Plants

Arisaema consanguineum Silver Center

One of the biggest challenges that I found with high latitude gardening is looking for bold-foliaged plants that can take mild summers and cooler nights. There are the usual suspects: canna, caladium, and bananas but each of these plants really are slow to get growing and need a lot of winter care inside of a heated greenhouse to carry over. What we need in the garden is a hardy, bold plant that can provide the contrast in texture without the extra care of having to dig and overwinter in a heated greenhouse. Notice that I have used the phrase heated greenhouse twice, well, now three times. That is because I recently tallied all of our fuel bills for the past year for keeping our greenhouse warm over the winter. Holy smokes! Let’s just say that this year, we are looking for alternative ways to overwinter a few, carefully selected, tender plants without having to fire up the greenhouse.

We are also growing the list of hardy plants that give the bold impact of a canna or caladium without the worry and expense of surprising and highly erratic propane bills. I am going to start this list by writing near the top, Arisaema consanguineum, or Himalayan cobra lily. Have you ever seen this plant? My first thought when I saw it in our gardens at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens was, “there is no way that is hardy here!” You know what? Not only is it hardy, it is thriving as we are seeing offsets and seedlings from the parent plants. The Himalayan cobra lily is reported to be hardy to at least USDA zone 5. Let me know if you are successfully growing this in zone 5 or even colder areas.

Our plants are perennials and emerge slowly in the spring while continuing to grow and expand, reaching a height of 3-4 feet tall. Our entire mass is now around 10 feet across. Each leaf is held aloft by a single, basal stalk. This leaf is divided into 12, long and attractive leaflets. Each leaflet is approximately 12 inches long, making each leaf around 2 feet in diameter. The really cool part of the leaflets, can be the long leaf tip which varies in length by seedling. Some of these leaf tips look like threads hanging off of the end of the leaflet. Depending on the age of the plant, it may produce several leaf stalks from a single, underground corm. As the planting matures, they take on the textural comparison of a small palm.

A consanguineum opus

Another thing I really like about Arisaema consanguineum is the variability in the seedlings. Once established, the plants will flower with their exotic, cobra-esque, jack in the pulpit flowers and possibly even set seed. From these seed, the possibilities are exciting. Ellen Hornig at the now shuttered Seneca Hill perennials, introduced some fine silver leaved forms including the cultivar ‘Poseidon.’ Poseidon has a soft, silver sheen and can grow as tall as 5 feet in height.

As for culture, I have found that Arisaema as a genus are somewhat forgiving of soil conditions but grow best in extremely rich, fertile loam with slightly higher than average moisture. A nice top dressing of compost in the spring can aid the plant to bulk up and multiply.

Now you know that Arisaema consanguineum is an outstanding plant on the top of my 2015 shopping list, how about you? What are you seeking out this fall and winter to grow in 2015?

-Rodney

Images: Plant Delights Nursery, Opus Plants

There have only ever been two plants that I had my photo taken with during my years of being obsessed with plants. The first was a Stewartia pseudocamellia in the fall of 1994 at Longwood Gardens. This was by accident as I was taking a picture of a gorgeous tree with its exfoliating bark and red fall color when a bystander insisted that I get my photograph taken with the tree. This was in the days of film cameras so somewhere in a shoebox is a picture of me in front of that Stewartia.

Rodney with Gunnera 2

The second plant I have actually had my picture taken in front of twice. In 2008, I was on a trip to England when our group visited the fantastic gardens at Great Dixter. Near the back of the gardens, past the nursery and beside of the rill was a gigantic Gunnera. You know Gunnera, right? That big leaved plant that seems to thrive in most parts of the world except for the east coast of the United States. There it was, the same plant that I had seen in so many different magazines and books. It always seems that someone is always standing in front of the leaves for a size comparison in the pictures. The leaves had to be at least 5 feet across and the entire clump was about 8 feet tall and 12 feet across. I instinctively asked one of my travel companions to take my picture in front of the plant. That, I thought, would be my first and last live encounter with the plant.

Lo and behold, the following year I had the good fortune to travel to France and see many gardens in and around Paris. One garden we visited was off the beaten path in Normandy. I was not expecting a lot as it was a municipal site but once we got in, it blew me away. Around one corner, there was the largest Gunnera that I had ever seen in my life. This plant was easily 12 feet tall and 15 feet across. The leaves were enormous. Since none of my friends were nearby, I ran around until I found one and asked that they take my picture in front of the plant.

Gunnera

Both of these plants were Gunnera manicata, which is native to southern Brazil. Gunnera tinctoria is another notable species which is native to southern Chile. I would think that G. tinctoria would be hardier and might survive our winters a bit better than G. manicata. We were growing G. manicata in our USDA zone 6a gardens at Coastal Maine for a couple of years until a really cold winter finally did it in. We supposedly have a much hardier strain which we planted in the gardens this summer. I hope that the plant has had enough time to root in and become somewhat established before the onset of winter. I am also on the hunt for some superb forms of G. tinctoria to try. I just read that it has escaped cultivation in Ireland and New Zealand to the point of becoming a noxious weed in some areas. Once we do find seed or plants of Gunnera tinctoria, it will be grown in an area where we can keep a close eye on its behavior. Being able to find a Gunnera that will not only grow but thrive in our Maine climate has become somewhat of a quest for the Holy Grail. I have heard that a hardy form exists and we are on a lifelong search to prove that it exists.

Have you ever grown any of the Gunnera species? If so, which one and how did it perform for you?

-Rodney

Images: Rodney Eason, Plantilus

Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Patrick Dempsey, Jennifer Aniston, and Sandra Bullock. I started naming random actors whose names relay beauty and attraction. If you were to do the same exercise with plants, which might come to mind? Coneflowers, roses, hibiscus, hydrangeas, and magnolias. What about Helenium or sneezeweeds? Maybe not the first plant to come to mind. Heleniums are like the Jude Law of the garden world. Almost all of you recognize the name. Some of you know exactly who he is while others of you think, “hmm, skinny British actor, right? I recognize the name but I can’t quite recognize the face.”
Helenium is a wonderful perennial with bad PR. Well, I am here to change that. The name Helenium is in honor of Helen of Troy, who in Greek mythology was Zeus’ daughter and the most beautiful woman in the world. Here is where you see the bad PR kicking in. How did a plant commemorating the most beautiful woman in the world become “sneezeweed?” I say we give it the new common name of Helen of Troy’s flower or Daughter of Zeus. Either way, it is way better than sneezeweed and since common names are colloquial, we can name it whatever we want.
Helenium hybrida 'Helbro' Mardi Gras with rudbeckia Goldsturm- lerner garden august 2013-DS7_1048
Now that we have the branding business out of the way, let us move on to the plants at hand. Any plant that can flower on sturdy stems from 4-5 feet in height from mid to late summer until frost is definitely worthy of consideration in the garden. Of the 40 or so species of Helenium, H. autumnale is the most common and garden worthy. This eastern US native begins to emerge from the ground each spring and continues to grow until it reaches its ultimate height in mid-summer. The plants maintain a somewhat uniform height and habit which makes a wonderful impact as it flowers en masse. The flowers can make quite an impact as a large group with their shades of oranges, yellows, reds, and even multi-colored flowers. Here at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, we grow the red and orange striped cultivar ‘Helbro’ or Mardi Gras, the orange flowered ‘Moerheim Beauty,’ and the red with some yellow ‘Red Jewel.’ They are just finishing their flowering now and we will begin cutting them back after our first frost. Speaking of frost and cold, they are hardy to USDA zone 3 or 4 depending on your soils and location. Helenium autumnale cultivars grow best in full sun with a rich and well-drained soil. They need adequate moisture as they emerge and start to flower. As for the common name of “sneezeweed,” this is an unfortunate moniker because the leaves were at one time made into a snuff and inhaled through the nose to force sneezing. This was believed to eliminate sicknesses. Now that we have modern medicine, it is time to drop the moniker of sneezeweed forever!
Helenium Moorheim Beauty 2
Did you know that Jude Law was nominated for two Academy Awards? Did you know that there are 12 cultivars of Helenium autumnale that have been awarded the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit? This winter, as you plan your garden changes for 2015, be sure to add Helen of Troy’s flower to your garden designs while you are watching a Jude Law, Netflix marathon.
-Rodney
Images: William Cullina

“I am not drinking (expletive) Merlot!” – Miles from the movie Sideways

This past weekend, a group of friends and I were running in a relay race across the Adirondack mountains. When you are not running, you are spending hours in a van following the next member of your team. With all of these hours, you go through so many different conversations, including relaying the storyline to the movie Sideways to one of our team members who had yet to see this classic movie about friends discovering themselves in wine country. I guess you could say that the irony in this situation was that we may have been discovering ourselves while running in this 200 mile relay by talking about men discovering themselves. But maybe not. My running club in not the first place I think of for self-help junkies and wine drinkers. They are more the suck it up and pass me a beer kind of friends, which I need.

Cercis Merlot tree

I came back to work today feeling aware and refreshed as if I had been at a spiritual retreat. I guess if you call riding in a van with a bunch of smelly guys and running over 23 miles at various periods oner 24 hours meditation, then so be it. As I was making my way through the gardens, I walked by one of my favorite trees, the Merlot redbud, Cercis x ‘Merlot.’ In a film noir moment, I immediately replayed the conversation from the weekend along with the mental clip of Miles stating in Sideways that he hoped his blind date would not drink merlot. You are probably now thinking that is a strange and ironic story or that I am a strange person and feeling the utmost sympathy for my wife because she has to put up with these kinds of streams of consciousness constantly. If you are thinking the latter, you are welcome to mail her a bottle of merlot in order to cope with my ramblings.

Cercis-Merlot

Ok, let’s put a fine point on this story. Whether you like merlot or not, add a Merlot redbud to give your garden a refined taste. Why, you might ask? Because it is one of the most fantastic, dark-leaved, small flowering trees in cultivation. Dr. Dennis Werner from North Carolina State University crossed a dark-leaved redbud, Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’ with an ecotype from Texas and Mexico know as Cercis canadensis var. texensis. Dr. Werner selected one seedling from this lot because of its dark leaf color (from Forest Pansy) and thick glossy leaves (from its Texas cousin). The Merlot redbud matures at 12 to 15′ in height and width so it will make the perfect small tree for the residential landscape. As most redbuds, it has bright pink flowers on all parts of the stems before the leaves emerge. Redbuds are one of the few trees that even flower along the main trunk. After flowering, the deep burgundy, well, I guess you could say merlot colored leaves emerge. The foliage color is held throughout the summer until the leaves drop in the fall. The trees are reportedly hardy to USDA zone 6 but I have a sneaking suspicion that they may be a bit hardier than the literature states.

– Rodney

Images: NC State Department of Horticulture, Mail Order Trees

 

Setaria palmifolia

*sort of

When I say sort of, I am alluding to the fact that this plant that looks like a palm is not really a palm. It is a grass that looks like a palm thus the common and not so creative name of palm grass. Palm grass or as is known in the Latin circles as Setaria palmifolia is a fast-growing annual grass. We brought our plants in as quart pots in late May of this year from Landcraft Environments, a wholesale nursery that operates on Long Island. June tends to stay relatively cool on the Maine coast and palm grass slowly starts to grow and stretch. By the end of summer, as temperatures reach the low 80’s on a daily basis, Setaria palmifolia plants are now over 3 feet tall and wide. The dark green leaves are around 3-4 inches in width, with ridges running along the leaf blades which make them resemble a palm leaf.

Having this texture in the mixed border is a nice contrast, especially in an area where palm trees seem to grow in various shades of greenish-yellow during the summer while taking on a perma-brown cast during the winter months. There is a good reason why palm trees have evolved not to live in New England. They hate the weather! That said, I love New England and I love palms so this is a seasonal compromise after our experiment growing needle palms this past winter turned into a mushy disaster.

The leaves and texture of palm grass are coarse with the plant forming a slightly upright clump. The palm grass makes for a nice backdrop for finer textured plants such as kangaroo paws, salvias, and foxgloves. Here in New England, I would grow the plants in full sun, with adequate moisture and ample nutrition. We mulch our plants early in the season with compost and then give them an extra boost with organic liquid fertilizer as soon as the temperatures start to reach their summer highs.

Setaria-palmifolia

We are planning on digging up a couple of clumps this winter and storing them in our greenhouse for safe keeping for next summer. I am looking forward to seeing how large this clump will become next summer from an established plant. If you live in a warmer climate where palm trees grow extremely well outside, year-round (USDA zones 8 and above) I would caution you to consider sticking with your palms over the palm grass. Setaria as a genus has a tendency to be a weed grass in southeast Asia and India. There are reports of palm grass self seeding in warmer parts of the United States so I would advise against its use in these warmer climes. For us here in New England who do not have the luxury of growing palms outside, year round (maybe it is the 3 to 4 months of snow and cold that do them in as it does in most people), palm grass is a wonderful annual to provide that tropical texture in mixed plantings.

– Rodney

Images: Rodney Eason, Lifestyle Home

There is nothing like the official change of season (autumn equinox – I see you)  to inspire a look back over the summer.   I’ve done these posts for many years and I am always so grateful for them come spring – it is helpful to remind myself what was fresh in my mind the previous fall.  Do you do something similar?

I highly recommend it.

So, my vegetable garden was less than stellar (again) this year, but the bright star in the middle of the sickly, bunny ravaged, frustrating mess was my strawberry tower. Here is how the strawberry tower grew in.  Pretty right?  And so much better than the fleeing strawberries.  The Goldilocks Rocks Bidens Hybrid at the bottom was so happy, I am left wondering if doing the whole thing in just that one plant might be a good idea.  I will definitely play with this again.

strawberry tower  by rochelle greayer www.studiogblog.com

Here is a look from the top – the Euphorbia Diamond Frost and the Sunsatia Coconut Nemesia were a white combo that I think I will try again too – perhaps in other containers.
strawberry tower  by rochelle greayer www.studiogblog.com

My other big love this year was Dahlias – I’ve grown them before, but never as successfully as I did this year.  I’ll have to do a whole run down post of them separately – but check out this one… it is only the size of the palm of my hand and I found her face down in the dirt….and she still looks pretty great. Her friends are bigger than my face and you can literally admire them from 50 feet away.  In my big garden these ladies are really holding their own.

dahlia by rochelle greayer www.studiogblog.com

On the patio of I have coleus of various sorts in pots.  I fallen hard for two varieties, Sedona (which is clashing like crazy with the purple nemesia  that I paired it with  -so I am not sharing that eye bleeding shot – but loving both plants nonetheless – just need to separate) and this one Marooned.  These less variegated varieties were pretty luscious.  Those grassy bits in the shot are lemongrass (which was a great paring with the coleus) but next year I think I will try some of these great foliage plants near my dahlias for even more drama.

coleus by rochelle greayer www.studiogblog.com

The grasses are really starting to come into their full beauty.  Fall is really the best reason plant them.  My Pennisetum Red head is still an all time favorite and I have begun to use it profusely in flower arrangements – it paris well with Golden Rod, huge Limelight hydrangeas, Sedum (Autumn Joy) and crazy face-sized dahlias to make ginormous-ly satisfying bouquets.

I will be so sad to see the end of the annual Pennisetum  Prince as it has been such a beauty and played so well with other dark plants (like the coleus). The dark plant thing was  interesting to me – I’ve avoided them as I have a very dark-colored house and generally thought that dark plants wouldn’t work that well.  Well, I was wrong….they are lovely and though they get a little lost when planted right up against a dark wall, they are perfect for bringing this sort of sophisticated color throughout the rest of garden.  It was relief from green that I didn’t even know I needed.

So what were your big winners?

images by rochelle greayer

Disclosure: This post is sponsored by Proven Winners.  I am not an employee of Proven Winners and all opinions are my own. See the other posts in this series. 

There is nothing like the official change of season (autumn equinox – I see you)  to inspire a look back over the summer.   I’ve done these posts for many years and I am always so grateful for them come spring – it is helpful to remind myself what was fresh in my mind the previous fall.  Do you do something similar? Read the full post