Perennials to plant with Flamingo willow

(Question)

What can I plant with flamingo willow for colour. I live in Port Colborne On.. I get afternoon sun, and soil is dry.

(Answer)

‘Flamingo’ willow (Salix integra ‘Flamingo’) is a sport of the Japanese willow that I am more familiar with, ‘Hakuro-nishiki’. These willows are grown for their colourful or dappled foliage. ‘Hakuro-nishiki’ leaves are a mix of pinks, creams and green, while the new leaves of ‘Flamingo’ are narrow and deep pink and it retains old  foliage that appears light pink and cream. Most often they are grown as a top graft, creating a topiary. They can grow to 200cm (6 ft) tall, but remain narrow (150 cm or 2ft wide). They are often used as a patio or specimen tree. For more information on the Japanese willow, see:

https://landscaping.about.com/od/landscapingshrubsbushe1/p/Japanese_willow.htm

Since the shrub is grown for its foliage, and is often a focal point in a garden, the plants you might want to grow should complement it, but not overpower it. Port Colborne is in plant hardiness zone 6b, so any plant designated zone 6 or below, and prefers sun will do well. Since the soil is dry, you should amend it with compost each year, to improve moisture and nutrient retention.  Mulch to a depth of  7 to 10 cm (3 to 4 inches) will help keep the roots cool, and retain moisture.

Perennials to go around the tree could be a mounding type, to complement the shape of the tree, but not interfere with the main shrub atop the graft. Spring blooming bulbs, such as scilla, grape hyacinth,  or species tulips such as Tulipa ‘Lilac Wonder’ would draw attention to the newly emerging foliage. Spring blooming perennials, such as bleeding heart (Dicentra spectabilis) also would complement the new foliage. The foliage from the bulbs and the bleeding heart go dormant and die down by summer. Meanwhile, drought tolerant summer bloomers, such as cranesbill (Geranium sp.) or coral bells (Heuchera sp.) will just be coming into play. Leaf shape on both are very different than the willow. the blue flowering cranesbills such as ‘Brookside’ or ‘Johnson’s Blue’ would contrast well. The spectacular foliage of coral bells such as ‘Green Spice’ or ‘Ginger Ale’ would contrast nicely.  The strappy foliage of the smaller day lilies (Hemerocallis) would look well with the narrow foliage of the shrub, but the big, blousy flowers would bring the eye in too. ‘Rosy Returns’ is rose pink and drought tolerant. These plants have been referenced in the 2013 Sheridan Nurseries catalogue.