great shrubs: kerria japonica ‘picta’
T HERE IS A BIG CLOUD OF THE LOUDEST, EGG-YOLK GOLD in a shady part of my garden now, the kind of botanical scream that says spring is really here. The variegated Kerria is reminding me that despite its delicate green stems and tiny foliage, that it’s somebody, too: somebody worth having around. Even after more than 15 years together, I haven’t tired of this basically carefree creature. My first in a new series on great landscape shrubs: Kerria japonica ‘Picta.’
My plant came home with me in the early 1990s from Western Hills Nursery in Northern California, which still sells it today (including by mail, apparently).
Much smaller on all fronts than the all-green Kerria japonica, and with single (not the bawdier puffy double) flowers, K.j. ‘Picta’ is an airy thing, perhaps 4 or 5 feet tall. Because it’s a bit of a colonizer, the potential width varies greatly; mine is now 10 feet across. I dig up suckers and share them or move them to another part of the garden, if it gets too wide, and a few times over the years when it was looking thin, I simply cut the whole thing to the ground, which it seems to like as a means of rejuvenation.
Cutting out of twigs that revert to the plain green-leaved species will also be asked of you, but I do not find this much of a commitment for such a pleasing companion.
In winter, as with all Kerria, you will have a haze of green twigs; nice enough, I suppose, but they are not as bold as say twig dogwoods or willows.
I grow it instead for its bawdy, intermittent bloom (the heaviest right now for several weeks, then fits and starts depending on the weather). I grow it, too, for the delicate gray-green leaves that are margined in cream, and when they open the plant gives a sense of a mad haze of light—not big, bold variegated leaves that can be overpowering to some eyes, but just droplets of brightness here and there.
K.j. ‘Picta’ would be good massed in a spot where not much in the way of other shrubbery wants to offer color all season long, or just included an individual plant as I have in a semi-shaded mixed border. Give it partial shade, especially from afternoon heat—how many heavy-blooming shrubs can say they’ll offer so much in half-day light?
about my ‘great shrubs’
I AM A BIT of a shrub-freak; looking around here at the garden these days, I realize how much so. It’s time to document them and share them in plant profiles like this one, but meantime, there are already many other shrub posts in the archives:
Ones on viburnums, and lilacs, and Cornus mas and spicebush and other Forsythia alternatives, and giant pussy willow and winterberry hollies, and panicle hydrangeas, and bottlebrush buckeye, and a couple of conifers: the golden prostrate yew and Microbiota, for instance. I can’t even recall them all; I’ve started to gather my favorites under “great shrub” at this link. Enjoy.