Docent Guide – June

Garden focus: perennial and legacy

Stories to tell:

Delighting the senses all year long

Our senses- touch, taste, sound, sight and smell – create a tapestry of our world turning it into a beautiful, multi-layered experience. The Legacy Garden strives to create that experience by involving our senses throughout the year. Often, we think that the garden is “dead” in the winter and there isn’t much to look at until spring and summer. Hopefully, this garden will show you that that doesn’t have to be the case. Using different aspects of the plants such as bark, berries, plant structure, fragrance, leaves, flowers, there should always be something to delight your senses in the Legacy Garden.   And why shouldn’t there be something that catches our eye and gladdens our heart even in the dead of winter?

Think about a plant’s bark – have you looked at the Stewartia psuedocamellia? This wonderful tree has the most amazing bark. And if that isn’t enough to love about the tree it also blooms in the summer with white camellia-like flowers. Or what about the dwarf artic willow (Salix purpurea ‘Nana’)? This easy-to-grow shrub has a purplish tinge to its branches.

Berries that catch your eye.  If you visit the garden in the fall you can’t miss the glossy violet-purple berries that line the branches of beautyberry (Callicarpa bodinieri var. giraldii ‘Profusion’) – they are a show stopper. Or what about Glory Bower (Clerodendron trichotomum var. fargesii)? This small tree starts out with fragrant white flowers that are followed by bright blue berries surrounded by a fleshy red calyx. A little horticultural language that means a stunning eyecatcher of blue and red to hot pink in the fall. And for an added treat the leaves when crushed smell a bit like peanut butter. Some of us love the smell and some are a bit put off by it. And if we’re going to talk about berries we must mention the American Holly (Ilex opaca ‘Canary’). This evergreen shrub shows off bright yellow berries during the winter.

Plant structure.  Sometimes a plant can contribute to the garden simply because of its structure. One plant that fits this bill is known as Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick (Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’).  I have no idea why this plant was named after Harry Lauder, a Scottish entertainer in the early 1900s, or who could possibly make a walking stick out of one of the branches but I do know that it has some of the most interesting gnarled and twisted branches you’ll ever see. And for that reason, it grabs your eye and puts a smile on your face anytime of the year. Another interesting (or weird) plant to look for is the crested Japanese cedar (Cryptomeria japonica ‘Cristata’). This evergreen’s eye-catching trait is the odd, congested growth at its tips that seems slightly reminiscent of a rooster’s cockscomb. This plant’s structure can certainly catch your eye and make you go “Hmm?”

Stop and smell the . . . In the plant world, fragrance is often subtle, it doesn’t grab you but softly fills the air and creates an atmosphere that we often miss if we are rushing through a space. The saying “Stop and smell the roses” could be re-stated as “Slow down, close your eyes and experience this moment in the garden.” There are some plants that everyone thinks of when you talk about smell – such as roses. But what about Fragrant sweet box (Sarcococca ruscifolia)? Some of us might appreciate this plant for its compact evergreen presence but in early spring the small white flowers release a delightful perfume of sweet vanilla. And what about the stately Southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora ‘Edith Bogue’)? This beautiful evergreen magnolia shares its lemon-scented white flowers in early summer. You know that Lonicera fragrantissima, Fragrant honeysuckle, has to have a fragrance when it’s in its name. Before the leaves of this deciduous shrub emerge in spring, this plant sports small, white, extremely fragrant flowers. One plant that most people don’t think about when you talk about fragrance is lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis). This low-growing spreading woodland plant sends up an arching stem with a sweetly fragrant white flower in the spring. And if that isn’t enough there are lilacs, roses and peonies throughout the garden as well.

Leaves of all shapes and sizes.  The Legacy Garden begs you to really look at leaves. The giant leatherleaf viburnum (Vibnurnum rhytidiphyllum) has large, thickly-textured, almost leather-like leaves all year long. For the biggest leaves, look for the bigleaf magnolia (Magnolia macrophylla) whose leaves can be 19 – 35” long. This tree boasts the largest simple leaf and single flower of any native plant in North America.   Contrast those leaves with the thin, strappy leaves (less than a ¼” wide) of Rhododendron stenopetalum ‘Linearifolium’. The spiderleaf rhodie looks nothing like what you picture a rhododendron to look like. For more fun with rhododendron leaves, look for R. ‘Teddy Bear’ whose leaves are a glossy dark green with teddy bear brown indumentum (fuzzy “hairs” on the underside of a leaf) or R. bureavii whose thick wooly indumentum turns a rusty red with age. There are also many shrubs that have colorful foliage, such as Leucothoe fontanesiana ‘Rainbow’, Osmanthus heterophyllus ‘Goshiki’, and Pieris japonica ‘Variegata’ and Rhododendrdon ponticum ‘Variegatum’.  Some shrubs will have great foliage in the spring, such as Corylus maxima ‘Purpurea’ with deep purple leaves which do dull out a bit over the summer. Or there is the fall foliage show put on by the sourwood tree, Oxydendron arboreum, donning itself in bright crimson leaves which are really shown off if it is still holding on to its late-summer white flowers.

We can’t forget the flowers. When you talk about delighting the senses, you must talk about the flowers.  Almost every month of the year you can find something in bloom in this garden. Don’t miss the variety of hellebores in the winter/early spring, followed by Camellias, Winterhazel (Corylopsis spicata), a variety of azaleas and rhododendrons, peonies, lilacs, and magnolias. A few you really should look for because of their unexpected nature are Pink Dawn Viburnum (Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Pink Dawn) which blooms in the winter and early spring, sometimes as early as December, and the bright orange flowers of the evergreen barberry (Berberis darwinii) around March.


To many people, the word “magnolia” is synonymous with the classic Southern tree with large, glossy leaves and huge, fragrant white blossoms.   But this ancient genus includes over 200 species that range from evergreen to deciduous, small to large, and white to nearly black flowers. The Lake Wilderness Arboretum features a collection of magnolias that highlights these differences.

Evergreen magnolias. Most of the evergreen magnolias are related to Magnolia grandiflora which is native to the southeastern United States.  This drought tolerant tree stands out for its year-round beauty but it does require some space, growing 60-80’ tall and as wide as 40’.  The Legacy Garden at LWA has a Magnolia grandiflora ‘Edith Bogue’, a vigorous clone of the southern magnolia that is noted for its exceptional hardiness. It rates as one of the best southern magnolias for the Pacific Northwest. This cultivar does not grow as tall as typical grandifloras, reaching a mature height and width of 25’ but does feature the large, very fragrant, ivory-white flowers from late spring through midsummer.

The evergreen Magnolia virginiana, commonly called sweet bay magnolia, is native to the coastal areas of southeastern United States north along the Atlantic coast to New York. The tree has aromatic spicy leaves and twigs and extremely fragrant flowers from June through September. Magnolia virginiana ‘Henry Hicks’ glimmers in the wind due to the whitish-green undersides of the leaves. The tree flourishes in moist, acid soil such as the swamps in the eastern U.S. and along stream banks. This tree can be found in the fern grove area of the Legacy Garden.

Deciduous magnolias with star flowers.  This group includes Kobus magnolia (M. kobus), Loebner magnolia (M. x loebneri), and star magnolia (M. stellata). All are cold-hardy, heat-tolerant, adaptable plants. Late frosts sometimes damage their early blooms.

Star Magnolia.  Magnolia stellata, a Japanese native, typically grows 15-20’ tall with a spreading, rounded crown. It is noted for its compact size and late winter to early spring bloom of star-shaped white flowers. A popular cultivar, Magnolia stellata ‘Royal Star’, that has slightly larger and showier flowers than the species is planted in the Arboretum’s Legacy Garden.

Deciduous magnolias with saucer flowers. This group includes the popular saucer magnolia (M. x soulangeana) and its myriad selections, often called tulip trees because of the shape and bright color of their flowers. The parent plants of saucer magnolias are M. denudata and M. liliflora, the lily magnolia. Related to these, but less tolerant of winter cold and summer heat, are the spectacular magnolias from western China and the Himalayas―Sargent magnolia (M. sargentiana) and Sprenger magnolia (M. sprengeri). Though their early flowers may fall victim to late freezes, one spring season with good blooms will quickly make you forget the disappointments of years past.

Lily MagnoliaMagnolia liliflora, native to southwestern China, is a one of the smaller species found in the Magnolia genus.  The Latin name means flowers like a lily. M. liliflora ‘Nigra’, a cultivar featured at LWA produces narrow, dark reddish-purple flowers with pale purple insides.

Other magnolias. Less widely planted―but deserving of greater attention―is a group of large-leafed native magnolias generally grown as bold accents or shade trees. Cucumber tree (M. acuminata) and its smaller sibling, yellow cucumber tree (M. a. subcordata), are the source of the yellow blossom color of many new hybrids. Bigleaf magnolia (M. macrophylla), umbrella magnolia (M. tripetala), Fraser magnolia (M. fraseri), and Ashe magnolia (M. ashei) are medium-size trees with huge leaves and large flowers that appear after the leaves unfurl.

Bigleaf magnolia. Magnolia macrophylla lives up to its name and produces leaves that can be almost 3 feet long, evoking a subtropical feel in your garden.  You can’t help but appreciate the enormous leaves but you will also love their 12- to 14-inch wide, fragrant, bowl-shaped, white flowers.  Native to the southeastern United States and Mexico, the tree can grow up to 40’ tall. Look for these wonderful trees in two different locations in the Legacy Garden.

Hybrid Magnolias.  Because botanists and gardeners can’t seem to help themselves, cultivars of magnolias have been created mixing different species of magnolias together to combine the great characteristics of one plant with another. The Lake Wilderness Arboretum currently has 3 different hybrids that showcase different pairings of parent plants.

Magnolia ‘Elizabeth’ is a deciduous pyramidal magnolia that over time grows to 20-35’ tall and features yellow flowers in early spring. It is a cross between M. acuminata and M. denudata.

In its own category is the deciduous Oyama magnolia (M. sieboldii), native to western China. It bears drooping, cup-shaped, fragrant blooms after leaves emerge. Oyama magnolia is a superb plant for the woodland as it is accustomed to growing beneath the forest’s larger trees which is why you will find one growing near the Little Free Library in the woods at Lake Wilderness Arboretum.


How many times have you wished for a low maintenance evergreen shrub that blooms? Well, say hello to Kalmia latifolia, commonly called mountain laurel. This North American native plant is ideal as a landscape accent, informal border or hedge, or anywhere its cup-shaped, deep pink, red, or white flowers can be appreciated. Leathery, evergreen leaves, that truly look good all year-round, adorn the reddish-brown, scaly bark on gnarled multiple stems. Kalmia blooms attract even more beauty to the garden in the form of birds and butterflies. Kalmias are a relatively unknown and underused evergreen shrub for shady locations. The Lake Wilderness Arboretum has more than 10 different cultivars, with most located in the Legacy Garden or Perennial Garden.

See if you can find the following in the garden:

  • Kalmia latifolia ‘Nipmuck’
  • Kalmia latifolia ‘Sarah’
  • Kalmia latifolia ‘Madeline’
  • Kalmia latifolia ‘Olympic Wedding’
  • Kalmia latifolia ‘Keepsake’
  • Kalmia latifolia ‘Carousel’
  • Kalmia latifolia ‘Bay State’
  • Kalmia latifolia ‘Little Linda’
  • Kalmia latifolia ‘Galaxy’
  • Kalmia latifolia ‘Bull’s Eye’
  • Kalmia latifolia ‘Olympic Fire’
  • Kalmia latifolia ‘Heart of Fire’
  • Kalmia latifolia ‘Midnight’ (Perennial Garden)
  • Kalmia latifolia ‘Goodrich’ (Woodland Garden)

Old Garden Roses

Picture the classic double-flowered rose blooms and imagine that unforgettable fragrance – the old garden rose takes you back to another time. An old garden rose is defined as any rose belonging to a class which existed before the introduction of the first modern rose in 1867. Alternative terms for this group include heritage and historic roses. Some old garden roses date back to the time of the Roman Empire when they were revered for their beauty and fragrance.

For many gardeners the thought of roses makes you think of diseased leaves and high maintenance. The benefit of the old garden roses is the highly disease-resistant foliage. These roses comprise a multifaceted group, that, in general, are easy to grow, disease-resistant and winter-hardy.

Most old garden roses are classified into one of the following groups: alba, gallica, damask, Provence, moss, Portland, china, tea, bourbons, noisettes, hybrid perpetuals, hybrid musk, hybrid rugosa, and Bermuda “mystery”.

The Lake Wilderness Arboretum has a variety of Old Garden Roses in the Perennial Garden and the neighboring Legacy Garden.


Another old-fashioned garden plant is the peony. Most peonies are herbaceous perennials but some are woody shrubs. Peonies produce colossal flowers atop masses of glossy green foliage and require very little care. In fact, many perennial peonies live over 100 years without any special effort from the gardener (my kind of plant!). The longevity comes with only one request: access to full sun and good soil.

These long-lived perennials range from exquisitely delicate singles to large and lush doubles, with shades from pure white to the deepest red. Peonies die back to the ground in winter and send up new growth in the spring. The woody shrub-type of peony is known as a Tree Peony. These plants retain their structure year-round. Tree Peonies are slow to mature so don’t be surprised if there are few to no flowers the first spring after planting; they will generally take a few years to settle in and bloom regularly.

The Lake Wilderness Arboretum has quite an assortment of herbaceous peonies planted throughout the Perennial and Legacy Gardens. There is one Tree Peony in the Perennial Garden near the ? Oak.


Deutizia is a genus of about 60 species of flowering plants in the Hydrangea family that are native to eastern and central Asia, and Central America and also Europe.  These deciduous shrubs are a hardy spring flowering shrub with white or pink flowers. The Lake Wilderness Arboretum has four different Deutzias in the Perennial Garden:

  • Deutzia x magnifica
  • Deutzia scabra ‘Plena’ or scabra ‘Pride of Rochester’ (unsure of which cultivar we have)
  • Deutzia gracilis ‘Nikko’
  • Deutzia gracilis ‘Duncan’ (yellow foliage)

Other Bloomers

Philadelphus virginalis ‘Snowbelle’ (we think)

Weigela florida ‘Red Prince’

Stewartia pseudocamellia (see story on delighting the senses – bark)

  • Name means “fake camellia” because the flowers look similar to a camellia flower


Calycanthus raulstonii ‘Hartlage Wine’

  • Named after student Richard Hartlage who crossed Sinocalycanthus chinensis(Chinese species) with Calycanthus floridus (U.S. species) in 1991 at the JC Raulston Arboretum at North Carolina State University. It is noted for its stunning maroon fading to wine-red flowers which bloom primarily in April-May. Richard Hartlage designed the Chihuly Gardens and Glass at Seattle Center and worked at the Elizabeth C. Miller Garden in Seattle. He was also had a hand in starting Great Plant Picks – a wonderful resource for PNW gardeners.

Styrax japonica


Berberis darwinii

Perennials: Geraniums, Columbine, Thalictrum, Catmint, Iris, Hellebore (spent flowers)