring. During warmer months the leaf color digresses to green although finishes strong with yellow in the fall. A perfect small specimen tree or large shrub for your landscape. And should you tend to “think outside the box”, what an outstanding hedge ‘Gingerbread’ would make… as evidence of one I once saw in Pluckemin, NJ.

Finally, a trio of smaller plants. A daylily that has held my attention for some time, Hemerocallis ‘Gingerbread Man’ has mahogany and orange blooms suspended over dark green foliage. Extremely heat tolerant and able to bloom multiple times if “deadheaded”, ‘Gingerbread Man’ finishes 2 feet tall and wide. Another ‘Gingerbread Man’, looking good in mass, is an Iris type, Iris x germanica ‘Gingerbread Man’. A Bearded Iris and standard dwarf type, this perennial sports grey-green straplike leaves and ginger-colored blooms. Bearded Irises are called so because “the falls” have soft hairs down the middle.” “The Falls” are the three lower petals of the flower that either hang down or flare out. And last but not least, a rose by any other name… ‘Gingerbread Man.’ Rosa ‘Gingerbread Man’ has a petal count of 26-40 with a blend of apricot color. A dwarf type with moderate fragrance, these look great in containers.

Keep in mind that Gingerbread is different from Gingersnap. One uses molasses and the other uses sugar. Regardless, I can be bribed with either!

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