Category: Perennials

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.















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



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’



8. Veronica ‘Royal Candles’



7. Panicum ‘Rotstrahlbusch’



6. Purple Coneflower 

butterfly coneflower


5. Miscanthus purpurascens (Flame Grass)

rots flame grass


4. Baptisia australis

baptisia 2


3. Panicum ‘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.



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).



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.

Daylily Little Grapette lives to see another day

Before we discuss Daylily Little Grapette, a few important items as a backdrop for this post.

I first wrote of my frustration with the daylily here.

I did a feature on the ‘Joan Senior’ daylily here.

And eventually swore them off for good here.

Now a current day update:

I still have a bunch of Daylily ‘Happy Returns’ and in fact, just divided a bunch to fill a new section of the garden. You’ll never see any photos of these plants because they suck but I can’t bring myself to dispose of them because they take up space with no effort. They will be eradicated one day but that time has not yet arrived.

‘Joan Senior’ couldn’t hide from the deer for long and she met her untimely death in a fit of rage back in 2012. I was an angry gardener back then.

The only other daylily in my garden currently is Daylily Little Grapette which I’ve had since 2007. There have been many times when I was close to disposing of these as well since the deer consistently ate the blooms but they some how held on. And I think I’m glad that they did.

The current home for all of the Daylily Little Grapette is in front of Penstemon ‘Husker’s Red’ and I love the color combo.

Daylily Little Grapette

I think the deer ignored these last year as a means for the universe to tell me that this combo was killer and I got it right. It may all fall to shit soon and we’ll see in a few weeks.

Daylily Little Grapette put on a massive flush of bloom in late early/mid July here in zone 6B and they keep on coming for a good two weeks or so.

Daylily Little Grapette

Daylily Little Grapette

I try my best to remove the “one day lasting” blooms during the blooming period to keep them looking neat and tidy, but be forewarned, your fingers will be massively stained and it isn’t all that easy to remove said stains.

Daylily Little Grapette

This daylily is considered to be a dwarf daylily since it gets no taller than 16″ and while the claims are that it is a “rebloomer”, I’ve never witnessed it. Beyond that, it is like all other daylillies, kind of nice in bloom and then eh, the remainder of the gardening season.

Now having said that, here is your chance to sell me on a daylily you love. Put it in the comments and I promise, at a minimum, to research it and let you know what I think.

Will I ever add it to my garden?

Baby steps my friend.



Allium love, a new holiday and introducing “Question of the Day”

Here is the latest and greatest in my garden on this, dare I say, warm and beautiful May afternoon.

It’s all about the Allium right now, as the fruits of my fall labor are being realized this spring. I’ve got at least 25 Allium bulbs in bloom right now and they are kicking ass and taking names.

They look good up close.

allium 2

And as we pan back …


… and back even further.

full 2


Baptisia blooms have arrived this week and I’m thinking this day should be declared a holiday each year. That is how festive it makes me feel. At a minimum, I’m going to push for #NationalBaptisiaDay on Twitter leading up to this day in 2017.


baptisia yellow

Baptisia ‘Carolina Moon’


Siberian iris ‘Snow Queen’ is blooming but I’m only giving you a macros shot because they actually look kind of lousy because this lazy gardener has refused to divide them for four years running now.



Amsonia tabernaemontana is blooming and that’s all I will say here because I’ve raved about this plant enough already.



All of my peonies will be blooming within the next week or so and until then, I’ll enjoy the ridiculously delicious scent of the lilac in the background.

peony lilac


Another day, another sigh from me regarding the awesomeness of Ninebark ‘Amber Jubilee’.



And finally, it’s time to sit back and enjoy watching the garden fill in while all empty spaces disappear.


full 3

Thank you again for stopping by.

I am going to try something new today. A “Question of The Day”. Here it is:

What perennial do you find to be the most underrated?

Leave your answer in the comments so we can all discuss and get educated.


Divide and conquer

Once I have a garden idea in my head, I can’t let go of it. Even if it is a half-ass thought, I need to take action so I’m able to move on with my day. Now if I could only find a way to have that same issue with a money making scheme, I’d be in good shape.

Last fall I found myself consistently analyzing one section of a garden bed, wanting to extend it so it would dramatically impact the views from both the driveway and my back deck. The funny thing is, I had just extended that same section of the garden the year before.


And by autumn of last year, I had filled that newly found empty garden space with a number of plants.

The intelligent planner would have completed the one giant extension at one time, determining then that there was plenty of room for expansion and why not maximize that within one project. But not this guy, he had to break it out into two long and grueling sessions over the course of two years.

And here’s the rub – by extending the same section further, the plants that were used and filled the original extension now would look silly and out of place since what was the front now would become the middle. Everything would have to be relocated to account for proper heights.

So dummy pushed on and started to map out the extended bed by using cardboard to kill the grass and rocks to keep the cardboard in place.

new bed

new bed 2

I then added mulch before winter set in to keep it all in place and to ideally aid in the breakdown of the cardboard at the same time the grass died.

new bed 3

Fast forward to spring and the number one goal this season is to get that open section filled by the start of summer. The pictures don’t really do it justice, it is a huge open spot and it will be a hell of a job to fill it. Not to mention expensive buying the necessary plants.

Or maybe, if John was smart, he could pull it off without paying a dime. Maybe he could divide existing perennials and turn 3 into like 9 or 10. Maybe he could relocate some reseeded perennials that were hidden under large shrubs and in crevices. Maybe he could divide a grass that has been begging to be cleaned up and divided for years now. And maybe, just maybe, he could finally take some of those small shrubs that have been wasting away in the “bullpen” (my term for the embarrassing always under construction bed I never reveal to you all) and put them to good use.

And yes you guessed it, John did do all of that. He’s good.

new bed


Four years ago I planted three Obedient plants (‘Vivid’) and now, thanks to their underground runners, 3 has become close to 50.

What they look like in August:

pink obedient 3

And how the small divisions look today:

divided obedient


I had at least 15 small Yarrow plants popping up all over the garden through reseeding over the years and now they are all reunited in one section of the garden to achieve the greatest visual impact in summer.

reseeded achillea


The aforementioned grass was Pennisetum ‘Karley Rose’ which looks like this in summer:


And like this, after 1 became three (actually 4, the other section went back to the original location).

divided pennisetum


Allium ‘Mt Sinai’ was being overtaken by weeds and not reaching its fullest potential.


So it too was divided and doubled and used to fill in various open spaces in the newly extended bed and elsewhere.

allium divisions

allium divisions 2


And finally, a Weigela of some sort that I took home from a conference in 2014 and hid in a remote locale, was saved and put in a prominent spot in my new bed where she can feel free to spread her wings and grow to her heart’s content.

weigela red

Total cost (if you ignore my labor) is $0.00. And there is more where that came from. I’ve still got irises to divide and grasses to divide and plenty of coneflower volunteers that need a new home.

Not only am I saving money, but by increasing the count of my perennials, I am adding repetition to my garden design and creating greater visual impact by using larger numbers of the same plant.

A win-win-win.