SOME GARDENERS dislike colored or variegated leaves and think God meant leaves to be green.
I used to hate variegated leaves myself, just as I deplored mushrooms, artichokes and anchovies as a boy; but once the world has battered you around somewhat, you learn to like many things.
A beautiful shrub -- if you can take yellow leaves at all -- is the golden elder. There are two golden elders, and the better, or at least the brighter and more festive of the two, is the cut-leaf golden elder, Sambucus racemosus plumosa aurea .
It does not like hot muggy summers, probably, and I do not notice this elder in gardens I see about town, but I like to think that in the thousands of gardens I never see there are contented gardeners basking in this golden light. The individual leaves are the length of a finger, somewhat snipt along the edges, and the adjective "ferny" is not to absurd to describe the effect.
I think it likes colder climates though our recent winters certainly ought to suit it.
In the spring its leaves are uniform solid yellow, maybe canary is right, and the effect is clean, sharp and acidly brilliant.
If, along a fence, say, things have got a bit solemn with yews and hollies (glorious though they be), it is possible to lighten the effect dramatically with this elder.
In hot weather, the leaves do not maintain their spring color. What does? I have had my own small plant (now waist high) too short a time, a couple of years, to endorse it; but surely there are venturesome gardeners on fire for golden foliage among their plants who would like to try something new to them? Possibly no shrub has brighter yellow leaves from April to July. This is one of those plants by no means rare, except that you can have the devil's own time trying to locate a plant for sale. Wayside Gardens, Hodges, S.C. 29695 sells it. I had to buy mine from England, and am glad to see an American source for it now.
Although sources for ordinary plants are not mentioned here, perhaps I should comment briefly on the Washington thorn, Crataegus phenopryrum or C. cordata (as often called). This is far and away the loveliest of the hawthorns, though not so spectacular in flower as some others. But for an all-around small tree or large shrub that looks good 12 months a year, it is impossible to surpass this thorn, and only a few plants (the dogwood, for example) equals it. It is available from Carroll Gardens, Westminister, Md. 21157, whose catalogue lists a number of other interesting and out of the way, though hardly rare, plants, among them, the "Lambrook Silver" wormwood; the plume poppy (listed as Bocconia); three bugbanes; the 'Robert Brydon' non-climbing clematis; Perouskia atriplicifolia; Polygonatum multiflorum , the splendid Solomon's seal so good for shade and now so rarely sold; the non-flowering lambs ears of Saviour's flannel; the gold-variegated lemon balm; some of the best viburnums; Sargent's crab; the Japanese sophora; young potted plants of Leyland cypress, the Himalayan pine and so on.
All my life I have resisted the Japanese dragon-eye pine, with yellow on parts of the needles so that when you look at the plant there seem to be bright eyes shining out of the depths. It is one of the irresistible conifers -- there are, unfortunately, 200 irresistible ones -- that I must resist for lack of space, but when I see it in the Carroll list, I must resist anew.
The first time I ever saw an old specimen of the Himalayan pine (Pinus griffithii ) in Tennessee, I thought it the most beautiful tree I ever saw, and now, decades later, it still seems to me as lovely as any tree in the world with its drooping clusters of glaucous needles. But it makes a large tree.
How many great gardens were ruined, or at least overwhelmed, by the Victorian passion for conifers. Fortunately I never saw a spruce, a hemlock, a fir, that ever tempted me -- for a gardener ought to have a few conifers he can view without envy.
But I hardly ever saw a cunninghamia, cypress, arbor vitae, juniper, libocedrus, larch, taxodium, ginkgo or chamaecyparis that I did not long to possess.
Of course one learns in time to be brave, and endure.