Tag Archives: late summer color

Hungry for Color, and Dahlia Ramblings

Clockwise from upper left: Dahlia 'Crichton Honey', Dahlia 'Gitt's Crazy' with Tithonia, Closeup of Gitt's Crazy' and 'Crichton Honey', Dahlia 'Corona'

Clockwise from upper left: Dahlia ‘Crichton Honey’, Dahlia ‘Gitt’s Crazy’ with Tithonia, Closeup of Gitt’s Crazy’ and ‘Crichton Honey’, Dahlia ‘Corona’

I don’t know about you, but I’m getting ravenous for color. Here in MA, spring seems so far away. Every other day there is a major snowfall in the forecast, along with frigid temperatures. Looking out my window, I only see white, on shades of brown and gray…not even a hint of green from snowdrop shoots, our earliest bulb to bloom.

As I was scanning through images from last summer’s garden, my gaze stopped to absorb the vibrant color of the Dahlia beds. Oh baby, what a color fix! I immediately went out to the cool winter greenhouse to check on the health of the tubers I’m wintering over…so far, so good. The tubers are stored in pots of well drained potting soil, and  I decided to move a few of them into the warm greenhouse (55 degrees) to try awaken them. As soon as there is enough healthy growth, I’ll take cuttings of these named cultivars. The cutting grown plants will bloom this year, but may not get as large as the plants grown from year old tubers.

Clockwise, from upper left: dark leaved selections from 'Twinings After Dark' seed, The "whitest" of the group, and the much sought after Dahlia 'Swan Lake'.

Clockwise, from upper left: dark leaved selections from ‘Twinings After Dark’ seed, the “whitest” selection of the group, and the much sought after Dahlia ‘Classic Swan Lake’.

Last year I grew a dark leaved variety of Dahlia from seed, collected from an older cultivar called ‘Twining After Eight’, which boasts chocolate colored leaves with white flowers. The description reminded me of another cultivar we once grew, and lost,  Dahlia ‘Classic Swan Lake’. The ‘Twining After Eight’ seed came from a reputable seed merchant, and the seed germinated well with most seedlings showing a nice dark foliage color.  The only thing that disappointed me was not a single plant had white flowers…half of the plants bloomed orange-yellow and 3 were in various shades of pale pink/ lavender/cerise. You might consider the palest one an almost white, in just the right light. These plants grew robustly and created a pleasant display which provoked many complements, so it wasn’t a bust.

Here are some things you might want to know about growing DahliasDahlias are native to Mexico and Central America and love lots of sun and warmth. Most of the best forms are propagated by division of the tuberous clumps or are grown from cuttings, and there is wide variety of named forms available from Dahlia merchants. Seed sown strains do not usually come true to color or form, and much of the seed commercially available is for short stemmed, small flowered varieties suitable for bedding and containers. I prefer taller forms for cutting or for showing off in the late summer/fall garden. Tall forms can be grown from seed, but again, there is no predicting color and most will have single blossoms. I don’t want to dissuade you from trying to grow Dahlia from seed, as I ended up pleased with my pink/purple blend last year, but be open minded about the results.

Fresh seed takes 7-21 days to germinate, depending on conditions, and will grow more evenly if provided with bottom heat. Once seedlings develop a couple of pairs of true leaves, prick seedlings apart and repot  individually in small pots or 6 packs. Give the young plants lots of sun, and wait until the soil has warmed to 60 degrees or more (for us here in MA, it is safe to plant Dahlias outdoors around Memorial Day). Pinch back to encourage bushiness. The above upper left image shows the seed sown plants beginning to bloom in our garden in late June, which actually was weeks before many of our tuber grown plants began. The floral show kept getting better and better until the frost.

P.S.  We have Dahlia ‘Classic Swan Lake’ tubers on order from a European supplier. Fingers crossed that they arrive safely in March. Stay posted.

Early evening at Hollister House Garden

Early September evening in the garden

Early September evening in the garden

Simple Elegant Rill

Simple Elegant Rill

Copper cauldron with waterlilies

Copper cauldron with waterlilies

Eupatorium coelsitinum edging granite steps

Eupatorium coelsitinum edging granite steps

Reds and Purple and Gold

Reds and Purple and Gold

I spent the weekend in western CT, participating in the plant sale at Hollister House Garden. Garden structures, walls, walkways, rills and other water features are the backdrop (or focal points) for exuberant plantings in the English Garden Style. It’s formal and casual at once. It’s the garden so many of us wish we had.

Thank you George Schoellkopf for creating this masterpiece and sharing it with so many.

For more info on visiting the garden, follow this website

Tricyrtis hirta ‘Tojen

tritojen

Tricyrtis hirta ‘Tojen’

A must have plant for the late summer/fall shade garden is Tricyrtis hirta, commonly known as Japanese Orchid or Toad Lily. There are numerous cultivars; one I am especially fond of is the selection ‘’Tojen’’ , with has unspotted lavender, orchid like flowers held in loose sprays on sturdy stems above large lush foliage.

Toad Lilies enjoys a rich welled drained soil that stays adequately moist in the growing season. ‘’Tojen’’ is more forgiving of drier soils than other cultivars, but I recommended keeping the soil irrigated to keep plants at their best in late summer when they really show off. ‘‘Tojen’ grows 24-30”” tall by 30”” wide and is hardy in zones 5-8. Some great companion plants are Kirengeshoma palmata, Begonia grandis and late blooming Hosta such as ‘’Red October’’.

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Salvia splendens ‘Van Houttei’

salviavan

Salvia splendens ‘Van Houttei’

Bees, butterflies and hummingbirds are getting excited. It is August and the Scarlet Sage are beginning to bloom.

Tall Scarlet Sage is a form of Salvia splendens but should not be confused with the short bedding plants that are popular annuals sold in 6 packs. Native to tropical Brazil, this Dutch selection was named for the nurseryman Louis Benoit Van Houtte, known also as the father of Belgium horticulture. Leafy plants grow 3-4’’ tall and display dark red flowers accented with deeper red calyces from mid August to frost.

S. splendens ‘Van houttei’ enjoys a rich yet well drained soil in full sun or partial shade but requires adequate watering during dry spells. It is a tender perennial and will suffer when temperatures go below freezing. (hardy to zone 10). Plants will need to be dug and wintered over in a frost free area for the winter if grown in colder climates. For fresh stock, propagate by cuttings taken on new growth in the spring.

Only a couple of years ago this form of Salvia splendens had almost disappeared from cultivation after having been rediscovered twenty years ago. We forgot to save a stock plant a few years back, and this form does not come true from seed. At first we thought we could obtain new plants from other growers but to our dismay the only forms of tall Scarlet Sage being sold were impostors. The ordered plants would turn out to be either the orange red ‘’Faye Chapelle’’ or the red/purple form known as ‘’Paul’’. Both are good plants but they lack the beautiful coloring and looser form of the true ‘Van houttei’.  We were able to beg some cuttings off a gardener in western MA who had kept stock from plants he had saved for years. We now have a healthy supply and will be sure to take measures so we don’t lose it again.

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Dwarf Kniphofia

Kniphofia 'Creamsicle'

Kniphofia ‘Creamsicle’

One look at Kniphofia and you might be able to guess its native habitat is Africa.  Commonly called Torch Lilies, or Red Hot Pokers if you prefer, this member of Xanthorrhoeaceae family (not Liliacea, the Lily family) forms upright grass like foliage clumps from which rise spires of beautiful multi-toned tubular flowers beloved by bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. There are over 70 species, some of which are not hardy in northern climates. Most species bloom during northern hemisphere summers, but there are a few forms that will bloom when summer arrives in S. Africa, that is to say, December.

Recently Terra Nova Nurseries introduced a line of dwarf hybrid Kniphofia which they affectionately called the Popsicle Series. These dwarf selections have foliage that grows 12-15″” tall, with flower stems reaching 18-24″” depending on the cultivar. Blooming begins in mid July (for us), with flowering stalks continue to emerge right through September. We planted a half dozen of the form ‘‘Creamsicle’‘ last summer,  with its bright to pastel yellow orange coloring and they wintered over well, so this year we tried 2 new selections… ‘’Orange Vanilla Popsicle’, with a toffee orange to cream tones and ‘‘Pineapple Popsicle’ with a tart pastel lemon to chartreuse coloring.

Plant Kniphofia in a soil with good winter drainage and in full sun. It provides a 2’ exclamation point to beds when used in small groups, or would be stunning used en masse in a larger setting. Kniphofia is a great companion to Euphorbia such as ‘Ascot Rainbow’ and almost any Sedum. It can be sited in the foreground of a mixed shrub border…we have it coming up through a sea of steel blue Shore Juniper.

One more thing you might appreciate: deer do not like it!

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Kniphofia 'Pineapple Popsicle'

Kniphofia ‘Pineapple Popsicle’

Kniphofia 'Orange Vanilla Popsicle'

Kniphofia ‘Orange Vanilla Popsicle’

Euphorbia corollata

Euphorbia corollata

I think I know the reason why few people grow this easy care, refreshing native plant, commonly called Prairie Baby’s Breath: plants, even young seedlings, transplant poorly. The happiest plants have planted themselves, like this clump that adorns our front walk entry right now; it was sown in situ. Of course, you need to have a mother plant nearby to have these babies come up on their on accord, and that’s a “chicken or the egg” dilemma. We always have a few potted plants here at Avant Gardens but because they usually look weak and spindly, they are not an easy sell….unless you happen to visit our nursery and gardens in August. Now, everyone marvels at this “different baby’s breath” when they pass by.

Once established, Euphorbia corollata asks for little but sunshine and well drained soil. It begins to bloom heavily in mid July and carries the show through the month of August. I haven’t tried it as a cut flower, (it is a spurge and has that milky sap), but maybe I should experiment with sealing the stems with a flame, which will prevent that sap from poisoning the vase water. Perhaps it would be prudent to stress that some people are very sensitive to Euphorbia sap and can get serious skin irritations when exposed to it. Fortunately for me it has never been a problem.

Euphorbia corollata is hardy in zones 4-7. We planted it in our gardens more than 20 years ago, and it is still there, a testimonial to it’s longevity, often popping in new spots, especially well drained pockets. Should it sow where you don’t want it, just pull it out. In addition to being quite attractive to beneficial insects, such as bees and wasps, it isn’t a plant deer or rabbits will likely munch on, since it is poisonous if ingested.

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Calamintha nepeta ssp. nepeta

Calamintha nepeta ssp. nepeta

At last, we found an image that displays Lesser Calamint,Calamintha nepeta ssp. nepeta , in a flattering light. Perhaps that’s why more people don’t grow it: it doesn’t always photograph well, and it’s not in bloom when everyone is plant shopping in April and May. It has been one of our “go to” plants when designing sunny gardens for years. Here’s why.

Calamintha nepeta ssp. nepeta has grown well in our garden for the past 18 years. Yes, the same specimens, planted in 1995, return each year true to form. In spring they present as tidy little subshrubs (no, it does not spread by runners) with mint scented, slightly shiny leaves.  In July (June in warmer zones) sturdy 18″ stems bearing racemes of airy blue tinted white flowers appear, creating a cloud like effect for the front of the border and accenting any plant around it, and it is especially complimentary to roses. The blossoming continues into October, when the flowers take on blue tones with cooler temperatures.  Calamintha nepeta ssp. nepeta is a primo plant for attracting bees, butterflies and beneficial insects. This form of Lesser Calamint has rarely self sown in our gardens, unlike the very similar  Calamintha nepeta ‘White Cloud’, which seems to happily self sow. You might like having babies, or not. You decide.

As mentioned before, this is a reliable perennial (18 years and still going strong) for us here in southern New England. Calamintha nepeta ssp. nepeta performs well whether we  are having a hot dry summer or a cool moist one. It likes a soil that is well drained, but does not need or want lots of fertilizer. I know it will be this reliable in zones 5-7, but would be interested in hearing if folks are growing it successfully in zones 8 and 9.  Its tidy form and endless flowering means it can be combined with so many other plants, depending on your color scheme, but consider using it with Asclepias tuberosa, Sedum ‘Maestro’, Echinacea ‘Fatal Attraction’ or Caryopteris for strong summer interest.

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September Report: Successful Containers

I have always thought that what makes great visual art is when an object or painting compels you to look at it again and again. I feel the same way about plants and gardens, and containers. Of course, plants are constantly changing, so plantings are ephemeral compositions. Perhaps that’s why we want to take in their beauty all the more. Here are some planted containers that have looked good all summer, and still do in mid September.

Large Succulent Bowl on a pedestal, perhaps more beautiful than ever.

Composed of odds and ends succulents left over from last season, this ensemble has married well.

Aeonium ‘Schwartkop’ was the highlight of this tall river pot.

Syngonium ‘Neon’, an easy and lovely shade foliage plant.

Begonia ‘Chocolate Pink’ with Pilea and Cissus discolor

Peachy Abutilon ‘Harvest Moon’, with the adorable curly Spider Plant and a white Syngonium…great, easy pot for partial shade.

The Chocolate Mimosa Tree, Albizzia ‘Summer Chocolate’, makes a fast growing subject for container, adding height, texture, and dark coloring.

We did a posting of some planted containers in early July. A number of these containers sold, and we hear they still look smashing. As you can see, it’s mostly about foliage. What are your favorite container combinations from this season?

Caryopteris x ‘White Surprise’ PPAF

Caryopteris 'White Surprise'

Caryopteris ‘White Surprise’

What’s not to love? For three years now,  this white variegated form of Blue Mist Shrub has been a stunning plant in one of our sunny raised beds, providing great form, foliage and easy performance despite dry conditions and humid heat. ‘White Surprise’,  a sport of Caryopteris  ‘Heavenly Blue’, becomes a handsome 3′ x 3′ mound of aromatic white edged foliage, topped with contrasting medium blue flowers from mid-summer through September. Of particular note is how well the white edged foliage resists leaf scorch. Bees and butterflies flock to the whorled clusters of blossoms. It pairs well with so many other long season interest plants, such as Echinacea ‘Virgin’, Alstroemeria ‘Mauve Majesty and Sedum ‘Maestro’ .

Grow Caryopteris ‘White Surprise’ in well drained soil in full. It is hardy in zones 5-9, although there may be more winter die back in colder climates. Not a problem though: just cut it back hard in mid spring. Caryopteris is deer resistant, and it’s lovely white/green/blue coloring is a cooling sight in the hot summer garden.

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Gentiana ‘True Blue’ PPAF

Blue. Not only blue, but ‘True Blue’… that is the name hybridizer Darrell Probst chose for his selection of this long blooming Gentian.

Here?s been our experience. This is the third year ?True Blue? has spent in our garden, and it seems quite happy where we planted it: at the top of a stone retaining wall, in well drained rich soil, in a partly sunny spot (4-6 hours a day).  Gentiana ‘True Blue’ begins to bloom by mid July and carries on through the summer heat into September. Our plants have only have grown to 12-15″ in height, although all the literature suggests it can grow to 2′ or more.  Darrell suggests that we plant this Gentian in a more fertile soil to attain full height, and I”m ready to find a few more spots in the garden that will accommodate this lovely specimen.The 2″ chalice shaped flowers face upward, catching the morning dew.

Hardiness range is USDA zones 3-8. Darrell shared in the comments box that the parents of this hybrid are of Japanese or Korean ancestry, perhaps G. makinoi, and not from more fussy alpine regions. All the more encouragement you need.

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