C. 'Beatlemania' as a groundcover in the corner of a stone wall in my front garden. Absolutely love this little charmer. Double click on any picture to enlarge it so you can see the details.
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Last week Jeff Epping, director of Horticulture at Olbrich Botanical Gardens, and Roy Diblik of Northwind Perennial Farm (Northwind not only has a FB page, they are on Pinterest with 20 boards of inspiration) sang the praises of Carex at the monthly meeting of the Wisconsin Hardy Plant Society. I'm here to add my own as I am currently growing just over a dozen kinds of Carex. They are my go-to plant for easy care ground covers, particularly in dry shade.
The ones that have worked well for me as ground covers are:
C. rosea behind the Hosta and C. plantaginea in the foreground; all growing under a Silver maple tree.
Carex can also be used as accent plants.
C. 'Lemon Zest' as a ground cover (above with Epimedium rubrum) in my garden and where I've been slowly trying to get it to fill in and brighten this shady spot.
The spacey seed heads of C. greyii in summer and winter (above).
Troublesome Carexes? I've had problems with C. flacca/glauca "running" in my garden. I wanted it to stay in a woodland spot but it wanted to fill up the paths and keep going. Everyone seems to like this one but I pulled mine all out.
C. muskingumensis likes moisture and loves the bog where I planted it. The problem is that you can't use a shovel or any sharp tool to dig out a plant that is taking over when you have an artificial pond with a rubber liner. So trying to keep this under control is always an issue for me.
The pleated leaves of C. siderosticha variegata (top photo) are similar to C. plantginea with the addition of the striping. The clump in the middle photo is growing in good soil in full sun. In the third picture, it's been growing on this packed down clay soil for years with few problems. C. muskingumensis is growing directly behind it, with water Iris in the rear.
C. sylvatica or European wood sedge makes a large clump about 18' high and similar width. I use this one as an accent plant. Its seed heads love the gravel path it grows next to, so I often pull them out as they're coming into bloom rather than pull seedlings out of the path.
When I first discovered the "Perennial Plant of the Year" selections, chosen annually by the National Garden Bureau, I thought the name was odd as the plants were always things that had been around. To me, they seemed tried and true rather than new, exciting and worthy of being named plant of the year. It took me a while to realize that it was time that tested the plants and helped the group pick a winner, like this year's choice: Geranium x cantabrigiense ‘Biokovo.’
In their press release the NGB describes 'Biokovo’ as "a naturally occurring hybrid of Geranium dalmaticum and Geranium macrorrhizum found in the Biokovo Mountains of the Dalmatia region of present-day Croatia." Biokovo is one of nineteen Geraniums that I am currently growing. I've been growing it as long as I've been gardening at this house which is 20 years.
Though it's smaller and more delicately colored than its macrorrhizum parent, it's just as much of a workhorse plant. I use it as a groundcover in a number of places in the garden that get dappled sun to almost total shade. All the locations, however, are under trees which does not seem to bother it. But I agree with the Missouri Botanic Garden which notes that 'Biokovo' does not form as dense a foliage carpet as its macrorrhizum parent.
Digging Dog Nursery offers four variations on Geranium x cantabrigiense in their current catalog. I ordered 'St. Ola,' (pictured directly above) which they describe thus:
"An excellent choice for the north side of the house, this robust new hybrid between Geranium dalmaticum ‘Album’ and Geranium macrorrhizum ‘Album’ is similar to Geranium ‘Biokovo’ but much more vigorous, forming a lush and leafy evergreen carpet. ‘St. Ola’s white overlapping flower petals fade with just a hint of pink and create a pearly carpet . . ."
Sounds like a winner to me. Maybe someday it will make the NGB list!
A peninsula of 'Biokovo' Geraniums growing in my garden under a huge Burning Bush and a Sugar Maple.
The National Garden Bureau, founded in 1920, is a non-profit organization whose mission is to improve the quality of life through increased use of seeds and plants. Their motto: "Let's Go Garden!"
In mid-December I ordered snowdrops "in the green" from Carolyn's Shade Gardens. Since then I've resisted the siren call of on-line ordering. Everything always looks and sounds wonderful in catalogs and on the computer, but there's nothing like personal experience to guide plant purchases.
So here's a recommendation for anyone looking to add Hellebores to their garden. My newest Hellebore purchase, a white-flowered double variety Helleborus x hybrida 'Sparkling Diamond,' is a stunner. I purchsed this locally from The Flower Factory in 2012.
It came through our horrid winter last year and looked like this in its first season of bloom. I've never had a Hellebore perform so well so quickly, and am confident to recommend it — at least to local gardeners.
I have had a fairly high success rate with bulbs and decided it was time to add a few more to the garden. As in the past, I again ordered from Brent and Becky Heath and Old House Gardens. Both have unusual varieties that you are not going to find at a big box store and probably not even at a quality local nursery.
My main perennial garden has orangey Lilium henryii on one side of it. I decided it was time to branch out colorwise and opted to add Lilium leichtlinii from Brent and Becky on the opposite side. It is fairly similar to the henryii except in color.
I was going to mix it with this L. canadense (below) but B&B could not get them from their supplier. Maybe I'll try again next year as it is so dramatic looking.
As a history buff I like dates and names and stories attached to the things that attract me, so there are few bulbs sold by OHG that don't appeal to me — since preserving heritage plants is their mission. Garden space and light conditions help to keep my spending in check. My orange "Henry's lily" came from OHG and this fall I added some classic turk's cap lilies (Lilium superbum, 1665, below) as I have what I think are the conditions they want (well-drained, acid soil and plenty of moisture).
I can sit for hours reading the descriptions in the OHG catalog and on the web site so I am including them here, so you can see what I mean about history.
"The American turk’s-cap lily is one of our most impressive natives, growing in moist meadows from Massachusetts to Indiana and Alabama. In 1665 John Rea called it the 'Virginia Martagon,' and in 1738 colonial botanist John Bartram sent it to his 'brothers of the spade' in London where it caused a sensation."
The Tulips I've planted out in my Traffic Island Garden have done well and continue to return. Losses out there tend to be related to odd circumstances. I decided I have space to plant a few more so I am adding 'Purperkroon' from 1785, one of OHG's "Web-Only & Rarest" offerings. I am very exicted about this Tulip!
OHG: "Tulips from the 1700s are exceedingly rare. To last that long, they have to be both wonderful and tough — like ‘Purple Crown’, a raggedy double tulip of dusky, purplish crimson that’s also called ‘The Moor’. We like to imagine a crystal vase of it sitting by Beethoven as he wrote one of his dark, somber movements. It was grown way back then, so it really could have happened."
I tried growing 'General De Wet,' a Tulip from 1904 in my driveway border with only moderate success, just too shady there as the trees and shrubs have grown up. So I am going to put a few out in the Traffic Island garden. Another long-lived, early variety that is also very fragrant. I never thought of Tulips as fragrant until I started growing some of these special varieties from OHG.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Old House Gardens generously offers a discount to garden writers. I've been ordering bulbs from them since my newspaper days. The fact that I get a discount means that I can afford to order bulbs to learn about them, see how they match up to their description and just generally experiment with assorted bulbs in my garden. I pay the same prices as any customer for my B&B bulbs.
I love both of these plant purveyors and am writing about them because I think it is important to support independent, specialty mail-order nurseries as much as local independent sources. I am not receiving any remuneration for this column.
Saipua is one of my favorite florists in NYC (actually Brooklyn). Not that I've ever been there in person; I only know of them via their web site. I can spend hours looking at all their floral designs and the creations made by students who attend the Little Flower School, a joint project of florists Nicolette Owen (Nicolette Camille) and Sarah Ryhanen (Saipua).
Recently I received an email from Saipua announcing they were selling Spring bulbs online instead of just in the shop. They offered two collections which you can see in the groupings below. I thought they were a lovely assortment of plants chosen to provide a variety of flower sizes and shapes within limited color palettes.
Looking at the low numbers of each bulb offered in the groupings, it suddenly occurred to me that Saipua was selling bulbs chosen on the basis of creating bouquets. It's not enough bulbs to make much of a display in the garden, though it would result in one that is perfectly composed.
No, I think these bulbs are meant for the cutting garden and then the house where the gardener will arrange them to perfection. They would also make a nice grouping — planted one variety per pot — by the front door. If you aren't familiar with Saipua, be sure to check out their website and The Little Flower School's site.
Since the folks at Saipua are professional florists, the bouquets they feature on their website are always composed of a mix of flowers that grow in different seasons. That means you can't achieve the same look in your bouquet with just the plants you can harvest at a given moment in the garden. But looking at their displays is still inspirational because you see how they mix and match and contrast: Pale and dark, ethereal and heavy, flowers and branches, in bud and in bloom, fruits and veggies. Below are a couple of their creations to show what I mean.
High contrast drama in a Spring bouquet:
Meandering drama for Spring (note the Fritillaria Persica which is one of their bulb offerings).
If you want to see what hands-on gardeners are gathering from their own gardens and putting in a vase today, visit Rambling in the Garden for one of my favorite memes: In a Vase on Monday.
For those of you who like very, very early peonies, now's the time to buy them. Here are two sources: Peony's Envy and Hillside Nursery. Paeonia japonica (Japanese woodland peony) is available from both, but Hillside has two other peonies as well. I've bought a number of unusual plants from Hillside and have had good luck with all of them. You can search under "woodland Peonies" on my blog to find my posts and pictures on the subject.
For a long time I was always hot to own the latest plant. These days I'm much less interested in new for newness sake. If it performs better, is more disease resistant or is hardier, then I'll take a look. But there is something to be said for old favorites, plants that have been with you from the start.
I ordered this Iris from Heritage Gardens in the summer of 1990 and have been growing it ever since. It's a dwarf — Iris pumilla 'Cherry Garden" — that gets from 12 to 15 inches (30-38 cm) tall. Even though it only blooms once, it is so deeply saturated with color that it's worth its short moment of glory. The leaves look good and can be cut back to push regrowth if they get ratty or floppy. The last few years, I've been dividing it and spreading it throughout the Sacred Grove. The best $3.19 (1.91 BPS) I ever spent!
I love my Felco pruner and my Japanese clippers equally well and use both of them constantly. I've lost a couple of the black clippers when I set them down in the garden and forgot where. Even garden pants with sturdy side pockets designed to hold tools like these are no match for sharp points being shoved in and out multiple times during the gardening day. So this last Christmas I treated myself to the Tool Belt from gardener/blogger/author Diane B. who sells a few carefully "curated" tools on her site.
The belt came wrapped in red and black tissue paper with matching ribbons. In the accompanying envelope was my receipt and and a hand-written message from Diane noting that the tool belt would "soften up after a few garden days." I was glad she added that message as I was concerned that I couldn't get my Japanese shears into their pocket as securely as I'd hoped. She was right; it didn't take long for me to be able to get both tools into the belt nice and secure. I love being able to work and always having my two favorite pruners with me. And I don't think it makes my butt look too big!
Just in case I forget to put the black pruners back in their pocket immediately, I've attached a "ribbon" of pink plastic tape to the handle making them easier to see on the ground.
I love peonies as much for their foliage as their flowers. A peony adds structure and mass to a garden bed and looks good all season. Every day the color, the size or the shape of the leaves is slightly different as they grow and unfurl and get more sun. This week's much warmer temps are causing changes almost by the hour.
Paeonia 'Burnished Bronze'
The following peonies are all species or woodland peonies. This first one is Paeonia anomala or vertchii, with the shadow pattern of a wire cage reflected on the leaves. I still have lots of plants caged to protect them from the large rabbits who have been terrorizing the garden.
Molly the Witch aka Paeonia mloskosewitschii
Paeonia masculata ssp. kavachensis
Paeonia obvata var. alba
Paeonia obvata willmottiae