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Ligularia x ‘Last Dance’

A wintry mix of weather blew into town this week, but Ligularia ‘Last Dance’ didn’t want the waltz to end. This recent introduction from Itsaul Plants looked smart all season with glossy bronze purple round foliage accented by slightly pointed lobes. To add Halloween contrast, it sent forth bright yellow composite flowers in October and is still blooming away as of 11/14. Hardy and Tropical looking…hmm. First disclaimer…it did winter over in our zone 6 garden last year, but during the coldest period we were blanketed with snow. Ligularia x ‘Last Dance’ is a hybrid of  Ligularia (Farfugium) hiberniflora and Farfugium japonicum, two species from Japan and Taiwan, but the Farfugium japonicum can’t be trusted in zones colder than 7.

Ligularia ‘Last Dance’ is being marketed with plant tags saying it is hardy into zone 4. I’m thinking this is a stretch. Reports from commercial growers say it is growing and wintering in Zeeland, Michigan (Zone 6) and Philadelphia (Zone 7).  If you do want to grow this for its end of the season burst of color, here is the data: Foliage height is about 12″ high, and can grow to 2-3′ wide. Yellow blossoms are held on 1-2′ stems. It does well in sun or partial shade in a moist soil, but seems as happy in average conditions.

I think this season I will put down a winter mulch to protect my investment. Should it prove not to be Zone 6 hardy, I say it should get 100 points for being a stunning sun or shade container plant. Would love to hear from anyone else who is growing  Ligularia ‘Last Dance’.


San Diego…A Busman’s Holiday

The walk to the beach…

One beach leads to another

My summer came and went with little time off for recreation and leisure, so when an opportunity for a seaside escape to hang with my son Phil at his beach pad in San Diego arose, I took full advantage. As you may have heard, San Diego weather is pretty easy to take.

Fall blooming Cactus

Podocarpus and Bird of Paradise

 Yes, New England fall color is hard to beat, but I was perfectly happy taking in the autumnal color of sunny southern CA.

Lunch with a Ruination IPA at Stone Brewery

Beautiful Persimmons aplenty

 Stops at local craft breweries… San Diego has the most!…quenched my thirst, and the farmer’s markets nourished my appetite.

Window Treatment at the Succulent Cafe

Arrangements at the Succulent Cafe

Of course I always have plants on my mind, and with some online research plus great recommendations from noted succulent author Debra Baldwin, I went off seeking new varieties and inspiration.One of the most charming little places I found was Peter Loyola’s Succulent Cafe in Oceanside. Yes…right up my alley… excellent coffee and special succulents for show and sale. His creations are some of the best I’ve seen.

Agave Dreamscape

Agave ‘Blue Glow’

Agave ‘Cream Spike’

Pilocereus pachycladys

I visited several great nurseries…Desert Theater, Waterwise Botanicals, Oasis Plants, Kartuz Greenhouse...but I was surprised that we possessed many plants in our collection here at Avant Gardens already . One group, the Agaves, beckoned to me though. Agave are used extensively in San Diego landscapes and their size and vigor compared to how we grow them in MA was humbling. Yes, I bought a second piece of luggage to haul back two special specimens: Agave ‘Blue Glow’ and Agave ‘Cream Spike’. I wish I had brought home  the beautiful blue cactus Pilocereus pachycladys, but the only ones I could find were a bit too big for my suitcase.

 It was the end of a long dry summer so it wasn’t the best time to photograph gardens in the San Diego area. Where irrigation is used plants obviously looked fresher. Most people are practicing water conservation. Succulents and planters composed of succulents held up best after such dry weather and obviously are the way to go. Foxtail Asparagus Fern was a fun addition to succulent combos which I’d like to try.

On my last morning I had a little time to kill before my flight back to MA, so I visited this vertical garden installed by Jim Mumford of Good Earth Plants. I had attended a talk he gave at Waterwise Botanicals on Saturday, and he was straight with his info. His company’s work is mostly large scale. Yes there is an irrigation system in each piece with a low fertilizer feed; yes he uses a soilless media called a Brownie; yes there is regular maintenance involved. His installations are both indoors and out, and the plant choices vary from succulents to perennials to tropicals. Jim had encouraged a visit to his Kearny Mesa Location, but my time was up.

Goodbye Summerland. San Diego, I’ll be back!

Aster oblongifolius 'Raydon's Favorite'

Aster oblongifolius ‘Raydon’s Favorite’

Aster oblongifolius ‘Raydon’s Favorite’

Just look at this plant in mid October!

A mass of bright lavender blue flowers reward those who have patience and foresight, since Aromatic Aster (its common name) is not much to look at in May and June. Still, it is undemanding all summer long, tolerating dry soil and neglect. In late September, you first start to notice the buds color, and in a few weeks, it is a sight to behold.

Botancially speaking this Aster has been reclassified as Symphyotrichon, but the gardening public seems to be ignoring this name. Raydon’s Favorite’ typically grows 2-3′ tall, and 3′ wide. It has a little brother, the selection ‘October Skies’ which stays more compact (under 2′) if you need a selection with less height. Aster oblongifolius is super hardy, tolerating even the cold climate of zone 3. It can be dusted with a bit of frost and still look unfazed.

Aster ‘Raydon’s Favorite’ is a perfect compliment to all the oranges and golds of autumn, especially the perennial mum, Dendranthema ‘Sheffield Apricot and  the colorful Dwarf Witch Alder, Fothergilla  ’Blue Shadow’

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Wintering Over Non Hardy Plants

We’ve been asked recently if we had ever written a post on wintering over tender plants in cold climates. The answer is yes, we have, but it certainly would be convenient if we posted easy access links to the 3 articles for those who may have missed the postings or for those who want a quick refresher.

Taking Cuttings

Wintering Over Tender Perennials Indoors 

Wintering Over Roots of Tender Perennials


September Report: Successful Containers

New England’s weather challenges even the most experienced gardener. The summer of 2013 certainly gave this gardener a dose of humble pie. Spring arrived late but was quite lovely for several weeks. June was cool and adequately moist (some folks in western New England were deluged with rain, but we were happy here with what we received. July was tropical. Hot, humid, humid, did I say humid? And there are plants that loved the tropical weather: Colocasia, Coleus Papyrus, Canna. Unfortunatley I hadn’t planned on hot humid weather, so I didn’t plant many of them this year. No this year I couldn’t plant enough succulents; in the ground, in containers, in vertical gardens. It could have been a better summer for growing them, but they managed to carry on sullenly and perked up when August proved to be cool and dryer. And now we are here, at the end of the season, to judge which of the containers held up the best over the 3 month period. (See the June article: The Before Pictures  for evidence of how containers transformed.)

The Cissus had to be cut back. Begonia ‘Concorde  has resented the recent chilly nights. Still this has been an easy shade loving combo which I would repeat.

Coleus ‘Odalisque’ dominated this planter, Begonia thurstonii has held its own, but can’t say the same for the Begonia ‘Elegance’ (there is a glimpse of what’s left of it). Our Begonia boliviensis hybrids and and most of our Fuchsia really pooped out early this year.

This partial shade planter wasn’t shown in the June post, but it has been quite lovely all summer. Plectranthus ‘Velvet Elvis’ is really starting to bloom now. Why don’t people grow more of the interesting trailing ivies?

I was a little disappointed that the Xanthosoma didn’t explode with growth, but the gentle green foliage of Pelargonium tomentosum looked fresh all summer, and I love to rub its leaves as I walk by.

Once the Eucomis bloomed, that was that, and then the Lantana montevidensis with its profusion of lavender flowers on wiry stems took over. Oxalis triangularis never disappoints, and Tradescantia ‘Blue Sue filled in nicely.

We have planted this classic stone bowl with succulents for the past few years, but this year’s growth was the least impressive. Not bad, but look what it did last year.

Only the Senecio cylindricus put on growth. I think all the other succulents just sat there. At least they didn’t melt.

This bowl was planted around the 4th of July, with a mix of hardy and tender plants. The Senecio ‘Blazing Glory’  is beginning to bloom with it’s bright orange buttons. I like the hardy Sedum ‘Turkish Delight’ but next time would leave out the Sedum ‘Xenox’.

We moved our famous River Pot to a more prominent spot. What wouldn’t look great in this pot?

The vertical garden is still looking sweet. The Crassula schmidtii has been in bloom for weeks, and the Echeveria ‘Atlantis’ continues to want to send up flowers.  I made several  versions of these vertical gardens, experimenting with just hardy plants and mixing lots of different tender succulents. Some succulents grew well despite the weather, others were more temperamental.

This container continued to inspire customers to replicate it all summer. The grouping is Echeverias ‘Afterglow’ and Lola’, Phormium ‘Pink Stripe’, Saxifraga ‘Maroon Beauty’, and silvery Dichondra.

What was your summer weather like and  how did your containers fare this year?

Winter Prep for Succulent Pots

This 36″ planted zen bowl is way to big to bring indoors

We plant up some pretty large non winter hardy succulent containers here at Avant Gardens, and we are always asked  ”Do you move that big pot inside for the winter?” Our answer: “No, we just take it apart and repot the plants which we especially want to save.”  Yes, space is always an issue, and we have greenhouses.

Most home gardeners do not have a greenhouse, but have a sunroom or a bright indoor space that is south or southwest facing. Non hardy succulents do not need a lot of heat, and will be fine in spaces that stay above 35-40F degrees. This could mean a space in a cool attic, basement or in a garage that stays above freezing. Because available space is often limited, you may want to select the choicest, slower growing specimens (such as a large Echeveria or Aeonium) and not save every small clump of sedum or string of pearls.

Here is a brief photo essay demonstrating the dismantling of a big planter. Be sure to have on hand an array of different sized containers and a sharp draining succulent potting mix to pot up your specimens.

A mixed Succulent Planter before the frost.

Your planters are probably looking spectacular in September, before nights start dipping into the 30′s.

A few succulents have been tonged by a frost.

Last October we were surprised one morning when temperatures dipped below freezing the night before, and realized it was time to bring our plants indoors.

Carefully lift the root mass from the container.

You can keep tight growing clumps of mixed plants together.

Transfer the lifted plants into a handy wheelbarrow or cart.

Transplant into a pot that is just big enough for the root mass.

You don’t want to use pots that are too big. Remember you probably do not have a lot of room, plus the pots (roots) will stay drier if there is not excess soil.

Sitting pretty on a sunny windowsill.

Do not fertilize during the winter, and water only as needed. The frequency will depend on how warm and sunny a space  you have. Check for pests periodically. Mealybug has a way of suddenly appearing on plants indoors. A simple cure is using rubbing alcohol on a Q-tip or piece of cloth and rubbing off the offenders. Rotate the pots so that your plants do not lean in only one direction towards the light.

If at the end of the winter you have rather awkward, leggy plants, do not be afraid to cut them back sharply. The plants will respond with new tighter growth as longer days provide more sunlight. If you want more babies, let the cuttings heel and then stick on a slightly moist propagating tray of sand and perlite. Begin a light fertilizing program in March or April, as when plants and or cuttings show new growth.  We recommend an all purpose seaweed/fish emulsion for succulents.


“What is that plant?”

What gardener isn’t curious? When we (gardeners) notice an unfamiliar plant, we pause and want to know more. In our gardens and at our nursery we try to pique your interest. Here are 10 plants that provoked the most conversations at Avant Gardens this season.

Hosta ‘Deep Blue Sea’

Hosta ‘Deep Blue Seaalways stops visitors in their tracks. It begins the season with powder blue leaves, and then develops the most puckered texture with a dark glossy green sheen. Flowers appear in mid summer, and are not ho hum. ‘Deep Blue Sea’ takes several years to develop its amazing foliage and is not a Hosta which is easily divided.

Trochodendron aralioides

Not commonly seen,  Trochodendron aralioides is a tropical looking broadleaf evergreen native to Japan and Korea, with fascinating lime green flowers in mid-late spring. It is commonly called Wheel Tree or Parasol Tree because of its habit. Trochodendron forms a main trunk from which horizontal branches radiate in whorls, much like the spokes of a wheel. It grows well in partial shade in a protected spot and can reach 20′.  Hardy in zones 6-8.

Thujopsis dolobrata ‘Aurea’

Commonly known as Golden Elkhorn Cedar, this evergreen conifer has an almost prehistoric quality in its presentation. The fern like branches are looser and more graceful than an Arborvitae, and the gold tint is more subtle unless grown in full sun. Plants are slow growing at first, and become conical in shape with age. Hardy in zones 6-8.

Daphne ‘Moonlight Sonata’

This new selection of Daphne is a much more robust grower than its look alike, ‘Brigg’s Moonlight’Daphne ‘Moonlight Sonata’ was truly resilient  in spite of the topsy turvy weather  we’ve had this year. It is quite compact, growing only to 2-2 1/2′. Hardy in zones 5-9.

Speirantha convallarioides

Speirantha convallarioides is a choice Chinese relative of Lily of the Valley (thus the specific name).  In mid spring, the little white flowers on 8-10″ stems have a “Sputnik” like appearance. It has evergreen strap like foliage and forms tight clumps which spread slowly by rhizomes. Hardy in zones 5b-8.

Allium ‘Millenium’

Reports keep coming in about how thrilled folks are with this new long blooming Allium ‘Millenium’ from Mark McDonough. The 2″ spherical blossoms stay tight in bud for weeks, and slowly open providing a midsummer display. It also makes a great cut flower. Zones 4-8.

Browalia americana

Here is a self sowing annual which we have grown for 20 years, and yet we still get quizzed about its identity by visitors . Browalia americana does not begin blooming well until July, so it is not in color when people are plant shopping. That by itself might explain its scarcity. We adore its bright blue flowers and it continues to be one or our go to filler plants for partially shaded gardens.

Asarina procumbens

This little creeping snapdragon self sows for us in sunny or partially shaded gravelly areas. Here Asarina procumbens has nestled herself around this ceramic face, but she can easily put on a show cascading over a retaining wall, where she will self sow in all the crevices.

Pellionia repans

Perhaps it is Pellionia repans’s simplicity that draws attention. Commonly called Watermelon Begonia, because its foliage coloring resembles watermelon rind, it is an adaptable “houseplant” which is useful spilling out of summer containers. And, no, it is not a Begonia.

Echeveria ‘Afterglow’

This may have not been the hot dry summer that most succulents love, but our lovely  Echeveria ‘Afterglow’  was unfazed by the incredible humidity we experienced in July. Plants which were growing in the driest situations achieved the full 9-10″ size, although in this pot ‘Afterglow’ only reached 7″. The foliage color, a dusky, gray plum pink, is mesmerizing and changes with the light of day.

Now you tell me: which plants in your garden were the topic of conversation this year?





Impatiens omeiana

Garden designers may bypass this  late blooming hardy impatiens for bolder showier forms, but gardeners with a curious streak will want to try little Impatiens omeiana Growing only 6-8″ tall for us, I hear it gets to  a robust height (12-15″) in milder climates. Apricot yellow flowers with red speckled throats appear in September and October. The notched narrow elliptical dark green leaves have a striking white midline, and since this plant is stoloniferous, it can become a handsome ground cover whether it is in bloom or not. Plants prefer partial to full shade and a soil that is moist during the growing season but require good drainage to winter over. It is native to Mt Omei, China and would make a good companion plant with Tricyrtis, Tiarella and dwarf Rhododendrons.

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Autumn Containers II: Using Succulents


After the lazy days of August, September can seem like the busiest month of the year. So many neglected chores, both inside and out, await attention. For a lot of us, the summer containers gracing our entryways need a makeover. You can buy a pot of mums or……

You can plant succulents.

Followers of this blog must know by now that I am a big succulent fan, and even after a wet and extremely humid spell, I can still say the succulents planters we did up earlier not only still look sweet, they are going to get better as the night temperatures become chilly. Cool night temperature bring out deep and rosy tones in the blue, olive and bronze foliage colors of the many non hardy succulents.  Many tender forms such as Echeveria ‘Black Princeand Senecio ‘Blazing Glory’, begin to bloom as do many hardy species of Sedum such as S cauticola  ’Lidakense’ , ‘Turkish Delight’and‘Dazzleberry’.

Succulents are mix and match plants. Of course, they all like the same sandy, well drained soil mix, and the colors all work well together. I’d like to add that the most interesting combinations include plants which have light, medium and dark tones. In this pair of planters, I’ve used Euphorbia tirucalli var rosea, commonly called ‘Sticks on Fire’ (guess how it got its common name) for height, the blue gray rosettes of Senecio ‘Blazing Glory’,  a coppery orange tinted Sedum nussbaumeranum, the soft yellow Sedum makinoi ‘Ogon’ and an olive tinted Sedum tetractinum to spill over the sides. Tucked in for added dark tones is Sedeveria ‘Jetbeads’.


1.When you group succulents together you can pack them in quite close together. They do not need a lot of nourishment nor water, and they don’t grow very fast.

2.The selections that are not hardy in your area will need protection when temperatures dip below freezing, and here we sometimes get a really cold night in late October, followed by a spell of Indian summer.  Either move the pot inside if a frost is in the forecast, or cover with a large tarp or blanket.

3. Once it becomes apparent that temperatures will be below freezing at night on a regular basis, bring your container into a frost free area that gets bright sunlight. If your container is too big to bring indoors, dig out the specimen plants you would like to keep and pot them up in a sandy quick draining soil mix. I plan to do a blog post about what to do about wintering over succulents in a month or so.

Related Blog Posts

September Container Report 2012, Summer Containers 2012Summer Containers2013, Sedum tetractinum, Graptosedum ‘California Sunset’, Sedum sieboldii 





Autumn Containers I: Fresh Candidates

Come on…how about a little imagination? There’s more to fall container gardening than a pot of mums which are already on display at the supermarket entrance.  I can allow that some folks love their tidy appearance and that these almost perfect balls provide an immediate color fix, but really, do we all have to be that predictable? Of course not.

Here in Massachusetts, I like to pot up end of summer/fall containers in late August to give plants a chance to kick in with some growth before cooler temperatures and shorter days slow things down.  I had this lovely turquoise pot begging me to fill it, so I selected colors that would sing, still nodding to late summer, but with approaching autumn hues.

The winter hardy perennials used here include: Heuchera ‘Southern Comfort’ and Acorus gramineus ‘Ogon’. The Hedera ‘Amber Waves’ and the Coprosma repens ‘Multicolor’ can take temperatures in the 20′s without being fazed, and the Plectranthus ‘Velvet Elvis’ with its dark green/purple foliage will star as the flowers begin to show off in September and October. Yes it could get frosted on a really chilly night, but should one be forecasted while it is still showing off, cover the planter with a large tarp or move inside for the night.