Our theory is, if a plant looks fantastic in the September garden, it merits attention. And if it is attractive to pollinators, has winter interest, grows quickly to a reasonable size and is easy to keep happy, then you should absolutely consider finding a spot for it. As I was driving though our little town of Dartmouth the other day, I had to pull over when I saw a picture perfect candidate of such a plant, Heptacodium miconoides, gracing a small streetside garden.
Heptacodium miconoides, or “Seven Son Flower” is relatively new in cultivation here in the US, having come ashore from China in the 1980’s. It bears attractive green foliage, resembling peach leaves, and finally in late summer and early fall, it produces panicles of fragrant, jasmine scented white flowers, which last for a couple of weeks, after which showy rosy red bracts remain. The common name “Seven Son Flower” refers to the 7 branches of blossoms of each panicle. We acquired our first specimen as a plant dividend at the Arnold Arboretum’s Fall Plant Sale in 1989. To our delight, it grew quite quickly, putting on as much as 3′ in a season. We learned after a bit that Heptacodium wants to be a multi stemmed shrub, unless pruned to one or several strong leaders. Our preference was to show off the handsome exfoliating bark, so we removed all but the strongest 3 trunks. If you would prefer to have a single trunk, select a young plant and stake one stem for straight growth.
Heptacodium merits attention for its adaptability to a variety of soil conditions, including soils that remain dry for some time, although occasional supplemental watering wouldn’t hurt. It is tolerant of salt spray, making it useful near the seashore. Other big plusses: Heptacodium is deer resistant, and the butterflies and bees absolutely love the blossoms. Provide it with lots of sunshine. Pruned as a small tree it can be the focal point of a small garden, or planted en masse it would make a showy hedge. It’s perfectly hardy in zones 5-8.
Hamamelis x ‘Feuerzauber’
Hamamelis x intermedia commonly known as Witch Hazel is one of the first shrubs to come into bloom in cold climates. We usually see our first flashes of color in February, (some nearby folks were reporting blossoms before this weekend’s arctic blast). Often you will realize they are in bloom as their fragrance fills the air.
Witch Hazels set their flower buds during the previous year’s growing season. Outdoors, once plants have experienced a 6-8 week cold spell followed by mild moist weather, the spidery flowers will begin to open. It is after this cold stretch that you can take cuttings. If you have a nice big plant in your garden, why not sacrifice a few budded branches for indoor arrangements? Simply take your cuttings, splitting the stem base for better water intake, put the branches in a vase with warm water and wait a few days.
Hamamelis x ‘Arnold’s Promise’
If you are thinking about adding Witch Hazel to your garden, here are a few things to consider:
- Give plants room. Slow growing at first, Hamamelis can get quite large with age. Expect plants to grow 8-10’ or taller and 10-12’ wide. They enjoy full sun or partial shade, and well-drained soil.
- Winter food for bees. Honeybees will seek out their blossoms during a late winter/early spring thaw.
- Flower buds form in summer. If you cut back plants in summer and fall, you will sacrifice next year’s blossoms.
- These winter blooming varieties are hybrids of the Japanese (H. japonicus) and Chinese (H. mollis) forms, and are grafted on native Hamamelis rootstock. Sometimes strong branches will break below the graft, and you might notice, in autumn, that these branches will bear yellow flowers of Hamamelis virginiana. We recommend removing the branches that break below the graft because the fall blooming native plants are more vigorous and may overwhelm your winter blooming stock.
Hamamelis x ‘Jelena’
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 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.
Anemone sylvestris, is simply lovely and so innocent-looking, but perhaps it should be introduced to you as a potential ground cover. Commonly known as Snowdrop Anemone, this super hardy gem begins blooming in mid-late spring, producing nodding buds which open to 5 petaled white blossoms centered with a ring of yellow stamens. The blossoms, buoyantly dance on 12-18” stems, which are good for cutting, emit a soft early spring fragrance. Although it is a European native, it looks right at home in naturalistic landscapes here in the US, spreading vigorously by rhizomes, and it is very effective for disguising early spring bulb foliage. The wooly seed heads that develop once the blossoms fade add visual interest later in the summer. Occasionally, a small flush of flowering in takes place early fall.
Anemone sylvestris is happiest in a rich well drained soil, and is hardy in zones 4-8. It is not fond of extreme heat, so best to hold off in southern gardens. There are no serious insect or disease problems and it is deer resistant.
Growing Lavender en masse here in the northeast has often been a risky thing to do. Lavender would suffer winter damage, and we would often find we had to replace plants here and there every winter. The good news is that after this recent cruel winter which caused more than its share of plant casualties, a new Lavender introduction came through unscathed. Lavandula ‘Phenomenal’, in fact, is looking pretty phenomenal.
Here’s the data. ‘Phenomenal’ was introduced by Peace Tree Farm Nursery in PA, after the folks there observed it for years in their trial beds. ‘Phenomenal’ tolerated extreme heat and humidity in summer, making it a good choice for hot summer areas, and was resistant to root diseases which often plague lavenders where winters are cold and wet. ‘Phenomenal’ begins blooming in late spring and carries on through July, with masses of intoxicatingly fragrant lavender blue flowers. Plants grow slowly at first, but reach large proportions
24″ tall and 36″ wide in several years time. Deer and rabbit resistant, it also attracts butterflies and grows best in full sun and well drained soil. Plants are super hardy too,
wintering over in zones 4-8.
Would you like to meet ‘Lawrence Crocker’, the easiest little Daphne we know and grow? It was discovered and named for one of the founders of Siskyou Rare Plant Nursery, and thought to be a hybrid of D. arbuscula and D. collina. Daphne ‘Lawrence Crocker’ is a little gem for the tiny urban garden, alpine or otherwise, as long as you can provide it a well drained soil, adequate moisture to establish and at least a half day of sun. ‘Lawrence Crocker’ was one of the first specimens we planted in our rockery (20 years ago, at least), and it continues to charm us each spring with its fragrant dark pink blossoms.
Remember this is a diminutive plant. It is suitable for trough gardens, but in the open garden it can grow up to 12″ tall and up to 18″ wide. It has proven durable and hardy for us in zone 6A.
New Varieties of Phlox with Allium ‘Millenium’ and Echinacea ‘Milkshake’
…New Selections for Cutting
It’s easy to be seduced by catalog images. I was when I saw some of the recent Phlox paniculata being bred in Holland. The inflorescence were distinct from our more familiar forms: the florets were smaller, slightly curled and edged in contrasting colors.
Last year I planted Phlox paniculata ‘Sherbert Blend’. I wasn’t sure what to make of it at first. The panicles were small, and the florets appeared pale pink with a faint cream edge in the garden, although the images in the catalog promised me a warmer, pink shade. I shrugged the color discrepancy off, thinking this may be due to weather or soil conditions, or maybe the plants would show their true colors with maturity. I have since discovered that this Phlox’s color range changes with the time of day, and is true especially in early morning light.
This year I tried 2 other selections: Phlox paniculata ‘Jade’, with lovely white florets rimmed in celadon green, and Phlox paniculata ‘Aureole’ or ‘Neon Aureole’ which has tight clusters of bright fuchsia florets, edged in white and green. Our supplier’s catalog described plants as being only 16-20″ tall, but already I’m observing stems in the 24-30″ range. So far, mildew has not been a problem, and plants have set side shoots for rebloom quickly, once the first main stems have been cut. All emit a slight, old fashioned, sweet fragrance.
Grow these Phlox in full sun, in average garden soil and provide good air circulation. Blooming begins in July and carries on into August. Although these new Phlox make fine border plants, they have are more subtle than the big panicled forms with huge florets. I’m considering moving my plants into a new bed I’m creating just for cutting, since I know the floral display in the garden will be sacrificed for many more summer bouquets. Here are some closeup portraits of each Phlox used in the pictured bouquet:
Phlox paniculata ‘Sherbert Blend’
Phlox paniculata ‘Jade’
Phlox paniculata ‘Aureole’
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.
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.
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’