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.
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!
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
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.
Green 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.
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.
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.
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.
Those of us who live in colder climates may be thinking it’s time to rehab last year’s tender succulent containers. Over the winter, these planters have been trying to soak up as much sun as possible on windowsills and in sunrooms, but it’s a sure thing that by mid spring many of the plants have become unbecomingly leggy. You have two options: disassemble the planter, plant by plant, then cut back and replant in fresh soil, or if the planter is not too overcrowded or out of proportion, you can see if just trimming back is the answer.
I’m encouraging you to be ruthless when you cut back. After cutting off their heads these plants won’t look happy immediately, but the alternative could become down right ugly (and, any cuttings that are pinched back can be stuck in sand and rooted for more plants). You may find that some of the spreading succulents have exceeded their bounds and need to be lifted and divided…but you can use these pieces to tuck in around the container where their are “plant gaps”. Fertilize your planter …we use a seaweed/fish emulsion. It will take a number of weeks and some warm sunny weather for your planters to start to perk up.
Vertical Succulent Gardens are often in need of cutting back and editing. We usually leave our vertical planters horizontal on benches during the winter, to minimize stretching. Still some plants such as the rosettes of Sempervivum or Echeveria may have become overwhelmed by creeping Sedum and Delosperma, and need to be replaced. We take fresh cuttings and secure them in place with floral pins. Fertilize with seaweed/fish emulsion , keeping the wall planter flat while the new cuttings root in, and move outside as soon as nights stay in the 50′s or above. In a few weeks, growth will begin to fill in the empty spaces, and then you can hang.
Growing Lavender en masse here in the northeast has often been a risky thing to do. Lavender would suffer winter damage, and we would often find we had to replace plants here and there every winter. The good new is that after this past cruel winter, which caused more than its share of plant casualties, a recent Lavender introduction came through unscathed. Lavandula ‘Phenomenal’, in fact, is looking pretty phenomenal.
Here’s the data. ‘Phenomenal’ was introduced by Peace Tree Farm Nursery in PA, after the folks there observed it for years in their trial beds. ‘Phenomenal’ tolerated extreme heat and humidity in summer, making it a good choice for hot summer areas, and was resistant to root diseases which often plague lavenders where winters are cold and wet. ‘Phenomenal’ begins blooming in late spring and carries on through July, with masses of intoxicatingly fragrant lavender blue flowers. Plants grow slowly at first, but reach large proportions…24″ tall and 36″ wide in several years time. Deer and rabbit resistant, it also attracts butterflies and grows best in full sun and well drained soil. Plants are super hardy too…wintering over in zones 4-8.
We shouldn’t be surprised many people do not know or grow little Beesia. This Buttercup relative was brought into the U.S. from China by Dan Hinkley of Heronswood Gardens fame, less than 20 years go. Sometimes thought of as a west coast plant, we have found that when sited in a protected spot it has thrived for half a dozen years in our zone 6A garden.
Beesia deltophylla is semi evergreen for us, but in mild winter climates folks can enjoy its glossy dark green heart shaped foliage all year round. The silvery veining adda a nice accent, and in late spring and early summer it sends up 10-15″ stems bearing dainty white flowers. We have included it with Hellebores, Epimedium and Hakonechloa in an understory planting under our ancient oak tree.
To grow Beesia well, provide a well drained soil that is rich with humus, and irrigate during dry spells. In cold climates like ours, let the fallen leaves acts as a winter mulch or spread sterile straw over the plants to protect from cruel winter winds. We suggest using it in urban gardens, which are often protected and shaded by tall buildings.