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Archive for the ‘Natives to Know’ Category

I made my annual trip to Mt. Cuba Center in Hockessin, Delaware, recently. Happily, it was on one of those glorious days we have had this summer when the humidity was low and the temperatures were summery, but not too hot. If you haven’t been to Mt. Cuba before, or if you haven’t made the trek in a few years, I hope this post will serve as some inspiration.

Mt.-Cuba-Ponds

No visit is complete without a trek down to see what is in bloom around the ponds. Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis) was in full flower during my visit the second week of August. At the other end of the pond, native lilies, pitcher plants, and golden club (Orontium aquaticum) crowded along the edge of the water.

Mt.-Cuba-Carex-plantaginea

As I am strolling through the garden, I always use my camera to record ideas for new ways to use favorite plants as well as new combinations. Mt. Cuba is one of the only places you will be able to see  native plants used in conventional plantings, such as beds and borders. This ground cover planting features seersucker sedge (Carex pantaginea).

Mt.-Cuba-Coreopsis-tripteris-'Gold-Standard',-Passiflora-lutea,-Echniacea-'Pica-Bella'

A camera is also invaluable for recording plant combinations such as the one above: tall coreopsis (Coreopsis tripteris ‘Gold Standard’) with yellow passionflower (Passiflora lutea), and purple coneflower (Echniacea ‘Pica Bella’).

 

Mt.-Cuba-Passiflora-lutea-3

Yellow passionflower has tiny flowers that are about 1 inch across. Despite their small size, they are really pretty set against the handsome foliage and are produced in abundance.

Mt.-Cuba,-Chrysoogonum--virginianum-var.-virginianum-'Allen-Bush',-right,-C

Hands down, my favorite part of Mt. Cuba is the trial garden. Whether I am looking for new ideas of plants to try or new sites to try old favorites, being able to compare performance is invaluable.  A visit to a public garden is especially useful when your own garden is looking tired or lacking in color, because you will find lots of ideas for flowers or great foliage that can perk up your own plantings. This is  especially true of Mt. Cuba, because you can compare the performance of cultivated forms of various native plants, plus evaluate native plants in cultivation that you may not have seen before.

The shot above shows two cultivars of green-and-gold, also called golden star (Chrysogonum virginianum). The cultivar ‘Allen Bush’, is on the right, and ‘Norman Singer’s Form’ is on the left. During my visit in August, ‘Allen Bush’, the better known form, was still blooming, but ‘Norman Singer’s Form’, also has a lot to offer because of its richer green leaves and thicker foliage.

Mt-Cuba,-Phlox-paniculata-'Shortwood'

This is the last year of Mt. Cuba’s phlox trial, and quite a few of the cultivars in the trial have given up the ghost. ‘Shortwood’ garden phlox (Phlox paniculata ‘Shortwood’) still looked wonderful and appears to be one of the winners. (Mt. Cuba will publish the results of the trial once it has been completed.) ‘Jeana’ was another standout. In years to come, the trial winners inevitably find their way into borders and other plantings throughout the garden.

Mt.-Cuba-Helenium-'Flammendes-Katchen'

This is the first year of the garden’s three-year Helenium trial. Heleniums have unfortunately been saddled with the common name sneezeweed, a name  derived from the fact that the disk florets were once dried and used as snuff. Whether you think of them as heleniums or sneezeweeds, they are beautiful fall-blooming natives. After just one walk through the rows, I had already noted down a couple of plants I want to try in my own garden.  Helenium ‘Flammendes Katchen’ is one of them.

Heleniums need full sun and average to moist soil. Too much fertilizer, or soil that is too rich, leads to stems that flop if they are not staked. Cut plants back in mid June to encourage branching, more flowers, and shorter, more upright stems.

 

Mt.-Ciuba-Helenum-'Salsa'

Some dwarf hybrids are also included in the trial. So far, ‘Salsa’ is my favorite!

As always, so many plants, so little time!

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Although it is dreary and rainy today, I am happy because we are getting some much-needed rain. Rain or shine, this time of year my garden looks both wonderful and riotous. I thought I would share a picture of what the front garden looks like this week, plus shots of a couple major players.

Garden-April-2017

Above: Wild blue phlox (Phlox divaricata) in shades of purple and white fill the garden this time of year. Phlox self sows and pops up in shady parts of the front garden as well as the areas (toward the foreground) that receive a good amount of sun, meaning 6 or 7 hours of direct sun per day.

 

Aquilegia-Little-Lanterns

Above: I love full size wild columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) and have it everywhere in the garden, since it is a generous self-seeder. The plant above is ‘Little Lanterns’ (A. canadensis ‘Little Lanterns’) a dwarf cultivar that is 10 to 12 inches tall, self sows, and reliably comes true from seed.

Erigeron

Above: This is one of my new favorites: Robin’s plantain (Erigeron pulchellus ‘Lynnhaven Carpet’). Plants are currently covered with cheerful yellow and white daisies that arise from ground-hugging rosettes of gray-green leaves. Flowers are maybe 8 to 10 inches tall, but the leaves are only about 2 or 3 inches tall. (If it wasn’t raining right this minute, I would go out and measure!) This native species thrives in part shade to shade, tolerates a wide range of conditions, and spreads to form a nice, dense carpet.

The purple leaves in the photograph above are purple Japanese parsley (Cryptotanea japonica ‘Purpurea). They self sow and pop up here and there. I love the rich color of their leaves. (I don’t think they are edible despite the common name.) I was planting a garden at a friend’s house this morning in the rain, and I realized that some of them had piggy-backed their way to her a year or so ago with divisions of other plants.

Enjoy the rain!

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As always, my garden is speeding along this spring, and I am just barely keeping up. Today’s post features a couple of plants that have been especially spectacular this spring. I don’t take much credit for the display. All do their thing without any intervention from me.

For the past couple of weeks, the front garden is all about our native wild blue phlox (Phlox divaricata). I started with a handful of small plants that rode down with us years ago from Pennsylvania. These easy and accommodating wildflowers self sow, and I brought down plants in a range of colors in shades of lavender and lilac-blue to white. This spring, the front garden is filled with great clumps in a full range of shades. There also are some deep purples elsewhere in the garden that I am encouraging to sow around. I simply can’t stop looking at them, plus wild blue phlox has a delightful light fragrance as long as the weather is not too windy.

Phlox-in-spring

Above: Wild blue phlox (Phlox divaricata.

Wild blue phlox thrives in partial shade to partial sun, and tolerates evenly moist to somewhat dry soil. The seedlings appear in surprising spots and are always welcome!

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Whether I have been writing e-mails or delivering a gardening talk, one of my favorite hollies inevitably comes up once the conversation turns to plants that should be more available: American holly (Ilex opaca) ‘Maryland Dwarf’. Any of you who have tried to buy  ‘Maryland Dwarf’ will know that it is difficult, if not impossible, to find.

So, I am happy to let readers of Eastern Shore Gardener know that Vic Priapi, owner of Priapi Gardens, has ‘Maryland Dwarf’ in his nursery this spring. His first plants all sold, but he is picking up ten more 3-gallon plants today (Friday, April 8). I suspect there are plenty of gardeners looking for ‘Maryland Dwarf’, so if you want one, don’t dawdle. (If you are driving from a distance, it is probably a good idea to call and check availability first!)

Ilex-'Maryland-Dwarf'-with-

Above: ‘Maryland Dwarf’ holly (Ilex opaca ‘Maryland Dwarf’) at Mt. Cuba.

Unlike standard-size hollies, this is a true shrubby ground cover. Plants range from 3 to 5 feet tall and spread to 6 or 8 feet. My own plants are considerably shorter—all are under 3 feet. They have handsome, glossy, evergreen leaves. Plants produce very few berries. I have two plants in shade and one in fairly full sun. ‘Maryland Dwarf’ makes a handsome ground cover for shade, a specimen in the shade garden, a companion for low-growing perennials or ground covers that won’t swamp it, or a component of a shrub border.

So, I hope that those of you out there who have been wanting to try this great plant will swing by Priapi’s in Cecilton!

Now Vic, how about some dwarf white pines?

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Primarily prized for their handsome foliage, heucheras or alumroots (Heuchera spp.) occupy a well-earned spot on my list of native perennials for shade. About 55 species belong to the genus, most from the western United states. Two are native to the Chesapeake Bay region: American alumroot (H. americana) and hairy alumroot (H. villosa). These two species, together with West Coast native crevice alumroot (H. micrantha), have been hybridized extensively to bring us a range of handsome plants suitable for shade gardens.

The Mount Cuba Center in Hockessin, Delaware, recently published the results of their three-year evaluation of heuchera hybrids.  Since I only have one of their top-ten hybrids in my garden, I have some planting to do!  Luckily, I visited the trial over the past few years and took photos of a couple of the top-ten plants. For a complete report on the trial, including a list of all ten top-scoring heucheras, see Mt. Cuba Center heuchera.

Heuchera-'Southern-Comfort'

Above: Heuchera ‘Southern Comfort’ was among the top-rated heucheras and one of my favorites among the trial plants. In addition to the foliage color, I especially loved the size: Plants are about 14 inches tall and spread to about 3 feet.

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Despite the fact that we have been living here since 2004, I am happy to report that there are still botanical surprises at Hackberry Point. Over the weekend David Arnold, who is helping me in the garden this year, left a cutting and a brief note on my doorstep. “Barbara, What is it? David.” I could tell right away that the plant was a member of the pea family, Fabaceae, but beyond that, it wasn’t familiar. Furthermore, I was astounded that I hadn’t seen it first, and I had to call him back to find out where the plant was growing.

It turns out it was along the edge of the creek, just next to where our dock extends out over the water. After taking some pictures, I delved into my native plant books. I finally found a cool on-line key to pea family plants that helped me identify it. I determined that my new native plant was Apios americana, commonly called groundnut or potato bean.

 

Apios-americana

Above: Groundnut (Apios americana)

The pinkish maroon flowers resemble miniature wisteria blooms. They look like tiny reddish replicas of the native America wisteria (Wisteria frutescens), which has more rounded bloom clusters than the non-native oriental species.  Groundnut flower clusters are 1 to 2 inches long and wide. Sources say the flowers are fragrant, although I couldn’t detect any scent. (I’ll keep trying on this point.)

The plants prefer sites with wet soil, which explains their location along the creek. Since I walk by the site frequently to go out onto the dock, I can’t imagine how I missed them in previous years, especially since they produce flowers in August. I wonder if tubers or seeds floated in from somewhere else and this year for the first time the vines conquered the tangle of grapes, phragmites, and shrubs at the water’s edge.

Apios-americana-and-phragmi

Above: Groundnut climbing phragmites.

Groundnut grows from edible tubers, and were an important source of food for native Americans and early settlers. Since tubers form slowly, they haven’t become a popular cultivated crop. For more information on ground nuts, Orion Magazine posted an excellent article by Tamara Dean. For a more detailed botanical description, see the page on this species in Climbers.

Groundnuts also aren’t popular garden plants because they are too rampant for most garden situations. Mine seem to be happy competing side-by-side with thugs like phragmites. I’ll continue to look for more spots in the wild garden where I could plant them. While I doubt I’ll be able to find tubers because of the density of the plantings along the creek,  I do plan to save seed this fall. E-mail me privately if you are interested in getting seed to start your own patch.

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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?

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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.

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If I could send fragrance along with a blog post, this could be a one-sentence missive. All it would need to say is  common sweetshrub (Calycanthus floridus): Smell it, love it, plant it.

Calycanthus-floridus-in-flo

Above: Common sweetshrub (Calycanthus floridus)

One of  two plants in my backyard just started to bloom, and the fruity fragrance of the flowers gathers outside the back door whenever the air is still. William Cullina provided an effective description of the fragrance in his Native Trees, Shrubs, & Vines (Houghton Mifflin, 2002). He summed it up as “a fruit salad perfume of strawberry, banana, mango, and peach guaranteed to get your stomach rumbling.”

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Eastern white pine (Pinus strobus) won’t ever make the short list of plants grown for fall color, but this native species is pretty this time of year nonetheless. The two- and three-year-old needles are now turning yellow and dropping, so don’t worry if your trees have lots of yellow needles. This feature is widely ignored in descriptions of the species, which simply list the plants as evergreen, but the patterns the yellow and green needles create really are quite pretty. So, as long as the needles on the tips of the branches on your white pines are still green, they are healthy and right on schedule.

White-Pine

Above: Yellow and green needles on Eastern white pine make a pretty, if subtle, pattern.

White pines are valuable, long-lived evergreens. This species once covered much of the northeast, and 200- to 220-foot-tall trees were common. Logging from the 18th to early 20th century claimed all but about one percent of virgin stands. Today in cultivation, mature white pines typically reach 75 to 100 feet and spread to 75 feet. Virgin stands still exist in Great Smokey National Park and a few other locations—they are worth visiting! (See “Range” at this link for a list!) Although white pines are happiest in moist, well-drained soil, they tolerate dry to average conditions, sand or heavy clay, pH that runs from 4 to 6.5, and part shade to full sun.

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