Plants

Sporobolus High Line

Walking through New York city brings to mind a unique combination of good and bad smells. Cooking onions and sausages from street food vendors, fresh roasted coffee from the one of a kind coffee shop, and of course, urine from the subway and parks. Maybe it was the sense of smell that set the High Line apart from all of the other experiences I had while in New York. The first time I walked up the stairs to the High Line was probably in the early fall of 2009. The garden plantings were still fairly new but the experience was memorable. Up above the city was a place away from traffic and the smells of the city. I noticed at this time, a most unusual smell. After meeting with the staff of the High Line, I asked them where that unusual smell was coming from. It was an earthy smell, kind of like popcorn without butter or even coriander. I like toasted, earthy smells and this smell was one of them. The gardening crew from the High Line told me that was the flowers of a native grass called prairie dropseed or Sporobolus heterolepis. At the time, I was working at Longwood Gardens and we later added some plants to a dry, parking lot planter. Over the next couple of years, they filled in and on cue each fall they provided that nostalgic smell of the High Line.

Sporobolus flower

To even go farther down nostalgia lane, I think my affinity for these smells is due to the fact that my grandpa always wore English Leather aftershave. That woodsy, clean scent always made me feel comfortable as my grandfather and I used to go off exploring in the North Carolina mountains around Boone, where he lived. In our gardens at Coastal Maine, we have a couple of mass plantings of prairie dropseed and have even added a few more this past spring. Sporobolus heterolepis is an easy to grow, perennial grass native to most of the eastern and middle states of the US. Once established, the plants can survive drought and reach 3 feet in height and width. In late summer, airy, white inflorescences emerge above the dark green wiry foliage. Once in flower, the wonderful scent of the High Line and my grandpa’s English Leather starts to waft through the garden. After flowering, the plants set seeds which are a good food source for seed eating birds.

As a post script, when I think of this plant, I not only think of the High Line and my grandpa, but the ever-present, High Line horticulturist with the hipster haircut and Wayfarer glasses, Johnny Linville. I met Johnny during my first visit and we corresponded occasionally about various gardening matters. During our last trip to New York in May of this year, a group of us were fortunate enough to spend time with Johnny and Thomas Smarr, walking the entire length of the High Line. Johnny passed away suddenly in August at a very young age. Johnny, you are missed.

-Rodney

Images: The High Line, Rodney Eason

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

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