Category Archives: Summer Color

summer interest inthe garden

Fern Crazy

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A stand of hay scented fern, Dennstaetdtia punctilobula

Talk about being survivors…ferns are one of the oldest group of plants on the planet, dating back 3 million years. Despite their adaptive capabilities, they are still one of the most overlooked perennials. Alas, gardeners are easily distracted by blossoms, small or huge, subtle or bold, and forget about the steadfast display of handsome foliage.

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the lovely Maidenhair Fern, Adiantum pedatum

Consider these reasons why you should make room for more ferns . 1. They are the ultimate foliage plant. 2. Ferns are plants that don’t mind benign neglect. 3. They look gorgeous unfurling with new growth in early spring and provide a refreshing, deer resistant oasis in the shade all summer long. 4. Some ferns turn colors of bronze or gold in the fall before they are knocked down by frost while others provide a persistent green though the winter. 5. There are ferns for various soil conditions… yes, some tolerate drier soils although most appreciate some amount of moisture. Learn which ones will thrive in your soil conditions and you’ll have few problems.

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Ferns 101. Some basic fern terminology. When reading descriptions you may get confused by the botanical terms, so here are the basics:

Ferns erupt as fiddleheads or croziers from rhizomes, which is the name given to the fleshy underground stem.  Foliage either ascends from the rhizome (Dryopteris, Polystichum ) or creeps from this underground stem (Adiantum, Dennstaedtia).

The frond refers to the entire leaf structure including the stipe (the leaf stalk or petiole which rises from the rhizome)  and the blade which includes the pinna (leaflets) that are patterned along on either sides the rachis (upper stem ). Each pinna has its own rachis. Some of the pinna are very simple (undivided) and some are divided in multiple segments or pinnules.

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Athyrium x ‘Ghost’

The most commonly cultivated ferns are in the genera Adiantum, Athyrium, Dryopteris and Polystichum. A stand of Maidenhair fern, Adiantum pedatum when provided with a moisture retentive soil is a vision to behold all summer. Its delicate green leaflets are set off by almost black stems. I am trying it in a shady container this season.

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A fancy selection of Japanese panted fErn, Athyrium niponicum pictum ‘Applecourt’

Athyrium is a huge genus with over 180 species and hybrids, including the cultivar ‘Applecourt’, pictured above.  Many are familiar with the Japanese Painted Fern, Athyrium niponicum pictum. Although it can be forgiving of drier soil, an even source of moisture  will provide a steady supply of new fronds all summer providing a more luxurious show. The selection ‘Regal Red’ has an especially striking red color contrast, ‘Pearly White’ adds a silver glow to the shade garden, and ‘Godzilla’, a new hybrid, is reported to reach epic proportions, growing to 3’ tall and up to 6’ across in the right conditions.

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This is the first year we are growing Athyrium otophorum, aka Eared Lady Fern, and I am delighted with how well it is doing. A continuous succession of lime green fronds with contrasting burgundy stipes have added a freshness to the garden, and she looks great near golden leaved plants. I would be neglectful not to mention the hybrid Athyrium ‘Ghost’ (a cross between lady fern, A. flelix-femina and painted fern A. niponicum pictum). This fern is a true garden survivor, standing 2’ tall and holding its own next to a vigorous Hosta ‘Komodo Dragon’ .

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Dixie Wood Fern, Dryopteris x australis

Dryopteris, or Wood Fern, generally enjoys a moist rich soil, but I have grown D. erythrosora (Autumn Fern) in average to dry conditions and it hasn’t disappointed. D. erythrosora ‘Brilliance’ provides a bronzy copper color with its new emerging foliage.  D. x australis aka Dixie Wood Fern can grow to an impressive 4-5’ tall but needs consistent moisture to achieve that stature. Dryopteris tokyoensis, another fern that is very easy to keep happy, produces erect fronds 2-3’ , forming a lovely vase shape.

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Japanese Tassel Fern, Polystichum polyblepharum

Many species in the genus Polystichum have leathery leaves and tend to be evergreen. P. acrostichoides, commonly called Christmas Fern sends forth 1-2’ arching forest green fronds from multiple crowns. Another unfussy fern, tolerating dryish soil although it would love to unfurl in rich moist loam is P. polyblepherum  aka Japanese Tassel Fern. It boasts lustrous dark green 1-2’ arching evergreen fronds. Korean Rock Fern, P. tsus-simense is a diminutive semi-evergreen species for rocky crevices, and it tolerates drier soil that has been amended with rich humus.

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Don’t have any room for ferns in your shade bed? Why not try them in shady planters? Last year’s hit was Autumn Fern with Heuchera and Black Mondo Grass. Above is a just planted shot of a cast stone urn with Maidenhair Fern, Begonia grandis and silvery Sansevieria and Dichondra, as seen above.

If you are interested to discover more, let me direct you to a few resources: The American Fern Society, as well as my bible for ferns, John Mickel’s Ferns for American Gardens .  A handy pocket guide for casual identifying is the Peterson Field Guide: Ferns. 

Here is our current fern listing. Have any suggestions on special ferns to try?

Task: Deer Resistant July Color

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Persicaria amplexicaulis ‘Golden Arrow, with Eucomis ‘Oakhurst’ in the background

I’m working on a garden plan for a client’s summer cottage, and she wants the peak color period to happen during July.  She needs a no fuss garden that is deer resistant. The beds are in full sun as well as in morning sun /afternoon shade. There was one one request: no day lilies (plus the deer love them!).  Works for me, and since it happens to be mid July as I take on this project, a walk about the garden gives me plenty of plant subjects to consider.  Interestingly,  many of these plants have become garden favorites, as I have already done individual plant portraits of many in this blog ( links provided).

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Kalimeris incisa ‘Blue Star’

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Allium ‘Millenium’

First there is the understated but charming Kalimeris integrifolia ‘Blue Star’.  From late June through August, starry light blue daisies atop 2′ plants welcome butterflies and bees.  Nearby Calamintha nepeta is beginning to be abuzz with pollinators, its delicate small white tinted blue lipped blossoms  begin in July and carry on into fall. Allium ‘Millennium’ is beginning to delight with lavender purple orbs on 15″ stems. Acanthus hungaricus which took a few years to establish but is thriving in well drained sunny spots for us, adds a commanding presence.  Persicaria amplexicaulis ‘Golden Arrow’ which seems to have happier looking foliage when it gets some mid day shade, is aglow with lemon lime colored leaves and ruby pink spires.

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Acanthus hungaricus

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Aralia cordata ‘Sun King’

Grown for striking purple foliage as much as for it’s handsome pineapple lilies is Eucomis ‘Oakhurst‘. Then there is  Leucosceptrum japonicum ‘Golden Angel’  which has formed a handsome 3′ x 3′ specimen…..it’s citrus yellow foliage is brightening up a partially shaded spot. It won’t bloom until early fall, but I really appreciate this plant more for its foliage than its flowers. Also in our beds which receive both sun and shade is the amazing Aralia ‘Sun King’, with its bold yellow foliage. Later in the season it gets white “sputnik-like”  flowers followed by black seed heads.

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Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Snowflake’

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Stewartia pseudocamellia

Summer blooming shrubs play an important role in the easy care garden, and the first plants I consider are Hydrangeas. Now in our zone 6A garden, surprise freezes torment us in mid spring, and we often discover that  H. macrophylla hybrids’ buds get whacked by the cold. Oak leaf Hydrangea forms have been much more reliable, and we love the double flowered Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Snowflake as a backdrop plant in our shadier beds.  Of course the magnificent Stewartia pseudocamellia var koreana was in glorious bloom for the 4th of July but there is still a succession of flower buds as we now enter the 3rd week of the month.

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Clethra barbinervis

One very special plant that few people seem to be growing is the Japanese Clethra, C. barbinervis. This species forms a large shrub, or can be pruned to 1 or several leaders to form a small tree. Panicles of white fragrant flowers are born during July and August. Fall color varies with shades of yellow and orange. A nice surprise is the exfoliating bark which is best appreciated when plants are grown with a tree like form.

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Salvia guaranitica ‘Argentine Skies’

Of course there are the annuals and tender perennials that really begin to show off now that warm days are here to stay. I couldn’t be without Salvia guaranitica in its various forms: ‘Black and Blue’,  purple flowering ‘Amistad’ , ‘Argentine Skies’ and a species form that we acquired years ago as ‘Kobalt’. In fact both ‘Kobalt’ and ‘Argentine Skies’ have been wintering over for us in well drained soil here in our zone 6 garden.

What are your top 5 deer resistant plants for the July garden?

Uncommon Pollinator Plants

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

ascspeCU500Asclepias speciosa

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.

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Parthenium integrifolium

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.

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Pycnanthemum muticum

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.

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Silphium perfoliatum

“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.

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Stokesia laevis

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.

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Aster ptarmicoides (formerly Solidago ptarmicoides, and NOW to be botanically correct: Oligoneuron album)

Formerly White Upland Aster or White Goldenrod depending who you askedbut 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.

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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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Eucomis comosa ‘Oakhurst’, Hardy Pineapple Lily

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 Meadow Rues

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.

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Thalictrum ‘Splendide’

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.

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Thalictrum ‘Splendide ‘White’

Thalictrum ‘Splendide Whiteis 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.

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Thalcitrum delavayi ”Hewitt’s Double’

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.

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Thalictrum rochebrunanium

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.

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Allium ‘Millenium’

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Allium ‘Millenium’ in the early morning light.

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.

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The August Pause

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Yucca ‘Color Guard, with Crambe maritima foliage and aging Acanthus hungaricus

Gladiolus 'Ruby'

Gladiolus ‘Ruby’

hardy for us in zone 6A….Eucomis 'Oakhurst'

hardy for us in zone 6A….Eucomis ‘Oakhurst’

As July ends, and August begins, I always feel as if the perennial garden is pausing, waiting for a turn in the weather (less heat and more rain). Still, there are little gems and surprises, like the just beginning to bloom hardy Gladiolus ‘Ruby’, and (surprise!) the truly hardy pineapple lily, Eucomis ‘Oakhurst’. I can attest that all 3 Eucomis planted in the garden last year survived last winter’s extremes, although not a one broke ground until early June.

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Glaucium flavum…loving the dry gravelly spot where we planted it.

Allium 'Millenium' to the right, with 'All Summer Beauty' behind it.

Allium ‘Millenium’ to the right, with ‘All Summer Beauty’ behind it.

Wishing we had planted more Glaucium flavum (Horned Poppy). This apricot yellow form, planted in a well drained soil near our garage, has proven reliably perennial for 3 years now, and looks fresh in the early August heat.

“Must have” summer blooming Allium selections ‘Millennium’ and ‘All Summer Beauty‘ don’t mind the heat and are resistant to garden pests. These clump forming plants are great accents for the front of the border. Notice the difference in color: Allium ‘Millennium’ is  in the foreground, with the paler ‘All Summer Beauty’ in the near distance.

We planted Aralia cordata ‘Sun King’ last year in this new bed, and now in his second season he is getting some oomph. He should provide us with blooms later this month or in September, perhaps , and give more height and contrast to the green Hakonechloa macra.

Aralia 'Sun King' with the all green Japanese Forest Grass.

Aralia ‘Sun King’ with the all green Japanese Forest Grass.

The Begonia theater

The Begonia Theater

As for potted plants, we decided to show off our Begonia collection which is thoroughly enjoying the heat and humidity. Stewartia ‘Ballet’ , in the background, has finished blooming, so we staged a scene for more interest in this shady nook.

Despite the humidity, most of our succulents are doing quite well, thank you. Our stock plants looked so happy we staged them just outside the greenhouse on a long bench,and I’d say they are  putting on a flower show of their own.

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The Succulent Theater

What special plants are showing off in your mid summer garden? If you want to share images with us and our friends, why not post them on our Facebook page?

 

 

 

 

3 Unique Hydrangea

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Hydrangea serrata ‘Kiyosumi’

More subtle and nuanced than the big mop heads, the species H. serrata hails from the higher elevations of Japan and Korea and is considered more reliably cold hardy than most H. macrophylla. What caught my eye about this particular selection H. ‘Kiyosumi’ , even before the blossoms developed, was the attractive brick red tint to the new foliage. The 4-6″ lace caps are composed of tiny rose tinted fertile flowers, accented with a skirt of larger florets colored white to pale pink with a rim of brick red. This compact selection grows 4′ x 4′, and is hardy to -10F without stem dieback. H. serrata ‘Kiyosumi’ does bloom on old wood, and I can vouch that it survived the winter of 2014-15 quite admirably.

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Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Snowflake’

An old favorite for the shade garden is the double form of Oakleaf Hydrangea, H. ‘Snowflake’. The bold oak leaf shaped foliage is handsome all season, but in early summer it bears long (10-15″) panicles of exquisite double white to celadon green florets which age beautiful to shades of pale green and rusty rose. It’s grace and beauty never ceases to draw compliments.

Like all H. quercifolia, ‘Snowflake’ blooms on old wood, so care should be taken when pruning so you are not sacrificing too many potential blossoms. H. quercifolia ‘Snowflake’ grows 7-8′ tall and wide, but the weight of the blossoms gives it an arching habit. Although this particular form can be grown in full sun if it has evenly moist soil, it has always been happier in our  cooler, shady border. It is hardy in zones 5-8.

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Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Zebra’

I was recently alerted about the new Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Zebra’ from my gardening friend Barbara Smith, who suggested it as a great Hydrangea for cut flowers. (Didn’t need much convincing; I bought 3). This new patented selection is a sport of the all white cultivar H. ‘Schneeball’ (German for Snowball) and is distinguished not only for its 3.5-5″ trusses but for its very dark green foliage and almost black stems. I hear the flowers age to a wonderful pale green. Plants form compact shrubs 3-4′ tall and wide.  I suspect that this form will only bloom on old wood, so I am trialing one in a protected area and the others in a more open spot in the garden. The literature says it is hardy to zone 5, but we’ll see if that means bud hardy, won’t we?

Digiplexis x ‘Illumination Flame’

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Sometimes amazing things happen when you cross similar plants from different regions: Digitalis (European Foxglove) and Isoplexis (Canary Island Foxglove. The result: beautiful perpetual blooming 3′ spires of tubular flowers, which are colored sunset coral in bud and then open, exposing yellow throats with hints of apple green. This particular selection, ‘Flame’, is the first of the Illumination series introduced by Charles Valin which won the prestigious award of Best in Show at the Chelsea Flower Show in 2012.

Last year we grew Digiplexis ‘Flame’ in a large pot. It began to bloom in early June and carried on for months, well into September. The blossoms are sterile, which tricks the plants to be constantly in flower.  We brought the container into the cool greenhouse to winter over and it’s back up and about to start the show all over again. This year we’ve also planted it in our garden beds for the constant color it provides. We envision it as the vertical complement to Dahlias and Summer Phlox in a sunny, enriched , well drained border which gets an average amount of irrigation. I can attest that the hummingbirds were regular visitors, as were bees and butterflies, and I suspect it is deer resistant as well.

Because Digiplexis inherited its hardiness genes from its Canary Island parent, it will only winter over outdoors in zones 8-10, (although one of our customers bragged to me the other day that hers wintered over outdoors in a protected spot in zone 7).  Dig  up the roots after the first frost, as you would a Dahlia and store in a cool spot that stays above freezing for the winter. Gardeners in warmer winter climates don’t have to worry about this, and I can only imagine the display in their garden year after year!

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