Plants

Midnight Marvel close up

Which plant is literally on fire in our garden right now? Hibiscus ‘Midnight Marvel.’ I admittedly ordered this plant on a whim when we needed some more late season color to our new planting beds. After looking through the availability listings, this one sounded like it would go with our new plantings which included dark-leaved Phormium, ‘Black Madras’ rice, bright red kangaroo paws, and stop-light red Coreopsis. When we got the plants, they immediately caught our guests attention. This hibiscus has a dark red leaf color like that of some of the non-hardy Hibiscus acetosella cultivars. Hibiscus ‘Midnight Marvel’ differs from H. acetosella in that it does not have dissected leaves. The leaves are over 6″ wide and a deep, wine-red. As with most red leaved plants, be sure to site this plant in full sun so it captures as many of the ultraviolet rays as are available. Too much shade will cause the foliage to look pale, weak, and exhibit spotty orange colors.

perennial-hibiscus-midnight-marvel

As summer went on, our plants continued to grow and are now over 4 feet tall. Various reports state that these plants will ultimately reach 6 feet tall so we will monitor its growth over the coming years. The real show is once it starts to flower. Gorgeous, 8″ wide hibiscus flowers emerge from various spots on the plant. The flowers are a bright red that stops our guests in their tracks. Whenever I am talking with folks about these plants, I always throw in the fact that they are perennials. No one can believe that they are cold-hardy to at least USDA zone 5. The flowers are reminiscent of the Chinese hibiscus which only grows in tropical areas. Hibiscus ‘Midnight Marvel’ is a hybrid between H. ‘Cranberry Crush’ and H. ‘Summer Storm.’ From these two plants, the ‘Midnight Marvel’ gets its dark foliage and big, bright-red flowers. The combination is amazing and this may well be one of the top perennial introductions in years.

-Rodney

Images: Wayside Gardens, Lost In The Flowers

Aphrodite flower

I have written before about how much I like the Hartlage Wine sweetshrub. Calycanthus x raulstonii ‘Hartlage Wine’ is still a standout performer in our Coastal Maine gardens. After seeing how well it performed here in Boothbay, Maine, I was glad to see another Calycanthus hybrid entering into the horticultural world. This time Dr. Tom Ranney, the noted plant breeder from the Fletcher, NC research station of North Carolina State University (my alma mater), wanted to improve the Hartlage Wine sweetshrub by introducing fragrance back into the flowers. Instead of using Calycanthus floridus, he used the west coast sweetshrub, Calycanthus occidentalis. He hybridized the west coast native with the Chinese species, Calycanthus chinensis. By crossing these two species, he was able to get a large, vigorous shrub with big flowers and fragrance. Thus far, the fragrance has been milder than some of the Calycanthus floridus but I am guessing that the difference in fragrance comes from C. occidentalis. Dr. Ranney named the selected cultivar ‘Aphrodite’ after the Greek goddess of love and beauty. She is certainly lovely and beautiful. The flowers are a nice, deep red with the inner petals having yellow on the tips. Each flower is large, at least 4″ in width. The leaves are massive, up to 8″ in length and a medium green. The growth rate on the shrubs is phenomenal. We planted quite a few small shrubs along our front entry walk and they have grown about 2-3′ in height and width in one growing season.

We also have 3 plants in another spot that we planted last year. They had a bit of tip dieback during the winter of 2014 when our temperatures went down to -7 degrees Fahrenheit. As soon as the new leaves emerged, the plants started growing. They are now reaching almost 6′ in height. It will be interesting to see how large these shrubs will actually get over time. I am also wondering what might happen if you took Aphrodite and crossed it with a selection of Calycanthus floridus such as ‘Michael Lindsey.’ Maybe it will get darker leaves and sweeter flowers?

In the meantime, if you are looking for a beautiful, summer flowering, deciduous shrub for your landscape, run out right now and find Calycanthus ‘Aphrodite’ to add to your garden.

- Rodney

Image: Proven Winners

 

 

Rusty foxglove

Long after other Digitalis have taken the summer off for vacation, the rusty foxglove or Digitalis ferruginea is flowering during the warm days of July and August here in New England. This tall, slender foxglove is from Mediterranean regions of southeastern Europe. Depending on its growing conditions, it can behave as a perennial or self-sowing biennial. If the climate is mild and soils are perfect, they have a tendency to self seed themselves in the gardens. Perfect soils are those that are fertile with adequate moisture. Soils that are too wet or too dry will cause the rusty foxglove to oxidize itself into a prolonged death.

The common name comes from the reddish coloration of the small, numerous flowers. Our flowers are a warm beige with the reddish-brown veins. The individual flowers are much smaller than the common foxglove. Each flower is one-half to one inch in width to around an inch and a half in length. Because the flowers are smaller, they are much more numerous on the 4 to 5 feet tall flowering stalks. Hundreds of flowers cover each stiff stalk and they make a great complement the middle to back of the mixed flower border. Bees absolutely love the rusty foxglove but it is humorous to watch them climb inside of the flowers to gain nectar. The flower tubes are almost too narrow for the bees. Watching them crawl inside reminds me of having to suck in your belly when trying to slide behind your cousins at the Thanksgiving table, as you shimmy to the desert table for a piece of pie that you really should not eat.

If the main stalk is cut back after flowering, it will produce multiple flowering side stalks which can prolong the flowering time and make a wider plant. This characteristic has me wondering what might happen if the Digiplexis cross is recreated with Digitalis ferruginea  and Isoplexis canariensis.

rusty foxglove en masse

As with all Digitalis species, care should be taken with the plants as they may be somewhat toxic if ingested. Make sure that you site the plants where they are out of reach from those who may not know better. Have you tried the rusty foxglove? This species has me wanting to try other members of the genus in the gardens.

-Rodney

Images: Josh Coceano, The Sproutling Writes

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

 

You win some you lose some.

I’ve been focussing too much lately on where I am losing (I beat the woodchuck in my veg garden, only to have a bunny from hell move in). I also had a solenoid in the sprinkler break and I realized too late to save some sun-singed plants in that section.  I’ve also been considering writing a ‘bring out your dead’ style post – this past winter was brutal and my list of lost plants is easily twice as many as any year in memory…I could go on with my laments….

But instead, today I’m choosing to focus on the positive and as I looked around the garden — I realize that many of my biggest success were entirely unexpected, accidental, or the result of a hurried and thoughtless decisions. Figures.

Garden by rochelle greayer www.studiogblog.com

My favorite part of the garden right now is what I call the finger bed (so-called because it is shaped like an obviously giant finger).  I love grasses of all sorts and set out to create a great mix of them in this bed.  My intention has not turned out so great — I have a lot of grasses that can often all look too similar to be interesting.  But my boring overuse of grasses has been saved with some of my haphazard thoughtless planting choices.   candy oh roses, miscanthus, and dappled willow by rochelle greayer www.studiogblog.com

Proven winners sent me a couple of Candy Oh! roses a few years ago to try out…and when they arrived this bed was brand new and empty. Lacking a plan and generally needing to fill space, I plopped them in.  I have to admit, I wasn’t enthusiastic about them at the time – back then I was still in my ‘I hate roses’ phase (from which I have mostly recovered).  I look at them now and I can’t imagine how dreadfully boring this garden would be without them.  Oh, and that Hakuro Nishiki Dappled willow was a plant I bought sight unseen through the local conservation plant sale – and I hated them (I had bought three!) when they arrived.  Garish and ugly were the thoughts in my head. Now I think bright and beautiful….just what is needed to break things up, offset the red flowers, and balance out all the dark brown and black buildings and tall pines around here.  What do I know? – I’m just a garden designer….

Candy Oh roses

I can however pat myself on the back for one thing (that worked way better than I expected).  Last year these roses were decimated by Japanese beetles.  They turned into ugly skeleton bushes in a matter of a week.  I also had a terrible infestation of grubs and moles.  These are all related of course (moles eat grubs, grubs kill grass and become beetles,  - if no grubs, then no beetles, and no moles).  I bought a huge box of milky spore powder early this spring and spread it accordingly.  It is clearly working.  The squishy mole ridden grass has gone away and you can see there isn’t a Japanese beetle in sight (look at those pretty healthy leaves!).  Score one for the gardener.

dianthus black adder and geranium rozanne by rochelle greayer www.studiogblog.com

I noticed another happy accident that I am going to have to help along.  Is it me or do Geranium ‘Rozanne’ look really great with dianthus black adder?  They aren’t really mixed at the moment….but I am really loving the light purple and inky near black so I am going to have to give those dianthus seed heads a good shake around the geranium.  I suspect some silver leaves might really make things sing….We will see how this looks next year….

How about you — got any unexpected or accidental 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

 

 

Landcraft gardens

I must start again with a confession. You know how people refer to themselves as “fan-boys?” This term is usually used for love and loyalty for one product or brand such as Apple electronics or Patagonia gear. My confession is that I am a fan-boy of a particular nursery. I, along with the rest of our staff, are in love with this nursery’s selection of plants and how dog-gone well they are grown. Which nursery am I just gaga about? Landcraft Environments. This small nursery on Long Island sells some of the best and little known annuals on the planet. The best part (to me)? They are wholesale only to the trade. What this means is that if you are a landscape designer or contractor, you can buy their plants. If you are a homeowner or passionate plant person, you’ll have to buy from a garden center they supply plants to along the east coast.

We filled a big, yellow box truck full of plants and had them shipped to Maine a few weeks ago. As we were unloading the truck, I was literally jumping for joy. Each cart brought a bevy of horticultural goodness. Variegated Abutilon standards, big blocks of New Zealand flax, and flowering kangaroo paws were just a few of the many plants we bought in from Landcraft. I kept wondering to myself, how do they do this? Co-owners Dennis Schrader and Bill Smith have built quite a business of growing plants for the northeast and New England that we would normally have to get from California or Florida. Bromeliads – check. Lantana standards – got ‘em. Variegated tapioca – yup. Some people dream of a new home or new car, I dream of renting a tractor trailer and filling it full of Landcraft’s plants to fill our garden. Plus, their office manager, Corey has been fantastic with our infinite number of plant additions and order changes.

Manihot-esculenta-variegata-

The couple who drove our plants up from Long Island were awesome. They left the nursery at 1:30 am in order to get to Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens before lunch. The gentleman worked at the nursery and his partner tagged along because he promised her a lobster dinner. We pointed them to our “secret” spot for the best lobster rolls in Maine. That was the least we could do for all of the beautiful plants they drove up for us.

This week, it finally warmed up in Maine and we started removing our tulips to make way for Landcraft’s plants. Some of these plants probably have never been used in Maine before, I am guessing. A mass bedding of Astelia chathmanica might not be what a lot of our guests were expecting but they will see it. My hope is that by planting annuals from southern Chile, Australia, and New Zealand, these plants can thrive in our cooler summers with long day length. We never really get hot (85 is a really warm day for us) but the sun comes up around 4:30 am and sets close to 10 pm. Those long days will ensure lots of lush, beautiful growth. At least that is my hope. I look forward to the end of August to see how this planting experiment worked. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, Landcraft has an open day to their garden on July 12. If you are on Long Island that time of year, be sure to check out their gardens as the truck driver said that they are fantastic. Maybe a group of us can find time to dart down there next year to visit the gardens and nursery. Have you ever been to Landcraft or bought any of their plants? What do you think about their nursery?

-Rodney

Images: Grounded Design, Black Olive East Nursery

tree sketches by rochelle greayer www.studiogblog.comAUGUST UPDATE:  I can tell you a bit more – This has to do with the Launch of PITH + VIGOR.  Your  tree drawing (along with the other submissions) will be used to create something beautiful for the our launch.  We hope you will join in this fun community art event!

Hey! – I need some help with a project.

It is secret, but I can tell you this….it will be big, it will be beautiful, lots of people will see it and and it will be very, very cool.  I can also tell you that I will eventually reveal what this is all about (a few months from now).

So do you want to be part of a big, beautiful, wide-spead, cool thing?

I need you send in pictures of trees (illustrative not photographic).  You can take a picture of your drawing and instagram it (if you do this tag it with #studiogtree) or you can send  your drawing (or painting or sketch or doodle or whatever medium you choose) via email to me at rochellegreayer@gmail.com with the word studiogtree in the subject.

Let’s see your rendition of your favorite tree in your favorite season, or maybe its just the tree right outside your window, or the tree you just planted….whatever it is lets see it.

All the submissions that come in before June 15th will be shared here with links back to your site, but some of them will additionally be used in that other big, beautiful, wide-spread, cool secret project.

Thanks!!

x – Rochelle