Seasonal

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

Deinanthe mass

Summer is the time for vacations, warm temperatures, and flowering hydrangeas. Among the things that New Englanders come to count on in summertime include ice cream and hydrangeas in flower. Just in our small town of Boothbay, never have I seen so many hydrangeas planted. Due to our mild summers, hydrangea blossoms here along the Maine coast are enormous. It must be the ample moisture, warm days, and cool nights that lead to the huge flowers. Everyone loves to see big hydrangeas in the garden but lurking in the shadows is a lesser-known, herbaceous relative: Deinanthe caerulea. This native of China has the incredibly creative common name of “false hydrangea.” Come on guys, can’t we think up a better name than that for this strangely attractive plant with eye-catching blue flowers? How about “ground-cover hydrangea?” Or “little blue rarity that nobody else has?”

Deinanthe plant

We have a healthy grouping of Deinanthe at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens planted in the shade of a mature larch tree. A friend was admiring the clump this past weekend and suggested that we move some plants to a sunnier location as they would get larger. I have a couple of spots in mind as right now, they are really tucked away so only the plant connoisseurs will recognize them. For those who do catch a glimpse of them, they will see what look like small hydrangeas with nodding, light cerulean blue flowers. Our plants are around 2 feet in height and slightly more in width. In researching this post, I see that there is also Deinanthe bifida along with hybrid between D. bifida and D. caerulea. I definitely will look to add these to the gardens this year as well. Have you grown any of the false hydrangeas? If so, what has been your experience with the plants?

Rodney

Images: Rodney Eason

Occasionally, I will get the urge to obsess over a group of plants. I have gone mad for Magnolias, frenetic for Fothergilla, hysterical for Hydrangea, but now I am going crazy for a rediscovered genus. That genus is Cuphea or cigar flower (get it? on fire for Cuphea).

Cuphea llavea

Cuphea takes me back to my college days and plant identification class. We had to learn two different Cuphea: C. hyssopifolia and C. ignea or Mexican heather and cigar flower, respectively. Cuphea hyssopifolia was marginally hardy where I grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina and in mild winters, it would sometimes come back from the roots. I always thought they were cute but not show-stopping plants. A couple of years later, during a summer internship at Walt Disney World, I got to see Mexican heather growing in its full glory in Orlando. Over the 20 years since that summer internship, Cuphea and I would occasionally cross paths but never engaging in a deep conversation.

This year, I am starting to develop a Cuphea crush. The warm weather we have been having in New England has made our plants ignite. We are growing Cuphea llavea and C. micropetala. C. llavea is a small, mounding plant covered with small flowers that have a deep purple center and red tips to the petals. The bi-color effect is what gives it the common name of “bat-faced cuphea.” Cuphea micropetala is turning into more of a small shrub with erect flower stems producing yellow and orange flowers.

Cuphea micropetala

I am just starting to do some more research on the genus and see that there are 260 different species, all native to the Americas. Next year, I cannot wait to try as many Cuphea as we can find. Some of these newer plants are truly show stoppers with guests in the gardens asking “what is that plant?” Are there any Cuphea that you recommend I trial next year in our gardens?

-Rodney

Images: Rodney Eason

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

 

It feels great to be home. For the past week and a half, I was on the road between Maine and Pennsylvania, Boston and Denver. Now, I am back. Feeling jetlagged but it is great to be home with my family in this wonderful Maine summer. This morning, I walked around the garden making a list of things to do and take care of for the gardens here at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens. While I was away for a week and a half, many of the plants in the garden took off with the summer warmth. I always have a bit of skepticism when trying a new plant in the gardens, especially en masse. One plant that we used quite a bit of this summer was cape fuchsia or Phygelius rectus. Cape fuchsia is native to South Africa so of course I was skeptical that it would thrive in a cool, moist, Maine summer. But we have grown these plants before and since this is our year of focusing on pollinators as an overarching theme, I thought that these hummingbird attractors would make a nice addition.

Phygelius

When I left Maine almost a week and a half ago, the Phygelius were starting to flower. When I saw them today, they were starting to look spectacular. They may be somewhat small in stature (18-24″ in height) but the bright red flowers are just what the garden needs. The 2″ nodding, tubular flowers are borne on terminal spikes. Even though they have a common name of “fuchsia,” they are more closely related to foxgloves. The cultivar that we are using en masse is “Devil’s Tears.” This is reportedly the truest red of all cultivars. The best thing about these flowers is that they should continue to flower until frost. For us, that is over 5 months of flowering time!

Grow cape fuchsia in a warm, well-drained spot in full to part-sun. In a mild winter, Phygelius can come back from a winter dormancy here in our USDA zone 6a gardens. This past winter, our climates dipped to -7 degrees Fahrenheit and none of the Phygelius survived. After two wicked winters, we are certainly due for a pleasant, mild winter. I have high hopes that this will be true so that in 2015, our gardens will be covered with huge clumps of this gorgeous plant.

Phygelius x rectus 'African Queen' Ornamental Border 0613

Are you growing cape fuchsia in your garden? If so, which cultivar(s) and are you in awe of it as much as I am this year?

Rodney

Images: plantify.co.uk, Bradner Gardens Park