Category: Perennials

Sucky weather but a “Hell Yeah” moment

Hello everyone.

It has been a while since I last posted here so my apologies for that.

The truth is I have been hammering away on the book and I’m proud to report that it is completely written and I am now in edit mode. While I’ve known all along what I wanted to convey in this book, it didn’t fully gel until I had pulled in these three photos for one of the chapters.

They perfectly encapsulated the purpose of the book and my feelings on gardening. It was the “A Ha” moment and that moment felt real frickin good. I cannot wait to deliver this to you all and thank you again for your constructive feedback. That feedback has been sitting on my shoulders throughout the writing process.

On the actual garden front, I’ve got nothing.

We had such a mild winter here in the Northeast U.S. and I thought I would have been out in the garden by now, cutting down ornamental grasses, removing weeds and cleaning up the messy perennials.

But then March threw us a curve and we ended up with this.

And this.

And now that the foot of snow has started to melt, we have this.

I may have no choice but to throw on my waterproof shitkickers and start cutting and pruning.

Look for that in the next post.

 

Eupatorium coelestinum (Hardy Ageratum) ‘Wayside’

I have always loved Ageratum, but have been unable to keep it looking good for any period of time. By mid-summer, they are a mess, I cry and vow to never put myself through that ordeal again. Fool me once …

Lo and behold, one day I was googling “Ageratum” thinking I could unlock the secret to keeping this annual alive all summer and found a plant claiming to be a perennial Ageratum. What? Has someone been reading my diary?

Dreams do come true.

But it gets better. This plant prefers a wet site. And is deer resistant.

Hardy Ageratum? I’m like totally in.

Specifics:

  • 18” x 18”
  • Blooms in mid-summer, early August here in zone 6B
  • Requires full sun
  • Survives zone 5-8
  • Deer resistant
  • Very tolerant of a wet site
  • Very slow to emerge in spring, one of the last to show signs of life
  • Great winter interest with the spent flowers
  • U.S. native
  • Has recently been reclassified as Eutrochium

As mentioned above, this plant is slow to emerge in spring and I’ve actually forgotten about it until it finally emerged sometime in late April. Another reason to not cut down those perennials too soon people. The spent flowers/stems are a much needed reminder of what is what in my ever expanding jumble of a garden in spring.

I’ve noticed that my original five purchased have expanded a bit in year two as this plant appears to reseed some. It is too soon to say if it is TOC (Totally Out of Control, for those without young kids) or if the reseeding is a must because this perennial is short lived. That is what I’ll be keeping my eye on this year.

The blooms start to develop in July and are a welcome site and color, as we proceed through the dog days of summer.

 

Within a week or so, the blooms fully emerge and they are quite stunning in my humble opinion.

 

The blooms are so interesting up close that I’ve taken to capturing them on my camera phone, macro style.

 

But the interest in the blooms doesn’t end there. As the purple/blue flowers fade with the arrival of cooler weather, they remain interesting into the colder months.

Here in October, fluffy seed heads looking right in place with the gold and red hues of autumn.

 

And especially handsome when covered in frost.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book excerpt – looking for your feedback

Here is an excerpt of a first version of my book that I’ve been pounding away on for weeks now. I so cherish all of your feedback and have taken all of your comments into account to this point.

When in doubt, why not ask?     

I would love your feedback on the following:

Book title – any creative ideas after reading through below? I’ll handsomely award the winner of the one I like best.

Content – more or less info based on the excerpt below? Less “sentences” and more boxes/bullets/etc?

Layout – this snippet isn’t an exact replica of the layout but it is as close as I can get. What do you think?

Tone – is it me?

Thank you all in advance for taking the time to assist me here.


Alchemilla mollis (Lady’s Mantle)

I remember the exact day back in the fall of 2003 when I decided to purchase some Lady’s Mantle for the first time. Up until that point, all I thought about was flowers in my garden. Foliage was nice, but an afterthought.

My obsession with plants and gardening was gaining steam and I was reading books relentlessly. Books you ask? Those are pages of printed words and photos that are held together with binding. Your grandfather can tell you all about them.

I don’t recall the exact book, but it was all about design and one photo grabbed my attention and changed the course of my garden fanaticism. A beautiful and haunting garden photographed in the early morning was lined with Lady’s Mantle that was covered in dew droplets. My tongue dropped to the floor and I knew I had to try it.

Fast forward a few months and I planted a whole bunch myself in my tiny front bed at our old Cape Cod home in Somerville, NJ. I was so proud of it and sensed that my love of plants was going to exponentially increase now that foliage was part of the game.

Sadly, we moved out of that home by the end of that year and I never got to grow with my new favorite edging plant. I did drive by the home periodically for a good 2 to 3 years after that just so I could watch my babies mature into full adult plants. They ended up looking beautiful even if the new homeowners let everything fall to shit in the garden around them. The day they pulled them out of the ground, I almost got out of my car and approached the house in a fit of rage.

Luckily I thought better of it and drove away and spared myself jail time.

Instead, I bought a bunch and put them in my newly developing garden where they still reside today.

Alchemilla mollis rarely steals the show in the garden. Instead, it is that steady performing groundcover or edging plant that makes the garden whole.

From the moment those leaves start to unfurl in spring, you know old reliable is back for another season.

Let me correct myself for one moment. There is a time when this perennial does truly “shine”. That is when Lady’s Mantle captures the rain droplets in spring. It is a photographer’s dream.

Beyond that, this plant provides a nice contrasting leaf shape to other perennials and shrubs from spring through fall.

The chartreuse blooms, typically arriving in June, are a nice understated feature as well.

 

 

 

I have found it is best to trim off the spent flowers as soon as possible to keep this plant looking its best as summer approaches.

 

 

 

Specifics:
• Survives in zones 3 – 8
• Size typically maxes out at 1.5 ‘ x 2.5’
• Can handle full sun to almost full shade
• Blooms in June here in zone 6B
• Prefers a consistently moist soil
• Has been reliably deer and rabbit resistant over the years
• Non US native
• Flowers brown quickly and can become an eyesore (see more below)
• Leaves are scalloped and fuzzy to the touch

I currently have these as a groundcover in my back bed along the deck.

In full bloom in June and backed by the light of the afternoon sun.

 

 

 

 

 

As you can see below, Lady’s Mantle comes along pretty quickly in spring as evidenced by the “still no signs of life” ornamental grass sitting behind them.

**NEGATIVE ALERT** The one negative/higher maintenance aspect of Lady’s Mantle is that it does require constant moisture. If not, this is what you may see.

Luckily for me, constant moisture isn’t much of a problem unless we have a real dry summer but keep that in mind before purchasing Lady’s Mantle.

This perennial has been labeled as “invasive” but I can say that has not been a problem for me at all. In fact, I’ve never seen a single seedling since I’ve had these. This may be due to the fact that I am pretty diligent in cutting off the spent blooms and therefore there is no opportunity for reseeding.

I must also add that my deadheading has never resulted in any re-blooming later in the season.

 

Plant combo of the week: Ninebark ‘Diablo’ and Astilbe ‘Deutschland’

I know that the plant combo of Ninebark ‘Diablo’ and Astilbe ‘Deutschland’ is fantastic.

Want to know why?

Because Nan Ondra told me so.

The author of one of my favorite gardening books, “The Perennial Matchmaker” featured this combo on page 46 of her book and used one of my photos.

That is some serious validation.

The combination of the dark foliage of the Ninebark and the bright white blooms of the Astilbe personifies the use of color contrast in the garden.

I’ve previously dedicated an individual post to both Astilbe ‘Deutchsland’ and to Ninebark ‘Diablo’ so if you want to read up on either of those plants, now would be a great time to do so.

I’ll wait.

Ninebark ‘Diablo’ typically blooms (here in zone 6B) near the end of May and into early June.

Those blooms quickly devolve into red seed heads that add a different ornamental dimension to this deciduous shrub. At that same time, the Astilbe blooms first emerge.

Personally, I prefer the look of the white blooms with only the dark foliage as the backdrop, after the seed heads have disappeared, or after I, gulp, have removed them by hand.

My combo currently resides in a partial shade location that stays consistently moist and both the Ninebark and Astilbe seem to love it. As you may know, the Astilbe will fry if kept in too much sun or without consistent moisture.

In late winter, I heavily prune the Ninebark ‘Diablo’ by removing about 1/3 of the old branches to the ground in order to keep it in bounds. The Astilbe are all cut to the ground in late winter as well with new foliage emerging in April.

I wouldn’t consider this combo low maintenance yet the one time pruning and water maintenance is well worth it.

 

Let’s hear it for Veronica ‘First Love’

Let me kick this off by saying Awwwwww. Is there a better plant/flower name than Veronica ‘First Love’? We need it now, don’t we? I’m blushing as I type this, and you may be puking but that is OK, I think together we can agree this is a sweet looking perennial, no?

Veronica 'First Love'

After a quick glance at my plant spreadsheet, it looks like I first planted this in the spring of 2015. Normally I prefer to snip the flowers off of a plant when first stuck in the ground so the plant’s energy can go into root development, but this one was an exception. I left all of the flowers on my three Veronica ‘First Love’ for immediate impact and haven’t looked back since.

These bloom FOREVER. The photo above (Catmint included) is from the middle of June. The photo below (with Karl Foerster grass, Coneflower ‘Fragrant Angel’) is from a few weeks after that.

Veronica 'First Love'

And then a few weeks after that …

Veronica 'First Love'

… and even hints of color extending into the middle of September.

Veronica 'First Love'

More Veronica ‘First Love’ info:

  • Full sun or partial shade. Mine are in partial shade and performing beautifully.
  • Sizes out at 12″ x 12″, maybe a smidge larger.
  • Deer resistant … so far. Don’t hold me to it.
  • As referenced above, blooms early summer and into fall.
  • Pruning – while I snip my other Veronica regularly, I’ve left these alone so far. I may dabble this upcoming summer. You’ll see the results here for sure.
  • Soil preference seems to run the gamut and as usual, mine are thriving in clay that remains consistently wet.

With their small size, Veronica ‘First Love’ would seem to best used in the front of a border and will have the greatest impact when planted in high numbers. And make sure they are planted in odd numbers or you’ll have 7 years bad luck, or something like that.

The pink blooms mix well with so many other colors and I’m a huge fan of how mine look mixed in with Catmint. Pat on back complete.

So talk to me, who else has this and what do you think?

 

 

 

Baptisia ‘Carolina Moonlight’

Today’s plant recommendation is Baptisia ‘Carolina Moonlight’.

baptisia 'carolina moonlight'

 

Three years ago I purchased a very small plug of this perennial from Bluestone Perennials figuring if I love the purple varieties with such a passion, why not dabble in yellow blooming cultivars as well.

Color me happy to date.

Within only one year’s time, I had myself some blooms and it hasn’t stopped doubling in size ever since. To the shock of no one who has ever read a post on this blog, I like the way it looks best when in combination with ornamental grasses, as seen in the photo below.

baptisia 'carolina moonlight'

 

Some other notable facts about Baptisia ‘Carolina Moonlight’:

  • Maxes out around 3′ to 4′ tall and wide, similar to its purple blooming brethren.
  • To date, it has been 100% deer resistant although I just jinxed it so buyer beware.
  • The blooms emerge in the middle of May and last a good 3-4 weeks in my zone 6B garden.
  • The blooms are a butter yellow so you fans of yellow blooms will dig these big time.
  • Survives in zones 4-9.
  • There is no specific soil preference as it is listed as preferring medium to dry soil but mine has been in wet soil for years now without issue.
  • As with other Baptisia, it is a tough as nails plant once established and it is recommended that it not be moved once established. Even a serial plant relocator like myself knows to leave these in one spot and walk away.

In early spring, the Baptisia stems emerge, not too unlike a peony.

 

The blooms start to emerge in mid April and are almost as impactful as when they are in full bloom.

baptisia 'carolina moonlight'

 

 

And then one day, boom, they’ve arrived.

baptisia 'carolina moonlight'

The dark stems are a nice touch aren’t they?

Baptisia ‘Carolina Moonlight’ has bloomed at the same time as many of my peonies so there is an opportunity for a kick butt color combo.

 

After the bloom period, I prefer to keep all of the spent/dried seedheads on my Baptisia as they retain a level of interest and lend a different look in the garden as the summer wears on and eventually meets autumn.

 

So what do you think?

Do any of you have this in your garden?

Are there any other cultivars you recommend?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Helenium (Sneezeweed) ‘Mariachi Series’

There are very few people in my “circle” who give a rat’s ass about my garden. I know, sad but true.

But I’ll be fine.

Every once in a while, however, a visitor will ask to tour my garden. You would think I’d be all pumped up, but no.

My first instinct is to say “Oh hell no.” Those massive weeds hidden on the side of the house will be exposed. All areas of the garden currently “under construction” will need to be explained away. Can’t we just walk through this blog where all looks perfect? Where I can control what you can and cannot see.

Eventually I will relent and take the visitor by the hand into my little private world of plants. But before any tour commences, I make sure I answer a few questions quietly to myself so I know how to proceed with my visitor.

“When asked ‘what plant is this?’, do I give them the Latin name and sound like a pompous ass or the common name which I actually don’t know in most instances?”

The easiest way to know how to proceed here is to determine the plant knowledge of your visitor. I try and ask them something simple like “What is your favorite plant?” and then study the response. While you may not get all of the necessary intel, it can often be quite telling.

“Do I initiate the walk and the direction it takes or allow my visitor to make that decision?”

I almost always let them take the lead. I like to see if my garden layout and structure naturally leads them where I want them to go. This is where I hope my paths pull them in and make them want to explore what is around the corner.

“Do I allow my visitor to walk IN the garden risking soil compaction or plant stomping or be up front and threaten physical violence should they venture anywhere beyond the lawn?”

I tend to have faith in my visitor and their understanding of garden tour etiquette. However, if it is a dopey male friend, I have no issue laying down the law.

How much is too much information?

This question is ultimately what prompted today’s post. I had originally planned a straight forward piece on a few of my favorite Sneezeweed plants. But then I rememberd back to this past summer when I was walking the garden with a friend who stopped and admired my massing of these Sneezeweed.

“What are these?”

Here were my options for answering:

A. Sneezeweed (common name)

B. Helenium (Latin name)

C. Those are Helenium or Sneezeweed, dwarf in nature and are part of the somewhat newly introduced ‘Mariachi Series’ which includes ‘Sombrero’, ‘Salsa’ and ‘Siesta’.

I answered “C” and lost my visitor’s attention from that point forward.

The lesson here: Always answer “A” and move on.


All kidding aside, I am in love with all of the Helenium ‘Mariachi Series’ plants. They have been thriving for me since year one (three years ago). They bloom profusely all summer into fall, have never been nipped by the deer or rabbits and come back year after year.

Some quick info on these beauties:

  • Size is about 20″ x 24″
  • Survives zone 3-9
  • Prefers full sun
  • Blooms from June to September
  • Likes some moisture but not too wet. Mine have survived a few wet winters to date.

But to really sell these, I’ll allow you to take a look at some photos I’ve taken this past year from summer through fall.

Enjoy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A few quick items

A couple of quick things today.

I recently wrote an article through my Medium account that was ultimately picked up by the website – “The Good Men Project”. It’s all about my love for flowers and how it plays into gender. I would love for you to check it out if you get a chance. You can read it here:

I Love Flowers, I’m a Dude

Also, if you haven’t seen it already, Asclepias tuberosa (Butterfly Weed) was named the 2017 Perennial Plant of the Year.

I have tried for years to grow this plant in my garden and it has never thrived. My assumption has always been that my soil is to wet for it survive the winter but wanted to get all of your thoughts? I have had it reseed each year but again, it has never established itself beyond one season.

 

 

 

Top 14 Favorite Plants List

After hours of research, reminiscing, comparisons, self evaluation, honest arguments with myself and numerous drafts thrown in the garbage in a fit of rage, I’ve finally completed my long awaited “Top 14 Favorite Plants List”.

Why 14? Why not, I say. Truth is that was the natural cutoff point and there was no way I could limit it to 10.

10 is so 2015.

Consider the “extra 4” a bonus for your botanical viewing pleasure.

A few suggestions before the reveal:

  1. Print this list and take it to your local nursery when shopping for plants in fall.
  2. Memorize this list and share it with your friends while at your kids soccer game.
  3. Email it to all of your friends and show them that you’re thinking about them.
  4. Share this on all forms of social media so you can say that you read this list before it exploded and became the go-to list for gardeners all over the globe. #WhatAList

When compiling this list, I took a lot of different criteria into account from multiple season impact, ease of maintaining, prettiness level, level of creature attraction, focal pointed-ness, etc. In the end, there was no official scoring system and all of these plants (perennials, shrubs, grasses only) naturally fell into their ranking. Some are ubiquitous and others not so well known.

All of these plants currently reside in my garden and I eliminated all plants from contention if I haven’t had years nurturing/killing/crying with them.

Each plant has a hyperlink to the original blog posts I had dedicated for each or were part of another story that I’d think you’d enjoy. Go ahead, click them and get educated.

So here we go, in reverse order starting with:

14. Mountain Mint

mint2

 

13. Viburnum carlesii ‘Aurora’

viburnum aurora

 

12. Sorghastrum nutans (Indian Grass)

indian panicum sage

 

11. Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’

karl foerster bee balm

 

10. Redtwig Dogwood 

pruning redtwig dogwood 4

 

9. Astilbe arendsii ‘Amethyst’

astilbe3

 

8. Veronica ‘Royal Candles’

veronica

 

7. Panicum ‘Rotstrahlbusch’

rp_panicum-rots-1024x683.jpg

 

6. Purple Coneflower 

butterfly coneflower

 

5. Miscanthus purpurascens (Flame Grass)

rots flame grass

 

4. Baptisia australis

baptisia 2

 

3. Panicum ‘Northwind’

northwind

 

2. Amsonia hubrichtii and/or tabernaemontana 

amsonia and panicum

 

1. Eupatorium ‘Joe Pye Weed’

joe pye playroom bed

What do you think of the list? Any surprises? Any strong disagreements? Fill those comments up now and let’s get a discussion rolling.

The greatest grass, accepting chaos and a plea for container ideas

A few thoughts:

We’re always trying to piece a garden together that has visual interest all year long. Ideally, we’ll construct it where one perennial stops blooming and takes a step back, while another takes center stage. Continuous succession of bloom or emergence of interesting foliage or texture. That’s the game.

Below is one of those situations where I’ve managed to play it perfectly. The pink Astilbe blooms have had their day in the sun but are now fading and losing color just in time as the yellow coneflowers are emerging. Yellow and pink, not so great together and fortunately, the world will not have to bear witness to it.

coneflower astilbe

 

I’m really starting to buy into the ornamental grass as deer-loving-plant-protector. This hydrangea bloom is proof. Now the challenge is how to design an ornamental grass moat and make it look pleasant and natural.

hydrangea

 

You can only say it so many times before the message is lost on people. So here is my last plea for you to find a way to get Panicum ‘Northwind’ into your garden. Even if you have a smaller garden, please add one and thank me later. What a handsome and massively upright specimen (how I’m often described as well).

northwind

 

Do not underestimate the “see through-ness”of certain grasses like this ‘Karl Foerster’.

karl foerster

 

While you are adding a Panicum ‘Northwind’ to your cart (virtual or metal) also throw in Amsonia. They play nice together.

amsonia and panicum

 

Nothing has reseeded more in my garden than Mountain Mint. It pops up everywhere in spring and even with my OCD tendencies, I’m able to let it do whatever the hell it wants. My therapist calls that incremental progress.

amsonia mountain mint

 

Bee Balm, friend or foe? Discuss.

bee balm

 

I’ve been trying to up my container planting game for a few years now and I’m still not happy with my progress. I have learned to experiment more and stuff each container to capacity but I still need work. I’d love your feedback on this one. It seems to be thriving in its shady location. Be gentle but be honest.

container persian

QOTD – What is your go-to container planting combo? I have no shame in stealing all of your brilliant ideas.