Category Archives: Plant Portraits

Early Summer Container Report

My goal each season is to plant containers that are easy to maintain and will carryon summer through fall. For sunny areas, I’ve come to look at succulents as such reliable performers. They always oblige… often looking even more fabulous at season’s end. For areas with more shade, I lean towards Begonias and other plants with great foliage. This season I’m starting to play with Bromeliads more.
An older  28″ cast stone bowl on a pedestal mixes up various  larger succulent specimens with trailing Dichondra ‘Silver Falls’.The intriguing dark finish on this ceramic pot from Campania has nuanced tones of lavender and light green. The Echeveria ‘Dusty Rose, Mangave ‘Inkblot’, Trailing blue-green Sedeveria and String of Pearls pick up this coloring….and for fun, (because I just cut them from the bed behind), dried allium stalks add a little height.This blue salt glazed version of the previous pot has been planted with succulents which pick up its color tones. Senecio (now Curio) cylindricus is usedfor height, with Aeonium , Echeveria, Pachyveria , Othonna ‘Ruby Necklace’ and Sedum album.

This tall gray cylinder pot mixes up a large specimen Aeonium ‘Blushing Beauty’, with dark leaved Echeveria, Kalanchoe, Sedeveria ‘Sorrento’, Senecio cylindricus, and trailing Dichondra.Our pair of iron urns now get dappled shade much of the day. Here I used some succulents that can take less sun: ‘Aeonium ‘Kiwi’ and Rhipsalis. Other plants that like the same conditions are Iron Cross Oxalis and Coprosma ‘Evening Splendor’.A non-succulent ensemble similar in coloring (it is right near the Iron urns) has a Cordyline ‘Cha Cha’ with the everblooming Abutilon ‘Harvest Moon’ ,yellow leaved jasmine and dark leaved Begonia ‘Ebony’. A specimen of Mangave ‘Mission to Mars’ keeps it company in a classic rolled rim pot. This spot gets morning sun and afternoon shade.In a different part of the garden is this cast stone urn that gets morning sun for a fe w hours.  Begonia ‘Art Hodes’ is backed by the bromeliad  Vriesea (Flaming Sword) and has Maranta (Red Prayer Plant) skirting its base.Bromeliads make great  shade plants in warm climates. This is the first time I have used  them in mixed containers. In the is large Grecian style urn, the showy Aechmea fasciata comes into spectacular bloom paired with a Begonia ‘Escargot’ (which I hope doesn’t become a problem). Trailing Callisia elegans and Dichondra (it does well in some shade) spill over, and for added fill there’s a couple of small Athyrium ‘Pearly White’ ferns.Not all of our pots are large and busy… this old 14″ terracotta bowl has a simple pairing of Abutilon ‘Harvest Moon’ with Tradescantia ‘Sitara’s Gold’ hidden behind.Finding the perfect plant that works with the personality of the pot is always fun. Here the ruffly leaved Echeveria ‘Topsy Turvy’ (curiously called Mexican Hens and Chicks) fits the cavity of this cast stone Chicken Planter.The always popular clamshell container features plants that have that under the ocean feeling: Crassula undulata, starry little Sedum album,  and trailing Rhipsalis which does kind of resemble Kelp…

Yes, I always come back to succulents since they are so easy and reliable. The various tones of the succulents chosen match the coloring on this 13″ ceramic pot .One challenge using succulents is finding complimentary plants which tolerate the same conditions that can add height. The colorful linear leaves of Phormium work well with this mixed composition of Echeverias, Graptosedum and Sedum tetractinum

There are more pots, which you will see if you visit. Look for the End of the Season blog post to see how they look in late September.

Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Snowflake’

I can’t believe I’ve never written a blog post on  one of my favorite summer blooming shrubs….Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Snowflake’.  For 20 years now this  beautiful double flowered form of Oak leaf Hydrangea has graced our garden in dappled shade, never missing a beat.  By mid June the flowers have formed, and develop their lovely celadon, white and mauve coloring over the next 6 weeks. The flower heads age magnificently and are wonderful in both fresh and dried arrangements. Do note: Oak leaf Hydrangea bear flowers from old wood, so take care not to cut too many branches or you may sacrifice next year’s show.

In fall, the bold oak shaped leaves take on bronzy maroon tones. Oakleaf Hydrangeas are dear resistant, but hardly any plant is deer proof these days. ‘Snowflake’ grows 6-8′ tall (can get taller, I’m told, but after 20 years, that’s the size of our plants) and wide and is happiest if it gets partial shade.  Shrubs are hardy in zones 5-8.

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Aloe, Haworthia, Gasteria and their hybrids

Some of our Aloe, Gasteria, and Haworthia collection. Yes, those red tags mean they are stock plants and not for sale…but we may have babies coming along!

It’s no surprise that as your plant obsession grows,  you begin to find the more exotic, curious and sometimes bizarre selections the most interesting, and perhaps most beautiful.  Aloe, Haworthia and Gasteria fit that bill us.

Miniature Aloe ‘Blizzard’…4 year old clump

A number of years ago, we visited California succulent breeder Dick Wright (now in his 90’s)  in search of his famous Echeveria hybrids. Dick’s new obsession was miniature Aloe, and he turned us onto this whole new group of succulent hybrids. He, along with other CA hybridizers such as John Bleck, Kelly Griffin and Karen Zimmerman, were hybridizing many Aloe species resulting in selections as minute as 1″ to up to 2′ in height, in a vast array of foliage colors and textures. Their small stature makes them more suitable for container culture than in the landscape, and since they do not winter over outdoors here in MA, that was just fine with us.

More Aloes…’Christmas Sleigh’, ‘Swordfish’, A. ramosissima, ‘Delta Dawn’, (Sedum clavatum interrupts the lineup ) one of the mini dark numbered selections from Dick Wright and a variegated Aloe brevifolia

Our first acquisitions were species hailing from Madagascar, Kenya  and Tanzania, as well as the more well known hybrid selections ‘Delta Dawn’, ‘Christmas Sleigh’, and ‘Firecracker’. We also brought home other forms which had not been introduced and were distinguished only by initials and numbers, like the little dark Aloe above.

Aloe “AJR” in the foreground with Aloe ‘Firecracker’ behind

Gasteraloe x ‘Midnight’, Gastworthia armstrongii x limifolia, Haworthia retusa, Gasteria bicolor v liliputana (BG), Gasteraloe ‘Green Ice’ and Haworthia concolor.

We also began paying attention to the closely related genera Haworthia and Gasteria, since they are known to be more tolerant of low indoor light conditions. There are many species and hybrids of both, and you will likely come across names like x Gasteraloe and x Gastworthia, as these genera are often crossed with each other, resulting in even more diverse selections.

Gasteraloe ‘Green Ice’, sporting darker leaf coloration, and flowers!

Blooming time for Aloe, Gasteria and Haworthia is primarily during the winter months and early spring usually with strikingly colored flowers. A number of the Aloe selections also bloom intermittently throughout the summer for us and are a hummingbird favorite.

20 year old Gasteria bicolor v. liliputana in bloom….you start with a baby, and suddenly they are all grown up.

Consider growing these easy care plants for your fall and winter plant “fix”.  They ask for so little: provide a sharply drained soil mix,  a bright south or western exposure for Aloe, an eastern or northern exposure will be fine for the Gasteria and HaworthiaWater only as needed. The frequency will depend  on how warm and arid your home conditions are. In fact, a cooler home is perfect!

Container Report: late September 2020

Two words sum up this summer’s weather here along the coast of southern New England: hot and dry.  Here at the end of September, our parched gardens are still waiting for the rain predictions to materialize.  Sigh.

The gardens are looking tarnished  but the container plantings held up better since their watering needs are more easily met. As in previous dry years,  our containers planted with succulents were the stars. (Check out the recent article NY Times garden writer Margaret Roach covered on succulent containers).

You may recall the June report post  which shows the “before” pictures. Now I’ll show you what some of these look like 3 months later, chewed up, cut back foliage and all.

The Drum Pot: Melianthus major grew taller and the Helichrysum ‘Limelight’  (Licorice Plant) needed to get cut back after the American Lady Butterfly caterpillars made dinner of most of its foliage…what we do for the butterflies…The Jewels of Opar didn’t show off as much as I hoped, and was cut back a few weeks ago. The Tradescantia sillamontana did fine, but this planter combo won’t be repeated.

We have a pair of these iron urns that are always planted to match. They are in dappled shade most of the day. One of the pair really was over by the end of August (the one that I photographed in June). It did get a bit more afternoon sun. Its complement held up better…. here the Helichrysum took off after an early cut back, as did the Copper Glow Oxalis. The Oxalis ‘Iron Cross’ is now fading, Begonia ‘Ebony’ bloomed well and its dark foliage added height and contrast, but the golden Moses- in-the-cradle (Tradescantea spathacea) just couldn’t hold its own, and is in hiding.

Another shady spot. Begonia thurstonii grew well, but held off putting out any flowers (not surprisingly). I used two 6″ pots in this vase, and probably should have used just one. The  mostly gold Plectranthus ‘Limelight’ is not a strong grower, and wouldn’t cascade down the pot as  hoped. The Oxalis ‘Zinfandel’ always does well and the ruby leaved Alternanthera did fine until some critter nibbled  its trailing stems.

No complaints with this shady ensemble…Phlebodium aureum is my go to bold foliage shade container plant. Plectranthus ‘Mona Lavender’ is providing an end of the season supply of blossoms as is the Gold Leaved Mexican heather Cuphea hyssopifolia aurea. The golden jasmine vine’s foliage simply glows.

A pair of these hypertufa bowls, in the shade of our giant oak tree, were planted with ‘Moonglow’ Snakeplant (Sansevieria), Dichondra Silver Falls’, Pilea glauca and Liriope ‘Okimo’  (all selected for durable attractive leaves. The white flowered form of Black Eyed Susan Vine was the flower power plant, and it bloomed well until a  couple of weeks ago.  Figured a few mini pumpkins could add a little fun now.

And now, for the sun and heat loving succulents! This beautiful container, in itself, is eye candy….the foliage colors of the succulents were selected to complement it, and all did fine except for the tall Aeonium that had a mishap and lost it’s tallest stems. Blue Senecio talinoides and beige-pink Graptoveria ‘Fred Ives’ obliged by filing in much of the horizontal space.End of day light and cooler night temperatures bring out the glow of Sticks on Fire, Euphorbia turicali, with the Mangave ‘Desert Dragon’ added dark contrast. Graptosedum ‘California Sunset’ on the far left, yellow leaved Sedum mackinoi ‘Ogon’ and blue gray pink Graptosedum ‘Francesco Baldi’ filled in the foreground.  This will look good right up until the frost. (Please, frost, wait until November.)

Someone purchased the seashell planter shown in the June post, but we did another version for a client.  This image was taken at at the end of August, but the ensemble is still looking fabulous.Succulents can play with other plants that  tolerate the dry well drained soil…Here Coprosma ‘Pink Splendor’ (Mirror Plant)  works well with Sedum adolphiiSedum mackinoi ‘Ogon’ and Pachysedum.

Our tall cylinder pot, each year planted with a different  array of succulents, caught visitors’ eyes when they entered the parking area. Everything did extremely well with just an occasional watering, although some creature nibbled and pulled out some of the trailing Othonna capensis ‘Ruby Necklace’.  The tallish green succulent with the arching branches is the large leaved form of Elephant Plant, Portulacaria afra macrophylla. Adding an array of pumpkins helps carry this container into the fall season.

In summary, we had a hot and extremely dry summer, and one group of plants, the succulents, met this year’s challenge beautifully.  I realize this blog post reaches folks in all parts of the country, and your area may have benefited from  more summer rain. If so, what plantings were you most impressed with this year ?

Abutilon ‘Dwarf Red’

Are you looking for something different for a fall display in your containers? Check out Abutilon ‘Dwarf Red’...it celebrates autumn with multitudes of dark orange flowers, and can, if brought indoors and kept in a sun filled space, will continue to carry on the show.

We grow a number of Abutilon selections  in containers which we bring indoors once the cold sets in, but if we were asked which  form to grow,  Abutilon ‘Dwarf Red‘ tops the list. It stays bushy and compact  ( it has A. megapotamicum in its lineage) when grown in 4-6 hours of sun and blooms continuously  with the biggest show in late summer and fall.  We have been caught off guard when a frosty night  has brought temperatures below 32F, and  found that  ‘Dwarf Red’  came through unfazed.

Some things to know about Abutilon. It is  commonly known as Flowering Maple,  and is a semi-tropical shrub with lovely pendant bell-shaped flowers that are attractive to hummingbirds. The flower display can continue year round when grown in bright light and temperatures above 45F, but in our experience,  the flower display in autumn is most generous. Often listed as winter hardy in zones 9-10, we have been hearing that hardiness in zones 7b-8 is not unheard of when plants are grown in a protected spot with good drainage.

CARE: Abutilons like to be fed regularly for good flower output  We use a fish emulsion/seaweed blend (Neptune’s Harvest 2-6-4 blend) every 2 weeks. allow the soil to become somewhat dry between waterings.   Purchase online.

Other posts discussing fall containers:

Rethinking fall containers

Plectranthus ciliatus

End of the Season Container Reports

Vitex agnus-castus ‘Shoal Creek’

Why plant Buddleia when you can grow Vitex?  Mid summer blue-lavender fragrant spires begin in July and carry on through August on bushy plants with attractive palmate foliage. Here in the northeast, our colder winters don’t allow plants to become as large (10-15′) as the data says, since they  do get some  winter die back.  Vitex blooms on new growth, so it can be cut back hard each spring to grow into a perfectly sized 5-6′ flowering shrub.  And yes,  it is a great addition to a pollinator garden as it is a favorite of butterflies and bees.

The fruits of Vitex agnus-castus resemble peppercorns and have medicinal properties. It has been used to treat women’s health issues such fertility and menstrual problems. In the middle ages it was used to reduce the male libido (heaven’s no!) hence its common name, Chaste Tree. Grow Vitex in full sun in well drained soil in zones (5, with protection) 6-9.

Phlox paniculata ‘Jeana’

I’ll give you 3 reasons why you should have ‘Jeana’, a Summer Panicle Phlox, in your garden.

1. Long-blooming tresses of many small lilac sized florets, on 4-5′ stems, adorn this plant from mid July-September.

2. The foliage is highly resistant to mildew.

3. Butterflies favored ‘Jeana’  over all other Phlox paniculata selections  in the trial gardens at the Mt. Cuba Center.

Phlox paniculata ‘Jeana’ is  hardy in zones 4-8 and enjoys full sun. For a pleasing midsummer vignette, combine with white coneflowers or the yellow daisies of tall Rudbeckia nitida ‘Autumn Sun’, as well as the blue spires of mid-sized Agastache ‘Blue Fortune’ and  for the front of the border airy and pollinator friendly Calamintha nepeta ssp nepeta.

A Versatile Fall Aster

Heath Aster planted itself in the dappled shade of our oak tree.

I take no credit for planting the occasional surprise of native Symphyotrichum ericoides (heath aster) in our gardens…they just appear and often in just the right spot. Unobtrusive all summer, but a delightful accent when flowers form in mid-September, Heath Aster presents 1-2′ stems bearing hundreds of tiny white daisies with yellow centers, creating a frothy foam in both sunny and even somewhat shady areas.

Synphyotrichum ‘Bridal Veil’…a Chicago Botanic Garden Introduction. ( image courtesy of CBC)

There are selected forms out there….‘Snow Flurry’ stays quite low at  6-8″ with 2′ branches that hug the earth, making it a useful native ground cover for the edge of a border or in the rock garden. A new selection ‘Bridal Veil’, introduced by the Chicago Botanic Garden, is believed to be a naturally occurring cross of ericoides and “?”. It produces strong 2′ arching stems with copious amounts of blossoms and forms vigorous clumps.

All forms of Heath Aster prefer well-drained soil and are quite drought tolerant once established. As I mentioned we’ve had plants pop up in even shady situations, but I think you get more flower power with full sun. Deer resistant and pollinator-friendly and hardy in zones 5-8…yay!

Two Plants to add a little Fall Excitement

All summer long Plectranthus ciliatus masquerades as a khaki-colored Coleus. Come early autumn, all of a sudden floral spikes extend and open up into chunky spires of lavender-blue flowers.  It does need to be protected from frost. but we’ve solved this problem by covering plants with a blanket on those pre-Indian Summer nights when the temperatures dip. Easy peasy to grow indoors for the winter, as it can get by with indoor lighting.

Folks always admire this succulent Senecio early in the season for its display of blue-gray tufts of foliage. However, when late summer rolls around flowering stalks emerge and open up to showy 1″ red-orange buttons. Use Senecio ‘Blazing Glory in a pot by itself or mix with other succulent goodies. Yes, it is a plant that needs protection from frosts., but it is super easy indoors on a sunny window sill.

 

Heptacodium miconoides

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.