Category Archives: Featured

Spring Succulent Rehab

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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.

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Give your succulents some fresh soil!

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.

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Aeonium with aerial roots….

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.

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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.

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Echeveria with elongated stem

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.

Mystery Echeveria…purchased as 'Fleur Blanc'

Echeveria ‘Fleur Blanc’

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.

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Look-alikes. x Sedeveria ‘Letitia’ on the left, and ‘Sleepy’ on the right.

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.

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Cuttings left to heel, decayed foliage must go, leaves sometimes root too!

Recap:

  • 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:

In bloom: Tender Succulents

Rehabbing Succulent Containers

 

 

 

 

Weather Resistant Hellebores

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Helleborus ‘Brandywine’ pausing for warmer days

I will bet that you, just like me, would like to walk out your door on the first day of spring and be greeted by the blooms of crocus, daffodils and Hellebores, one of our earliest flowering perennials. Oh wait….didn’t this already happen in late February during that  spell when temperatures hit 65F?

Winter, which hasn’t been paying attention to the calendar here in the Northeast, has decided to chill us out in March. Day after day temperatures  have flirted with 32F, (nights have registered in the single digits) and that proverbial north wind has provided a relentless bone chill. As I write, a nor’easter is bearing down with snow and freezing rain and more wind…it just doesn’t seem realistic to expect that spring could happen in one week. And judging by the flurry of emails in my inbox, many gardeners are concerned with what may happen to their precocious Hellebore blossoms.

Worry not. Hellebores are tough perennials. Hellebores will persevere… provided their cultural needs have been met. For review, Hellebores need well drained soil. Their roots do not want to be constantly wet. Hellebores adapt to soil types, although if soil is quite acidic I would recommend amending with garden lime. Hellebores are slow growing at first and shy of flowering the first or second year in the garden, but they are extremely long lived. Although they are tolerant of shade, they will bloom more profusely if they receive 4-6 hours of sunlight.

Caulescant type Helleborus foetidus

Acaulescant type Heleborus foetidus

Hellebores fall into 2 groups: caulescant and acaulescant. Caulescant types include Helleborus foetidus and argutifolius, and set flowers on last years stems which persist all winter.  Obviously you would not want to cut back this group until after flowering or you would sacrifice the display.

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Acauslescant Helleborus hybridus with emerging flowers and foliage. Cut back all the old leaves to prevent fungal diseases from taking hold.

Acaulescant types include H. niger (Christmas Rose) and hybrids of H. orientalis (Lenten Rose). Most of the cultivars available to the home gardener are in the acaulescant group. Note: It is important to remove the old decaying foliage as the new growth appears in late winter and early spring. This older foliage can harbor fungal diseases which can cause crown rot, and affect the blossoms.

Other tips: Hellebore species can naturalize by self sowing. Many (but not all) Helleborus hybrids do set seed and self sow, but the seedlings may differ strikingly from the nearby parent. Seedlings usually appear the following spring after a  winter cold period breaks dormancy of the seed coat. Expect their growth to be slow this first year.

If you are interested in encouraging colonies of self sowing Hellebores  that are particularly lovely, I recommend  the Brandywine Strain, selected by David Culp. Brandywine’s progeny develop lovely variations with outward facing flowers.

Winter Escape

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Euphorbia tirucalli

On our annual winter visit to CA to visit our eldest son, we always make time to check out nurseries and gardens in the San Diego area. Above,  a large specimen of Sticks on Fire caught the light at Waterwise Botanicals in Escondido.

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Succulent Minstrel

The San Diego Botanic Garden in Encinitas always has fun with succulents.  This topiary minstrel had company; there were at least a half dozen life sized figures adorned with succulents nearby.

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Arrangement at DIG in Santa Cruz

We headed north for a 2nd week, spending time around San Francisco and points south towards Santa Cruz. Saw some arresting succulents at the lovely home and garden shop, DIG, in Santa Cruz.

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Salvia africana-lutea form

Check out this uniquely colored form of the winter blooming Salvia africana -lutea...(my guess, there was no tag nearby).

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Euphorbia rigida

Euphorbia love the San Francisco climate. They also play nicely with all the Aloes now in bloom.

Aloe at the Ruth Bancroft Garden

Aloe at the Ruth Bancroft Garden

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Echium fastuosum

Coming into flower is this amazing bee magnet: Pride of Madeira.

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Eucalyptus caesia

A pink flowered form of Eucalyptus caesia.

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Magnolia campbellii detail

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Magnolia campbellii backlit

The Magnolia  were  beginning to bloom at the Strybing Arboretum/ San Francisco Botanic Garden. Love M. campbellii, which is hardy in zones 7-10.

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Magnolia denudata

This lovely Magnolia  at the Strybing is listed  hardy in zones 5-8, but it is NOT always reliably bud hardy here… blooms too early for us.

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Bergenia sp. at the San Francisco Botanic Garden

We’re so happy that we can grow Bergenia…a great evergreen perennial that blooms in late winter and early spring.

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Begonia fuschioides

The glasshouses at the San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers were filled with treasures. We later found (and brought home) this dainty Begonia at a local nursery.

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Bulbophyllum ‘Louis Sanders’

From dainty to over the top drama, flora never cease to amaze…discovering this orchid was one of the highlights of  our trip.

What  favorite gardens, arboreta and nurseries do you visit when you”re on the west coast?

 

Now Revealed

weetamoo_berries2There is much to observe in the winter landscapes surrounding us here in New England. This past Sunday, Chris and I revisited nearby Weetamoo Woods in Tiverton RI. The deciduous trees have mostly let go of their leaves, and what is now revealed might go unnoticed earlier in the season or be at a totally different stage.  For example, above, the pesky green briar offers subtle beauty with its zigzag lines and blue black orbs of fruit against the waning light.weetamoo_woods_bark_moss_lichen_stone500Now, without the distraction of spring’s brilliant greens or autumn’s blazing red and gold tones, natural stone, tree trunks and moss become the main attractions…weetamoo_woods_stone500Look at this end of a wall formation embossed with aged lichen and liverwortsweetamoo_woods_ferninrock500There are colorful surprises…even at some distance, this olive green Rock Fern, happily embedded in a fissure of this sculpted stone, stood out.weetamoe_woods_ferninrock_detail500A closer view of the fern’s habitat.weetamoo_woods_stonewall500A dry laid stone wall still stands proudly and has developed a patina money can’t buy.weetamoo_woods_stream500Life and sounds emanating from this creek announced the remains of an old saw mill nearby.
weetamoe_woods_arch_bridge_chris500 Chris, a master stone wall artisan himself, inspected an ancient arched stone bridge which spanned the creek further ahead.weetamoo_woods500The vertical rhythm of tree trunks countered the soft crunch of oak leaves on the forest floor. Note to self: How simple, how peaceful.weetamoo_woods_wall1_500Dry laid stone walls, like this handsome and still structurally sound example in Weetamoo Woods,  acted as boundaries for livestock in earlier days, and now mark “rooms” throughout the property. Here and there, a tree might take root at its base, but a caregiver has seen to it that bramble hasn’t obscured its presence.

We can all be thankful for the simple beauty of our local woodlands, preserved with sensitive editing by the stewards who care for them. Imperfections, such as a wall slightly tumbled, may not be tolerated in some of our more cultivated gardens but are celebrated where the natural landscape rules.

Is there a special woodland walk near you which you find restorative? Perhaps you would like to share a special place with our readers.

From my window…

2016_nov_16outmywindow2webI love an autumn that lingers, that gently let’s go of leaf and blossom, that holds onto color made more vivid against a changing gray sky. A day or two or three of mild temperatures can make us forget that the naked garden of December and January awaits.  Right now I am enjoying this picture from my window, as it about to change, and yet will continue to offer interest in the cold months ahead.

What do you see when you look out your window? Are you pleased with your view? Does it include evergreen plants which add bold mass and keeps some color happening? Is there a nicely pruned tree whose silhouette can show off the tracings of winter snow? And do you notice branches that take on red or gold or purple pigments when temperatures drop, adding subtle hues, (but color nonetheless).

Do your plantings also invite the activity of birds? Will you catch the scarlet flash of a cardinal, who finds refuge in a dense evergreen, or the business of chickadees, who flit from one branch to the next, waiting for safe moments to descend upon the feeder.

From my window, the Hinoki Cypress, Chamaecyparis obtusa compacta, provides a dark green screen from the road, and the winterberry, Ilex verticillata, adds brilliance for at least another month. The Japanese Maple, Acer palmatum ‘Katsura’ will let go any day now, but we’ll suspend a feeder from its branches for the birds. The Forest Grass, Hakonechloa macra, will change from gold to tan. And then in late winter, the scene will flush anew reminding  me that spring is on its way, with color from early bulbs and Hellebores.

What plants are your favorites for winter interest?

Early November Journal

I began keeping this blog as a garden journal, documenting what is in color at particular times of year,  and capturing the surprises along the way. As we begin November, the show continues.ilex_wpeacockmaple72Despite the drought, there is a very good berry set on Ilex verticillata, with the Peacock Maple, Acer japonica aconitifolium echoing red in the background.enkianthus_showyl500Enkianthus ‘Showy Lanterns’ can’t decide which color to turn and is simultaneously taking on shades of yellow, orange, red and maroon.cotoneaster500Cotoneaster franchetti (grown from seed shared through a seed exchange) has a good fruit set this year.euonymus_sp500Prettiest time is now for  Euonymus carnosus, Chinese Spindle Treeaster_ageratoides_ezo500Aster ageratoides ‘Ezo Murasaki’ (or has the name changed to Kalimeris?) has already put up with 28F temperatures and is still offering color. Note that this Aster likes to spread!chrysantheum_sheffield500Chrysanthemum ‘Sheffield’, a peachy pink classic, offering pollen to honeybees and other insects.chrysanthemum_rhmbasp500Perennial Chrysanthemum ‘Rhumba’ (formerly Dendranthema) picking up the autumn toneschrysantheum_doublespoon500This mum was a gift from a friend who found this in her travels and swears this baby is winter hardy in zone 6…we shall see.mahonia_charity500Posed to flower, Mahonia ‘Charity’ will illuminate with citron yellow candles later this month.

What plants are about to show off for you this November?

Forgiving “House Plants”

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Blue Rabbit’s Foot Fern is a current fav!

So what makes a plant a good “house plant?” My criteria is: 1. The plant does not go dormant (or semi dormant) in winter, so it provides foliage year round. 2. It can survive indoors with winter’s lower light levels. 3. It can tolerate the arid conditions our heated homes provide, and 4. It should be fun to look at.

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Baby Spider Bonnie

One of the easiest,  and most forgiving (if you forget to water), is the Baby Spider Plant, Chlorophytum ‘Bonnie’. This form has smaller spiders with tightly curled variegated foliage. ‘Bonnie’ freely produces arching manilla colored stems with many offsets.

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Humidity loving variegated Boston Fern with the ‘Neon’ Devil’s Ivy.

At a connoisseur plant auction last winter, I bid on and won a beautiful variegated Boston Fern,  Nephrolepsis exaltata ‘Tiger’. AlasI quickly learned that this beauty disliked our home’s dry heat as well as my neglectfulness about watering…After watching it go downhill, it was banished to the greenhouse for recovery. It didn’t regain its original lushness until summer finally settled in.

But there are other choice ferns available which are not so persnickety indoors,  for example the  Blue Rabbit’s Foot Fern, Phlebodium pseudoaureum (formerly Polypodium areolatum), pictured above.  Phlebodium pseudoaureum has an almost prehistoric thing happening, with it’s wide lobed blue foliage. It spreads by stolons led by fuzzy amber brown “rabbit’s feet”. Grows 12-20″ tall, and is hardy in zones 8b-11.

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Cwebe Asparagus Fern

Not a fern, really, despite its common name, Asparagus Fern  is a member of the lily family. Still, you can say this group of plants offers fernlike foliage, and there are few plants which can match their sturdiness. Asparagus densiflorus ‘Cwebe’ is a form that is vigorous and boasts tawny amber new growth, a perfect color for autumn. The arching stems spill 18″ or so, and plants will expand with age.

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Ming Fern

Ming Fern,  Asparagus macowanii, has a delicate Bamboo like presence. Starburst clusters of medium green fine foliage are borne on sturdy wiry stems.  Ming Fern can get tall if  you have a plant for some time, but it can easily be kept in a smaller pot where you can clip off any far reaching stems if they are not wanted.

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Plumosa Asparagus Fern

And there’s yet another Aspargus fern that is tres forgiving …Asparagus setaceus plumosa. Such  a valiant and durable little fern, it has become a mainstay in the cut floral trade…which means you can have a lovely cut green to add to your arrangements. This fern can get quite tall in its native habitat, but for those of us growing indoors in smaller pots, it usually grows 18-24″.

More plants which are good candidates indoors: Snake Plants, (Sansevieria) the Ivies,  (Hedera) and the aroid trailer Devil’s Ivy, (Epipremnum). These are all attractive, tolerate the low light requirement and are forgiving if you forget to water.

Which indoor plants would you recommend for good looks and ease of care?

 

September Report: Containers 2016

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a winner…the tall cylinder pot aged gracefully, don’t you think?

Here it is, the very end of September 2016, and at last we are finally getting the rain we’ve begged for all summer. Good thing, but I’ve been waiting for a cool crisp sunny day to capture images of the end of the summer containers, and with a prolonged rainy spell in the forecast I probably should not wait any longer. As you would guess after a summer bereft of rainfall, the containers planted with succulents and drought tolerant plants held up beautifully. In my July 1st post I posted the “before ” shots.  Now for the “after images”.  First are the top five, in my humble opinion, plus more of the before and after images shown side by side.

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The cast iron urn, with Beschorneria ‘Flamingo Glow’ and other succulents, grew in a spot with about 4 hours of midday sun.

Really really love the Agave substitute Beschorneria ‘Flamingo Glow’.

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The green drum pot, with Phormium ‘Evening Glow’ and more assorted succulents: x Graptoveria, Echeveria, Aeonium, Senecio, and more.

I’m suddenly realizing that areas which once in more sun are now getting more shade. Interesting to discover which succulents still do well.

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Out by the road, and under our sign, a spot with heat, and little attention. Succulents again rule.

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the Grecian Urn received only a few hours of early morning sun: Two types of Asparagu ferns, a silver leaved Sansevieria, Begonia ‘Concorde’ and Alternanthera

And now for the side by side transformation after 3 months….

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Cylinder Pot 6.29.16 and 9.29.16

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Iron urn 6.29.16 and 9.29.16

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Green Drum Pot 6.29.16 and 9.29.16

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Sign Pot 6.29.16 and 9.29.16

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Grecian Urn 6.29.16 and 9.29.16

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Hummer’s Pot 6.29.16 and 9.29.16

Planted with Hummingbird visitors in mind, the Phygelius bloomed tirelessly, but is now at its end. The Fuchsia gave up during the August heat, but the Abutilon ‘Kentish Bell’ picked up where the others left off.

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Splendor in the Grass Bowl 6.29.16 and 9.29.16

This grass combo in a big bowl with Chocolate Cosmos and Ornamental Oregano held on right through August, but the Cosmos needed consent deadheading, and the Heuchera became smothered by the Stipa and Carex.

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Winterberry Pot 6.29.16 and 9.29.16

This planter only gets a few hours of midday sun…but the combination of tall Sansevieria, Aeonium ‘Kiwi’, and Tradescantia ‘Pale Puma’ thrived. The small dark Aeonium Tip Top, melted, so I replaced it with a silver green Echeveria.

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Zen Bowl 6.29.16 and 9.29.16.

The Zen bowl gets only afternoon sun. Everything grew well, but we are still waiting patiently for the orange tassel blossoms of the Senecio ‘Blazing Glory’ to provide an end of the season show.

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Footed Trough 6.29.16 and 9.29.16

Hypertufa troughs are usually planted with alpines, but  they are also great containers for smaller succulents. On its own, this planter isn’t a superstar, but it worked very nicely as an accent on the ledge of Chris Tracey’s stone wall.

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Terra Cotta Planter 6.29.16 and 9.29.16

This 18″ planter does not look worse for wear after a lengthy drought. Again, succulents rule!

Was your summer as hot and dry as ours here in New England? What container plants held up best for you?

As summer ends…

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A+ rating for drought tolerance…Yucca ‘Color Guard’ with Jackman’s Blue Rue, Succulents, Sedums and dwarf conifers. Oh yes, and the amazing yet vicious Solanum quitoense.

Not sure if I am truly sorry to see the summer of 2016 end. There have been days that I’ve thought that an early frost would be a blessing as I dragged hoses about, trying to coax vibrancy into a garden getting more tarnished looking by the day. The forecast for rain never proved to be true, and the number of very hot days set a record. Still, the optimistic gardener within always wins out. Yesterday, I walked about the garden to see what plantings held their own despite the cursed weather. Here’s what I saw.

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The Oakleaf Hydrangea ‘Peewee’, with flowers aging to russet brown, but with fresh foliage, despite no irrigation.

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Crambe maritima (Sea Kale) thrived, and swallowed up the younger plants nearby.

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Agastache ‘Black Adder’, with nearby Amsonia hubrictii beginning to turn golden for fall.

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Deep rooted Lespedeza ‘Gibralter’ could have cared less about the drought.

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Little Eucomis ‘Dark Star’, petty in flower and in leaf, with nearby red Heuchera

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Succulents by the road fended for themselves admirably

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Fruit finally formed during  the 3rd week of August on the giant pumpkin. We’ll see…..

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Our overly ambitious cut flower garden….did I know I wouldn’t have extra time for fresh arrangements, ands  planted Celosia and Gomphrena which could also be cut and then dried?

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You are not seeing the mildewed foliage (intentionally), of the lovely Queen Red Lime Zinnia…

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The blush pink beauty of Dahlia ‘Cafe au Lait’

And so, as I prepare for fall, certainly all was not lost. The garden gave us butterflies and bees, and yes, beauty, in addition to many challenges.  I am game for next year…are you?

Summer Hardiness–which plants survive the heat?

Yucca 'Color Guard', Vernonia lettermanii and Crambe maritima have performed despite the heat and drought .

Yucca ‘Color Guard’, Vernonia lettermanii and Crambe maritima have performed despite the heat and drought .

Well, we know we’re not alone, but here in southern New England, we’ve had an exceptionally hot dry summer. The amount of precipitation in our area has varied due to isolated showers, but I would guess here at Avant Gardens we have totaled less than 1 inch during the past 75 days. Lack of rainfall plus high humidity, coupled with daily temperatures in the high 80s and 90‘s can have an effect on plants. (Many plants begin to suffer physiological damage when temperatures remain above 86F or 30C)

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This brings up the classification of plants rated for Summer Hardiness. The American Horticultural Society (AHS) has created a Summer Heat Zone map of the US.  Regions having less than 1 day with temperatures above 86F (30C)  are classified as zone 1, and on the other end of the spectrum, the areas having the most days with high temperatures are classified as zone 12. This may correlate with the familiar USDA Winter Hardiness Zone Map (which rates average lowest temperatures) but in some cases it does not. Folks in the southern US have learned that Summer Heat Zone Hardiness is definitely a criteria when selecting plants. The above map will need regular adjustments now that global warming is causing extreme temperatures worldwide, and northern gardeners will have to pay heed to which plants will survive/perform with higher summer temperatures.

We’ll be ruling out more plants that do well in our gardens in the future, I’m afraid, as climate change continues to affect what we can and cannot happily grow.

Have you come to the conclusion that some plants, which once thrived in your gardens,  no longer will? Which plants have you found best withstand our ever warmer drier summers?