Category: Shrubs

Diervilla ‘Cool Splash’

I carefully plan every plant purchase. Only after I’ve identified a viable open spot in the garden, done extensive research on all of my options and carefully evaluated my budget will I take the plunge.

And if you believe that, well, we need to get to know each other better.

I’m a reckless plant shopper. I grab first and ask questions later. I never have to locate available space in the garden because there is always available space in the garden. That’s rule 4.27 in the garden shopping handbook.

A few years back, while shopping at my local nursery, I spotted a variegated shrub that I assumed was a boxwood or euonymous. Upon closer inspection I was wrong. It was a Diervilla which I’m ashamed to admit I’d never heard of before. The common name is “bush honeysuckle” but that still didn’t help me.

So I put in my cart and bought it and brought it home without any additional research.

That’s how I roll.

I was the proud owner of Diervilla ‘Cool Splash’.

The next day, after some cursory research and a few walks around the garden, I found the spot. A partially shaded location along my front foundation where this section of the garden was screaming for some brightness among all of the green foliage. I squeezed it in right behind some red Heuchera (Coral Bells) and it instantly brought the spot to life.

But let me back up.

Here are some specifics on this deciduous shrub:

Size: 2-3′ high X  2-3′ wide

Zone: 4-8

Exposure: Full to partial sun

Moisture level: Normal

Bloom: Yellow flowers in June-July

Deer resistant: So far yes, but I’m still skeptical

By mid-April, this deciduous variegated shrub starts to break bud.

Within a week or two, it has fully leafed out and the foliage color is at its “whitest” at this time.

While the shrub is listed as 3′ x 3′ at its max size, it does spread through underground rhizomes and can allegedly form a colony. No signs of that yet for me, but I’ll be watching closely.

I have my Diervilla ‘Cool Splash’ next to pink Monarda (Bee Balm) and the bloom color contrasts beautifully with the bright foliage.

The variegated foliage remains on the shrub into November before it falls off.

If I take a step back, and show you this section of the garden from a distance, you can get a better feel of this shrub’s impact.

Here it is in late summer.

And in the middle of fall.

And finally in late fall, still making a statement.

I can only hope that impact increases year after year as the Diervilla ‘Cool Splash’ attains its full size.

What do you think?

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.


Fall color on Viburnum carlesii ‘Aurora’

Quick one today.

The fall color on my Viburnum carlesii  ‘Aurora’ has been incredible for over a month now.

It gets better and better each year.


I wrote a post about this gem a few years back – Viburnum carlesii ‘Aurora’ – and continue to recommend it as a must have shrub based on the fall foliage alone.



It started changing color back in early September and is one of the few plants with its leaves still in place today.


Fothergilla Mt Airy

If I had to choose the most disappointing plant in my garden right now, it would be Fothergilla Mt Airy. I have had two of these shrubs in the ground for four years now and while their features in isolation are killer, they haven’t matured to a level I would have expected by now.

Issue #1 – While I see them marketed as “deer resistant”, both of mine are consistently nibbled throughout the seasons. They’ve never been hit hard, but the nibbling has prevented them from growing much taller than 30 inches tall.

Issue #2 – While I’m sure this is related to issue #1, I’ve had very sporadic blooming in spring. To the point that I barely even notice the white bottlebrush blooms. It’s a shame because the blooms are beautiful and fragrant (which of course is a relative term to this sufferer of a deviated septum).

Both of my Fothergilla Mt Airy are situated in a partially shaded location and I’m contemplating moving one in spring to a more full sun area that would also be (fingers crossed) protected from the deer.

It’s all about experimentation with gardening, but I’ve got all winter to plan the move.

Here is the foliage color somewhere around the end of September.

fothergilla mt airy

fothergilla mt airy

Fantastic but damn if it couldn’t have an even bigger impact at 4 to 5 feet tall and wide.

Here are two photos of Fothergilla Mt Airy current day. The foliage color is a more consistent orange but still a presence.



Late April/early May is when I’ve seen the first signs of bloom. The photos below, taken over the course of the past few springs, only show you the good. The bare branches have been successfully removed from sight.

Still, nice enough.

fothergilla mt airy

fothergilla mt airy


I have no intention of giving up on Fothergilla Mt Airy and hope to create a full blown post dedicated to this native shrub next year.

As always, your feedback and advice would be greatly appreciated.


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.

Weigela ‘Wine and Roses’ update

It has been a while since I chatted you all up about my Weigela ‘Wine and Roses’ shrubs. Back in 2011, I did a little experimental pruning with my three different W&R shrubs to see which of the three options (severe prune, selective prune and no prune) panned out the best. At the time, I concluded (albeit with scant evidence) that some sort of pruning was the way to go for the best foliage display and best overall shape.

Fast forward to 2016 and I’ve lost 2 of the 3 shrubs after moving each of them to a wetter and poorer draining location. Neither was residing in standing water or anything that extreme, but both were not in as dry of a location as the lone standing W&R. So point #1, fast draining soil is a must. I’ve got the evidence to back that up.

The last living ‘Wine and Roses’ Weigela was the one that was originally “selectively pruned” and it did look great for 2-3 years after that. However, in the years since, the shrub has become “twiggy” (the scientific term) as I haven’t touched it since 2011. Here she is current day:


Uninspiring, even in full bloom.

Upon closer inspection, you can see the bare branches which collectively, give it the current mediocre look.

weigela 3


weigela 2


weigela 4

I still really enjoy this shrub as a foliage first plant and a great background to a variety of perennials, especially when the purple coneflowers are in full bloom. With that in mind, I’m going to prune this shrub selectively once again, probably within the next week or so after it has put out its bloom to ensure I do not cut off next year’s flowers. It looks like this will be an every 2-3 year job based on current evidence.

More to come.



Spring pruning time

This moment could not have come soon enough. With some free time early this morning coupled with the fact that it was 60 degrees here in New Jersey, it was a no-brainer to get outdoors and cross some spring gardening tasks off of the list, specifically, some spring pruning.

For today, it was the pruning of two of the largest shrubs in my garden and two shrubs that I pruned to the ground (with success) last spring: Redtwig Dogwood and Dappled Willow (Salix ‘Hakuro Nishiki’).

Here is the original post on the spring pruning of the redtwig dogwood:
pruning redtwig dogwood

And the original post on the spring pruning of the dappled willow:
pruning Salix

And here is an update I posted on the progress of both shrubs last June:
pruning updates in June

And to further update you on the results of the severe spring pruning, here is a photo of the redtwig dogwood prior to it being pruned this morning:

redtwig winter

Even after being cut to the ground last March, this deciduous shrub ended up growing to about 5-6′ feet tall and 3-4′ wide. And the red stem color was killer all fall/winter.

late fall garden 2

I heard more compliments and more “what is this shrub” comments from visitors this winter than ever before. In other words, “success”.

The Dappled Willow went bananas after it was also pruned to the ground last March. Check these pics out.

In June.


And in September.


Totally out of control. This year I need to do a better job of cutting this back a few times throughout the year to keep it in bounds.

Back to this morning.

The redtwig dogwood was up first.

spring pruning

As much as it pained me to see it go, it is necessary for me to keep it at a size that doesn’t outgrow its location. I’ve tried other redtwig dogwood shrubs in other parts of my garden, and the deer have destroyed it every time. In this location along the front foundation of my home, it has escaped them. The only issues are that it is a tighter fit and not full sun. But three years in, we are still good to go.

By the way, I make it a point to save the cut stems for indoor decorating because you know, I’m all about the interior decorating.

redtwig branches

Next up was the Salix.

spring pruning

A little bit tougher to cut back with the thicker stems.

spring pruning

But if you have nice and sharp loppers like I do and if you are as brutally strong as I am, you should be fine.

salix branches

This was the second year in a row that a bird nested in this shrub during the winter and I made sure all was clear before proceeding this morning. No birds were injured as part of this project.

bird egg salix

With nothing but warm weather on the horizon, expect to see more spring chore completion over the next few days.

The forgotten Spirea and another garden TV idea

Here’s what’s going on out in the garden these days:

The hydrangea is nice and all.


But isn’t it that much better when viewed through the Andropogon (Big Bluestem) ‘Red October’?


Speaking of the oh so wonderful ornamental grass, ‘Karl Foerster’ is in full bloom and is a solid vertical accent in numerous spots throughout my garden.



True story, two years ago in a fit of rage, I heaved my three “dead” Spirea ‘Anthony Waterer’ into my woods after they seemed to have bitten it over the winter. Not one of my absolute faves, but a solid performer that was always ignored by the deer. Three more damn holes to fill in.

Flash forward to this spring and I spotted one of the “dead” Spirea looking all awesome in the middle of my woods. I could see pink flowers blooming amongst the brush.

Typical. Show it disinterest and it thrives.

Not one to dismiss a shrub that appears to be competent, I jumped into the tick infested woods and gave this guy another chance. If at first you don’t succeed …

So far so good.



And I swear to you, another alive and well Spirea has been spotted and I’ll be grabbing that one too. Maybe I have some sort of magical forest with healing powers? Maybe the ticks brought it back to life and we can now understand their real purpose. Time to chuck some other under performers in there and test it out.

What a difference even a week or two makes.


lady's mantle

I was on top of removing the spent flowers on the Lady’s Mantle, Amsonia ‘Blue Ice’ and Penstemon ‘Husker’s Red’ in hopes of keeping up their appearance as we jump into summer. A definite lesson from seasons past.

The Astilbes are all in bloom.



First Bee Balm bloom of the year


With oodles to follow.

Seriously, there is no bigger bloomer in my garden than Monarda. It has spread everywhere and I friggin love it. Just wait until I show you in the next few weeks.

First Coneflower bloom.



Some Veronica I got on the cheap from Lowe’s and have no idea if I like it or not.


Achillea ‘Pink Grapefruit’ has arrived.


A Bellflower (I think) that is EVERYWHERE and I don’t have the energy to remove it. Although with the thick carpet, it is suppressing the weeds beautifully.


And I’ll leave you with yet another TV show idea that I’ll regret not having pursued.

Have you ever watched Chopped on Food Network? Contestants are given various ingredients with which to pull together and create some semblance of a meal. I’m talking like watermelon, salmon and crushed peppermint. A real challenge to present something edible but the amateur chefs always manage to pull it off.

What if we tried the same with plants that weren’t the least bit compatible? It could work, right?

The idea came to me when I attempted to put together the container below.


I had a collection of annuals given to me by an uncle and I tried to make the best of it. We’ll see how it turns out, I’m not exactly a container gardening expert.

Are you with me? Would you watch that show?












Pruning the Redtwig Dogwood

It may be snowing here in New Jersey as I write this, but it didn’t stop me from heading outdoors and completing another gardening task today. Today was all about pruning the Redtwig Dogwood ‘Arctic Fire’.

My lone Redtwig Dogwood is unfortunately, in a location where I can’t let it grow as large as it desires. ‘Arctic Fire’ maxes out at about 5′ x 4′ (don’t believe what a lot of other sites will tell you). I had no other choice but to plant it in a bed along the front of my home where I’ve managed to shield it from the deer for years now. Anywhere else in the yard and it would be toast.

Because of that, I potentially have to prune it for size control for the first time this spring.

Here she is last summer just about outgrowing its spot.
redtwig dogwood

And last Fall after shedding its leaves.

And as of this morning.
pruning redtwig dogwood

If size wasn’t an issue, I don’t think pruning the Redtwig Dogwood would even be a need at this point. As you can see below, the stems are all still wonderfully fire truck red.
pruning redtwig dogwood 4

So let’s now unveil the final decision via video. How will he be pruning the Redtwig Dogwood?

There we have it. Time to chop it down to the ground.

And just like that …
pruning redtwig dogwood 2

Yes, another big hole in the garden but if we want to experiment and learn, this is a necessity.
pruning redtwig dogwood 3

So another pruned shrub to keep a close eye on this spring/summer. Fun stuff.

And by the way, I used my new favorite pruners for pruning the Redtwig Dogwood and for pruning the Salix ‘Hakuro Nishiki’. And that would be the Corona Anvil Pruner.
corona pruners

Nothing has ever worked or felt better in the hand. A serious endorsement for this one.

Have a great weekend.

Pruning Salix ‘Hakuro Nishiki’

Today was the official start of the gardening season. I completed my first official gardening “task”. And by task, I mean getting outside, freezing the ass off and performing some sort of physical labor. That task was pruning Salix ‘Hakuro Nishiki’. A shrub that I absolutely adore. 

But first, allow myself … to introduce myself and what the plan of attack would be for this shrub.

With that in mind, here is what she looked like by the end of last summer.


Just about ready to really take over my deck. The only choice I see is to cut it back severely in order to keep it in bounds. Not to mention the possibility of improving on the white and pink variegation in spring.   

So this is where we started off today.

pruning salix

As you can see below, the buds have just started to form on the branches so pruning Salix time is of the essence.

pruning salix 2

I didn’t take photos of the actual pruning of the Salix, as I basically cut all of the branches down to about 12-18 inches off of the ground. Even with some of the thicker branches (close to 2″ in diameter) I was able to cut these down using hand pruners and a little brute force.

I did my best, where possible, to cut right above a bud in hopes of having the newly chopped down branches leaf out in a well shaped manner. Honestly I don’t even know if it was necessary but we will see how it plays out.

pruning salix 4

After the severe pruning of the Salix ‘Hakuro Nishiki’, here is what she looked like.

pruning salix 3

pruning salix 6

A rather large hole in the garden right now, but I’m willing to put up with it knowing how quickly this shrub puts out growth each year.

All in all, the pruning took no more than 5 minutes with minimal effort. Now the waiting game begins.

pruning salix 5

Pruning Salix is only one of the many planned severe prunings I have planned for this spring. As always, I will be sure to track the results throughout the spring/summer/fall/winter.

I would love to hear all of your feedback in the comments section if you’ve pruned your Salix in the past.