All posts by Katherine Tracey

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.

Container Series 2020

Here we go…the first of a series of container ensembles for 2020. If you’ve followed our postings from previous years, you may remember that our goal is to plant up  containers in June which will be easy to maintain and still look fabulous in September.

Start with the pot. When I design a container I try to select plants that work well with the chosen vessel. Consider the container’s shape, color and texture. In the design above I have used Melianthus major, hardy to zone 9, as the main feature in this multi-hued green drum pot. I tucked in Golden Jewels of Opar and Helichrysum ‘Limelight’ to add light and drape, and the petite form of silver Tradescantia sillamontana. This container is located in a spot that gets 6-7 hours of sun.

This Iron urn gets dappled light most of the day. I’ve used Oxalis ‘Iron Cross’ to pick up the tone of the urn, plus Oxalis ‘Copper Glow’, Helichrysum ‘Limelight’ for lightness and Begonia ‘Ebony’, which will give height as the season progresses. Note the Begonia has the same coral pink flowers as the Oxalis ‘Iron Cross’. I had hopes for the golden Moses- in-the-cradle (Tradescantea spathacea), but it is beginning to dissolve…and I don’t know why.

This large Grecian urn is in shade most of the day. Plants featured are Begonia thurstonii, with its glossy bronze foliage and pink flowers, Oxalis ‘Zinfandel’, Ming Fern (Asparagus retrofractus) in the back, which you cannot see much of yet, golden Moses- in-the-cradle in the foreground and Plectranthus ‘Limelight’ which will hopefully trail to disguise the iron stain on the vessel.

This urn gets the first hours of morning sun, then dappled shade the rest of the day. It’s a variation on what I did last year, with a few updates. For height I’ve used Blue Rabbits-Foot Fern (Phlebodium aureum),  accented with Plectranthus ‘Mona Lavender’,  little Cuphea hyssopifolia lutea, Tolmeia ‘Cool Gold’ and Jasmine ‘Fiona Sunrise’.

Playing with contrasts here: white and black, rustic and elegant.  A rustic hypertufa bowl in dappled shade has Sansevieria ‘Moonshine’ adding a vertical thrust along with smaller Liriope ‘Okimo’, and to spill over the sides Pilea glauca,  Thunbergia alata alba (Black Eyed Susan Vine) and Dichondra argentea.

This gorgeous pot with its salt-crackle finish of turquoise over bronze called for succulents. A tall Aeonium arboreum adds height, with additional rosettes from  tawny toned Graptoveria ‘Fred Ives’ and Echeveria ‘Autumn Flame’. Senecio talinoides picks up the blue tones. For sun to partial shade…

Just potted up  hours ago, this 28″ brown terracotta bowl showcases my new fav, iMangave ‘Desert Dragon’ , in the center. Sticks on Fire (Euphorbia turicalli v. rosea) adds height, with Graptosedum ‘California Sunset’, Pachysedum, Haworthia, Sempervivums, Crassula lycopoides and Echeveria nodulosa acting as fillers. Small leaved yellow  Sedum mackinoi ‘Ogon’ is repeated around the container’s edge, where it hopefully will spill over the sides.

A new version of a seashell planter with Echeveria ‘Dick’s Pink’ in the spotlight. Pale sea green Graptoveria ‘Moonglow’ fills either side, with bronzy Sedum tetractinum and Senecio ‘String of Pearls’ cascading down.

This tall lightweight gray cylinder pot is in area that is seen by everyone almost daily. It’s important that it looks good and needs little care, so of course succulents come to play. In the past I’ve used a lot of silver and blue toned succulents…this year I’m playing with green, bronze and gold. The tall green succulent is a large leaved form of Portulacaria afra that we found at a specialty shop in LA.

You may wonder, and the answer is yes, I do like flowers, but I do try to avoid flowering plants that need constant deadheading or are very thirsty. This pair of freshly planted white ribbon pots (for a client ) have 3 easy long-blooming tender perennials that will give a show all summer: Blue Plumbago, Gomphrena ‘Fireworks’ and Euphorbia ‘Diamond Frost’, with a variegated ivy  that will spill over the sides.

Check back in late September when I post the end of season photos in the final  review of which ensembles worked well and which did not. I do have more pots to do, and if time allows I’ll post images. Click this link for previous years results.

Our winter visit to the Montreal Botanical Garden

Traveling always presents challenges…What to do when you have a 22-hour layover in Montreal? Book a hotel, get up early and take an Uber to the Montreal Botanical Garden, otherwise known as Le Jardin Botanique de Montréal…after all it is in the French-speaking province of Quebec. Yes, there was an icy layer of snow outdoors, but inside the 10 greenhouse complex, there was flora to excite even the most jaded botanist. Check out this sensational planted wall with Begonia, Pothos, Tillandsia, Prayer Plants and more.The orchid house was full of treasures. Epiphytic plants cascaded from the rafters.

Each greenhouse focuses on a specific plant group, with specimens arranged in an aesthetically pleasing manner.  Here is the view from the catwalk in the Aroid,  Cycad and Palm House.The Succulent Greenhouse … with Mexican themed architecturecloseup of the hanging Rhipsalis floccosa

More temperate plantings were found in the cooler Asian themed greenhouse.An  exquisite 45 year old Penjing specimen of Pyrancantha crenulataSweetly fragrant Wintersweet, Chimonanthus praecox, which wouldn’t be hardy outdoors in Montreal or most of Massachusetts for that matter, was in full bloom indoors in January.There are many educational exhibits that are artfully conceived. Here cut stems of Red Twig Dogwood are inserted in a wooden platform, echoing the stems outdoors in the distance. Floating from the rafters above is a montage of recycled trash…yes…what we fill our landfills with.Another view of the recycled assemblage.Chris and I didn’t have time to walk the grounds, even though the winter landscape beckoned. The staff we spoke with were extremely knowledgable and quite proud of their garden, as well they should be.  If you are looking for a flora filled winter escape, the greenhouses here are exceptional. We definitely want to return this summer or fall. 

End of the Season Container Report

Shady Planters with Mini Spider Plant, Pilea glauca and silver Sanseveiria...the white begonias  originally planted pooped out, and were replaced with white pumpkins a few weeks ago.

It’s October 20th, and although we’ve flirted with temps in the low 30’s…we haven’t had a frost yet! We had reasonable summer weather, although not much rain in August and September. The containers we planted in June have held up well, although a few plants had to be edited out or cut back midseason. Once again, the containers based on foliage plants and succulents fared the best.

One of our go-to combos: Phormium, Echeveria, Aeonium and Silver Falls Dichondra

Pelargonium tomentosum overwhelmed one side of the drum pot, but we didn’t mind as we love to rub the minty scented leaves as we pass by. The Euphorbia ‘Blackbird’ held its bracts all summer.  Plectranthus neohilis ‘Gary Hammer’ added its own aroma.  And Erigeron karvinskianus received a cut back a few weeks ago and has decided not to perform anymore.

Phlebodium aureum (Rabbits Foot Fern) is an easy solution plant for shade containers. The yellow leaved jasmine ‘Fiona’s Sunrise‘ trailed about, the purple Oxalis triangularis carried on as did the Tolmeia ‘Cool Gold ‘.

This planting received ooh’s and ah’s when I shared on Instagram back in June….then everything grew out of scale quickly;  both the Abutilon and Coleus were pinched back regularly.

Phormium ‘Evening Glow with Sedum ‘Firestorm’ and various Echeveria and Kalanchoe planted at its base.  Looking just fine in mid October.

This was NOT the best pairing this year…..the Eucomis never bloomed and we knew the Plectranthus ‘Mona Lavender ‘ would bloom late, but it proved rather lackluster when it finally did. We used last year’s stock plant and it never kicked in the way a fresher, young plant does. The yellow-leaved jasmine did its thing well, though.

The tall cylinder container with succulents put on a show all summer…the Sticks on Fire did get rather tall and we discussed but could not decide whether to clip it back or not. Love the lacy Rhipsalis that trails in the front!

This collection of greenhouse foliage plants in our Zen bowl did well, (except for the Begonia boliviensis that succumbed to a bad case of fungal leaf spot and had to go). Synadenium grantii put on some height . Light conditions: mostly shade except for 2 hours of mid-late day sun.

I really liked this Euphorbia turcalli , Begonia kellermanii, Oxalis combination. It is situated where it received 2-3 hours of the midday sun, and then its all shade. There’s also a Euphorbia ‘Blackbird’, a Ming fern and Echeveria tucked in for added from and contrast.

What combinations did you try this year? Which plantings would try again?

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.

 

Quick Container Rehab

Nothing stays the same, and this is especially true with gardening. A container planting can look great for 2 months and then an issue arises…a focal point plant gets leaf spot or melts with the humidity, or it just stops blooming.  This doesn’t mean you have to ditch the grouping. You just need to edit.

Blame it on the humidity or uneven watering, or gardener’s neglect (I’ll be honest) but the showy orange Begonia bolivinensis just began to look awful with leaf spotting. Spraying with a fungicide would only prevent new leaves from being affected, so the only thing to do was to remove this sad plant and find a worthy replacement. Sad because the hummingbirds sure did visit frequently.

This spot gets a few hours of the afternoon sun, and we’ll have summery weather for at least another 6-7 weeks, so I decided on using orange flowered Cuphea ‘David Verity’ (for the hummingbirds) which never disappoints and will flower until a hard frost. I also had enough space to tuck in a dwarf variegated papyrus  (Cyperus albostriatus) , (you can always count on foliage plants). Although it likes moisture I’ve found it can tolerate dryish conditions.

I am guilty of overplanting a container, in case some plants just don’t perform, figuring I can always thin out the planting later. This pot with Verbena bonariensis, Lantana montevidensis, Gomphrena ‘Truffula Pink’ and Euphorbia Diamond Delight needed editing. The Angel Wings Senecio candicans really started to go downhill once the humidity arrived in July.First  I brought down the height of the Verbena bonariensis by removing the tallest stalks. I cut back the Lantana and the Gomphrena to allow the Euphorbia to own more space. And out came the Angel Wings…lesson learned…not a plant for southern New England summers. Next, I fertilized with fish emulsion to give a nourishment boost to the planting.

Later, I’ll post how these containers fared when I do the end of September evaluation.

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.