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I haven’t managed many blog posts in the last year, and I have missed posting about plants and events in my garden. Happily, I have more than a lame excuse for the lapse involving dogs (or parrots) eating my homework.

After months and months of research and writing, plus agonizing photo editing and rounds of review, my book Chesapeake Gardening & Landscaping (CG&L for short) has finally been sent to the printer. It is scheduled for publication March 30, 2015.

CG&L Cover005Published by The University of North Carolina Press in association with Adkins Arboretum, the book features 293 pages and 317 color photographs. I can’t wait to see it in color. (I have a black-and-white version of the book now.) The cover here is just a tiny taste of what is inside. I hope this book (all sales benefit Adkins Arboretum!)  will become a guide for gardeners throughout our region.

You can pre-order Chesapeake Gardening & Landscaping by clicking the cover image on the right side of this blog. Or, to order from the University of North Carolina Press directly, visit http://uncpress.unc.edu/books/11759.html.

Of course, copies also will be available for sale at Adkins once they come from the printer. In addition, I have started booking talks based on the book, and I will be bringing books to all of these events as well. I will announce dates here once they have been finalized.

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One of the great perks of being a garden writer are the boxes of sample plants that arrive on my doorstep each spring. All find a place in my garden, but today I wanted to call attention to one of my current favorites: Helenium ‘Short ‘n’ Sassy’. My clump has been blooming nonstop since late June, and it doesn’t show any signs of stopping since plenty of new buds are still forming.

Helenium-Short-n-Sassy

ABOVE: Helenium ‘Short ‘n’ Sassy’. Instead of clipping off spent flowers to produce a more polished-looking photograph, I shot the plant “as is,” with spent blooms in place. Also note new buds that will keep the color coming.

 

A long-lasting bloom season is certainly one outstanding characteristic, but compact size is another. My clump is 2 feet tall and shows no sign of getting any taller. Admittedly, it is slightly taller than the 12 to 18 inches described in the plant description sent with my box of samples, but I am still quite happy with the plant. I am sure it would be easy to encourage more compact growth by pinching the stem tips in late spring. A site in full sun would also probably yield  shorter plants. My plant receives about 6 hours of full sun—slightly less than 8, which is the generally accepted minimum for full sun.

Flowers are one and three-quarters inches across. Orange petals surround brown centers. The exact shade of orange varies from flower to flower, but generally ranges from soft orange to orangy yellow. One bloom is red-orange.

The exact parentage of ‘Short ‘n’ Sassy’ is not known, because the original plant  was discovered as a seedling. Whatever its parentage, ‘Short ‘n’ Sassy’ is of native origin. Common sneezeweed (H. autumnale) probably played a role, but one of the more other species—there are 40 or so in all—may also be involved. H. autumnale is found throughout North America, and other species extend the range of heleniums to Central America as well. While common sneezeweed plants range from  4 to 5 feet in height, compact cultivars that stay around 3 feet are available. The genus contains annuals, biennials, and perennials, some of which are shorter  and may have contributed to the height of this selection. Because sneezeweed is an unappealing common name, I prefer to use the botanically given name—helenium—for all members of the genus.

 

Helenium-Short-'n'-Sassy

ABOVE: This clump is the second season from a sample plant that arrived in a 3-inch pot. Next year, I may experiment with pinching the stem tips to encourage branching and bushier, more compact growth.

 

While I have places for taller heleniums elsewhere in the garden, ‘Short ‘n’ Sassy’ fits perfectly in my front garden. There, I have tried to avoid any plants (other than shrubs and trees) that are taller than about 2 feet. This minimizes the need to stake, which is not one of my favorite chores. The height restriction also makes the garden very pretty when viewed from down on the driveway. When walking along the narrow paths that run through the garden, having all lower-growing perennials and annuals creates an appealing carpet of foliage and flowers. Everything in the garden essentially functions as  ground cover.

I have Skagit Gardens’, a wholesale grower that always sends an interesting selection of plants, to thank for adding this appealing native to my garden. My sample plant arrived on my doorstep as a tiny plant in spring of 2013. It produced a small clump by midsummer of its first year, along with a few flowers. This year it is well on its way to becoming a permanent and cherished resident. The clump is healthy and has expanded nicely with minimal attention. It has an attractive mounding shape, and is adaptable to a wide range of soils. The flowers are especially handsome with bright summer flowers in shades of orange, yellow, and blue. Daylilies are especially prominent just now and make good companions.  I also have a handsome unnamed dahlia cultivar that is attractive as well. The dahlia slightly exceeds my 2-foot limit but is worth it for its yellow daisylike blooms and showy maroon foliage.

Consider adding ‘Short ‘n’ Sassy’ to beds and borders where standard-size heleniums would be too large. It is small enough to use in large container gardens, and short enough to consider as an edging or a spot at the front of a border. Wherever you use it, the long bloom season, tough constitution, and compact size are valuable assets! Oh, and the flowers are attractive to butterflies and other pollinators, so what do you have to lose?

Yesterday I spent a delightful evening at Mt. Cuba Center in Hockessin, Delaware, touring both the gardens and their fascinating trial plantings of native perennials (more on those in my next post!). This time of year, flowers are few and far between in shady spots, so I wanted to point out two natives worthy of being more widely planted.

Aesculsu-parviflora

Above: Bottlebrush buckeye (Aesculus parviflora)

The first is one of my favorite shrubs, Aesculus parviflora, commonly known as bottlebrush buckeye. This is a robust suckering shrub that ranges from 8 to 12 feet tall and spreads to 15 feet, so plant it in a spot where it will have plenty of room.

Plants produce lacy clusters of white flowers in June or July, and they thrive in part to full shade. As the many specimens at Mt. Cuba illustrate, bottlebrush buckeyes produce denser growth and more flowers when given a site with good light. Still, even when they are planted in shade the delicate white plumes are gorgeous against green foliage.

Although perfectly hardy in our area, bottlebrush buckeye is what I refer to as “nearly native” in my book Chesapeake Gardening & Landscaping (Publication: University of North Carolina Press, spring 2015!), since the species is found growing wild primarily in the Southeast. The flowers attract butterflies, and plants are happiest in average, moist but well-drained soil. They are slow to establish and require regular watering for at least the first season until the roots have had time to spread and delve deep into the soil. After that, they are quite tolerant and can grow in wet soil or dry. Fall foliage is yellow.

Aesculus-parviflora-border

Above: Use bottlebrush buckeye in shrub borders, mixed plantings with large perennials, and woodland gardens. Be sure to provide plants with a site where they will have plenty of room to spread, and be patient while they become established.

Another summer standout that I noticed while wandering the pathways at Mt. Cuba was golden or cedar glade St. Johnswort. This is a 3- to 4-foot shrub that spreads to 4 feet and bears yellow flowers.The plant at Mt. Cuba was a blue-foliaged selection labeled Hypericum frondosum ‘Blue Form’.  Like the cultivar ‘Sunburst’, which is widely available, it bears showy yellow blooms that resemble tiny shaving brushes. For me, though, the blue-green leaves set it apart. I hope ‘Blue Form’ will be available some time in the future.

Hypericum-frondosum-'Blue-F

Above: Hypericum frondosum ’Blue Form’

Plants grow in full sun to partial shade and prefer average to sandy soil that is well drained. Established specimens tolerate drought.

I would love to see a specimen in my garden combined with seersucker or plantain-leaved sedge (Carex plantaginea), ferns, and perhaps a hosta such as ‘Dick Ward’ or ‘Paul’s Glory’, with leaves variegated in gold and dark green.

The end of April is nearly upon us, and I am already behind in the garden. Late season snows and a book deadline eliminated most of my gardening time this month. As it always does, spring weather finally arrived and eliminated the snowy weather, but the most important change in my schedule results from turning in the manuscript, photographs, and photo captions for Chesapeake Gardening & Landscaping. It has been a labor of love, and although I still have pages to read and an index to write, I am happy the worst is behind me. I am still very excited about the book, and think that it will be a great resource for anyone who wants to garden in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.  Readers of Eastern Shore Gardener will be among the first to know when the publisher, University of North Carolina Press, gives us a publication date!

Uvularia-grandiflora

Above: Great merrybells (Uvularia grandiflora) a native woodland wildflower.

For me, playing catch-up in spring means weeding. I am trying to keep hairy bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta) and ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea) from taking over.  I am also lifting and dividing a few perennials and teasing self-sown seedlings out of the ground for potting up to give as gifts or donate to local plant sales. (You know who you are, shoot me an e-mail!) My favorites this year are seedlings of great merrybells (Uvularia grandiflora). My original plant came from my mother’s garden, and it has spread nicely. In addition to enlarging by politely spreading rhizomes, seedlings appear around the original clump. I also have spring beauties (Claytonia virginica) everywhere. These are trickier to dig because their corms are deep in the soil and it is easy to miss them with a spade.

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As the holidays approach, I wanted to post information about a wonderful new tool that has recently earned a place in my permanent arsenal. I first read about it in my friend Nancy Ondra’s blog, http://hayefield.com/ in a recent post of her’s titled Shear Genius. Nancy doesn’t post about anything that is not up to snuff, and I ordered a pair right away. I’ve now had a chance for a garden test, and they do not disappoint.

Jakoti-shears

Cutting back clumps of perennials has always been a tedious chore, but my new pair of Jakoti Hand Shears makes it easy. Just grasp the clump (or at least part of it) in one hand and chop with the other. The blades are made of carbon steel, and the shears have a heavy, well-made feel in hand. (The picture above doesn’t quite do the shears  justice, since it involved holding a camera in one hand.) See Nancy’s blog for more pictures and information about the tool. (Note that I am not getting any kind of kickback for my endorsement!)

Nancy’s brother Tim brought them to her attention.  In addition to playing ice hockey and training goalkeepers, he has been a professional gardener for over 25 years. He was so impressed by these English-made shears, he is selling them. (They aren’t available otherwise in this country.) They cost $58, including shipping. To order, contact him at http://jakotihandshears.com/

Think about ordering a pair for yourself or for a gardening friend. You won’t regret adding them to your arsenal.

Mom’s Garden

I don’t have a light and cheerful lead sentence for this post, because it centers on the fact that my mother died recently. She passed away unexpectedly on August 17, and her death will cause fundamental change in the lives of all her children and grandchildren, along with her first great-grandchild, Charlotte, a.k.a. Charlie, who joined our family just barely a year ago. As I was pulling weeds in mom’s backyard a day before the funeral, I realized that her death also begins the inevitable separation of our gardens.

Mom's-Garden

ABOVE: The sunniest part of mom’s garden, located on the edge of her woods, is cram-packed with hostas, ferns bear’s breeches (Acanthus spp.), peonies, and more.

Surprisingly, thinking about our life-long connection as gardeners, and not just as mother and daughter, brought more comfort than sadness. It also yielded insight into the plants I love and why I garden the way I do. Continue Reading »

Last weekend was very exciting—box turtle-wise, that is. Saturday night (7/29), friends who were exploring my front garden came indoors to report that a female box turtle was digging a nest along the front of the garden. We all piled out to get a glimpse, keeping a respectful distance, of course.

Turtle-first-hole

Above: First attempt, Saturday night through a carpet of thyme.

She was still working on the hole when my husband and I went to bed that night. In the morning, I was disappointed to find the empty hole, which wasn’t filled in as I expected. I did a bit of research, and found that turtles commonly dig one or more test holes and then abandon them for unknown reasons. Experts speculate that they find the soil conditions unacceptable.

Happily, she returned Sunday evening at about 6:00 p.m. and began to dig a second hole in a new location.

Turtle-nest-side

Above: The start of her second, successful, nest. You can see the hole just beneath her left rear leg.

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