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.
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.
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.
So easy, so stunning, so underplanted. A dozen years ago, our plant buddy Margie Mott visited us bearing gifts, including a clump of this beauty from one of the gardens she tended. She informed us that we needed to grow this plant, and she was so right! Disporum flavens emerges gracefully in early mid spring with stiff arching 18-24″ stalks adorned with apple green leaves and nodding lemon yellow bells in May. The floral display carries on for a couple of weeks, after which the foliage remains attractive and well behaved.
The common names for Disporum vary. We’ve heard it referred to as Yellow Mandarin and Yellow Fairy Bells. It is in the Colchichum family, which also include two hundred plus species of herbaceous perennials which grow from roots that form rhizomes and corms. Disporum flavens is slow to increase, but forms dense clumps over time and is very long lived. It prefers soil that is rich with humus but well drained soil in partial shade and is hardy to minus 20F (zone 5). Great companion plants are dark flowered Hellebores such as ‘Midnight Ruffles’ , Hakonechloa macra ‘All Gold’ and Heucherella ‘Sweet Tea?’, as well as any Hosta.
Sanguinaria canadensis ‘Multiplex’, commonly known as Double Blood Root is one of the eastern seaboard’s most lovely spring ephemerals, (that is to say, perennials which emerge with the first sweep of warm weather, and almost as quickly pass, retreating over the next few months into summer dormancy). Here in New England, Double Blood Root begins to poke through the brown earth in mid April, displaying pristine white multi petaled water lily shaped blossoms cupped in barely visible blue green leaves. We always hope that the weather conditions will not be too hot and relatively calm when our Blood Root opens. Too much wind or warm temperatures will shorten the floral display.
Double Blood Root stands on short stems reaching just under 6″ tall. It grows best in rich, humusy, but well drained soil in a partial to deeply shaded site. The rhizomes slowly spread to from dense clumps over time and when severed, exude a deep red liquid, hence the common name (sanguine = bloody). As the blossoms fade, the attractive blue green kidney shaped foliage grows larger in size, photosynthesizing to store energy for the roots below. It is advisable to mark the spot where Blood Root is growing. By mid summer, these attractive leaves will begin to fade into dormancy, and you might easily disturb the area by over planting. Good companion plants for Sanguinaria are mid season bulbs, Tillium, Podophylllum, Asarum, Epimedium, Iris cristata, Woodland Phlox, and Brunnera.
Undemanding 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.
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.
Commonly known as “Molly the Witch” (its specific name is a mouthful, try to pronounce mlock-oh-zih-VITCH-ee-eye three times) this species peony is early to bloom, which in our neck of the woods, means late April through the beginning of May. It emerges with attractive biternate glaucous foliage with a red tint. The single soft yellow chalice blossoms are 3-4″ across and in varying shades of pale lemon through buttery yellow. Plants usually reach a height of 2′, and are an unusual showy accent plant for mid spring.
“Molly the Witch” is native to the Caucasus, and is hardy in zones 6-8 ( some accounts say colder, but we like to err on the safe side). It appreciates a rich, but well drained neutral to slightly acidic soil in a spot that gets a good 4-6 hours of sun or more. Its scarcity in the trade is due to the fact that plants are very slow to increase . This means a limited number of divisions. Propagation from seed is slow. It often takes a year or more from sowing to germination, and then may take up to 4-5 years from germination to flower.
‘New Century’ is another tidy compact Rhododendron, with pale citron yellow blossoms. It has a very full foliage appearance due to the fact it holds its evergreen leaves for 3 years, rather than just 2 like most other rhodies. It grows to a well behaved 4′ x 4′ size and is quite hardy for a yellow form, (to minus 15F).
Grow this selection in a spot protected from drying winter winds. Morning suns and afternoon shade is ideal, but plants can take more sun if well irrigated during drier conditions. Like all Rhododendrons, ‘New Century’ appreciates a humus rich soil that remains moist but well drained.
Handsome violet blue blossoms in late April/early May distinguish this welcome addition to the mid spring garden. Introduced by Weston Nursery of Hopkinton MA, Rhododendron ‘Blue Baron’ falls into the lepidote group of Rhodies, which with a few exceptions, have smaller leaves, smaller more open trusses and prefer to grow in a more sunny spot. ‘Blue Baron’ has a compact habit,and is often listed as growing to 3-4′ in height and width, but at maturity can reach 6?. His fine textured elliptical foliage is glossy green in summer but takes on a bronzy cast in colder months.
Grow ‘Blue Baron’ in humus rich soil in full or part sun, and morning sun with some afternoon shade has proven ideal . He can tolerate a bit of wind, but we recommend using an anti-dessicant if winter winds are harsh. Like all Rhododendrons, ‘Blue Baron’ is shallow rooted, and will need irrigating during dry spells. Hardy to minus 10F.