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Originally published Friday, April 5, 2013 at 11:00 AM

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New garden delights: this week it's trees and shrubs

Remember, no one has grown these new trees and shrubs long enough to know how they'll fare over the long haul.

Special to The Seattle Times

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Today's column is the first in our annual series featuring new garden delights. Next week: perennials.

Local news partner - Plant Talk

Valerie Easton writes in her blog about gardens and the people who make them.

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YOU'D HAVE TO be a forensic horticulturist to figure out which trees and shrubs are truly new this or any spring. .

And yet ... Who can (or should?) resist an orange-leafed redbud or the first-ever hydrangea with purple foliage?

Remember, no one has grown these new trees and shrubs long enough to know how they'll fare over the long haul. So keep an eye on them while you challenge visitors to a game of Name That Plant.

Along with ornamental cherries, magnolias are surely the most beloved of flowering trees. The debut of yellow-flowering Magnolia 'Sunsation' amps up the cachet. Big, goblet-shaped, waxy blooms, blushed with rosy pink, open in late April; the flowers turn pure lemon yellow by summer. This hardy magnolia matures at 20 to 30 feet high with an elegant, open shape.

There's great buzz about Hydrangea aspera 'Plum Passion,' and not just because it's introduced by Dan Hinkley via Monrovia. Discovered in China, this is the first-ever hydrangea with purple foliage. It grows 5 to 6 feet tall, and has pretty, lacy flowers. Not that you'll grow it for the flowers. This hydrangea is all about leaves that are large, soft and surprisingly dark.

'Pistachio' hydrangea (H. macrophylla 'Horwack') caused a big stir when it debuted at the Far West Show this past August. It has big, old-fashioned mophead flowers in a completely fresh and eye-catching color combination of chartreuse-green and violet-red. 'Pistachio' grows just 3 to 4 feet tall, so it slips neatly into borders or large containers.

Yews have a lovely, bristly texture, shown to perfection in this new gold-tipped version that grows wider than it does tall. The natural, sprawling shape of Huber's Tawny Gold Spreading Yew (Taxus x media 'Huber's Tawny Gold') works well as a low hedge, or creates a puddle-of-sunlight effect when planted in a border.

Foliage that morphs into wild colors through the seasons is the new, new thing. Like the 'Amber Jubilee' ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius 'Jefam'), with foliage that starts out yellow and orange, turns lime green in summer, then tints red and purple in autumn. It's a cross between the purple-foliaged 'Diablo' and the sunnier 'Gold's Dart,' and more exciting than either of its parents. Ninebarks are rambling deciduous shrubs known for their oak-like leaves. 'Amber Jubilee' grows 5 to 6 feet tall, and colors up best grown in full sunshine.

OK, I admit to ordering one of the new golden-foliaged redbuds, another chameleon with dramatically changing leaf color. Cercis canadensis 'Rising Sun' has heart-shaped leaves that are apricot-orange in spring, yellow-speckled-with-lime-green in summer, turning butter yellow and orange in autumn. The trunk and branches are studded with little lavender-rose flowers before it leafs out in late spring. It sounds brilliant, but redbuds have the rep for "pulling a daphne" aka sudden death. I consider 'Rising Sun' a research project to be grown in a pot for at least a few years; I'll let you know if this new beauty is a shirker or a do-gooder.

Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer. Check out her blog at www.valeaston.com.

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