Tag Archives: low maintenance perennials

Generous Fall Asters

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Symphyotrichum x ‘Vasterival’

Some might consider the term “generous” a euphemism for invasive…but I have my own take on certain vigorous spreaders and self sowers. I say, sometimes a plant with ground covering capabilities is a good thing…it won’t be long before you have a nice swath of color plus the plant’s vigor keeps weeds at bay. Here are 5 Asters that command attention and are easy peasy.

( A little botany note: The taxonomists have reclassified Aster  into several distinct genera in recent years. For example, the genus Aster encompasses species that are specific to Eastern Asia, while the term Symphyotricum includes Asters native to N. America and parts of Europe.)

One plant that really draws comments in our September garden is  Symphyotrichum x ‘Vasterival’, a hybrid of unknown origins. 3/4″ daisies in a  sweet shade of pink/lavender are born in loose sprays on tall dark tinted stems. You could  pinch plants back in early July to control height, or let them do  their thing, and have stems that can reach 5′. ‘Vasterival’ is a perfect plant for that “garden gone wild” look. Plants spread by stoloniferous roots.

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Symphyotrichum x ‘Mary’s White’

Another Symphyotrichum selection that has proven quite vigorous is ‘Mary’s White’, which was selected by British nurserywoman Beth Chatto and named for her daughter. 1″ white daisies are carried on sturdy 3-4′ stems during September into early October.

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Aster ageratoides ‘Ezo Muraskai’

The Asian Aster ageratoides ‘Ezo Murasaki’ is the boss in a bed where we once had  plants with meek dispositions. We  let ‘Ezo Murasaki’ fulfill its ground covering mission, and moved its less vigorous neighbors. Yellow centered violet 1″ daisies are born in  clusters on 18″ stems from late September into November.

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Symphyotrichum laeve ‘Bluebird’

Some Asters self sow nicely.  Symphyotrichum laeve ‘Bluebird’, commonly called Smooth Aster, is one we allow to seed about and establish informally in beds where a little autumn color will be welcomed. Quarter sized flowers have lavender blue petals with yellow centers open up in stages in loose sprays. ‘Bluebird’ grows 3-4′ tall, but bows gracefully around its neighbors.

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Symphyotrichum ericoides with Elscholtzia and Kolwitzia

Another promiscuous seeder is the Calico Aster Symphyotrichum ericoides. Height can vary, but most often  plants are in the 18-24″ range. Don’t you think this Aster picked the best spot to establish itself, here between the Chinese Mint Shrub, Elscholtzia stantonii alba, on the left, and the golden leaved Kolwitzia on the right?

 

Task: Deer Resistant July Color

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Persicaria amplexicaulis ‘Golden Arrow, with Eucomis ‘Oakhurst’ in the background

I’m working on a garden plan for a client’s summer cottage, and she wants the peak color period to happen during July.  She needs a no fuss garden that is deer resistant. The beds are in full sun as well as in morning sun /afternoon shade. There was one one request: no day lilies (plus the deer love them!).  Works for me, and since it happens to be mid July as I take on this project, a walk about the garden gives me plenty of plant subjects to consider.  Interestingly,  many of these plants have become garden favorites, as I have already done individual plant portraits of many in this blog ( links provided).

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Kalimeris incisa ‘Blue Star’

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Allium ‘Millenium’

First there is the understated but charming Kalimeris integrifolia ‘Blue Star’.  From late June through August, starry light blue daisies atop 2′ plants welcome butterflies and bees.  Nearby Calamintha nepeta is beginning to be abuzz with pollinators, its delicate small white tinted blue lipped blossoms  begin in July and carry on into fall. Allium ‘Millennium’ is beginning to delight with lavender purple orbs on 15″ stems. Acanthus hungaricus which took a few years to establish but is thriving in well drained sunny spots for us, adds a commanding presence.  Persicaria amplexicaulis ‘Golden Arrow’ which seems to have happier looking foliage when it gets some mid day shade, is aglow with lemon lime colored leaves and ruby pink spires.

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Acanthus hungaricus

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Aralia cordata ‘Sun King’

Grown for striking purple foliage as much as for it’s handsome pineapple lilies is Eucomis ‘Oakhurst‘. Then there is  Leucosceptrum japonicum ‘Golden Angel’  which has formed a handsome 3′ x 3′ specimen…..it’s citrus yellow foliage is brightening up a partially shaded spot. It won’t bloom until early fall, but I really appreciate this plant more for its foliage than its flowers. Also in our beds which receive both sun and shade is the amazing Aralia ‘Sun King’, with its bold yellow foliage. Later in the season it gets white “sputnik-like”  flowers followed by black seed heads.

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Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Snowflake’

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Stewartia pseudocamellia

Summer blooming shrubs play an important role in the easy care garden, and the first plants I consider are Hydrangeas. Now in our zone 6A garden, surprise freezes torment us in mid spring, and we often discover that  H. macrophylla hybrids’ buds get whacked by the cold. Oak leaf Hydrangea forms have been much more reliable, and we love the double flowered Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Snowflake as a backdrop plant in our shadier beds.  Of course the magnificent Stewartia pseudocamellia var koreana was in glorious bloom for the 4th of July but there is still a succession of flower buds as we now enter the 3rd week of the month.

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Clethra barbinervis

One very special plant that few people seem to be growing is the Japanese Clethra, C. barbinervis. This species forms a large shrub, or can be pruned to 1 or several leaders to form a small tree. Panicles of white fragrant flowers are born during July and August. Fall color varies with shades of yellow and orange. A nice surprise is the exfoliating bark which is best appreciated when plants are grown with a tree like form.

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Salvia guaranitica ‘Argentine Skies’

Of course there are the annuals and tender perennials that really begin to show off now that warm days are here to stay. I couldn’t be without Salvia guaranitica in its various forms: ‘Black and Blue’,  purple flowering ‘Amistad’ , ‘Argentine Skies’ and a species form that we acquired years ago as ‘Kobalt’. In fact both ‘Kobalt’ and ‘Argentine Skies’ have been wintering over for us in well drained soil here in our zone 6 garden.

What are your top 5 deer resistant plants for the July garden?

Uncommon Pollinator Plants

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

ascspeCU500Asclepias speciosa

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.

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Parthenium integrifolium

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.

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Pycnanthemum muticum

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.

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Silphium perfoliatum

“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.

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Stokesia laevis

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.

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Aster ptarmicoides (formerly Solidago ptarmicoides, and NOW to be botanically correct: Oligoneuron album)

Formerly White Upland Aster or White Goldenrod depending who you askedbut 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.

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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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Conoclinium coelestinum ‘Cory’

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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.

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Allium ‘Millenium’

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Allium ‘Millenium’ in the early morning light.

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.

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Smitten by Solomon’s Seal

Polygonatum x hybridum 'Striatum'

Polygonatum x hybridum ‘Striatum’

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Other forms….Unfurling

Dancing

Dancing

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Dangling

Just a few images to share….loving the various species and  forms in the genus Polygonatum (Solomon’s Seal).  We currently have about 15 selections, ranging in size from tiny 6″ Polygonatum humile to  6′ selections of P. biflorum. and are always seeking out more.

quick facts: Solomon Seals is in the family Asparagaceae. Most forms are hardy in zones 5-8, (a few in zones 3 & 4). They slowly spread by jointed rhizomes, and enjoy well drained soil in partial to full shade. Long lived and almost indestructible, Solomon’s Seal is one of those plants that holds its good looks with little care all season.

Asparagus Ferns to Know and Grow

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.

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Just planted….Asparagus setaceus plumosa, with 2 begonias in an 8″ square pot.

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.

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Asparagus densiflorus ‘Sprengeri’ (L) and densiflorus ‘Myersi’ (R)

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.

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Clockwise from upper left: A. densiflorus ‘Cwebe’, A. setaceus plumosa, A. setaceus pyramidalis, and A. macowanii

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.

5 Fall Bloomers for Shady Gardens

Actaea simplex 'Hillside Black Beauty'

Actaea simplex ‘Hillside Black Beauty’

What’s black (dark chocolate) and white (ivory) and smells like grape jelly? Answer: Actaea simplex ‘Hillside Black Beauty’, formerly categorized as Cimicifuga and commonly known as Fairy Candles (yes!) Bugbane (eee-uugh!), or Cohosh. This selection originated years ago at Fred and Maryann McGourty’s famous Hillside Gardens in CT. Select this plant for its brown/black foliage which is attractive all season. In September, fragrant  ivory flowers on 5-6′ stems emit a smell reminiscent of my childhood… Welch’s grape jelly. Actaea like a soil that has even moisture, and will need supplemental watering in dry spells. Hardy in zones 5-8.

Tricyrtis 'White Towers'

Tricyrtis hirta ‘White Towers’

Toad lilies  have their charms….exquisite, up close and personal blossoms, sometimes lavender, sometimes purple spotted…Tricyrtis ‘White Towers’  has pure white blossoms which lack spots, but are accented with lavender tinted stamens. The upright somewhat arching stems grow 18-20″ tall, and plants spread by stolons. Toad lilies like an evenly moist soil as well, and are hardy in zones 4-8.

Hosta 'One Man's Treasure'

Hosta ‘One Man’s Treasure’

More attention should be paid to Hosta with showy flowers, especially when they bloom at the end of the summer. Hosta ‘One Man’s Treasure’ is a small to medium Hosta with simple dark green leaves that have distinctive reddish purple petioles. In late September  clusters of showy dark lavender flowers are produced.  Hardy in zones 3-8.

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Aralia cordata ‘Sun King’

Aralia cordata ‘Sun King’ , commonly known as Spikenard, has bold compound leaves which are bright yellow when grown in a lot of sun, and  more of a chartreuse if given more shade. At first this plant seems unimposing, but give this Aralia a few years and it will be super sized…a good 5-6′ tall and wide. White starbursts of flowers form in September on dark stems followed by black fruit. Hardy in zones 4-9.

Begonia grandis 'Heron's Pirouette'

Begonia grandis ‘Heron’s Pirouette’

Pretty enough to be grown as a container specimen, yet Begonia grandis perpetuates for us in well drained soil, especially in pockets at the top of our retaining wall. Plants are propagated by dividing little bulbils which form underground as well as along the stems.  The attractive ovate leaves are under-sided in a ruby red ,  and from August to October sprays of  dainty pale pink flowers are born on 18″ upright then decumbent stems. Please note that in the spring, plants don’t show signs of like until late May here in New England, so mark the planting spot to prevent plants from accidentally being dug up. Hardy in zones 6-10.

 

The Other Hardy Hens & Chicks

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Jovibarba heuffelii with small Sempervivum, Echeveria & Orostachys in the background.

The most familiar hens and chicks are in the genus Sempervivum. I’d like to introduce you to the  less familiar with same common name which are classified in the genera Jovibarba, Orostachys and Rosularia.  All are members of the Crassulacea family.

A rosette of Sempervivum flowering

A rosette of Sempervivum flowering, but with a number of offsets surviving.

Like Sempervivum, all are monocarpic, which means when the main rosette erupts into flower, it will set seed and cease to exist. (You can see why it is a good thing that many offsets of new plantlets have been freely produced.)

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Jovibarba hirta ssp arenaria

The genus Jovibarba is sometimes classified as a sub genus of Sempervivum.  Jovibarba is distinguished by blossoms bearing pale green to yellow 6 petaled flowers compared to Sempervivum’s 10-12 petaled pink blossoms. There are only 3 species in the genus: globifera, hueffeli and hirta. J. globifera and hirta freely produce stoloniferous offsets but  J. heuffelii’s “chicks” are tightly attached to the crown, and need to be severed to propagate more babies. J. hirta ssp arenaria  forms dozens of delightful miniature rosettes (1/4-3/4”) of pale gray green leaves covered with tiny hairs. Cool temperatures bring out red foliage highlights. Grow in a lean soil with sharp drainage in hardiness zones 5-9.

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Orostachys spinosus

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Orostachys minutum

Orostochys is a slightly bigger genus…it includes the more popular O. iwarenge (Dunce caps) as well as several others that are garden worthy subjects. The mature rosette of O. spinosus gives the appearance of a silver sunflower with an array of silver quilled foliage surrounding a center of congested tiny tight leaves. It is hardy to zone 4-9, but requires very well drained soil. O. minutum (also listed as O. spinosum minutum) is quite petite as the specific name suggests, producing clusters of 1/2-1” rosettes of blue gray foliage. It  would make an excellent alpine trough plant.

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Rosularia muratdaghensis

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Rosularia serpentinica

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Rosularia chrysantha

The genus Rosularia includes about 35 species. We have grown R. muratdaghensis, R. serpentinica, and R. chrysantha. Both R. muratdaghenis and serpentinica form tight mounding rosettes of gray green foliage, accented with red tones in cooler temperatures. R. chrysantha has a mat forming habit,with rosettes of soft velvety green leaves. All 3 species demand lean soil with excellent drainage and are are hardy in zones 5-9.

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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