Shrubs and trees which flower on old wood, just before the leaves unfurl, have a special charm. Think Witchhazel, Native Dogwood, Redbud. One that we especially love and isn’t so well known is Stachyurus chinensis ‘Celina’. This shrub bears pendant racemes of creamy white/yellow flowers in early spring (April for us). We have ‘Celina’ planted in a sheltered spot from winter winds, which can desiccate the flower buds. This area is shaded by a Japanese Maple and gets 4-6 hours of sun. Our 7 year old plant is about 4′ tall with arching branches from the base, reaching to about 6′ in width. We expect it will grow to 8′ x 10′ eventually. Fall color varies year to year, but we’ve seen it take on yellow and orange tones. hardy in zones 6-9.
Here it is the end of June, and the most of our containers are planted. These are low maintenance ensembles: the goal is to have them still looking fine at September’s end, with minimal care during the summer. As you might expect, foliage plants, especially succulents, play a big role because of their reliable good looks.
The green drum pot boasts a specimen Aeonium hybrid with x Sedeveria ‘Harry Butterfield’ and Senecio rowleyensis (String of Pearls).
Again, the tall cylinder pot in front of the garage has a repeat performance with a few of last year’s plants…Kalanchoe behartii, Aeonium ‘Cyclops’ , Echeveria ‘Swirl’, x Graptosedum ‘California Sunset‘, Senecio ‘Mini Blue’, a Rhipsalis and silver leaved Dichondra.
For a sunny spot….some tender perennials with flower power. Digiplexis ‘Illumination Flame’ is not hardy for us in the ground, but it is a long summer bloomer in pots. Ruellia ‘Purple Showers’ adds some dark contrast with foliage plants Euphorbia ‘Ascot Rainbow’, Heuchera ‘Caramel’, and Hedera ‘Amber Waves’ adding long season interest. The smaller pot to the right has Heuchera ‘Cherry Cola’, Phormium ‘Sundowner‘, and Euphorbia ‘Diamond Frost’, with a matching Hedera.
This 20″ wide Grecian urn is in quite a bit of shade, so I’ve used the variegated dwarf Papyrus Cyperus ‘Starburst’, with dark purple leaved Oxalis, Begonia ‘Art Hodes’, Sansevieria ‘Moonshine‘ and trailing over the sides, Callisia congesta variegata
New pot, new spot. Green, silver and black color scheme. Dappled shade all day. Used Maidenhair Fern Adiantum pedatum, with Sansevieria ‘Moonshine’, Black Mondo Grass Ophiopogon planiscapes Nigrescens, Begonia grandis, which will get big and add height as the summer goes on, and I’m trying out Dichondra in the shade. We shall see…
The 14″ green planter has both a green and a variegated dwarf papyrus, with Ornamental Oregano Origanum rotundifolium ‘Kent Beauty’ and Callisia congesta variegata. The dusky plum leaved plant on the right is Tradescantia ‘Pale Puma’ .
The False Agave Beschoneria ‘Flamingo Glow’ is accented with ivies and oxalis…Hedera ‘Amber Waves’ and congestifolia, plus Oxalis ‘Iron Cross’ in the iron urns which get only 3 hours of afternoon sun.
A simple planting of hardy Sempervivum ‘Pacific Blue Ice’ with teensy creeping Sedum sexangulare are just the right plants for the small planting cavity of this face pot.
I can just tell this brown terra cotta bowl is going to be outrageous when fall arrives…the succulents used include Sticks on Fire Euphorbia tirucalli rosea, Senecio ‘Blazing Glory’, Crassula ‘Hummel’s Sunset’ Sedum ‘Firestorm’, and String of Pearls, Senecio rowleyensis.
Check back for more images in the end of September report.
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
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
Aster ptarmicoides (formerly Solidago ptarmicoides, and NOW to be botanically correct: Oligoneuron album)
Formerly White Upland Aster or White Goldenrod depending who you asked, but 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.
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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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.
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.
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.
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, Magnolia ‘Sunsation’ 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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:
A new name for the Hardy Ageratum. Formerly Eupatorium coelestinum, the plant taxonomists have bestowed the name Con-oh-clin-i-um on this late summer into fall blooming plant. The species name co-el-est-in-um means heavenly. Clusters of heavenly sky blue flowers atop 18-30″ stems bloom in August and September, attracting butterflies and pollinators. Conoclinium enjoy average, evenly moist soil conditions and spreads by stolons, creating a healthy patch where happy. It makes a lovely cut flower and is hardy in zones 5-8.
As the 4th of July rolls around, the early June show of Baptisia, Peonies, Iris and Cranesbill is fading, and its time to focus on high summer performers. I could not be without the dreamy clouds of the summer blooming Meadow Rues, or botanically speaking Thalictrum, with their sprays of dainty small blossoms on tall stems, creating a seductive haze above the knee high plants in the garden.
First there is ‘Splendide’, the first of the French breeder Thierry Delabroye’s introductions with its slightly larger soft lavender flowers. ‘Splendide’ is statuesque…it can reach 7′ in a rich soil, and may need staking when the branched stems are heavy with buds.
Thalictrum ‘Splendide White‘ is perhaps my favorite. Another selection from Thierry Delabroye, this white selection takes the place of Baby’s Breath in the border with its 3′ to 4 .5′ stems above delicate Columbine like foliage. Sprays of pearly buds burst into 1/2″ 5 petaled blossoms with greenish white stamens. Blossoms continue for weeks, and make exquisite cut flowers.
And then there is this older form of the species, T. delavayi, ‘Hewitt’s Double’, which bears its inflorescence on 3-4′ stems above dainty Maidenhair fern like foliage. It has shown a preference for excellent soil drainage in winter, but enjoys an evenly moist soil during the summer months.
Last but not least, is the most familiar form Thalictrum rochebrunanum ‘Lavender Mist’ which can easily grow 4-6′ tall in a rich somewhat moist soil. Sprays of lavender buds open to show 4-5 petaled blossoms with prominent yellow stamens in July and August. T. rochebrunianum can self sow where it is content.
Thalictrum are members of the Ranunculus family which includes, Anemones and Buttercups. They enjoy average to rich soil with ample moisture during the growing season and full or half day sun. T. delavayi is hardy in zones 5-8, and the rest are more cold tolerant and are hardy in zones 4-8. And oh, yes, they are not favored by deer or bunnies.
What’s not to love? This Allium hybrid from Mark McDonough is one of the key plants for solid bloom in July and August in our perennial and mixed beds. 2″ lavender orbs on sturdy 12-18″ stems provide color for weeks. It doesn’t mind the heat and dry soil, and bulks up quickly, and can be divided in the spring if you want to spread it around. Of course it is attractive to butterflies and pollinators. When blooming fades, cut back the stems, or leave the heads on to dry and add textural interest. Deer and rabbit resistant and it is perfectly hardy in zones 5-9.
Just a few images to share….loving the various species and forms in the genus Polygonatum (Solomon’s Seal). We currently have about 15 selections, ranging in size from tiny 6″ Polygonatum humile to 6′ selections of P. biflorum. and are always seeking out more.
quick facts: Solomon Seals is in the family Asparagaceae. Most forms are hardy in zones 5-8, (a few in zones 3 & 4). They slowly spread by jointed rhizomes, and enjoy well drained soil in partial to full shade. Long lived and almost indestructible, Solomon’s Seal is one of those plants that holds its good looks with little care all season.