rodneyeason

Deinanthe mass

Summer is the time for vacations, warm temperatures, and flowering hydrangeas. Among the things that New Englanders come to count on in summertime include ice cream and hydrangeas in flower. Just in our small town of Boothbay, never have I seen so many hydrangeas planted. Due to our mild summers, hydrangea blossoms here along the Maine coast are enormous. It must be the ample moisture, warm days, and cool nights that lead to the huge flowers. Everyone loves to see big hydrangeas in the garden but lurking in the shadows is a lesser-known, herbaceous relative: Deinanthe caerulea. This native of China has the incredibly creative common name of “false hydrangea.” Come on guys, can’t we think up a better name than that for this strangely attractive plant with eye-catching blue flowers? How about “ground-cover hydrangea?” Or “little blue rarity that nobody else has?”

Deinanthe plant

We have a healthy grouping of Deinanthe at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens planted in the shade of a mature larch tree. A friend was admiring the clump this past weekend and suggested that we move some plants to a sunnier location as they would get larger. I have a couple of spots in mind as right now, they are really tucked away so only the plant connoisseurs will recognize them. For those who do catch a glimpse of them, they will see what look like small hydrangeas with nodding, light cerulean blue flowers. Our plants are around 2 feet in height and slightly more in width. In researching this post, I see that there is also Deinanthe bifida along with hybrid between D. bifida and D. caerulea. I definitely will look to add these to the gardens this year as well. Have you grown any of the false hydrangeas? If so, what has been your experience with the plants?

Rodney

Images: Rodney Eason

Occasionally, I will get the urge to obsess over a group of plants. I have gone mad for Magnolias, frenetic for Fothergilla, hysterical for Hydrangea, but now I am going crazy for a rediscovered genus. That genus is Cuphea or cigar flower (get it? on fire for Cuphea).

Cuphea llavea

Cuphea takes me back to my college days and plant identification class. We had to learn two different Cuphea: C. hyssopifolia and C. ignea or Mexican heather and cigar flower, respectively. Cuphea hyssopifolia was marginally hardy where I grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina and in mild winters, it would sometimes come back from the roots. I always thought they were cute but not show-stopping plants. A couple of years later, during a summer internship at Walt Disney World, I got to see Mexican heather growing in its full glory in Orlando. Over the 20 years since that summer internship, Cuphea and I would occasionally cross paths but never engaging in a deep conversation.

This year, I am starting to develop a Cuphea crush. The warm weather we have been having in New England has made our plants ignite. We are growing Cuphea llavea and C. micropetala. C. llavea is a small, mounding plant covered with small flowers that have a deep purple center and red tips to the petals. The bi-color effect is what gives it the common name of “bat-faced cuphea.” Cuphea micropetala is turning into more of a small shrub with erect flower stems producing yellow and orange flowers.

Cuphea micropetala

I am just starting to do some more research on the genus and see that there are 260 different species, all native to the Americas. Next year, I cannot wait to try as many Cuphea as we can find. Some of these newer plants are truly show stoppers with guests in the gardens asking “what is that plant?” Are there any Cuphea that you recommend I trial next year in our gardens?

-Rodney

Images: Rodney Eason

Gillenia trifoliata

I think this Summer has been absolutely fantastic here in Maine. So far, there has been plenty of sunshine and enough warmth to make everything grow and prosper. The plants have leapt from the slow, cool spring to seemingly take in all that summer has to offer, just like the throngs of tourists that visit Maine. Several times per week, I walk through the gardens here at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, taking notes on how gardens look, how plants are performing, and how weeds can grow at the rate of Dr. Bruce Banner morphing into the Incredible Hulk. I have mentioned several times about the winter of 2014 and how rough it was in New England and for many along the eastern coast of the United States. The cold winter and afore to mentioned spring have led to what I am calling the Monty Python effect. Remember that scene from “The Holy Grail” when a couple of men are removing the dead from a Middle Ages village? They pick up the one guy and attempt to place him in the cart when he responds: “I’m not dead yet!”

For a couple of months, I felt like there were an entire cluster of these plants that were not exactly dead yet. They had succumbed to the plague of frost and sub-zero temperatures. It seemed that daily, I was scratching the bark with my fingernail or gently cut a small branch with my Felco #2′s to see if there was any evidence of green. It is now mid-July and we have mostly removed all of the dead and pruned back all of the near-dead branches.

Gillenia close up

The flip-side to the Monty Python effect are the plants that have prospered from the cold and now mild summer. Besides the weeds, I am blown away by the colors and the growth rate of many of our hardy, perennial plants. I am going to go out on a limb and say the MVP (most valuable plant) of 2014 thus far has been Gillenia trifoliata. This fantastic, native perennial leapt from the ground in mid-spring and has been flowering for well over a month. The airy, 5-petaled, white, star-shaped flowers are soft and borne en masse above the leaves for a dramatic effect. The flowering stalks will top out at 3-4 feet in height so this is formidable perennial. The leaves are trifoliate and vary between a deep green and light green depending on exposure, soil moisture, and nutrition. Most references list this as plant for partial shade but we can get away with more sun here along the Maine coast. The stems provide a nice contrast as they are a deep, unobtrusive red. As the temperatures start to decline and the season changes to fall, Gillenia trifoliata leaves turn a brilliant red color. The common names for this MVP are Bowman’s root, Indian physic, and fawn’s breath. These common names crack me up as the first two are masculine and mysterious while the fawn’s breath has me visualizing Bambi hiding down inside of it on a frosty morn just before it wakes up and eats the entire plant down to the ground. That was just a joke. I have no idea if deer like Gillenia trifoliata. Given that it is in the rose family and somewhat related to Spiraea, deer may eat it if given the chance. I would appreciate any feedback if deer do like Bowman’s root.

In addition to being a wonderful plant in the garden, the flowers work well and hold up as cuts for arrangements. Also, after the flowers fade, the red calyces persist on the stems, adding to their seasonal interest. That finest of countries which gave the world Monty Python, has also given Gillenia trifoliata the Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society. This is one of the highest awards that a plant can receive from the RHS.

Now, I beg your pardon, when are you adding Gillenia trifoliata  to your garden?

-Rodney

Images: Slottstradgardsmastaren, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

 

This week I want to take a break from writing about all of the cool plants that I am surrounded by each week to reflect on what it means to be a gardener. When I use the term gardener, I am using it loosely to describe anyone who passionately associates themselves with a garden as their career. This weekend, I turned 42. Do not ask me why this birthday felt so monumental and has caused such a reflection on my life. By reflection, I don’t mean “mid-life crisis” kind of reflection. I will never have “a mid-life crisis” because I generally have one every 3-4 years. During our 16 years of marriage, Carrie and I have had 4 kids, moved 9 times, I’ve had 5 different positions, and found a couple of years in there to squeeze in a graduate degree. My point is: why should I have a mid-life crisis? Our life has been nothing but constant change, some expected and some unexpected – i.e. the twins, but the two constants have been our marriage and my profession.

Shovels

A couple of weeks ago, the national conference for the American Public Gardens Association was in Denver, Colorado. This is the one time per year when colleagues at gardens across the country are able to come together and share stories and ideas about working at a public garden. This is also a time when we are able to see how much we enjoy gardens and plants along with how much we enjoy other people who work at gardens. There is something about those of us who choose gardening as our profession and passion. We love being outside, working with plants, and sharing that passion with others who visit our gardens. I love the example of Fergus Garrett, head gardener and director at one of England’s most famous gardens, Great Dixter. Fergus will sometimes go for weeks without responding to a single email. He once said that he makes sure that he checks email at least once every two weeks, whether he has to or not. He would rather be out in the gardens, working on the plantings, training his staff, and interacting with the public face to face who will travel across the world to see their garden rather than responding to someone electronically. Read the full post

It feels great to be home. For the past week and a half, I was on the road between Maine and Pennsylvania, Boston and Denver. Now, I am back. Feeling jetlagged but it is great to be home with my family in this wonderful Maine summer. This morning, I walked around the garden making a list of things to do and take care of for the gardens here at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens. While I was away for a week and a half, many of the plants in the garden took off with the summer warmth. I always have a bit of skepticism when trying a new plant in the gardens, especially en masse. One plant that we used quite a bit of this summer was cape fuchsia or Phygelius rectus. Cape fuchsia is native to South Africa so of course I was skeptical that it would thrive in a cool, moist, Maine summer. But we have grown these plants before and since this is our year of focusing on pollinators as an overarching theme, I thought that these hummingbird attractors would make a nice addition.

Phygelius

When I left Maine almost a week and a half ago, the Phygelius were starting to flower. When I saw them today, they were starting to look spectacular. They may be somewhat small in stature (18-24″ in height) but the bright red flowers are just what the garden needs. The 2″ nodding, tubular flowers are borne on terminal spikes. Even though they have a common name of “fuchsia,” they are more closely related to foxgloves. The cultivar that we are using en masse is “Devil’s Tears.” This is reportedly the truest red of all cultivars. The best thing about these flowers is that they should continue to flower until frost. For us, that is over 5 months of flowering time!

Grow cape fuchsia in a warm, well-drained spot in full to part-sun. In a mild winter, Phygelius can come back from a winter dormancy here in our USDA zone 6a gardens. This past winter, our climates dipped to -7 degrees Fahrenheit and none of the Phygelius survived. After two wicked winters, we are certainly due for a pleasant, mild winter. I have high hopes that this will be true so that in 2015, our gardens will be covered with huge clumps of this gorgeous plant.

Phygelius x rectus 'African Queen' Ornamental Border 0613

Are you growing cape fuchsia in your garden? If so, which cultivar(s) and are you in awe of it as much as I am this year?

Rodney

Images: plantify.co.uk, Bradner Gardens Park

There are plants that people love and then there are plants that people hate. Some of the plants that a lot of people love, have a few detractors as well. One plant that I have found most people really like and enjoy in their garden is the columbine. I have always thought that columbine is a beautiful plant with its light green, somewhat fleshy leaves and stems. The foliage is beautiful in its own right, having a somewhat fern-like appearance because of the dissected leaves. Depending on the plant, the leaf color can vary between a light green to almost blue because of the waxy coating to the leaves.

Aquilegia vulgaris 'William Guinness'

The real beauty of the columbine are the bell-shaped, spurred flowers that are held above the foliage on long flower stalks. The foliage forms a clump well over 2 feet by 2 feet, with flowers held up to 3 feet high. There are usually many flowers on a well-grown plant which makes for a festive and beautiful appearance in the garden. All of the columbines that I had ever seen were either yellow, red, or shades of pastel colors. This past weekend, I was working in the garden at Coastal Maine Botanical Garden when a friend pointed out a certain columbine. Wow, was my immediate reaction! I had never seen a columbine so unusual with tall, dark flowers and a central, white tube. The plant was Aquilegia vulgaris ‘William Guiness.’ William Guiness sets itself apart from other columbines by having dark-purple flowers with a white corolla. Have you ever grown this columbine? Most of our guests who walked by the plant were talking and pointing at it. “What is it?” “It looks like a columbine.” “I have never seen a flower so dark before.” were some of their responses.

Aquilegia vulgaris William Guiness

Plant William Guiness columbine in a rich, moist, and well-drained garden soil. Full to part-sun is needed for northern latitudes while areas farther south will require some shade for it to grow. Add this columbine to your garden and watch your friends stop and ask you what exactly is that plant in flower.

-Rodney

Images: 99roots.com, planteoversikt.blogspot.com

School is almost out for the summer here in New England. Thankfully, our kids only have two snow make-up days so they are getting out next Monday. With four kids and two working parents, planning out their summer activities can require the skills of a major event planner. A major part of our kids’ summer will be spent at theater camp. Boothbay has a wonderful arts program and they have really loved getting involved with theatrical productions. Their favorite show on Netflix is the London performance of Phantom of the Opera. The girls now walk around the house singing “Masquerade!”

In the spirit of our theatrical children, I would like to introduce this week’s plant with a short screenplay.

Cerastium tomentosum

Husband and wife walking through garden: “What is this beautiful plant? I have never seen anything quite like it.”

Plant: “Yo, yo, baby.” (in Bronx accent)

Wife: “Excuse me?”

Plant: “Yo, yo, baby. My name is yo yo.”

Husband: “What kind of name is that?”

Wife: “Yeah, what kind of name is that?”

Plant: “Do I look like snow in summer to you?”

Wife: “Not really. But you do have nice, white flowers. And silver foliage.”

Plant: “The person who found me called me Yo Yo. That is my cultivated name. I am better behaved than some of my relatives. And besides, do I sound like a snow in summer kind of plant to you?”

Husband: “Not really. Who are your relatives?”

Plant: “Carnations. Cheddar pinks. Nice family but real pushovers. People practically walk all over them. I wanted to present a stronger image for my family. Deer and rabbits do not eat me. Once I am settled, I can handle full sun and well drained soil.”

Wife: “Where do you like to grow? Can you take the cold?”

Plant: “Boy, do I like the cold. I am one tough hombre, yo. Your hardiness zone maps have me down from 3 to 7.”

Husband: “Can you grow down south?”

Plant: “Fuhgettaboutit!”

Cerastium_tomentosum

Ok, obviously I should not quit my day job and become a playwright. Snow in summer or Cerastium tomentosum ‘Yo Yo’ may never become the leading man in your garden, but it will make a nice edger for a sunny pathway or even amongst a stone wall. We planted several plants last year in the Rose and Perennial Garden at Coastal Maine Botanical Garden. After one of worst winter in years, all of the plants came right back to life as soon as the snow melted. Now, in early June, the patches of grey foliage are covered with white flowers. Each plant is covering a 30″ space and looks to be a spreading perennial of a moderate rate. From what I read about the straight species, it appears to be a rapid spreader while ‘Yo Yo’ is slower with deeper grey foliage.

Have you grown snow in summer or its improved cousin, ‘Yo Yo?’

Rodney

Images: Enrico Blasutto, Jerzy Opiola