NOTHING IS more beautiful than the tamarisk, a shrub of the sun and a great ornament in sandy gardens near the sea.
Because nothing else is quite the same in effect - eight-foot clouds of soft blue-gray-green foliage like a particularly feathery lopsided cypress - I like to see it even in gardens made on the heaviest clay loams.
I am sure it does not really like clay, and it is the last shrub in the world for damp acid peaty woodlands where it simply will refuse to grow. The gardener need not think he can lighten a clot of azaleas under ancient oaks with the tamarisk, and many a tiny wall-shaded town garden will have to forego it.
But often you see sunny balconies with tubs of broadleaf evergreens (which hate their windy home, usually), and a tamarisk would do very well there.
And some gardens, even in the city of Washington, have plenty of sun, and where the drainage is good a bucket or two of sand can be worked into the planting station. Against a black wall, or against white concrete, or against [WORD ILLEGIBLE] stucco, the tamarisk is seen to wonderful advantage.
If there is a sunny arbor with a few naked posts, the tamarisk looks good contrasting with the dense coarse leaves of grape vines.
It is a mistake - only because the drama is lost - to mix the tamarisk with a lot of shrubs like buddleias, vitex, crape myrtles, shrub roses and other plants of spotty or undistinguished foliage, because then the entire mass of plants look like a shapeless fuzz.
Once I planted a tamarisk on a gentle bank with the willow, Salix gracilistyla, and some pink locusts that had wine-red seed pods, Robinia kelseyii, but the effect was never good. The same tamarisk planted against a plain surface would have been handsomer.
Our gardens do not include, as a rule, a cloister of stone arches, but if you happen to have a sunny Romanesque cathedral out in the back, the tamarisk looks superb against a sunny arch, with deep shadows back of it.
The ordinary French tamarisk, with quasi pink racemes of dusty flowers, is as handsome when not blooming as when in full floraison. I used to attach a good bit of importance to the flowers until I grew the shrub, in several varieties, and noticed the flowers did not make much difference. There is nothing wrong with them, and they are pleasant enough, but to me they do not make much difference.
The tamarisk should be planted in the spring - late March or April is a good time - and the gardener should be patient. Often the plant will sit there looking rather dead for a good many weeks.
It is a good idea to plant it from pots or cans, since it is touchy about being transplantted in the first place, and the less disturbance to its roots the better.
It is one of those plants like the kerria that is utterly hardy, to the North Pole, practically, but which nevertheless can die back substantially here and there over the winter. It certainly does not need winter protection - no deep mulches or wrapped stems or general bagging are called for - but the gardener should get used to the idea that a main stem, eight feet high, may last only three years, say, then die away, and young shoots from the base will take over.
You do not want to count too much, in other words, on any one stem or branch. Over the years the same tamarisk plant, as iit waxes and wanes, gives a variety of outlines during the summer.
The leaves are like scales, stuck densely along the twigs, and they fall in November, the plant remaining bare until spring. I grew a colony of the blue bulbous spring flower, Chionodoxa sardensis, under a tamarisk once, and neither enhanced the other, but I mention it to show the tamarisk casts a light shade, so plants will grow right up to its main stem if you like.
On outrageous winter days I think of a sun-drenched walk or drive lined with tamarisks and yuccas, backed by glossy magnolias. A few China roses, a few white lilies, a black-green mound of yew with golden sternbergias in puddles around it. Maybe a few daturas and cestrums for summer nights. A clump of knee-high steel-blue arching grass (Helictotrichon sempervirens) and white-striped grass in the distance (Miscanthus sinensis variegatus) and to the side an arbor covered with grapes and Carolina jasmine. And plenty of common wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) and lavender and rosemary and portulacas. And some more tamarisk - you can hardly have too much. And a fig tree and a pomegranate or two . . .
It is the exact opposite of a woodland of magnolias and camellias and ferns and azaleas and hostas and Virginia bluebells and galax and deep pools of glossy black water with scarlet fishes.
How rich the world is in common plants of high beauty. But on winter days, if I find myself beginning to sulk (or rage) at the absence of even crocuses, even snowdrops, even witch hazels, even the early irises (all of which we are entitled to have blooming now) - then I think of the sun-drenched tamarisks and yuccas, which (unlike many other dreams) are as marvelous when their season comes as thet are in winter reveries.