All posts by Katherine Tracey

Uncommon Pollinator Plants

As more and more of us understand the importance of beneficial  insects, we want to host plants in our gardens which welcome and provide food for all of them, plus bees, butterflies and birds. Here is a short list of lesser known plants which add varied ornamental interest as well as lure many more of the good invertebrates into your garden

ascspeCU500Asclepias speciosa

One of the earliest Butterfly Weeds to bloom, Asclepias speciosa, or Showy Milkweed ,has umbels of white to mauve pink flowers in late spring and early summer, with attractive gray linear foliage. Its flowers are a nectar source for all butterflies and its foliage is food for monarchs.  Asclepias speciosa can grow up to 3’ tall and 1-2’ wide. Native to dry uplands of western N. America, it is drought tolerant. Hardy in zones 3-8.

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Parthenium integrifolium

Wild Quinine or American Feverfew is a Missouri native with 8-10” tobacco like basal foliage, and  2-3′ stems bearing clusters of white fuzzy yarrow-like flowers in midsummer. Beneficial wasps and butterflies are often seen hovering over its blossoms. Parthenium integrifolium was grown in years past for its medicinal qualities,  and it makes a nice addition to the dry wild border. Hardy in zones 5-9.

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Pycnanthemum muticum

Mountain Mint spreads, so think of it as a ground cover for butterflies and bees. Beginning in mid summer and continuing into September,  Pycnanthemum muticum displays showy silvery bracts surrounding a central disk rimmed with tiny pale pink/white flowers. Drought tolerant once established, plants will grow 2-3’ tall and are the first pitstop for my honeybees when they leave the hive. Hardy in zones 5-9.

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Silphium perfoliatum

“Cup Plant”, so called because water is held in the reservoir created where the stems pierce through the opposite leaves, provides a watering hole for birds, bees, and butterflies. This Sunflower like plant is useful at the back of a border, where it bears yellow daisies on 4-8’ stems during July and August . I particularly like Silphium perfoliatum’s  green seed heads as cut material for fall arrangements. Hardy in zones 4-8.

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Stokesia laevis

Stokes’ Aster is a showy native with 23” double lavender blue daises on 18-24” plants. Plants begin to color in late June and early July and carries into August. Beautiful as it is as a cut flower, you may want to leave the blossoms undisturbed to enjoy the dance of the butterflies above them. Grow Stokesia laevis in average to dry soils. Note: It resents winter wetness. Hardy in zones 4-10.

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Aster ptarmicoides (formerly Solidago ptarmicoides, and NOW to be botanically correct: Oligoneuron album)

Formerly White Upland Aster or White Goldenrod depending who you askedbut with its new genus classification,  Oligoneuron,  who knows what to nickname it?  Anyway, we first saw this plant at Wave Hill 20 years ago (labeled as Aster ptarmicoides), where it looked crisp and clean on a hot August day. Years later we were finally able to hunt down a seed source for it and now have it in our garden. Tidy plants have 4-5″ dark green linear leaves, and bear sprays of small papery white asters on 15” stems  in mid-late summer through early fall. Yes to bees and butterflies, plus goldfinches love the seeds! Hardy in zones 3-8.

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Symphyotrichum (Aster) laeve

We have grown the strain ‘Bluebird’  of Smooth Aster for years, with  its 1-2” orange yellow centered, clear blue daisies born in September and October.  Symphyotrichum laeve is a plant that is very happy in our mixed borders, self seeding here and there, but is easy to relocate should it pop up somewhere where it is not wanted. Plants grow 2.5-3’ tall and are about 18” wide. Happy in average to dry soil in zones 4-9.

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Eucomis comosa ‘Oakhurst’, Hardy Pineapple Lily

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For the first few years that we grew Pineapple Lilies, we understood that the hardiness range was zones 7-10  for most forms. And that was okay. We would grow it in containers or dig the corms up after a killing frost.

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Then we heard that some forms of Pineapple  Lily were proving to be quite hardy, especially a purple leaved variety, Eucomis ‘Oakhurst‘.  Not wanting to perpetuate “fake news”, we needed to be sure this was in fact true. Four years ago  we planted several plants in our zone 6A garden in average, well drained soil where they get 6 hours of sun.  ‘Oakhurst’ has not only returned dutifully each year, it has produced offsets as well as viable seed, which have germinated easily giving us many dark leaved progeny. Some folks are even reporting that is equally hardy in zone 5 in  a protected spot.

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Eucomis comosa  ‘Oakhurst’s  strap like leaves are an especially dark wine in cooler temperatures, and green up a bit during summer heat. In late July and early August. ‘Oakhurst’ produces spires of pinky white starry blossoms  on 20-24″ stems. Seed heads remain attractive, and you can leave them  for the seed to mature if you like, or remove them to send more energy to the bulbs below ground.

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Magnolia ‘Sunsation’

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I am just smitten with this Magnolia’s nuanced loveliness….chalices of buttery yellow petals infused with plum and pink appear here in early May, waiting for the last frost to come and go.  Yes, it blooms before the leaves unfurl, providing that magic of color against bare wood.

Bred by the late Dr. Augie Kerr, MagnoliaSunsation’ is a hybrid of ‘Elizabeth’ and ‘Woodsman’, and is considered hardy in zones 4-9. ‘Sunsation’ blooms precociously … very young plants try to put on a show which pleases those of us who tend to be impatient.  Her form is upright and pyramidal, reaching heights of 25-30′.

Grow ‘Sunsation‘ in a rich well drained soil in sun or partial shade.

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Spring Succulent Rehab

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Remember your gorgeous succulent containers from last summer? Did you take the time to bring in and care for all those tender
plants over the winter? And, now, do they look overgrown and leggy, or a little scruffy to say the least? You have company…mine do too! Here are some suggestions on what to do to give these babies a new lease on life.

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Give your succulents some fresh soil!

First, give your succulents some fresh soil for new roots to grab into. Remember to use a sharp draining mix formulated for succulents…a basic everyday potting soil will stay too moist. Loosen up the roots, and shake off some of the old soil. Remove any old browning leaves that still cling to the lower stem. Repot in the same pot or a pot that is slightly larger.

If you are rehabbing a large container of mixed succulents that were part of an ensemble and want to give it new life, unplant everything and do the same thing. You can top dress the soil with a fine gravel, chicken grit or uncolored aquarium sand, which will prevent low lying foliage from staying in constant contact with moist soil.

Rosette forming succulents often elongate during short winter days and low indoor light, or they may just be prone to doing so anyway, with age. You might like to have the height that tall gangly stem offers, and if so, just leave the plant be. On the other hand you may want to offset the top heaviness. There are a couple of options.

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Aeonium with aerial roots….

Option 1:  Bury Her. Notice that a lot of bracing aerial roots have developed along the stem of this Aeonium ‘Cyclops’. Last year I tried this unorthodox remedy. I found a deep clay container and replanted the Aeonium low in the pot. Succulent soil mix was used  in the lower half, but then I topped the upper pot portion with perlite. This allowed good aeration for new roots to develop off the main stem.

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Option 2: Off with her head! This may cause you to hesitate, but you will have to cut off the  Aeonium’s top rosette, (you can then root the rosette to form a new plant).  The stalk will hopefully break anew with fresh growth and branch out, but I should warn you this takes a while to happen.  As for that top rosette, let the cut edge air dry for a few days to “heel” or callous over. Then fill an appropriate sized pot with perlite or a mix of perlite and sand, insert the cut end of the rosette into the pot and water frequently.

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Echeveria with elongated stem

These methods work for elongated Echeveria too. Repot in a tall tom, or cut off the top rosette and try rooting it. Note: You may or may not be able to encourage side rosettes off that main stalk (depends on what type of Echeveria hybrid it is), but hopefully your rosette will root in to form a new plant.

Mystery Echeveria…purchased as 'Fleur Blanc'

Echeveria ‘Fleur Blanc’

Many succulents bloom in late winter and early spring, and these blooms are quite lovely, as seen above in Echeveria ‘Fleur Blanc’. The blooms often help identify plants that you may have acquired without a proper name.

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Look-alikes. x Sedeveria ‘Letitia’ on the left, and ‘Sleepy’ on the right.

For example, these two very similar x Sedeveria are often mixed up in the nursery trade. When not in bloom they do look quite alike.  Now in flower, I can tell that the one on the left is Sedeveria ‘Letitia’ (pale yellow/white) and on the right is Sedeveria ‘Sleepy’ (orange/yellow). Also, notice some plants like these Sedeveria have offsets forming at their base. These offsets can be severed and rooted or potted in small pots if roots have already formed.

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Cuttings left to heel, decayed foliage must go, leaves sometimes root too!

Recap:

  • Cut back leggy growth.
  • Let cuttings air dry for a few days to seal the cut ends.
  • Lie or stick in a sand/perlite rooting media.
  • Groom aging  and decaying foliage.
  • Repot all plants in fresh succulent potting soil to give them a new lease on life.
  • Top dress newly potted succulents with fine gravel, aquarium stone, or chicken grit
  • Note (and photograph if you can) what the flowers look like on your plants to confirm their identity.

With longer days and fresh soil, your repotted succulents will show you how happy they are in 4-6 weeks. Once the weather warms, transition plants outdoors on mild days, first in a spot which has just morning sun, and then gradually allow them full day light. Too much strong sunlight on a warm day after plants have been indoors may cause the leaves to get sunburned.

For other posts on Spring Care of Succulents see:

In bloom: Tender Succulents

Rehabbing Succulent Containers

 

 

 

 

Weather Resistant Hellebores

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Helleborus ‘Brandywine’ pausing for warmer days

I will bet that you, just like me, would like to walk out your door on the first day of spring and be greeted by the blooms of crocus, daffodils and Hellebores, one of our earliest flowering perennials. Oh wait….didn’t this already happen in late February during that  spell when temperatures hit 65F?

Winter, which hasn’t been paying attention to the calendar here in the Northeast, has decided to chill us out in March. Day after day temperatures  have flirted with 32F, (nights have registered in the single digits) and that proverbial north wind has provided a relentless bone chill. As I write, a nor’easter is bearing down with snow and freezing rain and more wind…it just doesn’t seem realistic to expect that spring could happen in one week. And judging by the flurry of emails in my inbox, many gardeners are concerned with what may happen to their precocious Hellebore blossoms.

Worry not. Hellebores are tough perennials. Hellebores will persevere… provided their cultural needs have been met. For review, Hellebores need well drained soil. Their roots do not want to be constantly wet. Hellebores adapt to soil types, although if soil is quite acidic I would recommend amending with garden lime. Hellebores are slow growing at first and shy of flowering the first or second year in the garden, but they are extremely long lived. Although they are tolerant of shade, they will bloom more profusely if they receive 4-6 hours of sunlight.

Caulescant type Helleborus foetidus

Acaulescant type Heleborus foetidus

Hellebores fall into 2 groups: caulescant and acaulescant. Caulescant types include Helleborus foetidus and argutifolius, and set flowers on last years stems which persist all winter.  Obviously you would not want to cut back this group until after flowering or you would sacrifice the display.

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Acauslescant Helleborus hybridus with emerging flowers and foliage. Cut back all the old leaves to prevent fungal diseases from taking hold.

Acaulescant types include H. niger (Christmas Rose) and hybrids of H. orientalis (Lenten Rose). Most of the cultivars available to the home gardener are in the acaulescant group. Note: It is important to remove the old decaying foliage as the new growth appears in late winter and early spring. This older foliage can harbor fungal diseases which can cause crown rot, and affect the blossoms.

Other tips: Hellebore species can naturalize by self sowing. Many (but not all) Helleborus hybrids do set seed and self sow, but the seedlings may differ strikingly from the nearby parent. Seedlings usually appear the following spring after a  winter cold period breaks dormancy of the seed coat. Expect their growth to be slow this first year.

If you are interested in encouraging colonies of self sowing Hellebores  that are particularly lovely, I recommend  the Brandywine Strain, selected by David Culp. Brandywine’s progeny develop lovely variations with outward facing flowers.

Winter Escape

euphorbi tirucallii

Euphorbia tirucalli

On our annual winter visit to CA to visit our eldest son, we always make time to check out nurseries and gardens in the San Diego area. Above,  a large specimen of Sticks on Fire caught the light at Waterwise Botanicals in Escondido.

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Succulent Minstrel

The San Diego Botanic Garden in Encinitas always has fun with succulents.  This topiary minstrel had company; there were at least a half dozen life sized figures adorned with succulents nearby.

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Arrangement at DIG in Santa Cruz

We headed north for a 2nd week, spending time around San Francisco and points south towards Santa Cruz. Saw some arresting succulents at the lovely home and garden shop, DIG, in Santa Cruz.

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Salvia africana-lutea form

Check out this uniquely colored form of the winter blooming Salvia africana -lutea...(my guess, there was no tag nearby).

euphorbia rigida

Euphorbia rigida

Euphorbia love the San Francisco climate. They also play nicely with all the Aloes now in bloom.

Aloe at the Ruth Bancroft Garden

Aloe at the Ruth Bancroft Garden

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Echium fastuosum

Coming into flower is this amazing bee magnet: Pride of Madeira.

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Eucalyptus caesia

A pink flowered form of Eucalyptus caesia.

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Magnolia campbellii detail

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Magnolia campbellii backlit

The Magnolia  were  beginning to bloom at the Strybing Arboretum/ San Francisco Botanic Garden. Love M. campbellii, which is hardy in zones 7-10.

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Magnolia denudata

This lovely Magnolia  at the Strybing is listed  hardy in zones 5-8, but it is NOT always reliably bud hardy here… blooms too early for us.

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Bergenia sp. at the San Francisco Botanic Garden

We’re so happy that we can grow Bergenia…a great evergreen perennial that blooms in late winter and early spring.

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Begonia fuschioides

The glasshouses at the San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers were filled with treasures. We later found (and brought home) this dainty Begonia at a local nursery.

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Bulbophyllum ‘Louis Sanders’

From dainty to over the top drama, flora never cease to amaze…discovering this orchid was one of the highlights of  our trip.

What  favorite gardens, arboreta and nurseries do you visit when you”re on the west coast?

 

Hygge…& Celebrating Winter’s Gifts

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Aronia arbutifolia “Brilliantissima’ with the first snowfall

Last week’s arctic blast brought temperatures in the single digits and truly announced that winter had arrived. Ready or not, garden chores were a wrap and the time had come for most of us to give ourselves permission to chill…indoors! 

We gardeners are naturally inclined to follow the rhythm of the seasons, and the shorter days of winter are a check for us to slow down and restore our energies. You, like I, may resist going into full hibernation mode, but why not take cues from Scandinavian folks, who endure even shorter days than we do. For example, the Danes practice hygge (pronounced hoo-guh) as part of daily life. Hygge can’t be translated into English with a single word, but imagine feelings or activities that promote coziness enhanced by candles or firelight….think warm socks and woolen sweaters, friendly gatherings before a roaring fire, warm beverages in your hands, looking dreamily at snowy scenes through frosted window panes, and late afternoon nature walks to catch the last rays of light.

The words of many secular Christmas carols promote feelings of hygge. There is no need to stop at the Yuletide’s end; we should make it our practice to continue hygge through the long winter. Take back the darkness by continuing to light candles or drape strands of white lights, then sit in your most comfy chair under a coverlet and lose oneself in a good book or listen to music, or finish knitting that scarf you started last year. All too soon spring will arrive, and the garden will beckon.

What interpretations of  hygge do you practice in winter? Would you like to share?

Now Revealed

weetamoo_berries2There is much to observe in the winter landscapes surrounding us here in New England. This past Sunday, Chris and I revisited nearby Weetamoo Woods in Tiverton RI. The deciduous trees have mostly let go of their leaves, and what is now revealed might go unnoticed earlier in the season or be at a totally different stage.  For example, above, the pesky green briar offers subtle beauty with its zigzag lines and blue black orbs of fruit against the waning light.weetamoo_woods_bark_moss_lichen_stone500Now, without the distraction of spring’s brilliant greens or autumn’s blazing red and gold tones, natural stone, tree trunks and moss become the main attractions…weetamoo_woods_stone500Look at this end of a wall formation embossed with aged lichen and liverwortsweetamoo_woods_ferninrock500There are colorful surprises…even at some distance, this olive green Rock Fern, happily embedded in a fissure of this sculpted stone, stood out.weetamoe_woods_ferninrock_detail500A closer view of the fern’s habitat.weetamoo_woods_stonewall500A dry laid stone wall still stands proudly and has developed a patina money can’t buy.weetamoo_woods_stream500Life and sounds emanating from this creek announced the remains of an old saw mill nearby.
weetamoe_woods_arch_bridge_chris500 Chris, a master stone wall artisan himself, inspected an ancient arched stone bridge which spanned the creek further ahead.weetamoo_woods500The vertical rhythm of tree trunks countered the soft crunch of oak leaves on the forest floor. Note to self: How simple, how peaceful.weetamoo_woods_wall1_500Dry laid stone walls, like this handsome and still structurally sound example in Weetamoo Woods,  acted as boundaries for livestock in earlier days, and now mark “rooms” throughout the property. Here and there, a tree might take root at its base, but a caregiver has seen to it that bramble hasn’t obscured its presence.

We can all be thankful for the simple beauty of our local woodlands, preserved with sensitive editing by the stewards who care for them. Imperfections, such as a wall slightly tumbled, may not be tolerated in some of our more cultivated gardens but are celebrated where the natural landscape rules.

Is there a special woodland walk near you which you find restorative? Perhaps you would like to share a special place with our readers.

From my window…

2016_nov_16outmywindow2webI love an autumn that lingers, that gently let’s go of leaf and blossom, that holds onto color made more vivid against a changing gray sky. A day or two or three of mild temperatures can make us forget that the naked garden of December and January awaits.  Right now I am enjoying this picture from my window, as it about to change, and yet will continue to offer interest in the cold months ahead.

What do you see when you look out your window? Are you pleased with your view? Does it include evergreen plants which add bold mass and keeps some color happening? Is there a nicely pruned tree whose silhouette can show off the tracings of winter snow? And do you notice branches that take on red or gold or purple pigments when temperatures drop, adding subtle hues, (but color nonetheless).

Do your plantings also invite the activity of birds? Will you catch the scarlet flash of a cardinal, who finds refuge in a dense evergreen, or the business of chickadees, who flit from one branch to the next, waiting for safe moments to descend upon the feeder.

From my window, the Hinoki Cypress, Chamaecyparis obtusa compacta, provides a dark green screen from the road, and the winterberry, Ilex verticillata, adds brilliance for at least another month. The Japanese Maple, Acer palmatum ‘Katsura’ will let go any day now, but we’ll suspend a feeder from its branches for the birds. The Forest Grass, Hakonechloa macra, will change from gold to tan. And then in late winter, the scene will flush anew reminding  me that spring is on its way, with color from early bulbs and Hellebores.

What plants are your favorites for winter interest?

Early November Journal

I began keeping this blog as a garden journal, documenting what is in color at particular times of year,  and capturing the surprises along the way. As we begin November, the show continues.ilex_wpeacockmaple72Despite the drought, there is a very good berry set on Ilex verticillata, with the Peacock Maple, Acer japonica aconitifolium echoing red in the background.enkianthus_showyl500Enkianthus ‘Showy Lanterns’ can’t decide which color to turn and is simultaneously taking on shades of yellow, orange, red and maroon.cotoneaster500Cotoneaster franchetti (grown from seed shared through a seed exchange) has a good fruit set this year.euonymus_sp500Prettiest time is now for  Euonymus carnosus, Chinese Spindle Treeaster_ageratoides_ezo500Aster ageratoides ‘Ezo Murasaki’ (or has the name changed to Kalimeris?) has already put up with 28F temperatures and is still offering color. Note that this Aster likes to spread!chrysantheum_sheffield500Chrysanthemum ‘Sheffield’, a peachy pink classic, offering pollen to honeybees and other insects.chrysanthemum_rhmbasp500Perennial Chrysanthemum ‘Rhumba’ (formerly Dendranthema) picking up the autumn toneschrysantheum_doublespoon500This mum was a gift from a friend who found this in her travels and swears this baby is winter hardy in zone 6…we shall see.mahonia_charity500Posed to flower, Mahonia ‘Charity’ will illuminate with citron yellow candles later this month.

What plants are about to show off for you this November?