Tag Archives: spring color

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.

Viburnum dilatatum ‘Michael Dodge’

Viburnum dilatatum ‘Michael Dodge’

Meet ‘Michael Dodge‘, a golden berried hybrid of Linden Viburnum. He is a cheerful fellow,  who shows off in late spring with a bevy of white lacey flowers and then later develops clusters of showy yellow fruit, which is a sight in our garden right now. The birds are leaving the fruit alone, but that is fine with me because the fruit bearing stems are perfect additions to autumn floral arrangements.

I received a nice note from the plant’s breeder, Mr. Michael Dodge himself.  He informed me that he made a deliberate cross between V. dilatatum and V. d. Xanthocarpum in hopes of getting a larger fruited yellow form in his days working at Wintherthur in Delaware. Mr. Dodge left Winterthur not long after, but was notified that there were some very nice clones from the seedlings he planted. Harold Bruce, the garden curator at that time, named the best yellow fruited clone after him.

Viburnun dilatatum is of Asian ancestry and although it looks perfectly at home in a naturalistic border, it is not as favored by birds and wildlife (plant V. dentatum and other native viburnum species). What it does do is provide dramatic color in the  autumn landscape.  Something you should note is that in order for a good berry set you need another cultivar of V. dilatatum nearby. This may sound confusing, so I should clarify. You should plant a different clone for good cross pollination, and Mr Dodge specifically recommends Viburnum dilatatum ‘Cardinal Candy, who will put on a show of its own with bright red fruit.

Viburnum dilatatum ‘Michael Dodge will grow 8-10′ tall and wide. He is not fussy about soil, but will certainly appreciate a fertile loam and grows best in full sun or partial shade. ‘Michael Dodge  is hardy through zone 5.

Intersectional Hybrid Peonies

Paeonia ‘First Arrival’

Who isn’t impressed by the voluptuous blossoms of tree peonies, but daunted by their reputation for fussiness and stingy bloom? Well, plant breeders have been at work in recent decades, crossing the common herbaceous pony with Paeonia suffruiticosa, and in doing so have produced plants that have the best characteristics of both. These new hybrid offer the exquisite paper tissue blossoms of tree peonies, with their handsome but yet disease resistant foliage, and the reliability of herbaceous peonies, which means they die back to the earth to resurface in early spring. What’s more the stems are quite sturdy, sustaining and displaying the showy blossoms without the need for staking.

Paeonia ‘Singing In The Rain’

Intersectional hybrids like to be planted in a rich well drained neutral soil with at least 6 hours of sunlight. If you order plants bare root, you may be confused, as the eyes appear on both the root crowns like a herbaceous peony and along the “dead” stalks, as they would on a tree form. Plant the crown as you would a herbaceous peony, with the eyes just an inch below the soil surface. The eyes or buds along the should stay above ground, and will break the following spring. Once these hybrids are established they will produce a bevy of blossoms for cutting.

PaeoniaBartzella500

Paeonia ‘Bartzella’

We were especially impressed at how well the cultivar ‘Bartzella’s foliage looked all summer, changing into burgundy and red tones in the fall. All cultivars grow well in zones 4-9. Only a few years ago, you couldn’t purchase these beauties for less than a hundred dollars for a small section of root, but with tissue culture and vigorous propagating, plants have become more widely available and the prices are beginning to drop. Plant bare roots in fall, or purchase potted specimens at nurseries during the growing season.

Paeonia ‘Julia Rose’

Euphorbia ‘Ascot Rainbow’

Euphorbia 'Ascot Rainbow'Those of us in northern climates are suspicious when we’re told showy evergreen Euphorbia are hardy for us (zone 6), with good reason. Arctic winds and lack of snow cover often dessicate the foliage and those the early blooms. Well we’ve had mixed results with the fabulous Euphorbia ‘Ascot Rainbow’, and what we’ve learned is it’s all about siting. That being said, we’d grow this plant regardless of winter hardiness because it looks good for the entire growing season, from early spring into December.

Euphorbia ‘Ascot Rainbow’ is a selection of E. x martinii. It boasts beautiful gold and green variegated foliage tinged with coral red, especially on the new growth and when temps are cooler. Multiple red stemmed branches form 18-24″ mounds. Euphorbia ‘Ascot Rainbow’ blooms on new and old growth, with adorable variegated bracts exposing tiny red flowers. I’ll say this again, this plant looks fabulous the entire growing season here in New England, and because of this it is equally as wonderful in containers as it is in open ground.

Now in regards to siting: we used Ascot Rainbow in container plantings at an urban restaurant, where they looked so fabulous at the end of the winter  that we left them in for the spring display. Really! In this protected spot, surrounded by buildings radiating heat, the Euphorbs were quite happy. In open ground we’ve had mixed results. In a raised bed with good drainage the plants came through, although we had to cut back the sad looking evergreen foliage after the winter. Snow covered much of the ground during the winter of 2010 and 2012  and our plantings came through unscathed. The recommendation: good drainage, protection from wind,  in sun or partial shade.

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Corydalis solida

If you don’t already grow this little spring ephemeral, you absolutely should! It is easy, undemanding and disappears into summer dormancy quite quickly. It’s super hardy in zones 3-9.

Corydalis solida, commonly called Fumewort, appears and begins to bloom in early spring, with 6-9″ stems bearing numerous tubular typically lavender flowers. The soft gray green lacy foliage compliments the flowers nicely. C. solida grows well in sun or partial shade in well drained soil and multiplies quite quickly form bulb offsets and self sowing. It is easy enough to lift and move the small bulbs which lie just below the soil surface, should the progeny come up where you don?t need them. And, I repeat, the foliage fades and dies back before you know it, so that the succession of plants that follow soon after are not being affected.

There are several choice cultivars of C. solida available from reputable bulb merchants. We have C. solida ‘George Baker’, a pinky red form in one of our beds, but he has not reproduced much at all.

Spirea thunbergii ‘Ogon’

Spirea thunbergii ‘Ogon’, in fall

Had to include this plant portrait now because this baby’s fall color is on fire! We had wanted to portray Spirea thunbergii ‘Ogon (a.k.a ‘Mellow Yellow’) in a blog post last spring, but there are always so many plants vying for our attention at that time of year. Not that this Spirea doesn’t. As a matter of fact, it is one plant we never tire of, and include it in many of our landscape installation projects.

Unlike most Spirea, this species has narrow willow like foliage that emerges a bright lemon yellow in early mid spring. White flowers adorn the arching branches just prior, and as the leaves unfurl. Although they are sweet enough, they aren’t why you should grow this shrub. Grow this Spirea for the texture and color the foliage provides year round, and which as you can see here, is an especially grand finale of volatile color in November.

Spirea thunbergii ‘Ogon’ is hardy to minus 20F (zone 5), and grows quickly to a height and width of 4-5′. It’s very happy in full sun, but grows well in partial shade, and seems to withstand poor dry soil conditions without hindering its performance. Like all Spirea it can be cut back hard in the spring if you choose to keep it shorter, but you’ll sacrifice the flowers. We could go on and on about which plants to use in combination with ‘Ogon’, but the list is practically endless. May we suggest Acanthus spinosus, Fothergilla ‘Blue Shadow’, Japanese maples of any form, Geranium ‘Rozanne’.…..(we could go on and on).

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Fothergilla x ‘Blue Shadow’

With Halloween just weeks away, it’s fitting that we take a look at a very colorful Witch Alder. The Witch Alders, as you may guess, are closely related to Witch Hazels, and are native to the southeastern US.  They are multi season plants, with honey scented white bottle brush flowers emerging in early spring (just before and as the plants leaf out), plus attractive form and outstanding fall color. One we are pleased to be growing is Fothergilla x ‘Blue Shadow’ notable for the lovely glaucous blue foliage it displays all summer.

Fothergilla x ‘Blue Shadow’ was discovered by Gary Handy of Boring OR, when he noticed this very blue leaved sport on another fine cultivar, Fothergilla ‘Mt Airy’. It’s a vigorous but compact grower, with an upright habit at first, then becoming thicker with age, and finally achieving 5-6′ in height and width. ‘Blue Shadow’ grows well in full sun or partial shade, prefers a reasonably moist but well drained slightly acidic soil, and is quite hardy in zones 4-8. It can be used as a focal point, or planted en masse at the edge of a woodland. So many plants would make great companions. For spring interest, pair with dwarf Rhododendrons; for summer, Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Peewee’ , and for fall the golden Leucosceptrum  and Carex ‘Blue Bunny’ to compliment ‘Blue Shadow’s technicolor display.

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Euphorbia x ‘Blue Haze’

Euphorbia 'Blue Haze'We love mix and match plants…those versatile subjects that work in a variety of garden compositions. We think Euphorbia x ‘Blue Haze’ qualifies as such.  In fact, I’m trying to think of plant colors that wouldn?t coordinate with this plant, and I can?t. The powder blue foliage subdues the tone of the lime green bracts just enough to work well with pastels, yet still allows the vibrant chartreuse “flowers” to shine and support stronger color complements as well.

Grow Euphorbia x ‘Blue Haze’ for summer bloom as well for its nearly evergreen (for us) glaucous foliage. A Plant Haven introduction, it?s a cross between E. nicaeensis and E. sequieriana subsp. niciciana and presents a tidy accent for the front of the border or even as a container subject. The loose 15″ mounds spread to about 2′, and the somewhat decumbent stems bear limey bracts from June through September. It loves dry sites, and enjoys full sun or partial shade. Deer won’t touch it because of its caustic sap (be careful if you have sensitive skin). Reports on hardiness vary. We can attest we’ve had successful experience overwintering ‘Blue Haze’ in zone 6a, but a number of nurseries list its hardiness to zone 5 (-20F).  As is true of so many plants, good drainage is the key. Report to us if you’re a cold climate gardener who’s had success with this plant.

Euphorbia myrsinites

Lime green, chartreuse, acid green, take your pick. The strong shades of Euphorbia myrsinites bracts scream out that it’s spring! It’s a shade that demands to be paired with vibrant tones: rich violet, deep red, hot pink, and flaming orange. Tulips! Primroses! Fritallaries!

Euphorbia, for the most part, is native to the lands along the Mediterranean, but we often associate this group of perennials with British gardens. Several Euphorbia species are the earliest bloomers in the garden, right after the Hellebores. The lovely evergreen forms, hybrids of E. wulfenii and amygdaloides, can be disappointing in cold climate gardens, as they often get damaged by our harsh winters. Still there are a couple of species that are reliable performers in zones 5 and 6. One is Euphorbia myrsinites or Donkey Tail Spurge, and it has its place in the sunny dry garden. Its wandering habit, with its trailing stems clothed in blue grey foliage, snake along the soil surface and terminate in clusters of chartreuse bracts and tiny yellow flowers. We like the picture painted when these stems emerge through clumps of purple leaved Labrador Violets.

Some things you should note. Plants self sow where happy, (sunny dry soil) and occasionally in milder climates, their numerous progeny can be a nuisance. Another word of warning: the milky sap of cut stems may cause a rash and should be avoided by those with sensitive skin.