Plants

stag horn mounts

Fall is slowly changing over to winter here in Maine. We have already had one surprise snow storm with another on its way tonight. Over the next three months, we will work outside as much as we can amongst the cold, snow, and frozen ground. Once inside, I have a long list of designs to work on and plant catalogs to pore through. Being inside during the winter months is also a great time to dream of new gardens and fun displays. One display that I have toyed with for years is to have an indoor space decked out like a hunt club lodge. A hunt club lodge would typically have antlers decorating the walls, showing off the trophies from years of hunting. Instead of antlers, I want to display on the walls, giant, mounted stag horn ferns. I can just imagine settling down with a good book and a glass of red wine in front of the fireplace with walls of stag horn ferns hanging all around.

Staghorn wall

Stag horn ferns (genus Platycerium) are a group of large-leaved, epiphytic ferns from tropical regions of the world. Their cool appearance is due to two types of fronds: sterile and fertile fronds. The sterile fronds cover the roots and protect them from drying out. The fertile fronds are the ones that hang down from the base and resemble deer or elk antlers. When stag horn ferns are grown in gardens, they are usually mounted on a wooden plate and hung from the wall. At CMBG, we have about a half dozen small Platycerium that we grew in containers this past summer. Next week, I hope to mount these onto wooden plates and hang from the wall of my office. A good description on how to mount a stag horn fern is presented here.

Over time, these ferns can become large and quite the show stopper in the garden or conservatory. I have high hopes of bringing our small stag horns along and maybe, one day, when we build a conservatory, we can hang them from the walls like the living horticultural hunt lodge of my dreams.

Images: Dirt Flowers, The Palm Room

Redbor kale

From this title, “Traffic Stopping Kale,” you may be imagining a major traffic incident in Los Angeles or Santa Barbara where a truck loaded with kale turned over on the interstate. Then tons of drivers hit their brakes and start grazing right off of the roadway. No, that is not what I am implying at all.

Although the idea of a kale wreck causing tons of health food loving and fad craving masses to mob the scene may be slightly humorous (no one was hurt during this visual introduction), that is not what I meant at all. I am talking about kale literally stopping traffic, be it by automobile, foot, or bike. The particular kale that will cause disruption in others’ daily routine is the Redbor kale. In case you have not seen it, Redbor kale (Brassica oleracea ‘Redbor’) is a 3-4 foot tale kale with deep purple, crinkly-edged leaves. This plant is such a striking presence in the garden that as it matures, it takes on the size of a small shrub. Not only is it beautiful and striking but yes, the leaves are completely edible. Add Redbor kale along a sunny sidewalk, and watch the Lululemon-clad hordes congregate in salivating awe.

Kale Redbor La

The specifics on growing Redbor kale are: it can be grown from seed or plugs, plant in late spring in a sunny, well-drained garden bed, it is ready to harvest from plugs in about 55 days, from seed it would be ready to harvest in 75 days. Redbor kale leaves can be harvested and eaten while they are young so a few plants in your garden will provide a summer full of purplish, healthy kale smoothies. In case you do not get around to harvesting all of the leaves, the older leaves will soften if left until a light autumn frost. Some of the plant sources cite that plants will come back if covered and mulched over the winter. We are going to test this notion at our USDA zone 6a gardens at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens this winter.

The leaves and stems are beautiful and sturdy so another great use is in floral arrangements. If you are having a dinner party, make a Redbor kale centerpiece so if your guests are still hungry, they can nibble on the decoration.

Add Brassica oleracea ‘Redbor’ to your list of must grow plants. I know you will love the appearance, you will have passers-by stopping to ask about the plant, and if you have kids, Redbor kale chips are the best snack food. Especially if you throw out all of the other snack food and leave kale chips laying on the kitchen table. Not that we would do that.

– Rodney

Images: Annie’s Annuals, LSU Ag Center

Viridflora tulip

Have you started planting your spring bulbs? We started planting last week at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens and hope to be finished by early next week. This year, we are going all out and planting close to 35,000 spring flowering bulbs, most of which are tulips. We began designing our tulip displays in June and July when we had to get our orders into the major bulb wholesalers. Digging through all of the catalogs with the bulb pictures and descriptions can take quite a while and paring down a list to just the tulips you need is difficult because we want to try them all! We want to have color in the spring for our guests while at the same time, introduce some new and out of the ordinary plants to the gardens. In years past we have used solid-colored tulips, multiple-colored tulips, and even some color blended tulips (a planting mix where several shades are mixed together into one bag or box for a multi-color flowering mass). After researching new and unusual tulips, I came across a really cool group with green in their flowers. Any of the tulips that have green in their petals are classified into the group Viridiflora. The Viridiflora or green tulips come in yellow, red, pink, yellow, orange, and various shades in between, all with some green in the flower.

tulip viridflora mix

I have never really been fond of fancy or frilly tulips like the parrots but I am over the moon for the Viridifloras. The various colors contrast nicely with the green stripe. Along with being eye-catching, the flowers are reported to be one of the longest lasting of cultivated tulips. Some of the cultivars that we are planting this week include: ‘China Town’ (pink, white, and green), ‘Golden Artist’ (yellow, red/orange, and green), and ‘Spring Green’ (white and green). One tulip that I really wanted to add this year was ‘Brooklyn’ but we were not able to find it available in the United States. ‘Brooklyn’ is one of the new all-green tulips whose flowers spiral up into a cluster, thus resembling an artichoke. I am guessing that some people will love it and some will hate it but at least it will catch people’s attention and get them interested in the diversity of tulips and this group.

Let us know which tulips you are really excited about planting this fall. Which ones are you looking forward to seeing come out of the ground and flower in the spring of 2015? Also, do you know where we can find ‘Brooklyn’ tulips?

– Rodney

Images: The Frustrated Gardener, Jardins Sans Secret

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