Tag Archives: bold foliage

Mahonia x media ‘Charity’

Mahonia x media 'Charity'

Mahonia x media ‘Charity’

What shrub has evergreen foliage resembling both holly and fern, blooms in late fall/early winter with a candelabra of fragrant primrose yellow flowers, is drought tolerant once established and not a favorite of marauding deer? Answer: Mahonia x media ‘Charity, a hybrid of the two species, M. japonica and M. lomariifolia.

Ever since I saw a form of Mahonia  blooming in winter in the Plymouth MA garden of my friend Susanne, I have wanted to have this plant in my garden. Certainly, this is pushing the hardiness limits in our neck of the woods, so I have been  scouting for a very protected spot (thinking of a clearing in our now dense grove of Yellow Groove Bamboo).  ‘Charity’ is hardy to 0 degrees F, but we usually dip below that for at least a day or two each winter.

Of course all of you who live in balmier zones 7-9 should consider giving this winter interest plant a try.  It is a broadleaf evergreen, and so it would be prudent to choose a site with protection from winter winds and strong western sun. Plants develop a vase shape and usually grow to 5-7’ tall but can reach 10’ in mild climates, with a width of 3-6’. The flowers begin forming in late October, providing unexpected color when you need it most from late November into January. The multiple upright racemes of small flowers are magnets for bees, who may venture out on mild days. Rich blue fruit follow in spring, thus the common name Grape Holly,  and these are relished by birds. Older foliage may take on reddish tones in late winter, and tarnished leaves should be pruned once fresh growth begins to unfurl.

Mahonia can be grown in full sun or dappled shade, but if grown in full sun it it may require a bit more watering in dry spells. I should also add that the foliage has rather unfriendly sharp edges, and can deliver a “look but don’t touch” message to passerby.

Do you grow any forms of Mahonia and how have they performed where you live? Please share your experience.

Magnolia macrophylla ashei

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Magnolia macrophylla ashei foliage

There is no other way to say it: Ashe’s Big Leaf Magnolia is boldly beautiful. Folks often grow Magnolias for their early spring bloom, but you will want to seek out Magnolia macrophylla ashei for its large green foliage (up to 2+’ in length) which is undersided in a lovely shade of  silvery celadon. (Floral designers take note: the foliage is gorgeous when cut and dried for winter arrangements.)  Early summer flowers are sweetly fragrant with white petals  accented with a red brush stroke and are large as well, up to 1′ across.

Magniolia macrophylla ashei, a Southeastern US native,  forms a large shrub or small tree. It’s tropical appearance belies its hardiness as it is easily grown in zones 6-9 (with reports of it also growing in zone 5 with protection). The form ashei is a smaller tree than the straight species, and is often seen as a multistmemed shrub but can be pruned to form a small tree, growing to 15′ tall in its northern most range, and up to 25′ tall in milder climates. Big Leaf Magnolia prefers a sunny or partially shaded place in a border with rich evenly moist soil that has good drainage. Very windy spots are not recommended, as the gorgeous foliage will get damaged. Another positive note…Big Leaf Magnolia is deer resistant.

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Mukdenia rossii ‘Karasuba’

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Mukdenia should be grown in more gardens and I will speculate why it is not; it has had the misfortune of having more than one Latin name, which gets confusing. For awhile the taxonomists declared it should be called Aceriphyllum rossii, which makes sense (Acer = maple) and the foliage does have exquisite rounded maple like leaves. The cultivar name has a translation that would be easy to remember as well, ‘Crimson Fans’.

I am sweet on its blossoms. In mid spring, Mukdenia produces sturdy 15-18” stems bearing rounded panicles of starry white flowers, just before and as the foliage appears, welcoming the bees into the garden. Mukdenia makes pleasant company for early blooming bulbs and Epimedium. The somewhat glossy, somewhat velvety, dark green foliage forms tight clumps to 12” tall, keeping their good looks all summer, then change vividly to brilliant shades of red when cool temperatures arrive in autumn. We’ve found that Mukdenia grows best with afternoon shade in a soil that has good drainage yet is fertile and adequately moist. You will be pleased to know it is hardy in zones 4-8 and is also deer resistant.

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Yucca filamentosa ‘Color Guard’

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Let us reacquaint you with an underutilized evergreen plant for cold climates.

Bold, colorful, architectural evergreen foliage. Dramatic creamy nodding lily flowers in early summer. Deer and rabbit resistant, it grows in poor and dry soils, and is perfectly hardy in zones 4-9. Why oh why don’t more landscapers and gardeners plant Yucca filamentosa ‘Color Guard’?

Yucca ‘Color Guard’ provides northern gardeners with a brightly colored vertical accent for mixed border plantings. Plants attain a foliage height of  24″, and when ‘Color Guard’ chooses to bloom, those creamy white lilies are held on 4-5′ tall towering stalks. Hummingbirds almost swoon over the plants in pour garden. We have it planted in a hot dry bed, with Acanthus hungaricus, Crambe maritima   Euphorbia ‘Ascot Rainbow’ and dwarf evergreens.

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Persicaria polymorpha

Persicaria polymorpha at dusk, photo by Paul Clancy

Persicaria polymorpha at dusk, photo by Paul Clancy

Mention the name Persicaria in horticulture circles, and you may raise a few eyebrows. Persicaria has a very bad cousin: Polygonum cuspidatum, commonly  known as Japanese Knotweed or Running Bamboo (but it is not a bamboo!), and this cousin can spread DREADFULLY. But please read on…

Persicaria polymorpha is commonly called Giant Fleece Flower, and this common name  describes it well. Within a few seasons, Persicaria polymorpha will reach 5′, maybe 6′ tall and form imposing clumps, increasing in width each season to 6′ or more. Talk about taking up space! In June and July, white Astilbe like plumes adorn the plant and the blooms seem to last and last. This is a great plant for a long distance view (think about its size and white color) and is memorable when viewed in the early evening light.

Here are the facts: Giant Fleece Flower likes average soil, or moist soil, or even very dry soil once established. It loves full sun but will grow in partial shade. It is a bold perennial and and adds contrast to the finer textured plants in your garden. Like Baptisia, it is one of the first herbaceous plants to attain good height in the spring.  It is deer resistant and long lived. I have yet to discover seedlings about, although it can be propagated by seed. Persicaria polymorpha is hardy in zones 4-9.

Consider Persicaria polymorpha when you are in need of a big, bold, hardy, long blooming, deer resistant plant.

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Symphytum x uplandicum ‘Axminster Gold’

symxagLooking for a bold foliage plant that is cold hardy through zone 5, deer resistant and is one of the first to show signs of life in the spring? Meet this form of Variegated Russian Comfrey,  a naturally occurring hybrid of S. officinale x  S. asperum.  ‘Axminster Gold’ will form 18-24″ tall robust clumps of 14″ creamy yellow edged lanceolate leaves, which grow 2-3′ wide. In late spring and early summer, pink and lavender “bluebell-like” flowers will bloom on nodding 4′ stems, attracting a myriad of butterflies. Once the blooming period is over, do remove the aging stalks to promote fresh foliar growth.  Last summer we saw ‘Axminster Gold’ in a garden paired with Periscaria ‘Firetails’, and want to duplicate this combination.

 Grow ‘Axminster Gold’ in full sun or partial shade in a soil that is rich and somewhat moisture retentive.  Axminster Gold’ can be quite vigorous once established in the garden but is somewhat scarce in the trade due to propagating difficulty. For some reason plants propagated from root cuttings will be solid green , so divisions must be taken from the central crown in order to ensure you’ll be getting the gold variegation.

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Ligularia x ‘Last Dance’

A wintry mix of weather blew into town this week, but Ligularia ‘Last Dance’ didn’t want the waltz to end. This recent introduction from Itsaul Plants looked smart all season with glossy bronze purple round foliage accented by slightly pointed lobes. To add Halloween contrast, it sent forth bright yellow composite flowers in October and is still blooming away as of 11/14. Hardy and tropical looking…hmm. First disclaimer…it did winter over in our zone 6 garden last year, but during the coldest period we were blanketed with snow. Ligularia x ‘Last Dance’ is a hybrid of  Ligularia (Farfugium) hiberniflora and Farfugium japonicum, two species from Japan and Taiwan, but the Farfugium japonicum can’t be trusted in zones colder than 7.

Ligularia ‘Last Dance’ is being marketed with plant tags saying it is hardy into zone 4. I’m thinking this is a stretch. Reports from commercial growers say it is growing and wintering in Zeeland, Michigan (Zone 6) and Philadelphia (Zone 7).  If you do want to grow this for its end of the season burst of color, here is the data: Foliage height is about 12″ high, and can grow to 2-3′ wide. Yellow blossoms are held on 1-2′ stems. It does well in sun or partial shade in a moist soil, but seems as happy in average conditions.

I think this season I will put down a winter mulch to protect my investment. Should it prove not to be zone 6 hardy, I say it should get 100 points for being a stunning container plant. Would love to hear from anyone else who is growing  Ligularia ‘Last Dance’.

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Growing Acanthus

I wasn’t hallucinating, but to this day I still wonder about an incident, which occurred more than a dozen years ago.

It was a hot summer afternoon in mid July. I was alone at the nursery, watering, when an elderly woman appeared out of no where.  I always keep my ears perked for cars pulling into the gravel driveway, but had not heard a thing. The woman , in a very aristocratic tone, asked me if I grew Acanthus. I chuckled and said that we had tried but it had been a disappointment, struggling to emerge each year, only sending up a leaf or two.

She suggested I grow it in a hot sunny spot , and be patient. I thanked her for her advice, and continued watering while she seemed to browse. Less than a minute later I looked up to see if she had questions or needed help, and she was nowhere to be seen. Even a spry teenager would have had to bolt to reach the exit in such short a time.  I walked up to the driveway to the road but there was no one and no car in sight. Hmmm…..

A few months later, an autumn storm felled a large tree. The following year, a patch of robust Acanthus foliage emerged in a spot now baked from the hot sun; the felled tree had shaded the spot more than we thought. By late June we were seeing our first blossoms. I now think of that mysterious woman and her advice whenever the Acanthus come into bloom.

The Acanthus are putting on a great show right now with bold dark green leaves and sturdy 3? spires of hooded lavender flowers. They are loving the hot spot by our stone wall  This show will carry on into late July. We?ll deadhead the spent flowers, so the foliage will continue to look good for the remainder of the season.

Some info for northern gardeners. The hardiest species are Acanthus spinosus and Acanthus hungaricus, hardy to -10 degrees. (zone 6a) The two are often confused, but upon close observation spinosus will display a more sharply serrated leaf with spiny tips. There is also another hardy selection, ‘Morning Candle’, which is a hybrid of A. hungaricus x A. mollis, and offers the hardiness of the former, but with white hooded flowers. Acanthus spread by creeping rootstock, and even bits of roots left in the soil will regenerate into new plants over time. A mass display of Acanthus is an impressive sight.

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Boehmeria platanifolia

Boehmeria platanifoliaThe longer we garden the more we appreciate both subtlety and contrast… especially when a plant makes you do a double take because of some extraordinary features. Boehmeria platanifolia is one of these plants: unique foliage, size, with late summer pale green flowers. This species of Boehmeria has large sycamore shaped green leaves (up to 5″) with serrated edges and covered with tiny hairs giving the plant a soft glow. The leaves attach to the sturdy stems with contrasting red petioles. Green tassel flowers emerge from the branch tips in August and continue to droop into the fall.

Boehemeria platanifolia performs best in partial shade, in a soil that is evenly moist. Established plants can grow to 5′ tall and 4′ wide. It is a Japanese member of the Nettle family, Urticaceae, and this particular species is quite hardy…reports say to zone 4, but we’ll play it safe in saying it will grow well in zones 5-8.

Combines well with Tricyrtis (toadliles), Begonia grandis (Hardy Begonia) and Leucoseptrum (Japanese Wood Mint) in the fall shade garden.

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Aralia cordata ‘Sun King’

Aralia cordata 'Sun King'Need a bold, deer resistant plant for the shade garden? Consider Aralia cordata’Sun King‘, tropical in appearance, but a really good option for cold climate gardens.  Hardy in zones 3-8, this choice selection of Spikenard is slow at first, but once established, forms a 3′ x 3′ mound of broad compound brilliant yellow foliage. It retains a golden glow throughout the summer as long as it gets 2-3 hours of sunlight. Sturdy 3-4′ stalks emerge in mid August, each topped with a small fireworks display of white flowers. Dark fruit follow the floral display. When the show is over, ‘Sun King’ will need a rest and will die back with the first hard frost.

Aralia cordata ‘Sun King’ grows best in a rich but well drained soil that has available moisture during the growing season. Good companion plants, besides Hosta, include Actaea ‘Hillside Black Beauty’, Fargesia scabrida, Kirengeshoma palmata and Hakonechloa macro .

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