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?
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.
What was your summer weather like and how did your containers fare this year?
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.
Your planters are probably looking spectacular in September, before nights start dipping into the 30′s.
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.
Transfer the lifted plants into a handy wheelbarrow or cart.
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.
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 gardener isnt 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‘ always 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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 Prince‘ and 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.
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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.
I think I know the reason why few people grow this easy care, refreshing native plant, commonly called Prairie Baby’s Breath: plants, even young seedlings, transplant poorly. The happiest plants have planted themselves, like this clump that adorns our front walk entry right now; it was sown in situ. Of course, you need to have a mother plant nearby to have these babies come up on their on accord, and that’s a “chicken or the egg” dilemma. We always have a few potted plants here at Avant Gardens but because they usually look weak and spindly, they are not an easy sell….unless you happen to visit our nursery and gardens in August. Now, everyone marvels at this “different baby’s breath” when they pass by.
Once established, Euphorbia corollata asks for little but sunshine and well drained soil. It begins to bloom heavily in mid July and carries the show through the month of August. I haven’t tried it as a cut flower, (it is a spurge and has that milky sap), but maybe I should experiment with sealing the stems with a flame, which will prevent that sap from poisoning the vase water. Perhaps it would be prudent to stress that some people are very sensitive to Euphorbia sap and can get serious skin irritations when exposed to it. Fortunately for me it has never been a problem.
Euphorbia corollata is hardy in zones 4-7. We planted it in our gardens more than 20 years ago, and it is still there, a testimonial to it’s longevity, often popping in new spots, especially well drained pockets. Should it sow where you don’t want it, just pull it out. In addition to being quite attractive to beneficial insects, such as bees and wasps, it isn’t a plant deer or rabbits will likely munch on, since it is poisonous if ingested.
…New Selections for Cutting
It’s easy to be seduced by catalog images. I was when I saw some of the recent Phlox paniculata being bred in Holland. The inflorescence were distinct from our more familiar forms: the florets were smaller, slightly curled and edged in contrasting colors.
Last year I planted Phlox paniculata ‘Sherbert Blend’. I wasn’t sure what to make of it at first. The panicles were small, and the florets appeared pale pink with a faint cream edge in the garden, although the images in the catalog promised me a warmer, pink shade. I shrugged the color discrepancy off, thinking this may be due to weather or soil conditions, or maybe the plants would show their true colors with maturity. I have since discovered that this Phlox’s color range changes with the time of day, and is true especially in early morning light.
This year I tried 2 other selections: Phlox paniculata ‘Jade’, with lovely white florets rimmed in celadon green, and Phlox paniculata ‘Aureole’ or ‘Neon Aureole’ which has tight clusters of bright fuchsia florets, edged in white and green. Our supplier’s catalog described plants as being only 16-20″ tall, but already I’m observing stems in the 24-30″ range. So far, mildew has not been a problem, and plants have set side shoots for rebloom quickly, once the first main stems have been cut. All emit a slight, old fashioned, sweet fragrance.
Grow these Phlox in full sun, in average garden soil and provide good air circulation. Blooming begins in July and carries on into August. Although these new Phlox make fine border plants, they have are more subtle than the big panicled forms with huge florets. I’m considering moving my plants into a new bed I’m creating just for cutting, since I know the floral display in the garden will be sacrificed for many more summer bouquets.
Here are some closeup portraits of each Phlox used in the pictured bouquet:
At last, we found an image that displays Lesser Calamint,Calamintha nepeta ssp. nepeta , in a flattering light. Perhaps that’s why more people don’t grow it: it doesn’t always photograph well, and it’s not in bloom when everyone is plant shopping in April and May. It has been one of our “go to” plants when designing sunny gardens for years. Here’s why.
Calamintha nepeta ssp. nepeta has grown well in our garden for the past 18 years. Yes, the same specimens, planted in 1995, return each year true to form. In spring they present as tidy little subshrubs (no, it does not spread by runners) with mint scented, slightly shiny leaves. In July (June in warmer zones) sturdy 18″ stems bearing racemes of airy blue tinted white flowers appear, creating a cloud like effect for the front of the border and accenting any plant around it, and it is especially complimentary to roses. The blossoming continues into October, when the flowers take on blue tones with cooler temperatures. Calamintha nepeta ssp. nepeta is a primo plant for attracting bees, butterflies and beneficial insects. This form of Lesser Calamint has rarely self sown in our gardens, unlike the very similar Calamintha nepeta ‘White Cloud’, which seems to happily self sow. You might like having babies, or not. You decide.
As mentioned before, this is a reliable perennial (18 years and still going strong) for us here in southern New England. Calamintha nepeta ssp. nepeta performs well whether we are having a hot dry summer or a cool moist one. It likes a soil that is well drained, but does not need or want lots of fertilizer. I know it will be this reliable in zones 5-7, but would be interested in hearing if folks are growing it successfully in zones 8 and 9. Its tidy form and endless flowering means it can be combined with so many other plants, depending on your color scheme, but consider using it with Asclepias tuberosa, Sedum ‘Maestro’, Echinacea ‘Fatal Attraction’ or Caryopteris for strong summer interest.
Each year in recent history, I have been documenting with images some of the containers I plant up here at Avant Gardens. I like to take images within a few weeks of planting, and then again in September. The September shots will show which containers still look incredible. Plant selections with minimal care requirements are used in each of these groupings. Below, you will find combinations for shade, part shade and sun.
For shade/pt. shade:
Begonia ‘MK Elegance’ with Hedera ‘Little Diamond’
for part shade/sun:
Fan favorite: Classic Bowl with Mixed Succulents
Senecio cylindricus dominates this large basalt bowl (22″)
My favorite pot with Aeonium, Euphorbia and Echeveria
The vertical garden was planted in late March, and now little Delosperma ‘Firespinner’ is beginning to flower
You can mix succulents with other plants which don’t mind dry conditions (like the combination above). Even though we have had an unusually large amount of rainfall lately in the northeast , all of our succulents and begonias are still thriving because we use a sandy well drained soil mix. If you use a regular or rich potting soil, you chance disappointment from plants rotting away.
Check back in September, when I post the “after” shots!