Tag Archives: amsonia

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.

The day it all changed

I am fascinated by the mundane. I want to know what each and everyone of you eats for lunch each day and how you came to that decision. I want to know what you are doing at 7:30 on a Tuesday evening. I want to know why you don’t chew gum or drink beer. I want to know the specific order you follow each morning when showering, making coffee, eating and taking the dog out. I want to know if you sleep on your side or on your stomach. I want to understand why you don’t like cheese.

On a personal level, I manage a mental log of all of the days that have had a profound impact on my future life. Without fail, each of those days appeared no different from any other at the time. Upon waking up, there was no big intro announcing this was the day I was going to cross paths with my future wife. There was no pump-me-up music as I crawled out of bed. No higher being sent me a sign that the day was going to be like no other.

Because of that, I find myself walking though each day curious if this is going to be one of “those” days. Not that I’m anticipating tragedy or winning the lottery or anything like that. It is way more subtle. Will tonight be the last night I carry my ten year old daughter on my back up to bed? Not because anything specific occurred, but maybe tomorrow night she just walks upstairs on her own and that becomes the new normal. Will I remember that last night ten years from now? Or will the memory fade and get mixed in with one of the other 10,168 days?

With that in mind, I am going to leaf through the archives of my mind and dedicate a few posts to “those”days. The day I knew that my wife was different from the others and I just wanted to hang with her. The day I rediscovered writing while watching “Lost” after a way too long hiatus. And for today’s purposes (because it is warming up and the garden is starting to kick into gear)I wanted to write about the day that I discovered the perennial that completely changed my outlook on what a garden should and can be.

I started gardening back in 1997. I started out like your prototypical spring gardener we all see at Home Depot on a Saturday morning in April. Buy a bunch of flowers that look pretty, stick them in the ground in some bloody awful symmetrical pattern, fertilize the shit out of them and then be done with it. I am a gardener.

I slowly evolved from that gardener to one who was stealing plant labels at the nursery and bringing them home as part of plant recon. Then I was buying books or checking them out of the library on a weekly basis. That led to the discovery of “The Well Tended Perennial Garden” which elevated my gardening game to a whole new level. I was buying perennials and pinching them and experimenting with different combos and becoming obsessed.

But my plant palette was still limited. The only plants in my purview were those that I could find at my local nursery or that I easily recognized when shopping online. The concept of native plants was still foreign to me.

But then in 2004 we moved out to rural New Jersey, in the “country”. We were owners of a 2+ acre lot that was completely devoid of plant life, let alone a garden. I worked my ass off for 3-4 years trying to create a garden and bombed with the best of them. I still regret that I didn’t capture any photos of my ridiculous efforts and even worse results.

By spring of 2008, I was determined to attack the outdoors in a somewhat intelligent and well thought out way. I ordered plants in bulk but small in size. I had a better feel for my new digs, specifically how my new digs fit into the larger landscape of my town and my county. That thinking led to the recognition and understanding of the native plant. I did my research and I observed those landscapes that seemed to “fit in” and look natural. That then led to the discovery of the “native plant sale”.

It’s Mother’s Day 2008 and the plan is to make mom breakfast in bed and then head out for the day so mom could also enjoy some peace and quiet. The kids are 5 and 2 so you get it. That weekend also happened to be the opening of the native plant sale at Bowman’s Hill in Bucks County, PA. We’ll go out to breakfast, hit up the plant sale and then hit the playground before heading back home.

In preparation for the trip, I studied what was available for purchase at the plant sale and for the first time, understood the important details as to what plant made sense for my garden. It had to be deer resistant, it had to handle full sun and it had to be wet tolerant with our high water table. I compiled my list and had it in the back pocket of my shorts.

Upon arriving at the plant sale, the plants were all laid out in alphabetical order. Admittedly, 85% of the plants on my list I had never heard of before. I made it a point to talk to no one for fear of having to say the names out loud. I kept my head down and tried to hide my list under my sleeve.

I’ll skip the drama and let you know that the first name on my list – Amsonia – was the first plant I found and I threw three of them in my box without even evaluating its looks. And to make a long story short, that perennial is still to this day my personal favorite in my always expanding collection. I had no idea at the time as I just shoved plants in my box and tried to escape without being noticed, but that day changed everything. I discovered native plants, went on to read all I could about the benefit of native plants and haven’t looked back since.

I’ve written quite a bit in the past about Amsonia, which you can read through the following links:

Amsonia tabernaemontana

The Many Faces of Amsonia

Amsonia ‘Blue Ice’ 

So let me add just one more thing.

I’ve realized over time that I want four things out of my plants, specifically my perennials, and they are as follows.

Anticipation – after a long and cold winter, I want the jolt from a newly emerging plant and it should look cool and exciting and give me a sense of great anticipation. Exhibit A:

amsonia flower

 

Explosion – that plant should have its moment where it shines and becomes the focal point in the garden, even if it is short lived. Exhibit B:

amsonia2

 

Sustained presence – the plant should hold up well through the various seasons, even if it fades a bit into the background. Summer destruction can ruin the entire garden. Exhibit C:

amsonia obedient

 

Go out with a bang – autumn color should be phenomenal and breath taking and make one last statement. Exhibit D:

amsonia fall 2

 

amsonia

I continue to add Amsonia to my garden each and every spring and will not stop any time soon. It is literally indestructible. And I still think back to that Mother’s Day trek and my quick in and out at the plant sale and realize how much that day changed my entire perception of the garden and gardening.

That is the day when my hobby transformed into an obsession.

Deer resistant perennials for wet soil

A friend in town, who only recently became aware of this life changing blog, asked me for some plant recommendations. Oh shit. Typically I am not a fan of doling out plant advice because the pressure can become crippling.

If the recommended plant doesn’t survive, I’m scorned at the next basketball game.

If the suggested choice can’t be found at the local nursery, I’m no longer trusted and the kids aren’t invited to any more birthday parties.

But I’m putting it all on the line today.

Without fear.

I am that confident with the choices I’m about to offer up. The following perennials (staying away from grasses for now; he’ll have to buy me lunch first) are very specific to the conditions we have here in zone 6B New Jersey. Throw in deer and rabbits galore.  And a high water table which leads to very poor draining soil.

So my local homey, here are the top 7 perennials that I can vouch for based on my personal experience. Each has thrived for at least 5 years running and all show no signs of slowing down.

Click on the hyperlink for each plant name for additional info where applicable.

You are welcome in advance.

#1 – Joe Pye Weed close to 6 feet tall, blooms are long lasting, attracts numerous critters  and looks good all the way into the fall.

joe pye weed

joe pye and miscanthus

 

#2 – Amsoniathe deer have never touched it, great bluish blooms in spring followed by fine textured foliage all summer. But Fall is when it shines with unbelievable colors ranging from yellow to orange.   

amsonia2

amsonia

amsonia

 

#3 – Astilbeno critter has ever touched it, appreciates oodles of moisture, blooms in white and pink and red in late spring and the fern like foliage separates itself from others.   

astilbe2

astilbe3

 

#4 – Bee Balmthe scent keeps the deer at bay, the bees flock to it and the blooms last all summer and even into fall. I personally love the taller options which make their presence known in the garden.

monarda3

bee

 

#5 – Purple Coneflower – yes they are everywhere but it is still an oldie but goodie. Multiplies like mad so there is a full supply year to year. Consistent blooms without a care in the world.   

garden7

moth3

 

#6 – Lobelia – cherishes the waterlogged soil and provides late summer blooms.

lobelia2

blue lob

 

#7 – Mountain Mint not the showiest, but what a critter magnet. I could stand over these in bloom all day.

mint2

mint

We’ll talk again in spring dude but start doing your homework now if you want to continue to hang with me.

Enjoying fall while it is still here

Ignore what I wrote on Friday. There were no bulbs planted this weekend and I blame it on the following:

  • 50% weather – we had a ton of rain late Friday into Saturday
  • 25% familial obligations – soccer game, kids Oktoberfest events
  • 15% smarts – maybe a bit too early for bulb planting here
  • 10% wanting to soak in the autumn-ness – time spent smelling the roses grasses

In regards to that last one, I am typically not one to “enjoy the moment” when it comes to my garden. I am either looking towards the future when yet again moving or adding a new plant or hating on my current day plants that are underachieving.

But this weekend I reminded myself that fall is possibly the greatest time of year in the garden, yet it is oh so fleeting. A famous man once said “Better enjoy the crap out of it while is here.”

With that in mind, more autumn photos for your viewing pleasure.

itea and clethra

Itea ‘Henry’s Garnet and Clethra ‘Ruby Spice’

 

ninebark

Physocarpus ‘Diablo’

 

ninebark2

Physocarpus ‘Diablo’

 

hydrangea

Hydrangea ‘Lady in Red’

 

hydrangea2

Hydrangea ‘Endless Summer’

 

iris

Siberian Iris

 

viburnum

Viburnum bracteatum ‘Emerald Lustre’

 

amsonia

Amsonia tabernaemontana

 

amsonia2

Amsonia ‘Blue Ice’

 

amsonia3

Amsonia ‘Blue Ice’

 

 

 

Best Fall Foliage Plants

Today we’ll take a look at my best fall foliage plants.

This list only includes plants I have lived with and experienced in my own garden .

Amsonia tabernaemontana (Blue Star)
The more well known Amsonia hubrictii has a much more impressive autumn color but I only added them to my own garden this past spring and it is too soon for me to share any photos of them.

Tabernaemontana still is impressive in its own right as the fall foliage color starts as a pale yellow and develops into an eye catching orange hue.

amsonia-fall-color1

amsonia-fall-color

best fall foliage plants

 

Viburnum carlesii ‘Aurora’
I have quite a few different Viburnum shrubs (some real young and still small) and to date, this has been the best autumn performer. Each individual leaf starts to transform slowly to a maroon color starting at the end of September and the majority of the leaves remain on the plant until the end of October here in zone 6B.

viburnum-aurora-fall-color

viburnum-aurora-fall

best fall foliage plants

 

Fothergilla ‘Mt. Airy’
This deciduous shrub, while interesting in early spring with its white bottlebrush blooms, really stands out in the fall with that kick butt orange foliage color. I’ve added a few more this year to really up the impact each autumn.

best fall foliage plants

 

Panicum (Switch Grass) ‘Northwind’
This ornamental grass and PPA award winner may not be thought of as a fall foliage plant, but that yellow color works for me as the perfect complement to the more common red fall foliage color of other plants.

panicum-northwind-fall

 

Clethra alnifolia (Summersweet) ‘Hummingbird’
Another shrub not thought of as a fall performer, but again, I like to mix in that yellow/gold color wherever I can.

clethra-hummingbird-fall-color

 

Itea (Virginia Sweetspire) ‘Henry’s Garnet’
This shrub, by far, has the greatest red fall color of any plant currently residing in my garden. The fall color starts subtly in August and then kicks it into overdrive by early September. The leaves start to fall off in mid October with a few remaining as late as Thanksgiving.

itea2

fall12

fall19

 

Miscanthus purpurascens (Flame Grass) 
Another ornamental grass, this one takes color to all new heights. Just look at all of the color shades represented in those blades. It is the plant that draws the most attention/questions from onlookers from August through October.

fall14

flame-grass-fall-color

Why I post so often

I have this friend (dude knows who he is) who on more than one a hundred occasions has asked me “How can you possibly take any more pictures of your garden? Seriously, you have like hundreds of posts in only four years, haven’t you said/photographed it all?”

First off “friend”, and I use the term loosely, I have actually posted 868 times since February of 2010. And while some of the posts are of questionable mind, most are simply an observation of what is going on in my garden at that time. I introduce new plants to my garden each season/year, plants get more robust with age, take on a completely different look and feel when relocated within the garden, change dramatically through the seasons and often times die. And many times it is a combination of all of these things. That is why I can take hundreds of photographs in one session.

Here are some examples just from today.

This is my first witness to a Fothergilla blooming in my own garden as I just planted it last Fall:

I dig the bottlebrush like flowers and are even cooler up close:

I get all jonesed up seeing my Redtwig Dogwood leafing out, knowing we are transitioning from early to mid spring:

 

Before I know it, it will fill out completely and take its understated turn in the landscape:

The Amsonia are finally emerging from the ground and I frickin love how they look when doing so:

The next step is seeing the first buds forming:

Soon following will be a cacophony of buds:

Then the first bloom:

And finally full bloomage:

All of the foliage on the Astilbes have this cool red/brown/green/rust combo right now and it is fantastic:

Eventually it will settle in all green with hints of red stems:

Then the first buds appear:

And then boom, we’ve got serious blooms:

 

The photos tell the story and that alone, friend, should give you enough evidence as to why I am now easily completing my 869th post.

Blooms, Blooms, Blooms (And no more peony talk)

Just to prove that I am not completely fixated on my peonies (that didn’t sound right), here are some other blooms in and about my garden during this fantastic time of year.
Veronica just about on its last legs but hoping the periodic deadheading will extend it a bit further: 

Physocarpus (Ninebark) ‘Diablo’ just started blooming and looks OK; I still value it mostly for the foliage:

Geranium ‘Brookside’ which I’ve been rather critical of in the past, looks good now that it is allowed to roam wild a bit:

Itea ‘Henry’s Garnet’ doesn’t blow you away in bloom, but it is reliable and performs so well in my native bed where it is consistently moist/wet:

I know I am going to enjoy Amsonia ‘Blue Ice’ for years to come as six of these were planted just last fall as tiny plugs and they already look fantastic. Not to mention they are ignored by the deer and the rabbits and survived wet feet this past winter:

Blooms nice, the rest … not so much. I am losing it for Tradescantia (Spiderwort) ‘Sweet Kate’ so they better shape up soon or they are gone:

Penstemon ‘Husker’s Red’ just about to bloom in full; give it about a 7 on a scale of 1 to 10:

First blooms on Hypericum ‘Albury Purple’:

Spirea ‘Snow Storm’ … hmmmm … takes up space … blooms are “decent” … suppresses weeds since better than bare ground … guess she can stay: