Category Archives: Featured

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.

5 Plants for the Late Summer Shade Garden

Sunny borders can be wonderfully colorful, but when the heat of summer settles in, it is the comfort of the shade garden that I am drawn to. Hosta is now excluded from so many gardens due to its “appetizer for deer” reputation, so you might want to consider this short list of shade-tolerant plants that shine in August.

Hydrangea  arborescens ‘Haas Halo’... This lace cap selection of Smooth Aster boasts sturdy stems that can bear the weight of the large white blossoms.  This native shrub is a favorite of pollinators and grows 3-5′ tall and wide. Hardy in zones 3-9.

Aralia cordata ‘Sun King’.…. It’s hard not to be impressed by a glowing golden specimen of Sun King Spikenard. This Aralia grows 4-6′ tall and we have 6-year-old clumps that are easily 6′ across.  (It might take a few years, but be ready…). In late summer white “Sputnik” flowers top the tall stems, followed by showy black fruit. Pollinators love this plant and the deer don’t. Hardy in zones 4-9.

Kirengeshoma palmata… I remember the first time I saw  Korean waxbells, looking very shrub-like in front of an antique farmhouse, fresh and in flower in August. Bold Maple like leaves are its main feature, but it does have soft yellow somewhat bell shaped flowers.  Slow growing at first,  but in about 4-5 years you will have a clump 4′ tall and 5′ wide. Oh, and yes, it is deer resistant. Hardy in zones  5-9.

Tricyrtis ‘Autumn Glow’ Toad lilies tend to get resentful if the soil isn’t evenly moist, but I have found ‘Autumn Glow’ more forgiving than most. The extra-large foliage has a wider band of gold than the other variegated forms, and the purplish orchid-like flowers are produced in profusion during August and September. Hardy in zones  5-9.

Hakonechloa macra aureola Japanese Forest Grass is simply rewarding. It clumps up, not too quickly, to healthy expanses  2-4′ across and its yellow and green variegated leaves brightens up shady corners and adds contrast to other bold foliage plants. The deer are not fond of Hakonechloa, but we are learning that the bunnies like to nibble its young shoots in the spring, so an application of repellent is in order by those who are being pestered. Hardy in zones 5-10.

Do you have a favorite late-summer plant that tolerates some shade? I’d love to hear your comments.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Containers 2019…The June Images

A shade tolerant planter that gets its zing from foliage color, with blossoms as a bonus

My goal, when designing containers, is to come up with combinations that are easy care, not too thirsty and will look fabulous right through September. As followers of this blog know, I am a big fan of succulents which you will see featured in many combinations.   Here are some of this season’s ensembles.
An older black cast stone urn features a new plant (for us) Angel Wings Senecio, with Phormium ‘Shiraz’, Aeonium, Echeveria ‘Afterglow’ and Dichondra Silver Falls. Yep, I’m mixing succulents with other drought tolerant plants! This urn receives more shade every year, but it does get strong afternoon sun.

Plectranthus ‘Mona Lavender’, a Coleus relative, has dark green leaves with purple undersides and lavender-blue flowers. She’s paired with the Pineapple Lily Eucomis Oakhurst, Oxalis triangularis, Foxtail Asparagus, and yellow leaved Jasmine.

Nearby, in the teal green drum pot, I’ve used Pineapple Lily again with Phormium ‘Evening Glow’ , Euphorbia ‘Blackbird’, and the ever so sweet Santa Barbara daisy Erigeron karvinskianuplus Peppermint Geranium.

This rather wild planting in a 20″ cast stone bowl includes Feather Grass Stipa tenuissima with Gomphrena ‘Fireworks’, Gaura ‘So White’ , Ornamental Oregano and the Santa Barbara Daisy again.

This basalt gray trough is about 28″ x 10″ wide by 7″ deep. Perhaps it’s overplanted…we’ll find out. Cardoon Cynara cardunculus is the centerpiece, flanked by Luzula ‘Solar Flare’,Pelargonium sidoides , white Lantana montevidensis ,Santa Barbara Daisy and Dichondra.

A large brown terra cotta bowl is planted with a variety of succulents and Phormium ‘Evening Glow’ which adds height to the center.

The Martini pot makes an appearance again, featuring, of course,  succulents

Found this great pumice rock planter at Snug Harbor Farm in Maine! Black Mondo Grass adds dark contrast and texture to this succulent planting,

A 20″ dark gray stone bowl is planted with succulents which pick up the coloring of the stone wall in the background.

Visitors to Avant Gardens are greeted by this tall planter featuring some of my favorite succulents. Super easy, so reliable, so drought tolerant!

A closeup detail…featuring a choice Echeveria,  powder blue Sedum clavatum, and amber Sedum adolphii and Rice Plant.

This arrangementin front of our little summer house which is quite shady, plays with gold, variegated and burgundy foliage.  The perennials Tolmeia ‘Cool Gold’ and Euphorbia ‘Ascot Rainbow’ contrast with Coleus ‘Dark Heart’,  and Abutilon ‘Gold Dust’ offers color with its melon colored blossoms. The Abutilon will probably need regular pinching. I can handle that.

A large urn , which now only gets a couple of hours of morning sun. I’ve had good luck growing the various Asparagus and Rabbit’s Foot Ferns, as well as the purple leaved Alternanthera in this spot. New additions for this year are Abutilon ‘Harvest Moon’ and the trailing variegated Bermuda Grass.

Another shady spot combo: Golden leaved Jasmine ‘Fiona’s Sunrise’ will trail and perhaps climb the cedar rail. Rabbit’s Foot Fern will add height, Oxalis triangularis adds dark tones while Tolemia ‘Cool Gold’ echoes plantings in the bed behind. Last year we had Begonia grandis in this pot, and it looks like seeds dropped and came up at the base of the stone wall. Maybe I should tuck one into this pot again.

I used to plant this huge 38″ bowl with succulents, but nearby trees have grown and shaded this area quite a bit. This year’s experiment is a mixup of shade tolerant plants that are not very thirsty. Here is a partial list:  Begonia boliviensis ‘Santa Cruz’ dominates with orange color, Begonia ‘Ebony’ adds dark angel wing foliage, Black Mondo Grass adds contrast. Rice plant Rhipsalis cereuscalaRhipsalis rhombea and Ming Fern Asparagus macowanii will trail, and  Begonia bowerea will creep and fill. I had to add a  gift plant from my friend Suzanne,  Synadenium grantii. Can’t wait to see it grow…it is a succulent Euphorbia with red infused foliage and will obtain some height…observe and learn, I say.

This embossed cast stone pot gets only a few hours of sun, but it happens right in the middle of the day. I’m using plants that can take the heat, and hopefully some shade too. Euphorbia ‘Blackbird’ adds height and Euphorbia turicalli (Sticks on Fire) adds a warm glow, while Oxalis ‘Iron Cross’ will be filler, along with Begonia kellermannii and Ming Fern.  Echeveria agavoides adds some weight. Oh, and I tucked in a String of Pearls too! It doesn’t ask for much, and more is good.

Check back in early October when I report back on how well these containers carried on through the summer.

2019: A Spring to Remember

A favorite vignette with Enkianthus c. ‘Sikokianus’ and Acer palmatum ‘Chishio Improved’

It’s been a while since we’ve had a cool, moist  (wet…maybe really wet) lengthy spring.  Most years, April gives us a wintry mix; we get 2 weeks of spring in May, and then summer-like weather hits us by Memorial Day and we soon start praying for rain. Not this year. The flowering trees and shrubs have been putting on a show unlike any other year in recent memory.  Here are a few joyful images from the past 6 weeks.

Arisaema fargesii foliage emerging

Glaucidium palmatum, the lovely wood poppy bloomed for us for the first time!

Art imitating Life

Clematis recta ‘Lime Close’ growing up through Kolwitzia

Leucosceptrum ‘Gold Angel’ effectively disguising Allium foliage!!!!

Kolwitzia ‘Dreamcatcher’, aka Beautybush’

Epimedium ‘Domino’ has continued to throw off flowers since late April, and here it is mid June!

Paeonia ‘Bartzella’

Right now the variegated Cornus kousa ‘Wolf Eyes’ is stunning with thousands of 3-4″ flowers.

What plants totally blew you away with their beauty this spring?

Late Winter 2019, Southern CA

Anza-Borrego Desert scene with Sand Verbena and Brown-eyed Evening Primrose.

Chris and I just returned from visiting southern CA, and it is hard not to be discouraged by the white, gray and brown landscape scene out my window. Spring WILL come. In the meantime, I’ll turn my attention to the splashes of plant candy the SoCa landscape provided.

closeup of Brown Eyed Evening Primrose, Chylismia claviformis

One of our first plant viewing excursions was to the Anza-Borrego Desert, about 2 hours northeast of San Diego.  It was an overcast day, okay for picture taking, but a more committed photographer would have been there at dawn to catch more dramatic light. It was the very beginning of the wildflower bloom, perhaps 2 weeks prior to peak bloom (which is happening right now, we’re told!) Tip: If you visit, a 4 wheel drive vehicle will get you on roads which take you to some of the most spectacular spots. Our car rental did not have 4 wheel drive, and we were limited to areas where we had time to walk from the parking lot. Here’s what we saw happening:

Desert Lily, Hesperocallis undulata

White Desert Chickory (Rafinesquia neomexicana) with Popcorn Flower (Cryptantha sp)

Chris, with towering Ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens) just showing color.

Ocotillo in bud closeup

Aloe capitata, on the grounds of Huntington Gardens

Our next outing was to the Huntington Botanical Gardens in San Marino. We were there when the gardens opened at 10 and with 16 themed gardens and several museum galleries on 120 acres, we didn’t leave until the closing bell rang. Much of our time was spent in the Desert Garden, with Aloe bloom season in high gear.

Aloe striata, with a blue Agave and a carpet of Graptosedum ‘California Sunset’

A flowering Kalanchoe in the foreground with assorted Cacti in the background

The entry garden and rill with potted succulents.

Besides botanical gardens we had to check out nurseries and garden centers,  We scored some great plants at 2 of our go-to favorites, Solana Succulents and the Cactus Center in Pasadena, but wanted to check out places we had not visited before. Serra Gardens in Fallbrook had some impressive specimens with well-labeled plants. Upscale Rogers Gardens in Corona del Mar offers more than plants…outdoor living accents and furniture, gift and floral boutiques, as well as many planted containers.

Serra Gardens signage informed us that Kalanchoe hildebrantii also goes by the name of K. bracteata

Rogers Gardens Vertical Garden Planter

Rogers had benches of this blue Anemone coronaria and I was consumed with plant lust

Another trendy lifestyle nursery is Rolling Greens in LA, and we visited 2 of the 3 locations. The Culver City store was well stocked with plants and containers, with many potted combinations for those who dig succulents. We also checked out Rainforest Flora in Torrance to collect more Tillandsia and Platycerium.

Neatly organized pottery,  potted up with dramatic succulents at Rolling Green.

Platycerium species at Rainforest Flora in Torrance

Lavender Pergola with bare Wisteria at the Getty Center

A visit to LA is incomplete if one doesn’t stop at the Getty Center. It has been an unusually cool winter in southern CA, with a good amount of rain, and the Saturday we visited it was beautifully gray and misty. The grounds are designed to complement Richard Meier’ architecture, and a number of landscape architects, horticulturists and designers were consulted.  The outrageous lower level outdoor spaces were designed by Robert Irwin.

Natural Stone ensemble in round pool at the Getty

One view of the Roger Irwin designed garden with pollarded plane trees

Chris and I also spent wonderful times with family and friends in San Diego and Los Angeles, and there just wasn’t enough time to visit all of our favorite haunts such as the San Diego Botanic Garden, Kartuz Greenhouses, Waterwise Botanicals, & the Altman Plant Retail Store, but we hope to be back soon. Do any of you have any favorite garden-related stops when you’re in southern CA?

Planting for Honey Bees

Lindera benzoin, blooming in March,  is an early source of nectar.

We are about to begin our 4th season as beekeepers, and it has been fascinating, heartwarming and at times, devastating. It’s too early to be assured of our hives’ winter survival but there was a whole lot of action around all 3 hives during the recent 2-day warm spell. Off “the girls” went in search of food to replenish their winter stores. This brought up the question: which specific plants would the bees find around our property that might provide pollen and nectar? I knew our Witch Hazels (Hamamelis) were just beginning to open. What other plants could we introduce to ensure an early and sustained supply of bee nourishment in our northern climate?

Hamamelis ‘Arnold’s Promise’

There is much information for attracting pollinators, (a great source is Margaret Roach’s A Way to Garden blog and podcast) but not so much specifically for the honey bee, Apis mellifica. I was able to get bits of info here and there, and finally found an online document, Gardening for Honey Bees by Kathleen M. Prough for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, which was quite thorough and easy to follow.  It provided a lengthy list of trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals, notating their bloom period and whether they provided nectar  (for energy and honey production) or pollen (for protein) or both. Note to non-beekeepers: only certain plants provide nectar for bees, and when these begin to flower, beekeepers get ready for what we call the Honey Flow, a busy time for foraging bees to collect nectar to bring back to the hives. 

Salix chaenomeloides ‘Mt Aso’

Here in the northeast, honeybees can forage from February through November, as warm temperatures permit. It is important for bees to have a steady supply of flowers to forage, and for the beekeeper to take note of when there is a dearth in her/his area. After referring to Kathleen Prough’s list, I checked off which plants we already had on or near our property and noted which bloom periods I needed to supplement with the right plants to fill the voids. It is important to plant groupings of pollen and nectar-producing perennials and shrubs.  Honeybees scout for sources and concentrate their efforts where there are ample stores. “Flower fidelity” is the phrase describing how honeybees focus collection efforts on one type of flower, as they single-mindedly collect pollen and nectar from one type of plant, ensuring good plant pollination.

Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) in late February

Crocus tommasinianus ‘Ruby Giant’ with Iris ‘Kathryn Hodgkin’

I definitely knew I needed to add more late winter/early spring pollen and nectar sources. In the woodland behind our hives we have room to add Spicebush, Lindera benzoin and in our low wet area,  space for more Willows, Salix spp.  The early flowers of species Snowdrops (Galanthus) are sources of pollen. We already have a nice little stand of Crocus which provides pollen, but why not plant more?  Siberian Squill  (Scilla siberica) is another early bulb loved by bees and it has amazing blue pollen  Last year I noticed some honeybees on the early blooming  Helleborus niger, although I did not see it on the bee plant list. Hopefully, the nearby swamp maples and alders will provide a good supply of pollen in early April.

Pieris japonica

Enkianthus sikokianus

During April-May our gardens have a decent supply of bee loving flowering trees and shrubs: Apples (Malus)  Blueberries, (Vaccinium), Aronia,  Pieris, Enkianthus,  Hollies (Ilex) and Boxwood (Buxus).  Late spring/early summer perennial selections that offer pollen and nectar include  Baptisia, Crambe, Nepeta, Monarda, Phlox divaricata and stolonifera, Periscaria polymorpha and more.

Calamintha nepeta (Calamint)

Caryopteris x clandonensis Blue Empire

High summer into fall plants include Agastache, AlliumAsclepias, Calamintha, Echinacea, the perennial sunflowers Heliopsis and Helianthus, Lavender, Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum), Penstemon, Persicaria amplexicaulis, Rudbeckia, Salvia, Teucrium, Verbena, Vernonia and Veronicastrum. Oakleaf Hydrangea (H. quercifolia), Smooth Hydrangea (H. arborescens) and Blue Mist Shrub (Caryopteris) are summer blooming shrubs that I’ve noticed lots of bees visiting. We are fortunate to have a stand of Summersweet (Clethra alnifolia) right near our hives, and its nectar makes the most delicate honey. I’m told the honey derived from the nectar of Sourwood (Oxydendron arboretum) is also to die for. In case you are unfamiliar with Sourwood it’s a native tree with drooping panicles of white bell flowers in mid-late summer with outstanding fall foliage color. 

Cerinthe purpurescens aka Honeywort

Honeybee visiting Salvia vanhoutii

Planting annuals favored by honey bees will give quick results and offer food this season, well into autumn.  Early flowering annuals such as Honeywort (Cerintheand Calendula can start your season. Top honeybee choices for summer are Alyssum, Basil, Borage, Cleome, Cosmos, Salvia, Sunflowers, Tithonia and Zinnias to name a few. These annuals, along with fall blooming perennials such as the various Asters, Goldenrod (Solidago), Sedum and Chrysanthemum will provide more end of the season pollen sources.

very late blooming Aster ageratoides ‘Ezo Murasaki’

Chrysanthemum ‘Sheffield’ in early November

You don’t have to keep bees to support the honey bee population, but do consider planting more bee-friendly plants in your gardens. Please refrain from using harmful pesticides (neo-nicotinoids, once thought safe, are very bad!), herbicides (no Roundup!) and fungicides in your gardens. Allow wildflowers to establish and flourish on your property. Let those Dandelions, one of the first flowers that honey bees gather pollen and nectar from, bloom away in your lawn. In the fall, native asters and goldenrod are valuable late season food sources.

Above is a little clip of bee activity on the Mountain Mint. I plan to take more notes on which plants honey bees visit. Feel free to share which plants you have noticed honey bees on.

Growing and Forcing Witch Hazel

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. 

closeup

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:

  1. 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.
  2. Winter food for bees. Honeybees will seek out their blossoms during a late winter/early spring thaw. 
  3. Flower buds form in summer. If you cut back plants in summer and fall, you will sacrifice next year’s blossoms.
  4. 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’

    Buy online

Taking Stock of 2018

June Delpiniums

Part of the preparations for updating the Avant Gardens 2019 plant list is to archive the gazillions of garden photographs taken and update the website with new and better images. This cataloging of images reminded me of the star performers of 2018, and regrettably, which plants had a less than stellar year.

Planted in a sunny warm spot at the base of a wall, Acanthus hungaricus

Now one thing always holds true. You can’t rely on any particular weather pattern here in southern New England.   Every year (every season!) challenges us with a totally different set of circumstances, and 2018 was the most challenging gardening year that I can recall. Drastic swings in winter temperatures are the new normal…we began with an arctic blast with January’s arrival followed by 6 weeks of typical winter weather. The last week of February brought surprising warmth and it was a terrible tease… the dusk to dawn thermometers remained above freezing for 7 nights in a row. 

March Blizzard with Hamamelis (Witchhazel)

March weather reminded us why some New Englanders vacate to warmer climates until May….3 nor’easters blew in during the first 2 weeks, and this made spring seem so very far away. Sunshine and a gradual warming trend finally arrived in May, continued for a few weeks, and then summer heat and humidity settled in.

Dwarf Bearded Iris ‘Pastel Charm’ in May

Our garden, late spring.

This is what I remember about last summer…lots of heat and humidity but no rain to speak of…oh wait… on Aug. 4th we had a half inch of precipitation. Yes, I do know folks in much of the northeast had record rainfall, but during July and August the ocean fronts pushed any rainfall off of Cape Cod, the MA South Coast and coastal Rhode Island to the northwest. Our high humidity finally turned to almost daily precipitation in September and October, and then a killing frost finally pulled the curtain just before Halloween arrived.

it’s raining at last…August rainfall is wonderful!

So how did various plants in the garden fare with this irrational weather pattern? Well this was the first year the succulent planters, which in previous years have sung Hallelujah gloriously in September, sadly cried “Enough wet air, already!” long before the first frost arrived. The hardy succulents seemed worse for wear from the constant humidity even when they inhabited the leanest, well drained spots in the garden. On the other hand, any plant with tropical origins prospered in 2018…the Cannas, Caladium and Colocasia were saying “Hey baby!” without any coddling on our part.

Black Colocasia, Caladium and Variegated St. Augustine grass

Magnolia macrophylla blossom

Clethra barbinervis in flower

Trees and shrubs always seem to persevere despite the weather, but I know they appreciated the rebound of precipitation our wet autumn provided.The standouts in 2018: I continue to be impressed with Magnolia macrophylla and Clethra barbinervis as extraordinary trees for our landscapes.

Honey bee visiting Pycnanthemum muticum

Calamintha nepeta

Persicaria ‘Firetails’ in the August border,

Detail of Persicaria ‘Firetails’

A few always stellar perennials stood out: Pycnanthemum muticum, flourished and bloomed for months, providing a food source for our honeybees and other pollinators as well. Aralia ‘Sun King’ just kept looking better and better into the fall. Calamintha nepeta ssp nepeta and Persicaria ‘Fire Tails’ bloomed incessantly from mid-July to October. Tricyrtis ‘Autumn Glow’s handsome variegated leaves held up beautifully in the shade garden, and its display of lavender orchid like flowers bloomed for 8 weeks beginning in August. The Shrub Mints, Leucosceptrum ‘Golden Angel’ and ‘Mountain Madness’ , maintained their good looking foliage all summer and then their autumn flower spikes provided a feast for our bees!

Aralia ‘Sun King’

Tricyrtis ‘Autumn Glow’…in bloom from August to October.

Gardeners, aware of the effects of climate change on their plantings, will be challenged to predict which plants will be the stars of 2019. Native plants are always a good bet but don’t kid yourself into thinking that climate change isn’t affecting them as well.  One thing that is constant: plants perform better when good gardening practices are in place. Select the right plant for your soil conditions, amend your soil with compost, mulch newly planted areas to retain moisture and limit weeds, use soaker hoses to irrigate and provide a habitat for beneficial insects. 

A yellow intersectional peony on a late spring evening.

Each year is different, and gardeners are optimists. There’s no telling what 2019 will bring, but I’m sure we will experience pure bliss when we will sit in our gardens on a late spring evening, inhale, and feel that at this moment all is right in the world.

Which plants performed best for you in 2018? Which plants are you looking forward to trying this gardening year?