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Schizachyrium scoparium

Schizachyriumseasons

Schizachyrium ‘Blue Heaven’…summer, early autumn, late winter

Little Bluestem is an often over looked native yet very ornamental grass. This may be due to its intimidating Latin name but I suspect its because it is hard to document its charm in photographs…perhaps a video could capture its grace in motion. We’ve grown the selection ‘Blue Heaven’ in our garden (seen above) for a half dozen years, and it continues to impress us with its upright narrow foliage that transforms in color: almost powder blue in spring and summer, changing to plum wine tones in early fall, and becoming a stunning amber gold in early December.  We’ve been impressed with how well it holds up to snow loads, springing upright as the white stuff melts away.

There are now a number of selected forms to choose from. ‘Standing Ovation’ is a bit shorter (3’-4’) than ‘Blue Heaven’ (closer to 4’). ‘Standing Ovation’ turns a very rich coppery red in the fall, later aging to a warm caramel color in winter. ‘Carousel’ is more compact and wide growing, growing 3’ x 3’, and its light blue green foliage takes on pink to wine tones in mid summer, with a multi color effect, of pink, wine, and mahogany tones in the fall. We are excited about offering two new forms in 2015: ‘Schizachyrium ‘Smoke Signal’  and ‘Twilight Zone’. ‘Smoke Signal’, maturing at 3-4’ begins to turn red in late summer, but as the fall unfolds the color becomes a dark purple. ‘Twilight Zone’ gets a bit taller 48-54”, with a narrow upright form. It holds its silvery blue color longer, developing dark purple highlights in autumn. These new forms reportedly share the same non flopping characteristics as ‘Blue Heaven’  (aka MinnBlue).

Do you need more convincing to grow this grass? Here you go: Little Bluestem is drought tolerant once established, deer resistant, tolerant of windy sites, adapts to a wide range of soil types except very wet soils, and is exceptionally cold hardy…zones 3-9.

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Early evening at Hollister House Garden

Early September evening in the garden

Early September evening in the garden

Simple Elegant Rill

Simple Elegant Rill

Verbena bonariensis enhances this setting…so easy so beautiful

Verbena bonariensis enhances this setting…so easy so beautiful

Copper cauldron with waterlilies

Copper cauldron with waterlilies

Reds and Purple and Gold

Reds and Purple and Gold

I spent the weekend in western CT, participating in the plant sale at Hollister House Garden. Garden structures, walls, walkways, rills and other water features are the backdrop (or focal points) for exuberant plantings in the English Garden Style. It’s formal and casual at once. It’s the garden so many of us wish we had.

Thank you George Schoellkopf for creating this masterpiece and sharing it with so many.

For more info on visiting the garden, follow this website


tritojen

Tricyrtis hirta ‘Tojen

tritojen

Tricyrtis hirta ‘Tojen’

A must have plant for the late summer/fall shade garden is Tricyrtis hirta, commonly known as Japanese Orchid or Toad Lily. There are numerous cultivars; one I am especially fond of is the selection Tojen’ , with has unspotted lavender, orchid like flowers held in loose sprays on sturdy stems above large lush foliage.

Toad Lilies enjoy a soil that is rich welled drained soil that stays adequately moist in the growing season. ‘Tojen’ is more forgiving or drier soils than other cultivars, but I recommended keeping the soil irrigated to keep plants at there best in late summer when they really show off. Tojen’ grows 24-30” tall by 30” wide and is hardy in zones 5-8. Some great companion plants are Kirengeshoma palmata, Begonia grandis and late blooming Hosta such as ‘Red October’.

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salviavan

Salvia splendens ‘Van Houttei’

salviavan

Salvia splendens ‘Van Houttei’

Bees, butterflies and hummingbirds are getting excited. It is August and the Scarlet Sage are beginning to bloom.

Tall Scarlet Sage is a form of Salvia splendens but should not be confused with the short bedding plants that are popular annuals sold in 6 packs. Native to tropical Brazil, this Dutch selection was named for the nurseryman Louis Benoit Van Houtte, known also as the father of Belgium horticulture. Leafy plants grow 3-4’ tall and display dark red flowers accented with deeper red calyces from mid August to frost.

S. splendens ‘Van houttei’ enjoys a rich yet well drained soil in full sun or partial shade but requires adequate watering during dry spells. It is a tender perennial and will suffer when temperatures go below freezing. (hardy to zone 10). Plants will need to be dug and wintered over in a frost free area for the winter if grown in colder zones. For fresh stock, propagate by cuttings taken on new growth in the spring.

Only a couple of years ago this form of Salvia splendens had almost disappeared from cultivation after having been rediscovered twenty years ago. We forgot to save a stock plant a few years back, and this form does not come true from seed. At first we thought we could obtain new plants from other growers but to our dismay the only forms of tall Scarlet Sage being sold were impostors. The ordered plants would turn out to be either the orange red ‘Faye Chapelle’ or the red/purple form known as ‘Paul’. Both are good plants but they lack the beautiful coloring and looser form of the true ‘Van houttei’.  We were able to beg some cuttings off a gardener in western MA who had kept plants going from plants he had saved for years. We now have a healthy supply and will be sure to take measures so we don’t lose it again.

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Kniphofia 'Creamsicle'

Dwarf Kniphofia

Kniphofia 'Creamsicle'

Kniphofia ‘Creamsicle’

 

One look at Kniphofia and you might be able to guess its native habitat is Africa.  Commonly called Torch Lilies, or Red Hot Pokers if you prefer, this member of Xanthorrhoeaceae family (not Liliacea or the Lily family) forms upright grass like clumps of foliage from which rise spires of beautiful multi-toned tubular flowers beloved by bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. There are over 70 species, some of which are not hardy in northern climates. Most species bloom during northern hemisphere summers, but there are a few forms that will bloom when summer arrives in S. Africa, that is to say, December.

Recently Terra Nova Nurseries introduced a line of dwarf hybrid Kniphofia which they affectionately called the Popsicle Series. These dwarf selections have foliage that grows 12-15” tall, with flower stems reaching 18-24” depending on the cultivar. Blooming begins in mid July (for us), with flowering stalks continue to emerge right through September. We planted a half dozen of the form ‘Creamsicle’ last summer,  with its bright to pastel yellow orange coloring and they wintered over well, so this year we tried 2 new selections… Orange Vanilla Popsicle’, with a toffee orange to cream tones and Pineapple Popsicle’ with its tart pastel lemon to chartreuse coloring.

Plant Kniphofia in a soil with good winter drainage and in full sun. It provides a 2’ exclamation point to beds when used in small groups, or would be stunning used en masse in a larger setting. Kniphofia is a great companion to Euphorbia such as Ascot Rainbow and almost any Sedum. It can be sited in the foreground of a mixed shrub border…we have it coming up through a sea of steel blue Shore Juniper.

One more thing you might appreciate: deer do not like it!

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Kniphofia 'Pineapple Popsicle'

Kniphofia ‘Pineapple Popsicle’

Kniphofia 'Orange Vanilla Popsicle'

Kniphofia ‘Orange Vanilla Popsicle’


The before images: Containers 2014

I design containers using uncommon plants which will look great all season with a minimum of care. Here are the early summer images of  containers for sun, shade, and of course succulents, our favorites! Check back for the September report to see how well they performed

Phormium, Dichondra, Oxalis, late June 2014

Phormium, Dichondra, Oxalis, late June 2014

Tradescantia, Pelargonium Janie, with Abutilon 'Kentish Bell' and Phormium

Tradescantia, Pelargonium Janie, with Abutilon ‘Kentish Bell’ and Phormium

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Cobalt blue pot with everblooming Lantana montevidensis

Begonia thurstonii with Fatshedera, Coprosma, Foxtail Asparagus and Ivy

Begonia thurstonii with Fatshedera, Foxtail Asparagus and Ivy

Hemizygia, Pilea Pellonia and Begonia 'Ebony', June 2014

Hemizygia, Pilea Pellonia and Begonia ‘Ebony’, June 2014

A special pot of smaller succulents

A special pot of smaller succulents

Colorful tropical succulents…they'll be even better in autumn

Colorful tropical succulents…they’ll be even better in autumn

Zen Bowl with a mix of Hardy and tender Succulents

Zen Bowl with a mix of Hardy and tender Succulents

Tall vase with Agonis, Phormium 'Ed Carmen' and choice succulents.

Tall vase with Agonis, Phormium ‘Ed Carmen’ and choice succulents.

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Succulent Wreath in a moss form

 


Plantiful inspires Garden Abundance

plantifulandKris

Plantiful, the term Kristin Green coined for the title of her new book, should be entered in the New York Times Magazine’s “That should be a word” column. In a word it perfectly describes the lushness and exuberance that the best gardens display. Plantiful’s byline, “start small, grow big with 150 plants that spread, self sow and overwinter” is especially encouraging for new gardeners on a budget, yet it provides worthy information for seasoned gardeners too.

In just over 200 pages, Green, an interpretive horticulturist  at Blithewold Mansion Gardens and Arboretum in Bristol RI, describes how to make more plants from what you already have. She packs in all types of propagating tips for home gardeners and answers the important questions on what to do when, where and how to do it. She goes on to list 150 plants that will easily multiply in your gardens.

verbena200Green espouses a give and take philosophy on gardening, allowing for the garden’s abundance when plants spread or self sow, but cautions that when you have too much of a good thing, you must edit. This is an important lesson once you’ve created a garden, and it is often a tough decision for the new gardener who is still so thankful that plants survive. Take heart that there are alternatives to tossing surplus plants when your garden gives back too much: plant swap with friends, or place in a holding bed until you find a new home for this progeny (hmm…reminds me of how our nursery  got started).

There are many good photographs to illustrate Green’s prose, taken in various gardens including her own, the beautiful grounds of Blithewold, and there’s even a few images taken here at Avant Gardens. (Disclosure: Kris and I have been horticultural chums for at least a decade.)

Plantiful will inspire you. It will make you a passionate plantsman (woman) if you’re not already one. Use it as a primer for creating your intimate haven, where the generous nature of the garden will be your partner in its serendipitous design.

Plantiful. By Kristin Green. Published by Timber Press, available online or better yet, ask your local book seller. If it’s not in stock, I’m sure the proprietor will order a copy for you, and stock the shelves with additional copies. Kristin also posts amusing and informative garden essays on her blog Trench Manicure.


glaboo500

Gladiolus dalenii ‘Boone’

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You won’t think funeral parlors when you see this lovely species of Hardy Gladiolus. That’s right…I said hardy. For the past 6 years ‘Gladiolus dalenii ‘Boone’ has not only wintered over, (including our recent epic one)  but has multiplied, producing many bulb offsets in one of our raised planting beds. Elegant 3′ stems display apricot yellow blossoms make lovely cut flowers in early-mid summer. It thrives in full sun and for the record, I will state it is hardy in zones 6-9 when grown in a soil that is well drained in winter. Add a few shovels of sand and mix in your soil when planting, and for insurance it would be a good idea to lay a protective mulch of sterile hay or evergreen boughs in zone 6.

In colder climates (zones 1–5) you could easily lift the bulbs for winter storage in a cool dry space that stays above freezing. Gladilolus dalenii ‘Boone’ can easily be grown from seed, and we have noticed some variation in color from seedlings…ranching from the softest of yellows to slightly deeper pale oranges, sometimes with darker orange highlights.

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Persicaria polymorpha at dusk, photo by Paul Clancy

Persicaria polymorpha

Persicaria polymorpha at dusk, photo by Paul Clancy

Persicaria polymorpha at dusk, photo by Paul Clancy

Mention the name Persicaria in horticulture circles, and you may raise a few eyebrows. Persicaria, has a very bad cousin: Polygonum cuspidatum, commonly  known as Japanese Knotweed or sometimes Running Bamboo (it is not a bamboo!), and this cousin can spread DREADFULLY. But please read on…

Our Persicaria polymorpha has a common name too, Giant Fleece Flower, and this common name  describes it well. Within a few seasons, Persicaria polymorpha will reach 5′, maybe 6′ tall and form imposing clumps, increasing in width each season to 6′ or more. Talk about taking up space! In June and July, white Astilbe like plumes adorn the plant and the blooms seem to last and last. This is a great plant for a long distance view (think about its size and white color) and is wonderful viewed in the early evening light.

Here are the facts: Giant Fleece Flower likes average soil, or moist soil, or even very dry soil once established. It loves full sun but will grow in partial shade. It is a bold perennial and and adds contrast to the finer textured plant sin the garden. Like Baptisia, it is one of the first herbaceous plants to attain good height in the spring garden.  It is deer resistant and long lived. I have yet to discover seedlings about, although it can be propagated by seed. Persicaria polymorpha is hardy in zones 4-9.

Consider Persicaria polymorpha when you are in need of a big, bold, hardy, long blooming, deer resistant plant.

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Kalimeris incisa 'Blue Star'

Kalimeris incisa ‘Blue Star’

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Kalimeris incisa ‘Blue Star’ at Avant Gardens

 

As much as I am wowed by voluptuous blossoms, I like to champion the strong garden performers which have quieter charms. One whose charms seldom disappoints is an Asian Aster relative called Kalimeris incise ‘Blue Star’. This little number grows 15-18″ tall and 18-24″ wide, and begins its production of 1 1/2″ lavender blue daisies in June, carrying on into autumn. (I kid you not.) ‘Blue Star’ forms tidy clumps; it does not run, unlike some other Asian Aster relatives that we have tried such as Asteromoea and Aster ageratoides.  Use Kalimeris incisa ‘Blue Star’ in the front of the border, paired with other favorites, such as Calamintha nepeta sp nepeta, Persicaria amplexicaulis ‘Firetails’ and Hydrangea paniculata ‘Little Lime’ for an easy  long blooming ensemble.

Grow ‘Blue Star’ in full sun in a soil that has good drainage, and it doesn’t hurt to thank this star performer with a liquid fish emulsion fertilizer a few times during summer.  It is hardy in zones 5-8.

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