Friday, October 23, 2015

Three Alarm Fire

As usual, fall has been a blaze of colour with three-alarm fires everywhere. The hottest, brightest flames on show were most likely Euonymus alatus, appropriately named the burning bush. There's a grouping of them near the train station in Waterloo that were amazingly bright.
I have a Euonymus alatus in my garden. It is not ablaze. The best it has ever done is smoulder like a wet campfire on a May 24 weekend. It's one of the first shrubs I planted in my garden and it's been somewhat disappointing.
In the early days, old alatus flared up occasionally, but over the years it's never achieved the same fiery luminosity of others in my neighbourhood. Even now, after a brilliant fall, most of the leaves are a dull green, and the ones that have changed colour only look as though someone spilled cheap red wine on them. In fact, I should take a closer look as we did have a birthday party around here last week, but I didn't think the wine was that bad. No, my burning bush has been a disappointment. Dull, dull, dull.
Despite being a failure in my garden as the self-actualizing arsonist of the plant world, it has fulfilled other roles reasonably well, providing a pleasant green backdrop to summer flowering plants, while maintaining balance with other shrubs and trees nearby.
But it mainly filled a gap, and a gap filler is not what I need when I'm running out of space for new plants. This is why I've been slowly coming around to the realization that the burning bush has to go. I can't blame it for the lack of colour change. Fifteen years ago it was in sunshine, but now the shrubs and trees in that corner of the garden dwarf it, and consequently it's in almost full shade, which I suspect is one reason why it doesn't burn brightly, although I've seen others that do well without full sun.
My mind is almost made up. It has to go. I just have to bring myself to do it. There's no denying that Euonymus alatus is a good, easy to grow, trouble-free shrub. So trouble free and easy to grow, in fact, that it's become an invasive pest in milder US states like Connecticut or Virginia. Don't let this deter you from planting your own if you have a bright place for one. Around here, the winters are cold enough that it stays firmly put.
It grows well in most conditions and tolerates different soils, but isn't crazy about wet conditions. It can handle being in shade, albeit with subdued fall colour, and pests are rarely a problem. A natural vase-shape makes it an attractive specimen plant, yet it can also be grown and pruned as a hedge. Other names for the burning bush are winged euonymus, winged wahoo, or winged spindle-tree. 
Take a closer look at the next one you see and you'll understand why. The small, corky, wing-like protrusions along the stems become obvious after the leaves have fallen, making it an interesting plant for the winter garden. Darn, now I'm wavering again. (Update -- the burning bush went, hence the Barberry added).

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