Tag Archives: amsonia

Tour of my garden – 5/11/17


Long ago, I made the assumption that I could never successfully grow a Clematis in my garden. It must have been me thinking this climber couldn’t withstand my poorly draining soil. Or I was lazy. Probably a mix of both.

In 2014, while attending a gardening conference, I scored a bunch of free plants including a Clematis ‘Scented Clem’. It was free so it was a no-brainer to attempt to add it to my garden. I had zero expectations and just put it in the ground with nary a thought.

Fast forward to 2017 and we are in year three of “proving John’s dumb assumption was incredibly wrong”. This Clematis is a profuse bloomer and allegedly has a similar scent to that of a Gardenia. As many of you already know, I can’t smell a thing. I may need to pull the family in to confirm.


It’s official. Geranium ‘Espresso’ is my favorite Geranium of all time and it isn’t even close. That foliage alone is borderline orgasmic and when you throw in the lavender blooms, well, I need a cigarette.


I wrote about Golden Ragwort last week. Just here to report that it’s still blooming and looking great.


There was a time not so long ago when I had 5 or 6 Campanula ‘Joan Elliot’ plants thriving and flowering each spring. I am now down to one. But that’s OK. Through the wonders of division and some TLC, I will multiply this happy bloomer in no time.


And on the 7th day, God created … Allium. While they are still in the early stages of blooming and still forming into their happy ball of awesomeness, NOTHING screams “Happy spring time” like Allium. All of the Allium in the following three pics are ‘Purple Sensation’ and are all making a repeat visit.




The ‘Globemaster’ Allium is slowly unfurling, kind of like “I’ll take my sweet ass time because I know I’m all that.”



I know every gardener likes to take photos of their peony buds and the pics are everywhere on Facebook and Instagram. I don’t care because they’re awesome. I am holding out hope that this white peony blooms while there’s still a semblance of the Lilac blooms next door.


A comparison of Amsonias:

First we have ‘tabernaemontana’.


And then ‘Hubrichtii’

Both will be loaded with star-shaped flowers soon and that will rock my world.

As the Lilac slowly ascends to flowerdom, the nearby Baptisia tries to keep pace. If you look to the left, you’ll see I left the old flowers of the Hydrangea on the shrub for shits and giggles. I kind of like taking advantage of the ornamental quality until this year’s flowers emerge. You feel me or “no John, dumb”?



Spring flowers are great. But the emergence of foliage and it’s dynamic quality are up there in terms of impact.

My ever-growing collection of the smaller-sized Itea ‘Little Henry’ looks fantastic right now. The red hues making it all the more interesting.

The reason I write “ever-growing” is that they are all perfectly suckering (the runner roots are expanding beyond the original shrub) and creating my desired “colony” that is filling the previously empty garden space beautifully.


How great is the foliage of the Sorbaria sorbifolia ‘Sem’ (False Spirea)? I’ve yet to witness the full seasonal cycle (white flowers and pure green foliage later in summer) but the spring foliage is a winner on its own.


A request. Please ignore the weedy growth underneath the shrub below. I’m working on it. As much as it pained me, I had to expose my warts so that you all could appreciate the leaf color of this Ninebark ‘Amber Jubilee’. It’s even better in person; but you can’t come see it, I have too much work to do still.


The shrub in the two photos below is Spirea ‘Blue Kazoo’. While it displays reddish hues now in spring, it will eventually transition to a blue/green foliage color with white flowers. I love a plant that provides such distinct and different attributes spring, summer and fall. The challenge is attempting to pull it all together without it looking like a hot mess.


Oh Ligularia ‘Britt-Marie Crawford’, you look so clean now but we all know you have plans to fall apart in summer.

And why oh why can’t you develop the dark foliage as demonstrated in this photo?

I like this Heuchera but have no idea as to the cultivar name. Any ideas?


Once the Nepeta (Catmint) ‘Walkers Low’ fills in, this part of the garden starts to take shape. Flowers will be here within the week; as will those kick-butt bees.


Alchemilla mollis (Lady’s Mantle) also filling in and contrasting nicely with the Penstemon ‘Husker Red’ in the background.


Speaking of Penstemon, I have a ton of these popping up all over the garden (assuming through re-seeding) and I’m trying to determine if they are true to ‘Husker Red’. Either way, I’ve been relocating them all to fill in available spots, to create foliage color contrasts and to attain that coveted garden design feature of repetition.


As much as I am proud of my ability to manage my garden and all of it’s inhabitants, I have no clue what this is. I love it by the way. Any clue as to what it is? First to answer wins … something.



This Itea ‘Henry’s Garnet’ is almost unrecognizable. It has been taken over, actually I should say “taken under” by Northern Sea Oats and other bully weeds. It is virtually impossible to make headway on removing them. It may be time to dig it up and perform surgery as a last gasp to make it presentable.

Another reminder: Northern Sea Oats = bad

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.

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:



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



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.   





#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.   




#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.




#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.   




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


blue lob


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



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’



Physocarpus ‘Diablo’



Physocarpus ‘Diablo’



Hydrangea ‘Lady in Red’



Hydrangea ‘Endless Summer’



Siberian Iris



Viburnum bracteatum ‘Emerald Lustre’



Amsonia tabernaemontana



Amsonia ‘Blue Ice’



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.



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.



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.



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.



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.





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.



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.