Tag Archives: low maintenance perennials

Kalimeris incisa ‘Blue Star’

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Kalimeris incisa ‘Blue Star’ at Avant Gardens

As much as I am wowed by voluptuous blossoms, I like to champion the strong garden performers which have quieter charm. One whose charm seldom disappoints is an Asian Aster relative called Kalimeris incise ‘Blue Star’. This little number grows 15-18″ tall and 18-24″ wide, and begins its production of 1 1/2″ lavender blue daisies in June, carrying on into autumn (I kid you not.) ‘Blue Star’ forms tidy clumps; it does not run, unlike some of the other Aster relatives that we have tried such as Asteromoea and Aster ageratoides.  Use Kalimeris incisa ‘Blue Star’ in the front of the border, paired with other favorites, such as Calamintha nepeta sp nepeta, Persicaria amplexicaulis ‘Firetails’ and Hydrangea paniculata ‘Little Lime’ for an easy  long blooming ensemble.

Grow ‘Blue Star’ in full sun in a soil that has good drainage, and it doesn’t hurt to thank this star performer with a liquid fish emulsion fertilizer a few times during summer.  It is hardy in zones 5-8.

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Calamintha nepeta ssp. nepeta

Calamintha nepeta ssp. nepeta

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.

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In Praise of Baptisia

Baptisia ‘Twilight’ adding height in the background, with Allium and Euphorbia

I often like to tempt you with plants which I suspect you may be unfamiliar with, but a walk about the garden convinced me to laud praise on our garden stalwarts. In particular I’d like to reacquaint you with my old perennial favorite, Baptisia, and its recent reincarnations.

Baptisia, commonly known as False Indigo or False Lupine, was one of the perennials we planted in our first garden 25 years ago, and that same B. australis, introduced as a young seedling, still surges forth each spring with vigor and good looks.  Baptisia is not a only long lived plant, it is also one of the first perennials which add height to the late spring border, shooting up to and eventually forming clumps of 3? or more. The early size factor adds greatly to it?s value. The flowers are displayed on showy spires and resemble lupines. It is a great compliment to the other late spring stars: Peonies, Iris, Euphorbia and late bulbs like Allium.

The most common species you’ll encounter is B. australis, with typically violet blue flowers and a height of 3-4′ and equal width. Other species you may commonly encounter include B. alba, (with white flowers) and B. sphaerocarpa (yellow), and to some extent B. bracteata. In recent years hybrids have been made crossing the species, alternating host and pollen plants. Ron Gardner introduced ‘Carolina Moonlight’ after  successfully crossing B. alba and B. sphaerocarpa in 2002.  Jim Ault of the Chicago Garden has developed a number of great cultivars by crossing B. australis and sphaerocarpa resulting in named forms B. ‘Solar Flare’, ‘Twilight, and Midnight Prairie Blues’. Hans Hansen has developed more crosses are becoming available such as ‘Lemon Meringue’and ‘Dutch Chocolate’.

Baptisia ‘Midnight Prairie Blues’

Baptisia ‘Solar Flare’

A form we grow in our gardens which always draws comment for it’s compact habit is Baptisia australis var minor. It forms a low 2”mound of dense blue green foliage with typical large blue violet flowers, but long after the flowers fade, B. australis var minor  shows off with its tidy appearance . Another excellent but slow growing form is a selection made by Brian Megowan of the legendary Blue Meadow Farm: B. ‘Esther’, with her white flowers born on dusky slate stems. We’re rooting stem cuttings of her now, in hopes of having young plants for sale next spring.

Baptisia australis var minor

Baptisia ‘Esther’

Some things to note. Baptisia are prairie plants and like a sunny well drained soil. Baptisia australis is the hardiest of the group, tolerating cold zone 3 winters. Baptisia alba and sphaerocarpa are hardy through zone 5. The hybrids seem to fall right in the middle with hardiness tolerance of zones 4-9. Baptisia species can be grown from seed, but her clones are vegetatively propagated. Baptisia develop deep tap roots, so division isn’t easy, although it can be done, but expect some die back and a slow recovery.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Epimedium Love

Epimedium ‘Purple Pixie’

Fairy Wings, Bishop’s Cap, Barrenwort, Horny Goatweed; all delightful common names which are applied to the genus Epimedium (well maybe not Barrenwort and Horny Goatweed).   Barrenwort refers to the medicinal properties of Epimedium, reportedly used to suppress pregnancy. I bet you can guess what Horny Goatweed will do for you.  Bishop’s Cap, (referring to the long spurred forms, perhaps?) reminds one of headgear worn by certain religious leaders. My vote for best common name is Fairy Wings. The magical looking blossoms conjure up images of fairy tale flowers carpeting the forest floor. I’ve noticed when children visit our nursery and gardens, they pause as they pass by our Epimedium collection. “What are these?” they ask.  The curiosity factor kicks in: here are plants which do not offer the more familiar flower shapes of daisies, saucers or spikes.

Botanically speaking, Epimedium are members of the barberry family, Berberidaceae, (no, they do not have prickers, but there is a similarity when you observe  the flowers).  There are Epimedium species native to eastern Europe and northern Africa as well as Japan, but the most species are found in China.

The basic Epimedium flower structure is composed of 4 outer sepals, 4 inner sepals (sometimes in the form of spurs) and 4 petals (the “cup” part) inside which you will find the stamens. Of course there are variations, depending on the species or crosses of these species of this large genus.  Some selections have very short outer sepals, some have extra long inner sepals, and vice versa.  Some forms have double sepals. Some forms have sprays of dozens of small flowers per stem, while others boast larger blossoms in both large numbers and small. The more you explore this genus the more subtle or extreme variations you will discover. Over the past 30 years numerous new selections have been hybridized and introduced by Darrel Probst of MA and Robin White of the UK, and we are indebted to both for making more of these great plants available.

Epimedium are easy to grow, but although they are often mentioned as a groundcover they do not spread that rapidly. They prefer a rich humus soil with partial shade, where they will grow most luxuriantly.  That being said, Epimedium are quite adaptable and will perform well in dry conditions in deeper shade, making them useful subjects under trees and shrubs. Most Epimedium like a neutral to slightly alkaline pH, but I’ve been told that the grandiflorum selections prefer slightly acidic soil conditions.  The foliage of Epimedium, besides being deer proof,  is always attractive and offers interesting variations of size and coloring: small, elongated, mottled, banded, serrated and more.  Some species are evergreen in milder climates, but  the hardiest forms are usually deciduous. In either case, it is best to cut back last year’s foliage in early spring, before new growth and flowering shoots emerge, so last year’s blemished leaves do not mar the display. Blooming period, depending on what zone you live in, begins as early as March and continues well into May. Plant height varies depending on which cultivar you are growing, but most form low clumps suitable for the front of the border. Epimedium make excellent companions to spring blooming bulbs and perennials, such as woodland Phlox, hellebores and ferns, There are forms of Epimedium which are hardy into zone 3, but most selections fall into the hardiness ranges of zones 5-8.

Here are a few selections we are enchanted by. Perhaps you will fall in love with them too.

Epimedium ‘Cranberry Splash’

Epimedium ‘Bandit’

Epimedium ‘Domino’, A Darrel Probst selection

Epimedium ‘Pink Elf’, a Robin White selection

Epimedium warleyense

Epimedium x ‘Amber Queen’

Epimedium ‘Pink Champagne’

 We have limited amounts these selections from time to time. If out o stock, click to be notified when they are available next. We acquired many of our selections from Garden Vision, a nursery specializing in Epimedium, begun by Darrell Probst and Karen Perkins. Garden Vision has a new web page . Karen can be contacted at karen@epimediums.com for the current list.

Dryopteris erythrosora ‘Brilliance’

Autumn Fern with Epimedium and Heuchera ‘Caramel’ in early spring

Designing a garden that still looks good in the fall requires using a palette of plants whose foliage remains clean and attractive throughout the summer.  Autumn Fern, or Dryopteris erythrosora  ‘Brilliance’is on the top of our list for its durable good looks and easy care.  It begins unfurling for the season in late April here in New England, with coppery pink fronds, which we could also associate with autumn tones. These fronds age to green, but new ones are continually produced all season to create a dual toned effect right into fall. When autumn temperatures prevail, the older green fronds take on warm russet shades.

Dryopteris erythrosora 'Brilliance'

Dryopteris erythrosora ‘Brilliance’  prefers to grow in evenly moist slightly acidic soil that is well drained, although we?ve found it to be forgiving of dryer situations.  It can be grown in a spot that receives a half day of sun as well as a locale that is quite shady.  Height is usually in the 18-24? range, but it could possibly grow taller when grown in super rich, damp soil. Autumn Fern will remain evergreen in most winters, but by late winter snow loads may have collapsed the foliage to an unattractive mat. Once spring warmth returns, remove those old leaves to allow the fresh new growth to emerge.  Dryopteris erythrosora ‘Brilliance’ can be grown in zones 3-8, which includes much of the continental United Sates.

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Vernonia lettermanii

Here’s a plant that you should consider for long season interest. Sturdy 2′ stems are clothed with delicate fine needled foliage, reminiscent of Amsonia hubrictii, gradually forming stands 2-3′ across. Vernonia lettermanii remains attractive all summer, and in early September, clusters of purple aster blossoms top the stems, inviting myriads of monarch butterflies.  Picture this little gem planted with Sedum ‘Maestro’, Anemone ‘Honorine Jobert’  and Calamintha nepetoides and you will no doubt pleased by this end of the summer vignette.

Just about all of us can grow Vernonia lettermannii . Native to the Ozarks and found  in rocky flood plains, this compact species of Ironweed is very tolerant of hot dry locations, yet can withstand brief periods of flooding. This means it is quite adaptable to soil types. It can be grown in gardens ranging from zones 4-9, adding one more plant to cold climate palettes.

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Amsonia hubrictii

Amsonia hubrictiiUndemanding and lovely, Narrow Leaf Bluestar begins to charm in late spring, bearing clusters of light blue star shaped flowers at the tips of it sturdy 3′ stems. The foliage which cloaks the stems of this species is delicately narrow, adding a soft texture to the mixed border all summer long. However, it is in October that we think it becomes most dramatic. Amsonia hubrictii shimmers in the garden as its foliage takes on glowing tones of amber gold.

Grow Amsonia in a sunny or partially shaded location, although fall color is most spectacular when sited in full sun. It is quite adaptable to soil types, tolerating both moist and dry conditions, and is deer resistant. Plants form herbaceous shrubs 3′ tall and 3′ wide, and are hardy in zones 5-9.

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Paeonia ‘Bartzella’

We seldom use the phrase “to die for” (such a price!) but this is an apt descriptive phrase for the gorgeous Paeonia ‘Bartzella’. It is one of the Intersectional or Itoh hybrids, named for the hybridizer Toichi Itoh who was the first to create crosses of tree peonies with herbaceous ones. The resulting plants are herbaceous, but with foliage and flower forms characteristic of tree peonies. They command a pretty price because supplies are limited.

‘Bartzella’ boasts large (to 9″) semi double to double warm yellow blossoms with just a hint of red at the base of some of the petals in late spring. The blossoms emit a spicy scent and are borne on sturdy stems that do their best to support such humungous bounty. The foliage remarkably remains fresh and clean all summer. Eventual height and spread should be about 3′. Plants appreciate a well drained neutral soil in full sun or partial shade (some shade is preferable in warmer climates). Care should be taken when planting the roots that the eyes should face upwards and not more than an inch below the soil surface (including mulch). Plants may take a year to bloom, but we were ecstatic when we were blessed with at least a half dozen blossoms the first year after planting. Hardiness range is zones 4-7.

Peonies are available barefoot in mid autumn, and grown in containers at better nurseries for year round sale.

Symphyotrichum laeve ‘Bluebird’

We’re being BC here (botanically correct). Formerly known as Aster laevis ‘Bluebird’ and commonly referred to as Smooth Aster, this native fall bloomer should be in everyone’s garden. It has remarkable attributes. The show begins early-mid September here in New England, when ‘Bluebird’provides a wealth of 1″ blue flowers on branched, quite sturdy 3-4′ stems. ‘Bluebird’ is not cursed with “ugly legs syndrome”  that afflicts New England and New York Asters selections (mildewed and brown foliage). Flowering continues happily into October.

Symphyotrichum laeve ‘Bluebird’ is hardy in zones 4-9, and is not at all fussy about soil, taking even quite dry conditions. Plant in a spot where he will receive at least a half day of sunshine, which is necessary for a colorful display. An attractive combination would match ‘Bluebird’ with tall white Boltonia , Sedum ‘Maestro’ and Ornamental Grasses.  Besides being attractive to bees, ‘Bluebird‘is a draw for migrating Monarchs on their journey south for the winter. Be aware that if you don’t deadhead after flowering you may be the beneficiary of numerous seedlings around your garden.

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Aster ageratoides ‘Ezo Murasaki’

Little has been written about this lovely late summer/fall blooming Asian Aster. It came into our possession last November, via US Mail, swaddled in newspaper and still covered with blossoms. The return address cited Margie Mott as the sender, an old friend and plant huntress who scours every nursery and garden center on the eastern seaboard. She had lost the plant’s name tag but thought she had acquired it from Asiatica Nursery, which, you may have heard, sadly closed their doors this season.

Well, we made some divisions and took lots of cuttings, which quickly formed husky plants, and by late July this handsome Aster was already blooming away. It is exhibiting a very long season of bloom and we hope it will continue to be colorful into November. The ¾” composite flowers have violet petals surrounding golden disks and are displayed on branched 2′ stems. We’e noticed this Aster develops runners, much like Asteromoea and Kalimeris, and expect it will form a thick stand in upcoming years. Use ‘Ezo’ as a handsome skirt in front of fruit laden Viburnum or as a companion plant to fall blooming Sedums and ornamental grasses.  Like most asters, it will perform best in lots of sunshine and we expect it to be hardy in zone 4.

UPDATE 2015: This Aster has not been reclassified as Kalimeris

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