Like many Connecticut gardeners, or for that matter gardeners who deal with deer in their gardens regardless of where they live, I am always searching for low-care, deer-resistant shrubs. If they can offer me a display of flowers, especially in the summer when many shrubs are quiet, that’s an added bonus.
Last year, I may have stumbled upon a hidden gem quite by accident. I had seen Sorbaria sorbifolia ‘Sem’ in the garden center several times last spring but could never quite make the decision to buy one. There were so many other more interesting plants to capture my attention with their bright flowers or shiny leaves or promise of being unpalatable to deer.
But there was something about Sem that keep drawing me over. At first I thought it looked like a roadside weed and when I found out it grows by suckers I was even more reluctant to buy one.
But then I started focusing on it’s pinnate-shaped leaves that were shades of green, orange, red and pink all at the same time. I figured the soft, fernlike texture of Sem would make a good foil for some of the other shrubs in my garden so I took the plunge and bought one.
The growing instructions on the container said:
- Tolerates full sun to part shade
- Not picky about soil but the soil does need to be well-draining
- White spirea-like flowers in summer (hence it’s common name of False Spirea)
- Stems on new growth are pink
- Leaves mature to a chartreuse color in the fall
- Suitable for zones 3 – 7
- Mature size is approximately 3′ x 3′
Well, I must admit, I was disappointed by Sem’s performance in my garden last year. On the bright side, the deer did not bother it although they did browse the nearby abelia’s which are on just about everyone’s deer-resistant list.
I never got any flowers, the new growth didn’t have pink stems and the foliage didn’t shine in my fall garden like I thought it would.
I think the problem was that I had planted Sem in a spot that was more shady than sunny so that may be the reason why it underperformed for me since the soil conditions were fine. In the fall, I moved the plant to a spot that is in the full sun so I have high hopes for Sem to really be a hidden gem this year.
This picture was taken today (April 5th) and as you can see Sem is already putting on a show. Many of my other deciduous plants are just starting to leaf out but Sem is covered in pink, red and orange little leaves. I’m going to give Sem one more growing season to wow me and hopefully I will be able to unequivocally say Sem is a ‘hidden gem’.
So, the lesson to be learned is that you don’t always get the site location right the first time you plant. When a plant tag says ‘tolerates part shade’ that may not be the case in your garden. Many plants that tolerate part shade are actually in need of protection from the hot mid-afternoon summer sun but they still need about 6 hours of sun each day.
Be aware of how plants are supposed to perform and if they are underperforming be prepared to make changes. It can be difficult to get reliable information about how new plant introductions like Sem will perform in your area but the time spent researching will be worthwhile.
We’ve all had to learn from our mistakes in the garden but the wonderful part of the learning curve is there’s always a new growing season right around the corner. And a new growing season means another chance to get it right. I’d love to hear about the ’lessons learned’ from your own garden if you’d like to share them.