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Tour of the Garden – 8/24/17

The Grasses

What else would I lead with at this time of year? Duh. I’m well aware that my last post featured Flame Grass, but I couldn’t resist featuring it yet again. Those silvery blooms blowing in the wind bring the garden to life. Once that green foliage color turns every imaginable shade of orange, it will be sensory overload.

 

Can you say focal point? Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans) is killer right now. While I love it massed for maximum effect, it can hold its own on its own. While the flowers or inflorescence are a show-stopper, give me the sturdy blue stems any day of the week. Even on a Monday.

 

Ho-hum, another Panicum ‘Northwind’ pic.

 

The red is really shining through on Panicum ‘Rotstrahlbusch’. These grasses are incredibly fool-proof and have been for over a decade now.

 

Multiple grasses are anchoring this garden scene. I’ll say it again, as ubiquitous as it may be, the upright and tan blooms of Karl Foerster grass add so much to the late summer garden. Massed or dotted throughout the garden, it doesn’t matter. It works and I won’t stop using it any time soon.

 

Just a different Instagram filter for a different vibe.

 

Fine, you win

I cut it down to the ground in early spring. I cut it back again in June. I chopped off a ton of the branches after they were infested with Japanese beetles.

It doesn’t matter. This Salix ‘Hakuro Nishiki’ (Dappled Willow) just keeps growing and growing. If I’m being honest, I’m bored with it but I can’t imagine trying to remove it.

Oh well.

 

Not looking good

All of my Achillea (Yarrow) ‘Moonwalker’ look like this or worse. The funny thing is they thrived earlier in the summer like never before.

 

I told myself I wouldn’t dabble in red-blooming Lobelias any longer. They have never escaped the jaws of the deer or the rabbits. Just when all 5 were starting to look great while blooming together, this happened. I even sprayed the bastards with Deer Off the night before.

I’m done.

 

You know I love me some Sneezeweed ‘Mariachi Series’. But for the first time since I’ve planted them, they are toppling over. It may have been due to a recent deluge of rain so I’ll do my best to remain patient.

 

Still chasing

Yes, still awkwardly running after each and every Monarch butterfly.

 

Autumn has arrived

This is the Viburnum that I ceremoniously moved to a new location in the garden a few weeks back. I’m sure the red leaves are due to the stress I put on it and not the fact that fall has come a few weeks to early. Either way, that color is solid and I have big hopes for the future as it matures.

But even better is the sign of all of those berries. This is a Viburnum dentatum ‘All That Glitters’ which requires ‘All That Glows’ as a pollinator. I have both planted close to each other and I’m assuming this is the result of that pollination. They should turn purple in color in the coming weeks.

 

All of my Itea (Virginia Sweetspire) turn red prematurely in August. This is the dwarf cultivar ‘Little Henry’ which I’m allowing to sucker like mad in a very wet part of the garden.

 

While it may be slight, you can start to see the color transformation in the foliage of the Amsonia.

Amsonia tabernaemontana

Amsonia hubrichtii

 

The Red Twig Dogwood just displayed its red stems for the first time this week. And for those curious, the leaf damage was from Japanese beetles a few weeks back.

 

Ready to shine

The Eupatorium ‘Wayside’ (Hardy Ageratum) are starting to bloom.

But have they ever taken over.

So many of you warned me of this and it is coming to fruition. It may be OK this year, but I see a problem with the years to come. I’ll need to jump on this soon to prevent a total takeover.

 

Sedum ‘Autumn Fire’ is rounding into form and they are all inundated with bees.

 

Helenium (Sneezweed) has popped up all over my garden where I least expected it and I’m good with that. That is until it falls over when the many flowers emerge at once.

 

They may not “shine” but Chelone lyonii (Turtlehead) ‘Hot Lips’ adds a nice dash of color in late summer.

 

My continuing use of annuals

I’ve added Heliotrope …

… and Persian Shield

… and I must admit I might be coming around even more on using annuals. As many of you know, I’ve rarely used annuals in the garden outside of containers but finally embraced them this year. I’m getting the “fill-in” functionality and long bursts of color. While I prefer to grow over time with my plants, I may be finally crossing the dark side.

 

I love you, but don’t know where to go with you

I am like totally in love with Aralia ‘Sun King’.

Look at that foliage.

Problem is I have no room for it in my garden. All of my shaded areas are accounted for and even if I made room, I worry about the deer destroying it.

So for now, I’m digging it in a container, shaded on my front porch, and will do my best to overwinter it in the container.

 

 

The August Garden

As we hit the midpoint of August and slog through the dog days of summer, I realize that the plants in my garden can be broken down into three different categories:

Fading

Still going strong

Ready to take center stage

I guess these same categories exist throughout all of the gardening “seasons”, but it seems to be at an extreme right now.

And the garden, shocker, reflects life itself. Allow me to pontificate.

With the heat and humidity at what feels like an all time high (I’ll still take it over winter) I some times find myself caving and giving in to the joys of air conditioning. Likewise, so many plants have succumbed to the conditions and have thrown in the towel. No more fighting for that last new bloom or trying to keep up the facade of clean looking foliage. Uncle.

At the same time, there are those plants in my garden that say “f you” to these conditions and keep kicking ass. Not too unlike a certain gardener I know who can’t get enough of the stinging sweat in his eyes, the burning in the calves and easily runs through three t-shirts a day. A gardener who accepts the chuckles from his neighbors and keeps pulling weeds like it was hot yoga.

And then there are those plants who sense the cooler weather is coming and are ramping up for a big time display. There are subtle signs from some and not so subtle signs from others. You can feel their excitement, their turn to take the lead in the play. Fall is their time and they f’n know it. Hopefully my kids feel that same type of energy and excitement as they soon head off to high school and 5th grade. Because all kids feel that way,right?

FADING

No plants better represent the concept of fading than the coneflower. Phenomenal in peak bloom but in my humble opinion, still killer as the pink and yellow and white washes out, turns black and eventually becomes all cone.

coneflower spent

 

white coneflower

 

astilbe coneflower spent

 

Almost all of the Bee Balm blooms are in full fade mode yet still have a presence. That is if you take them in from a distance and ignore the slow takeover of powdery mildew.

bee balm and joe pye

 

Fading Agastache still pulls in the bees and who wants to get in the way of that?

spent agastache

 

STILL GOING STRONG

The dwarf Sneezeweed (‘Mariachi’ series) are still blooming strong and the deer have no interest.

red dwarf sneezeweed

 

orange dwarf sneezeweed

Providing a nice contrast in form and color with the emerging ornamental grasses.

planter bed

 

If it takes surrounding hydrangea by grasses and other deer despising plants, so be it. It has worked and this hydrangea continues to thrive even with the extreme heat of the past few weeks.

hydrangea

 

Veronica ‘Royal Candles’, one of the few plants I cut back religiously, always provides multiple rebloom periods. These were cut back only two weeks ago.

veronica prune

 

veronica sedum bee balm

 

Of course it isn’t all about the flowers and one of my favorite foliage plants right now is Diervilla ‘Cool Splash’. It brightens up one of the few shaded areas in my garden and holds up all spring/summer.

diervilla

 

I have tried for years to find a blue evergreen that would be ignored by the deer and say “no problem” to my clay soil that can sometimes be a bit waterlogged. Some how, Juniper ‘Wichita Blue’ has been the one to take the crown and three years in I am beyond thrilled. Upright, untouched by the deer and very little winter damage has made it a winner.

juniper wichita

 

READY TO TAKE CENTER STAGE

The first signs of bloom on the Sedum ‘Autumn Fire’ appeared this week, which is always a reminder that September is fast approaching.

sedum pink

 

Boltonia blooms aplenty are here with plenty more to come. Of course once all blooms are present it will lean over and not be as fun to look at but I’ll be sure to never show you that photo.

boltonia

 

Eupatorium ‘Wayside’ or Hardy Ageratum (but not really an Ageratum) finally survived the winter for me after two previous attempts. It seems to have reseeded more than it actually survived but who can complain. I love the late season color. A fun one to photograph in fall.

eup wayside

 

BONUS – Ornamental Grasses

I kind of like ornamental grasses in case you are new here. You’ve been warned.

Pennisetum ‘Hameln’ in full bloom as of this week.

pennisetum

 

penn and joe pye

 

First signs of blooms on Panicum ‘Northwind’.

panicum and joe pye

 

Same goes for Miscanthus ‘purpurascens’ or Flame Grass.

panicum miscanthus blooms

 

Panicum ‘Rotstrahlbusch’ and their airy blooms.

panicum rots

 

I “attempted” to rid my garden of all Northern Sea Oats and while there is still a ways to go, I’ve made major progress. Having said that, I can’t deny these NSO that have grown right through an Itea shrub look kind of awesome. Oh well.

sea oats

QOTD: Do you like this time of year in your garden? Why or why not?

 

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.

Top ten ornamental grasses

My garden is dominated by ornamental grasses. It started out of necessity as they could handle the poor draining clay soil, all day sun, harsh wintry conditions and were completely ignored by the deer. But is has since evolved into me simply loving the hell out of them as witnessed by my numerous posts on the topic. They are the backbone of my garden.

A friend recently asked me “Which grasses should I plant this spring?” and I told him I’ll do you one better, I’ll dedicate an entire post to my personal favorites. A handy little guide for those who are just entering the OG world or are looking to add a few to their existing collection. My recommendations are solely based on grasses that have resided in my own garden as I’ve had the time to watch them mature and adapt over the years. There are definitely others I’ve seen in other gardens that I would recommend as well, but until I have a personal experience with them, I cannot comment.

I’ve dedicated posts to many of these individual grasses, so simply click on the name of the grass to read in greater detail. I’ve also included a few quick tidbits below about each grass.

Here are my top ten ornamental grasses (in no particular order):

 

Panicum ‘Northwind’Top ten ornamental grasses

  • Grass remains completely upright all year long.
  • Reached full size (5′-6′) within three years after planting a tiny plug.
  • Underrated yellow fall color.

 

 

 

 

Panicum ‘Rotstrahlbusch’Top ten ornamental grasses

  • First grass I ever planted.
  • My favorite fall “red”of all the Panicums
  • I’ve divided this grass numerous times with ease.

 

 

Miscanthus ‘Purpurascens’Top ten ornamental grasses

  • The biggest head turner in Fall with its foliage color of red/green/orange.
  • The silver blooms are a nice contrast.
  • Looks fantastic with fall perennials (Dwarf sneezeweed in the photo)

 

Sorghastrum ‘Sioux Blue’indian panicum sage

  • This towering native grass (middle of pic) reaches 7 feet when in bloom.
  • Took 2-3 years to establish, but now upright and stays that way through winter.
  • Individual blooms are interesting when viewed up close.

 

Pennisetum ‘Desert Plains’desert pennisetum

  • Only two years in with this one and it has already established itself well.
  • Great late summer/fall foliage color.
  • Tons of blooms starting in summer and they still look good into the winter.

 

Miscanthus ‘Morning Light’grass

  • Reliable performer year after year. 9 years in for me.
  • Doesn’t hold up as well in winter as the other grasses.
  • A bit weedy like most Miscanthus.

 

Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’og5

  • Yes, you can find them everywhere, but there is a reason for that. Care free and upright and buff blooms all summer and into fall.
  • I like to squeeze one in between perennials as a great contrast in texture and color.
  • I divide all the time with ease and nothing but success.

 

Schizachyrium (Little Bluestem) ‘Blue Heaven’k12

  • Great blue color in spring and then shades of pink and red in late summer.
  • Has handled early morning shade without issue.
  • Two years in with this one and I’m in love with it. Holds up all season including in winter.

 

 

 

Molinia ‘Skyracer’molinia

  • A slow to establish cool season grass but worth the wait. This one is all about the blooms as they get 4′ to 5′ tall and look killer at the back of a border.
  • Does not hold up in winter as the blooms break off.
  • Just planted ‘Cordoba’ for the first time which is allegedly even better than ‘Skyracer’.

 

Andropogon ‘Red October’andro

  • Another newcomer for me as we’re three years in. About 3′ to 4′ in height but should reach 6′ to 7′.
  • The foliage color is off the charts already. Red hues even in spring and then dark red in fall.
  • Seems slower to establish but it will be worth the wait. Only a few blooms to date.

 

And a few bonus “non-recommendations”:

Calamagrostis ‘El Dorado’ 030

  • The picture to the right is this cool season grass at its peak. Short lived though as it becomes nondescript the rest of the year.
  • Nowhere near as solid as ‘Karl Foerster’

 

 

 

 

Panicum ‘Heavy Metal’107

  • Maybe TBD is a better description. Nothing bad, just not as exciting as other switch grasses to date.
  • I haven’t seen much of a blue hue so far, just a drab green.

 

 

Northern Sea Oatssea oats fall

  • Just read this and you’ll understand why I gave up on it.

 

 

Why you need Panicum ‘Northwind’

If you like the ornamental grass, and why the hell wouldn’t you, then you need to acquire Panicum ‘Northwind’.

Like immediately.

There is a reason why it was chosen as the Perennial Plant of the Year in 2014. And as much as I know you would love to read an impeccably composed summary of this buxom beauty, I’ll let the photos do the work for me.

northwind

 

itea and panicum

 

panicum northwind

 

northwind

 

panicum-northwind-fall

 

panicum northwind fall color2

 

grasses

Sold on it yet?

 

 

Autumn delivers

Last week I declared that “Fall sucks”. Yes, I proudly own that declaration, yet at the same time, understand the influx of hate mail I received as a result. You don’t “f” with the autumn with certain people. They are a united and angry lot.

But here’s the thing, I don’t dislike the Fall as much as I miss the sweaty tasks associated with Spring and Summer. In fact, I have come to realize I have an unhealthy love of sweating and blister development- who else wants to join me in #gardeningsadomasochism.

Having said that, I can still enjoy what Fall has to offer, even if the thought of winter approaching makes me physically ill.

How good does Panicum ‘Northwind’ look right now?

panicum northwind fall color

panicum northwind fall color2

And Panicum ‘Rotstrahlbusch’ as well.

panicum rots

grasses fall color

Sorghastrum ‘Sioux Blue’ looks divine through the railing on my deck.

sorgahstrum fall

And lordy how I love Helenium (Sneezeweed) right now.

helenium3

helenium

helenium2

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

An OG shout-out

I wouldn’t be here today without these tireless workers.

Any success I’ve had to date I truly owe to them.

When I’m down and ready to give up, they give me a lift.

When things look bleak (like the weather) they stand tall and remind me of what was and what will be.

They never ask for anything in return.

When everyone else is all like “What about me?” or “I need some attention”, they stay quiet and do their job.

Today, I’d like to recognize the ornamental grasses and let them know how much I appreciate them. They are unsung heroes in my garden and deserve some praise to be heaped upon them. You will always be in my heart and I will never forget all that you’ve done. Thank you.