Shrubs and trees which flower on old wood, just before the leaves unfurl, have a special charm. Think Witchhazel, Native Dogwood, Redbud. One that we especially love and isn’t so well known is Stachyurus chinensis ‘Celina’. This shrub bears pendant racemes of creamy white/yellow flowers in early spring (April for us). We have ‘Celina’ planted in a sheltered spot from winter winds, which can desiccate the flower buds. This area is shaded by a Japanese Maple and gets 4-6 hours of sun. Our 7 year old plant is about 4′ tall with arching branches from the base, reaching to about 6′ in width. We expect it will grow to 8′ x 10′ eventually. Fall color varies year to year, but we’ve seen it take on yellow and orange tones. hardy in zones 6-9.
As more and more of us understand the importance of beneficial insects, we want to host plants in our gardens which welcome and provide food for all of them, plus bees, butterflies and birds. Here is a short list of lesser known plants which add varied ornamental interest as well as lure many more of the good invertebrates into your garden
One of the earliest Butterfly Weeds to bloom, Asclepias speciosa, or Showy Milkweed ,has umbels of white to mauve pink flowers in late spring and early summer, with attractive gray linear foliage. Its flowers are a nectar source for all butterflies and its foliage is food for monarchs. Asclepias speciosa can grow up to 3’ tall and 1-2’ wide. Native to dry uplands of western N. America, it is drought tolerant. Hardy in zones 3-8.
Wild Quinine or American Feverfew is a Missouri native with 8-10” tobacco like basal foliage, and 2-3′ stems bearing clusters of white fuzzy yarrow-like flowers in midsummer. Beneficial wasps and butterflies are often seen hovering over its blossoms. Parthenium integrifolium was grown in years past for its medicinal qualities, and it makes a nice addition to the dry wild border. Hardy in zones 5-9.
Mountain Mint spreads, so think of it as a ground cover for butterflies and bees. Beginning in mid summer and continuing into September, Pycnanthemum muticum displays showy silvery bracts surrounding a central disk rimmed with tiny pale pink/white flowers. Drought tolerant once established, plants will grow 2-3’ tall and are the first pitstop for my honeybees when they leave the hive. Hardy in zones 5-9.
“Cup Plant”, so called because water is held in the reservoir created where the stems pierce through the opposite leaves, provides a watering hole for birds, bees, and butterflies. This Sunflower like plant is useful at the back of a border, where it bears yellow daisies on 4-8’ stems during July and August . I particularly like Silphium perfoliatum’s green seed heads as cut material for fall arrangements. Hardy in zones 4-8.
Stokes’ Aster is a showy native with 23” double lavender blue daises on 18-24” plants. Plants begin to color in late June and early July and carries into August. Beautiful as it is as a cut flower, you may want to leave the blossoms undisturbed to enjoy the dance of the butterflies above them. Grow Stokesia laevis in average to dry soils. Note: It resents winter wetness. Hardy in zones 4-10.
Aster ptarmicoides (formerly Solidago ptarmicoides, and NOW to be botanically correct: Oligoneuron album)
Formerly White Upland Aster or White Goldenrod depending who you asked, but with its new genus classification, Oligoneuron, who knows what to nickname it? Anyway, we first saw this plant at Wave Hill 20 years ago (labeled as Aster ptarmicoides), where it looked crisp and clean on a hot August day. Years later we were finally able to hunt down a seed source for it and now have it in our garden. Tidy plants have 4-5″ dark green linear leaves, and bear sprays of small papery white asters on 15” stems in mid-late summer through early fall. Yes to bees and butterflies, plus goldfinches love the seeds! Hardy in zones 3-8.
Symphyotrichum (Aster) laeve
We have grown the strain ‘Bluebird’ of Smooth Aster for years, with its 1-2” orange yellow centered, clear blue daisies born in September and October. Symphyotrichum laeve is a plant that is very happy in our mixed borders, self seeding here and there, but is easy to relocate should it pop up somewhere where it is not wanted. Plants grow 2.5-3’ tall and are about 18” wide. Happy in average to dry soil in zones 4-9.
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A new name for the Hardy Ageratum. Formerly Eupatorium coelestinum, the plant taxonomists have bestowed the name Con-oh-clin-i-um on this late summer into fall blooming plant. The species name co-el-est-in-um means heavenly. Clusters of heavenly sky blue flowers atop 18-30″ stems bloom in August and September, attracting butterflies and pollinators. Conoclinium enjoy average, evenly moist soil conditions and spreads by stolons, creating a healthy patch where happy. It makes a lovely cut flower and is hardy in zones 5-8.
As the 4th of July rolls around, the early June show of Baptisia, Peonies, Iris and Cranesbill is fading, and its time to focus on high summer performers. I could not be without the dreamy clouds of the summer blooming Meadow Rues, or botanically speaking Thalictrum, with their sprays of dainty small blossoms on tall stems, creating a seductive haze above the knee high plants in the garden.
First there is ‘Splendide’, the first of the French breeder Thierry Delabroye’s introductions with its slightly larger soft lavender flowers. ‘Splendide’ is statuesque…it can reach 7′ in a rich soil, and may need staking when the branched stems are heavy with buds.
Thalictrum ‘Splendide White‘ is perhaps my favorite. Another selection from Thierry Delabroye, this white selection takes the place of Baby’s Breath in the border with its 3′ to 4 .5′ stems above delicate Columbine like foliage. Sprays of pearly buds burst into 1/2″ 5 petaled blossoms with greenish white stamens. Blossoms continue for weeks, and make exquisite cut flowers.
And then there is this older form of the species, T. delavayi, ‘Hewitt’s Double’, which bears its inflorescence on 3-4′ stems above dainty Maidenhair fern like foliage. It has shown a preference for excellent soil drainage in winter, but enjoys an evenly moist soil during the summer months.
Last but not least, is the most familiar form Thalictrum rochebrunanum ‘Lavender Mist’ which can easily grow 4-6′ tall in a rich somewhat moist soil. Sprays of lavender buds open to show 4-5 petaled blossoms with prominent yellow stamens in July and August. T. rochebrunianum can self sow where it is content.
Thalictrum are members of the Ranunculus family which includes, Anemones and Buttercups. They enjoy average to rich soil with ample moisture during the growing season and full or half day sun. T. delavayi is hardy in zones 5-8, and the rest are more cold tolerant and are hardy in zones 4-8. And oh, yes, they are not favored by deer or bunnies.
What’s not to love? This Allium hybrid from Mark McDonough is one of the key plants for solid bloom in July and August in our perennial and mixed beds. 2″ lavender orbs on sturdy 12-18″ stems provide color for weeks. It doesn’t mind the heat and dry soil, and bulks up quickly, and can be divided in the spring if you want to spread it around. Of course it is attractive to butterflies and pollinators. When blooming fades, cut back the stems, or leave the heads on to dry and add textural interest. Deer and rabbit resistant and it is perfectly hardy in zones 5-9.
Perhaps your grandmother had a big hanging basket of Asparagus Fern on her shady porch…you probably didn’t think much about it, but there it lived, thriving with little care, living in the same pot for what seemed to be years on end. Yes-sir-ree…a testimony to a plant which could thrive on neglect.
Despite their fernlike ambience, this group of foliage plants are not ferns at all, but members of the Lily family (Liliaceae). An inspection of the root system reveals a mass of bulb-like tubers, (think lily bulbs). Being pot bound doesn’t discourage their vigor and although they like bright light, Asparagus Ferns can exist satisfactorily with quite a bit of shade. They do not need a constant supply of moisture, and prefer a soil that is sharp draining. Take note: Asparagus Ferns make great companions to Begonia which like similar conditions… bright light to shade, and a soil that doesn’t stay wet.
The most familiar species is A. densiflorus ‘Sprengeri’, known for it’s arching stems of apple green narrow leaves. (For those who need to be on top of all things botanical…the genus is now Protasparagus, but that may be too much information for some. ) The next most commonly encountered form is the Foxtail Asparagus, A. densiflorus ‘Myersi’, with its gorgeous chunky plumes.
Now, let me introduce you to a few siblings, which offer variety but require the same easy care, and of course are suitable as cut greenery for arrangements.
Asperagus densiflorus ‘Cwebe’ is not dissimilar to Grandma’s form, but ‘Cwebe’ tends to be more upright, growing, to 18-20″ tall, and has an interesting bronze tint to the new growth. Asparagus setaceus plumosa is very lacy, and is familiar to those who purchase cut greens for arranging. Asparagus setaceus pyramidalis also has lacy, fine textured foliage with an upright thrust. Perhaps the sweetest of all is Asparagus macowanii, commonly called Ming Fern, with very delicate forest green foliage. As a young plant A. macowanii is quite small in stature, but if grown in a conservatory or outdoors where it is hardy, it can reach a height of 5’ at maturity.
Like everyone else, we have fallen for Anemone ‘Wild Swan’. Exquisitely simple white petals reversed in periwinkle blue surround a boss of yellow stamens in anemone like fashion and are held on 18-20″ stems. A hybrid of Anemone rupicola and possibly hupehensis, it was selected by British plantswoman Elizabeth MacGregor a decade ago, and took her years to build up stock. At last it debuted at Chelsea Flower Show in 2011, and caught the eye of many a gardener on both sides of the pond.
We finally acquired some tissue culture propagated plants in 2015. In its first year in the garden, ‘Wild Swan’ began blooming in late spring, then rested once the summer heat set in. We found that in September,cooler temperatures encouraged a second round of flowering stems. (In cool summer climates, the show may in fact carry on all summer. ) All of last year’s plants have come back up in the garden, after inconstant winter weather. We’re hoping for a more robust show this year.
Anemone x ‘Wild Swan’ enjoys a soil with good drainage and full sun or partial shade. It is hardy in zones 5-8.
I didn’t make good on all my promises for 2015, but I was resolute to make more fun time in the garden, and to create an arrangement, once a month at least, from plants found around my nursery and gardens. Let me present my 2015 Slow Flower Calendar.
Starting in the upper left frame and across, the first is gatherings of lichen, bark and cones during January. Some months had fewer color options, but I found there was always something new to discover and play with. My office window sill was the spot that had the best light for picture taking…notice the changing color background. December’s composition is a wreath using some of the same found materials that I began the year with. This resolution demands repeating, don’t you think?
Happy 2016 everyone!
Redvein Enkianthus is about to betray its quiet charms any day now, with a display of technicolor fall foliage in shades of gold, orange, fiery red through purple. In mid to late spring it delights in a more soft-spoken way, bearing dainty clusters of white or red bells, depending on the cultivar. E. ‘Lipstick’ has white bells delicately edged in brick red, ‘Red Bells’ are colored, as the name suggests, coral red, and ‘Showy Lantern’. A slow growing shrub at first, it is often listed at growing from 6-8′ tall and 4-5′ wide, but with age it can easily reach 15′ or more with a wider reach. In fact, Enkianthus campanulatus can be pruned to from a lovely small tree. It is a perfect candidate for the partially shaded garden, both large and small.
Grow Redvein Enkianthus in full sun or partial shade. It enjoys an enriched, well drained, acidic soil that stays evenly moist, although we have found it to be quite forgiving of dry spells, once established. It is deer resistant, but please note that deer will eat almost anything if hungry enough. Perfectly hardy in zones 5-8, with some reporting success growing it in zone 4B.
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.