Yesterday, I gave a plug for Dr. Mike Dirr’s newest book. Something else Dr. Dirr and I have in common is our mutual love for eastern leatherwood or Dirca palustris. After spending much of the last two years studying this species and its congeners, I couldn’t help but celebrate the completion of my M.S. degree this year by including this stylish, if sublime plant in my advent calendar.
One thing to remember about chic plants and hip gardeners–the elements of garden style sometimes aren’t the flashiest and intentionally so. Think about the little votive candles on a mantle or tabletop. Though small and seemingly insignificant, that mantle during the holiday season might look entirely less bright and cheery without them. Plants are the same way. Crafting a stylish garden that looks, feels, and grows like you, while stimulating your passion for the pursuit comes down to embracing all the plant world has to offer–flashy to subdued. In that way, Dirca palustris deserves a spot in every shady nook spanning its easterly North American range–from Bangor (Maine) to Bettendorf (Iowa).
If you’re not convinced yet, Dirca palustris takes the prize for being one of the earliest shrubs to flower in the northern temperate landscape, sporting trios of dangling, yellow flowers in concert with the woodland garden’s ephemeral chorus–hepaticas, merryworts (Uvularia), and claytonias. Broadly adaptable to a variety of pH conditions, this slow-growing shrub teaches the gardener to savor the experience of watching a few-leaved seedling age into an arborescent shrub, much as a vintner savors the aging of a fine Merlot. And what does a Dirca have on a Merlot? Yellow fall color, grandly so.