Eternal Fragrance at CMBG

I bet if you were to make a list of the Latin plant names that were easy to remember, Daphne would be up near the top of the list. Daphne is a name you just don’t forget. Whether it was Fred’s “friend” from Scooby Doo or Marty Crane’s nurse on Frasier, Daphne is commonly associated with being attractive and refined (remember that Daphne on Frasier even had a nice, British accent). I will carry that over to a wonderful family of shrubs named Daphne. This genus of shrubs usually is evergreen, with fragrant spring flowers, and can be perceived as being finicky or short-lived in most cultivated landscapes. It has been my experience that you could have an entire hedgerow of Daphne look wonderful on a Monday, in flower on Wednesday, and a quarter of the plants are dead on Friday. It’s unpredictable nature should be overlooked in my opinion. If you have ever smelled a plant in flower, it will impress upon you that you have to grow it in your garden. The smell is sweet and sublime. Much better than that new car smell which car companies were hoping we would buy into after the Super Bowl. Speaking of cars, if I was a nurseryman, I would sell Daphne like a car salesman.

“Hey, come here, put your nose up to that flower! Can you smell that? I mean, can you smell that? That is better than unicorns and skittles! Am I right? I mean, am I right?” Well, maybe I would not use that much enthusiasm but I would urge you to realize the sublime fragrance of Daphne.

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Our family just got back from a week and a half vacation down south. We drove from Maine to Raleigh and then on to Atlanta. Our kids were performing in the Junior Theater Festival in Atlanta with a troupe from Boothbay. If you ever get a chance to see a Junior Theater Festival, by all means, go! I don’t know what it is about music theater but it really makes me emotional. Add to that young kids showing the same passion as Broadway stars and I really left the festival feeling ecstatic yet emotionally spent.

From Atlanta, we drove with all 4 of our kids down to Walt Disney World near Orlando. Carrie and I wanted to celebrate the fact that we met at Disney 20 years ago as horticultural interns. We also thought that this would be the perfect age for our kids to experience Disney. It was also a great escape from the polar vortex that has plagued most of the eastern United States this January.

Dianella fruit

The kids loved Disney. We loved the food, the rides, the hotel (stay in one of the park hotels, don’t question it), and I really enjoyed seeing all of my old, favorite, sub-tropical plants. There were, of course, live oaks, palms, Indian hawthornes, Phellodendron shrubs, and nandina. There were also some plants that I have been eyeing to use at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens this summer as annuals.

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Yes, I am opening this week’s blog with a line from that famous 80′s hit by Men at Work. He just smiled and gave me a Vegemite sandwich.

To follow-up on that song which you will now have stuck in your head throughout the day, let me introduce you to a fantastic evergreen, perennial plant from the land down under (an annual in our climate). Kangaroo paw or Anigozanthos, is a wonderfully showy and somewhat exotic flowering plant from southwestern Australia. From what I can tell, Anigozanthos has been grown in California for sometime as their climate is the most similar to Australia’s in the continental United States.

Anigozanthos flower

I first encountered this plant while touring nurseries in California and in the conservatories of Longwood Gardens. The foliage consists of green, strap-like leaves that emerge from the base of the plant. In the spring and again in the fall, plants produce a flowering stalk up to 6 feet in height. From these flowering stalks, the plants earn their nickname from the tubular flowers that resemble a kangaroo’s paw. The flower buds are coated with tiny hairs that give them a rather unique appearance. They somewhat remind me of candied fruits. The flowers are brightly colored in shades of red, yellow, orange, and green along with the more unusual white and black. Once the buds open, they have small, 6-petaled flowers. The flowering stalks also work well as cut flowers in floral displays but truth be told, I would have a hard time cutting the flowers because they are so unusual.


What’s really cool is that a couple of nurseries are now offering Anigozanthos cultivars as annuals for us here in the eastern United States. I noticed today that both Sunny Border and Landcraft are listing kangaroo paws in their 2014 availabilities. Most of these plants are hardy down to 25 degrees Fahrenheit so they are just fine with a late spring or early fall frost. Grow Anigozanthos in full-sun, well-drained soil, with moderate water and nutrients. If the plants dry out too much in a hot summer, they will go dormant. Summer dormancy is an adaptation to survive in their natural habitat.

I am adding Anigozanthos to my plant list for this summer’s displays. I am hoping to combine it with darker Phormium and maybe complement it with a Black Madras ornamental rice. Have you grown kangaroo paws before?


Photos:, UBC Botanical Garden

Last week, one of our staff, Will, called me in to show a new plant he had found. As I was first entering his office, I could see a plant on his computer screen that looked a bit like a small, pastel colored Gladiolus. He described to me a new plant that he wanted to try called Digiplexis ‘Illumination Flame.’ Wow! It looked beautiful but I had never heard of the plant before. Turns out that this is a relatively new bi-generic hybrid combining Digitalis purpurea with the non-hardy Isoplexis canariensis. We had grown and killed many Isoplexis canariensis while I was at Longwood Gardens so immediately I became skeptical of the plant. Isoplexis is a gorgeous, shrubby plant with orange flowers from the Canary Islands. It is not hardy along the eastern United States so it was grown in the conservatory. Even there, the summer humidity of the mid-Atlantic region was too much for Isoplexis to thrive.

Digiplexis close-up
That said, Charles Valin from Thompson and Morgan in the United Kingdom, had the notion to cross Digitalis purpurea with Isoplexis canariensis back in 2006. He was able to make a gorgeous bi-generic hybrid with bi-colored, foxglove-like flowers. The resultant plant had a lot of wonderful characteristics: foxglove flowers in unusual colors (orange throat with pinkish purple outside), dark green foliage, bushy habit with multiple flowering spikes, and it flowers from May until September. That’s right, flowers from late spring until early autumn. No foxglove can do that.

Illumination Flame Digiplexis
The one drawback is that it is only hardy to USDA zone 8, which for us along the east coast of the United States would mean from the southern coast of Virginia and points south. It has shown to be vigorous (a grower’s guide recommends growing in a 2 gallon pot) so it might make for a fantastic annual for us here along the Maine coast is USDA zone 6a. The ultimate size of the plant should be around 30″ in height and slightly less in width.
Look for Digiplexis ‘Illumination Flame’ to be the plant to get for 2014. It has already won the Chelsea Flower Show Plant of The Year in 2012 and Greenhouse Grower’s 2013 Editor’s Choice award. What other plant do you know of with its own website and Facebook page?


Images: greenhouse product news, random acts of gardening

Our horticulture team at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens is working on a new vertical wall idea for the summer of 2014. Today, we were brainstorming which plants to use in the vertical panels. Someone mentioned Sedum ‘Angelina,’ another idea was Lysmachia nummularia ‘Aurea,’ and then I remembered Joseph’s Coat or Alternanthera ficoidea. Alternanthera is a tender perennial (hardy to USDA zone 10) native from Mexico to Argentina which is primarily grown for its foliage. The leaves on the plants are small and vary in appearance from being an inch wide to some cultivars which have thread-like foliage.

Alternanthera Red Carpet

The Alternanthera would work in our green wall idea because it would provide us with some interesting colors in a fast growing plant. In our zone 6a gardens here on the coast of Maine, we would need to start the plants in late April or early May in a greenhouse to get them rooted in and growing. Probably in mid-June, we could place the vertical panels out into the garden. In order for Joseph’s Coat to continue growing successfully, the temperature needs to be consistently above 55-60 degrees. As summer goes on, the warmer it gets, the stronger it will grow. By mid-summer, each plant should be around a foot wide and could be a foot tall. The great thing about Alternanthera ficoidea is that it can be sheared into a tight form. Many Victorian gardens utilized Joseph’s Coat as a tightly clipped annual in bedding schemes.


Joseph’s Coat grows best in full to part sun, in acidic, moist but well-drained soil. In warmer parts of the country, you might want to double check if you can plant Alternanthera. It is closely related to the noxious alligator weed. In warm areas where alligator weed is a problem, different insects that feed on it have been released to try to control its growth. These insects might go after the ornamental Alternanthera as well.

Some of the more popular cultivars include: ‘Party Time’ – a tricolor selection with white, red, and green colored leaves, ‘Red Threads’ – a dark red, finely leaved selection, and ‘Yellow Form’ – a chartreuse colored form. We will probably use ‘Yellow Form’ on our wall because of the pattern we are trying to paint.

Have you grown Joseph’s Coat in your garden? What was your experience with this plant?


Images: HMA Plants, All The

Coastal Main botanic garden swirly snow www.studiogblog.comJust the other day, I was wondering how long have I been contributing to Studio G? I am thankful that Rochelle has given me the opportunity each week to share with you new and interesting plants that I have come across in Maine and in my travels. I just checked and my first post was over a year ago. Since that first post on rhubarbs, there have been over 50 posts on different plants and gardens. And I look forward to sharing with you many more plants and ideas in the future.

This week, I thought I would take you inside my notebook to give you a glimpse of where we will be looking for new plants for the gardens at CMBG. Over the next month and a half, we are working on a full slate of garden redesigns and planting enhancements. Throughout the summer, I have been walking through the gardens with our garden staff and making notes on strong combinations and weak planting pockets. We are taking this list of improvements back into the office once the ground is totally frozen and then cross-referencing it with the growing lists of cool plants coming onto the market. I will go on-line and look through each of these nurseries’ offerings to make a wish list of plants that we should order in to use in the gardens. So, without further delay, here are some of the top nurseries that we are using:

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I trust that you had a wonderful Thanksgiving. We loaded up our car Tuesday night and departed Maine for North Carolina at 4 am on Wednesday morning. It was a long drive but our kids were great. We rolled into my mother’s driveway outside of Raleigh at about 11:30 Wednesday night. I was excited to be there but even more so to see a plant that I planted at least 15 years ago flowering beside of the driveway. I had planted a Dasylirion wheeleri or Wheeler’s blue sotol by my mother’s mailbox where little else seemed to grow. There were several large plants at Plant Delights Nursery when I worked there in the late 1990′s. The large plants of Dasylirion at the nursery were planted right along side of the road in a dry ditch bank so I thought they might do well in a similar location at my mother’s.

Alex with Dasylirion

Ok, I’m getting to the exciting part, you should see this thing in flower! I am guessing that the flower stalk is at least 15′ in height. The above picture is our son, Alex, admiring the flower stalk. Dasylirion wheeleri is native to the southwestern United States but seems to do well in dry, well-drained soils in the southeastern US. Each plant will get 3-4′ in height. The leaf blades are around 2′ long, 1-2″ wide and are usually brown at the tip. The leaf margins are covered with sharp spines which gives away its relationship to its better known cousin, the agave. They should be grown in full-sun and can tolerate periods of drought.

Dasylirion wheeleri close-up

I must admit that I bought a plant for the gardens at Coastal Maine this past summer. The chances of it surviving our winters are slim but if we can find a cold enough provenance, it might stand a chance. We are going to bulk ours up in the greenhouse for several years before giving it a go in the garden. I am guessing that it may be hardy along Long Island for sure. If anyone in the north has successfully grown this plant, let us know.


Photos: Rodney Eason, Western New Mexico University