Cutting Garden

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

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

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

Funny how one person can say something and then more and more people start to repeat it until their words spread around. Here in Maine, I have heard several folks say that summer is almost over. Why on earth would someone say that? Could it be that millions of people are leaving Maine after having wonderful vacations and heading back to their homes, schools, and workplaces? Maybe it is the shorter hours of daylight and the fact that public schools in New England are starting back next week. Perhaps it is due to the fact that our night temperatures are starting to dip into the high 50’s on a few nights.

Joe Joe Red

Whatever the reason, I want to counter that statement and say that summer is not over! Technically, we have another month of summer as the autumnal equinox does not begin until Tuesday, September 23rd. I think the best time to see perennial gardens along the eastern United States would be in late August and through September. The light is changing and more and more plants are in full flower. With the long days of summer, many plants have had just the right amount of solar energy they needed to put out one last hurrah of flowers. One plant in particular that is blooming its head off is the Anigozanthos. What is Anigozanthos, you say? I wrote quite a bit about the kangaroo paws in this Studio G post back in January of this year. You can check out that article here for more information about the genus. Let me just say that our experiment of growing Anigozanthos here along the Maine coast this summer has been outstanding. It probably helps that this summer has been similar to what one might normally have found in San Francisco. Sunny, warm days followed by cool nights. We have had adequate rain fall with just enough to keep the plants looking healthy and lush. The kangaroo paws have enjoyed this summer and some of the flowering stalks are reaching almost 4 feet in height. We planted the cultivars: ‘Big Roo Red,’ ‘Big Roo Orange,’ and ‘Joe Joe Red.’

Anigozanthos Big Red

‘Big Roo Red’ and ‘Big Roo Orange’ were later to flower but once they did, Wow! Their tall flowering stalks have our guests stopping to stare and wonder what is that flower. Only our guests from California or Australia have known what they were. Then, they usually ask if it is hardy here in Maine. Of course it will not survive our winters but it is a dynamic annual to liven up the landscape. ‘Joe Joe Red’ is a smaller cultivar with flowering stalks about 2 feet in height. I love showing kids in our Alfond Children’s Garden how the flowers look like kangaroo paws which is really cool since they are from Australia. The one problem we had with ‘Joe Joe Red’ is that rabbits absolutely love it. We had a couple of snowshoe hares set up shop early in the season and this little, red kangaroo paw was their favorite meal. Fortunately, they only ate the foliage and left all of the flowers alone. Also, once our guest traffic picked up during the summer, these hares moved on and found somewhere else to live.

We are already making plans to use kangaroo paws as an annual in 2015 in some big sweeps. Did you use any kangaroo paws in your garden this summer? How did they fare for you?

-Rodney

Images: GreenFuse, Hello Hello Nursery

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

 

 

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