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A Tennessee Garden Changes

Susan Felts' 10-acre garden is filled with interesting plants, including shrubs and dogwoods.

It's hard to believe that Susan Felts' 10-acre garden outside of Nashville, Tennessee, was once bare land. Susan and her husband Stephen first tackled the space by bringing in trees. Over twenty years have passed, and the plantings around the house have matured beautifully. But the garden has evolved in the most unpredictable ways.

Susan has a passion for plants and grows many interesting native and exotic trees, shrubs and perennials in beds around the house. Further away in the front field are newer trees – mostly conifers – that have been her passion in recent years.

Along the long gravel road leading to the house, rectangular plots have been planted with various ornamental grasses, another recent interest of Susan's. In the field in front of the house, an oversized topiary of a bull greets visitors. Also in this space is a collection of conifers and ornamental grasses.

Susan's garden has evolved over the years, and nature and Susan's preferences have brought about changes. What was largely a garden for cut and dried flowers has become more low-maintenance, with grasses, shrubs and smaller ornamental trees. In addition, a shade garden that was once protected by a stand of sassafras trees has become a sunny area, due to a blight that destroyed the entire grove.

Over the years, Susan has become interested in propagation and has filled many empty spaces with shrubs or perennials she grew herself. Other changes to the farm include the addition of a herd of goats and a woodland garden that contains a variety of unusual plants.

Some of Susan's interesting plants:

Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius 'Monlo')

The plant: The purple-red, maple-shaped leaves turn almost black in summer after pale pink flower clusters appear in spring. The shrub grows eight to ten feet tall and wide. It can be kept smaller by cutting branches to the ground after flowering each spring. Bark peels in long, papery sheets. Hardy in USDA Zones 2 to 7.
How to use it: Great as a dark foil in a mixed shrub border with evergreens and chartreuse and blue foliage. Foliage is good for cut flower arrangements.
Cultivation: Plant in full sun for best color.
Source: Rare Find Nursery

Variegated giant dogwood (Cornus controversa 'Variegata')

The plant: This deciduous native of Japan and China is the fastest growing of all dogwoods. Horizontal branches can spread 20 to 30 feet on a 35-foot-tall tree. Flat-topped cymes of creamy white flowers appear in spring. The tiered branching gives this dogwood a distinctive habit. Hardy in USDA Zones 4 to 8.
How to use it: As a specimen tree in the lawn or park.
Cultivation: Plant in well-drained, moist soils in partial shade.
Source: Bloom River Gardens

Chinese honeysuckle (Lonicera tragophylla x brownii 'Mandarin')

The plant: This deciduous, woody vine produces new coppery-russet-colored foliage in spring. Masses of three-inch blooms open from dark red buds into fuchsia-like blooms on dark purple stems. On the outside, the flowers are red with yellow-orange interiors. The effect from a distance is of strong, vibrant orange. Climbs to 15 feet.
How to use it: Grow on pergolas, arches and fences to attract hummingbirds and butterflies.
Cultivation: Plant in sun for best bloom. May be pruned yearly to keep in shape and remove any dead vines.
Source: Wayside Gardens

Burgundy weigela (Weigela 'Alexandra', also called 'Wine & Roses')

The plant: In May and June, hot pink, tubular flowers appear in clusters along the stems. Glossy burgundy and purple foliage holds leaf color in hotter weather. Grows four to five feet tall and four feet wide. Deciduous. Native to Japan. Hardy in USDA Zones 5 to 9.
How to use it: A beautiful contrast for the garden, against pink, yellow, blue or chartreuse foliage and flowers. Great for arrangements.
Cultivation: Plant in full sun for best foliage color. Likes moist, well-drained soil.
Source: Digging Dog Nursery

Pink Japanese snowbell tree (Styrax japonicum 'Pink Chimes')

The plant: Clear mid-pink bell-shaped flowers hang in pendulous clusters from the branches in late spring. This tree grows to 20 feet tall, with spreading, horizontal branches and a broad, rounded crown. Fall foliage is yellow, and bark is gray and smooth. Deciduous. Hardy in USDA Zones 5 to 8.
How to use it: This is a lovely specimen tree, especially for a Japanese garden. Also lovely in a mixed tree and shrub border or island.
Cultivation: Plant in partial sun. Protect from winter winds, and in the south, provide shade.
Source: Klehm's Song Sparrow

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