Flowers

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

When I first became passionate about gardening and horticulture in college, I would devour books and magazines about gardens and plants. Around my junior year of college, our professor told us to take advantage of the Garden Book Club. I have no idea if this club still exists but it felt like I could order one book and then get three for free. I have a shelf full of books written by the likes of Roy Lancaster, Rosemary Verey, and other English gardeners. Looking back on those days, it seemed as though all of the great books on gardening and horticulture were written by British authors. One of the most impressive images found in several of these books was of a bluebell woods. Growing up in Raleigh, North Carolina, I had encountered a poison ivy woods, a kudzu woods, and even an old tire dump woods but nothing like the image I saw in these books.

Spanish bluebells

The vision of these bluebell woods was quite magical. If you were to look up the word idyllic in the dictionary, there would be a picture of a bluebell wood in England. Along with a unicorn casually sauntering under the oaks and amongst the plants. It was definitely a romantic version of what a landscape could be. That vision came back to me last week after nearly 20 years while visiting the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens. In case you have never been before, there is a nice area where you can walk through a grove of Spanish bluebells under a bosque of mature trees. Last week, all of the bluebells were in flower and the result was as impressive as it was in these buy 1 get 3 free gardening books.

HYACINTHOIDES HISPANICA EXCELSIOR SPANISH BLUEBELL

Spanish bluebells, or Hyacinthoides hispanica, are native to the Iberian peninsula. They are prized for their light blue flowers and dark foliage. These bulbs will usually flower between the spring flowering tulips and later, summer display. After flowering, the foliage will stay up, resulting in a dark green, almost large-leaved liriope appearance. I have heard some gardeners say that they have a short flowering time and then a lot of foliage but I, for one, do not mind the plants when they are done flowering. They have a nice and tidy mounding appearance.

Grow Spanish bluebells in full-sun to shade. Being able to thrive in shade is probably one of their greatest attributes. The soil should be rich and moist, yet well-drained. If you have yet to grow Spanish bluebells, give them a try in a shaded part of your garden in need of some late spring color.

Rodney

Images: NYC loves NYC, Fotoflora.com

 

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

Call it an obsession if you will, but I am continually searching for the biggest and boldest plants that will wow our guests when they enter Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens. One way of doing this is to bring in plants that many have possibly never encountered before. With a touch of the exotic in the garden, it makes garden visitors oooh and awww at the presence of something new in their midst. These oooh’s and awww’s can have a little special twist when these new plants look somewhat familiar. I can already anticipate the responses from avid gardeners when I tell them that the 5 foot tall plant in front of them is a geranium. “A geranium?!? Well, I thought it did look a bit like a geranium but there is no way that one could ever get this big.”

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This time of year is such a treat.  It is so full of beautiful flowering trees and shrubs that it is hard to take it all in and really feel like you have enjoyed it before it fades into the green of summer.

My own garden boasts a Cercis canadensis (Eastern Red bud) that is just about to burst open with flowers, a Heptacodium miconioides (Seven Sons Tree), a gorgeous burgundy blooming crabapple of unknown variety, a hand full of voluptuous Pierus (andromeda) and a few “flowering weepers” (so-called by the previous owner who insisted that this was their proper name when I tried to get the bottom of their actual variety). It’s a nice mix, but I’m a connoisseur of the out of the ordinary and special – I believe there are quite enough Bradford pears in my corner of the world and that I am doing no one any favors by planting more.  Rather, I like to surprise and experiment and with that in mind I have a lot of lists with a lot of constantly evolving plant ideas.

halesia tree by rochelle greayer www.studiogblog.comAt the top of my ‘Spring flowering Tree List’ are the following….should I happen across one of these in the nursery at a good price it will surely find its way home with me….

Halesia is such a delicate tree that reminds me the handkerchief tree (Davidia involucrata) (which I am similarly obsessed with). Halesia’s flowers are bell-shaped and it likes my naturally acidic soil.  I’d honestly take any variety (there are some that have larger flowers, some that are tinged pink and other interesting varieties) as all I really care about is being able to stand beneath it and look up into the warren of pretty dangling flowers.

crataegus laevigata paul's scarlet (creative commons  by A. Barra.)Crataegus laevigata ‘Paul’s Scarlet’ was a tree I fell in love with back in my London Days.  I lived in a Street called Greencroft Gardens in West Hampstead and on the way to the tube station was a huge hawthorn across from a similarly large Ceanothus.  The two were such focal points for the whole road, my husband and I couldn’t help but remark about them daily.  At the time I was unfamiliar with the Hawthorn and had no idea what it was – I called the giant mini rose tree (as the clustered flowers are just like roses and literally cover the tree).  I’ve never seen one here in New England I’d consider it quite a find to discover one. 

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Fritillaria close up

After a winter that we will be talking about for winters to come along the East Coast, everyone is delighted more than ever to see spring arrive. One of the ways that we have come to welcome spring is with the arrival of flowering bulbs. Daffodils are of course the easiest, tulips are indeed the divas of the bulb world, and then there is a plethora of other bulbs to catch people’s attention.

One of my favorite spring flowering bulbs is the yellow crown imperial or Fritillaria imperials ‘Maxima Lutea.’

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Have you ever heard of Ellen Willmott? She was an heiress who blew through her fortune on gardens and plants. Hailing from the UK, she spent vast sums of money on building gardens in Europe, staff to maintain these gardens, and plants to fill the garden beds. Several sources report that she had approximately 100,000 different types of plants in her garden. Her inheritance funded numerous plant exploration trips in the late 1800′s and early 1900′s. From these trips, newly introduced plants were named with willmottiae or warleyensis in honor of her name and her garden, Warley. Willmott was eccentric and obsessed with the art of gardening. Another source reported that she would fire gardeners if they missed a weed in the mixed border. Unfortunately, near the end of her life, she had to sell off most of her property and possessions to pay off her debts. Her garden and home at Warley were eventually razed although now the area is a nature preserve.

Eryngium_giganteum_Silver_Ghost

Her legend lives on in the plants named in her honor and most notably, Eryngium giganteum. This species of sea holly is silver blue, reaching heights of nearly 3 feet when in flower. Eryngium giganteum is a short-lived perennial, usually dying after flowering. It is a self-seeder in the plant bed so it will come back from seed even after it dies. Ellen Willmott so loved the giant sea holly that she typically carried seed around with her wherever she traveled. Miss Willmott felt that a garden could always use a giant sea holly so she would freely toss out seed in others’ gardens. The seeds would germinate and turn into plants, earning the common name of Miss Willmott’s Ghost. Can you imagine inviting a horticultural celebrity over to your home only to find out later that they threw out seeds of a spiny, silvery plant in your garden? That is exactly what she did and people began to associate the presence of an Eryngium giganteum with a visit from Ellen Willmott. After searching on-line, Miss Willmott’s ghost appears to be more popular in the United Kingdom than here in the United States.

Eryngium giganteum

I am working on a garden design for a naturalistic border here in Maine where I would like to contrast the fine texture of Heavy Metal panicum with the bold, spiky foliage of Miss Willmott’s ghost. I have never grown this Eryngium before so it will be fun to see how this combination works out later this summer. Have you grown any of the Eryngium species before? If so, have you tried E. giganteum?

-Rodney

Images: Plant Database, jardinage.net