Though I support the concept of buying local, there are times when a particular plant is nowhere to be found except in the pages of a mail order catalog. I've generally had good luck with the nurseries I've ordered from. Some, like Klehm's Song Sparrow Nursery, consistently offer outstanding plants, shipping and service. I never hesitate to buy from them.
Lately I've found myself looking at the online catalog of tempting nurseries around the country even though it's late in the season. I am searching for the perfect apricot-colored foxglove. So every time I see one for sale, I bite! Thus I took the plunge and ordered a few things from Avant Gardens in Dartmouth, MA.
I bought two Digitalis purpurea 'Faerie Apricot' from Avant Gardens for $9.95 each (in the foreground below). I also got a pair of foxgloves from K&A Greenhouse locally (on the upper step). They were on sale at 3/$30, so essentially the same price as my mail order plants not counting shipping.
The plants from both businesses were also the same size. Avant Gardens did note that plants ordered at this season may sometimes be larger than the spring shipping size because they've been growing all summer. My plants were much larger than I had anticipated, so I am a happy gardener and will definitely be buying from Avant Gardens in the future. Even though shipping adds to the total cost, with plants this nice that I haven't seen locally I am happy to pay a little extra to get something special. And they sent along a nice size Heuchera 'Beaujolais' as a treat!
How about you? What kind of luck have you had with buying plants on-line? Over the years I've ordered from all of the following businesses, most of them multiple times which means I've been happy with my plants and the process:
Each spring this Rodgersia henrici shows up looking lovely. But quickly gets the sulks because the location where it's planted is too dry and sunny. So I finally dug it out last summer and replaced it with a dwarf Philadelphus, 'Snow Beauty,' from Digging Dog Nursery. The little shrub came through its first winter with flying colors and even a few blooms.
Unfortunately, so did the Rodgersia. It came back bigger than ever and even flowered. So now I guess I have to move my new little shrub before the Rodgersia totally consumes it. And since the Rodgersia is up against a massive boulder, it seems obvious I am never going to be able to get it all out.
I suppose I should consider this a double success since both plants are going gangbusters. But since this was not what I was trying to achieve, it feels like failure.
I have loved Agapanthus since the first time I saw one spending the summer in a big pot in a garden out of doors. I don't have the patience to care for such a tender plant in our house and we also like to take a break from gardening in the winter. So I gave up on ever having an Agapanthus.
Until I discovered this gem in the catalog of the late Seneca Hill Perennials. It's Agapanthus campanulatus and I acquired it in 2007 for $12.99 According to then-nursery-owner Ellen Hornig, this plant was "acquired from Wayside Gardens over 30 years ago and is hardy in the open garden in Zone 5, central Illinois."
She also noted that it was a modest size but a "robust grower" with the typical Agapanthus foliage and medium blue open flowers. I moved my plant a couple of years ago as it was failing to flower. It has significantly increased in size and this year I have four flowers. It's my pride and joy and I could not be happier to see it bloom this summer.
Alas, even though I've had it quite a while, I have never divided it. Though I might try to split a bit off to create a partner clump across the path this fall. But for the moment, I'm just going to enjoy the sight of these gorgeous flowers and fondly remember Seneca Hill!
Just before Monday's rain I ran out into the garden to catch what was blooming this first week of July. Rain or sun, the pond is full of water lilies.
Lots of first timers are blooming in the Sacred Grove, like this Eryngium planum 'Blue Glitter'. I could not grow Sea Holly in this garden until we got more sun with the loss of some trees in the last few winters.
Dangling above the Sea Holly are a clump of Lilium henryi from Old House Gardens that I planted in 2008 in memory of my late father-in-law who was named Henry. I moved them last fall into this sunnier location and they have really taken off. I should point out that these lilies and the Sea Holly are growing in the vicinity of a small tree that will eventually turn this whole area into a shade garden again!
Newly planted last fall is this Ligularia stenocephala 'The Rocket'. I should probably have planted one of the Ligularias with umbellifer flowers but I love tall flower stalks more, and have a preponderance of them in my garden.
If you look closely you can just see the buds of Lilium leichtlinii above the Ligularia. I planted ten of these lilies from Brent and Becky and every one has come up. Can't wait til they open.
Though I love the early spring look of fern fronds unfurling, I am equally enamored of them at this season. The three ferns below always look good regardless of the weather and they can all take a fair amount of sun.
First up is the absolute workhorse fern of my garden: Dryopteris felix mas 'Linnearis polydactyla' aka fishbone fern. Grows erect, tall and wide and babies can be removed and grown on. My two original plants have resulted in a veritable feast of ferns.
Dryopteris crassirzoma has lots of substance so works well as a focal point or textural contrast in the garden. I removed two babies from this fern last week and am hoping they settle in as well as this original plant.
Athyrium felix-femina 'Victoriae' is one of the marvelous ferns with crested tips. Always a show stopper in my garden. I grow all three of these ferns adjacent to paths where they always elicit ohs and ahs.
This view lets you see the arching vase shape of the fern and the crested tips. That's Paeonia japonica in the background with its fat seedpods.
All of the above photos show the textural side of the garden. Most of the beds also include crisp evergreen shrubs to provide contrast. Last week I helped Mark prune just under 40 shrubs — and that's only the ones in the back garden. Box and yew balls are one of the leitmotifs of our garden.
Eventually the bed shown above and below will be one green wave broken by a white-flowered Chaenomeles. These pruned evergreens are our attempt to make the garden lower maintenance!
Gardeners in my area are very lucky to have a wealth of independent nurseries. I've visited most of those between here and Milwaukee in the years I've been gardening. But the Flower Factory is still my go-to source for tried and true plants as well as new introductions.
It wouldn't be Spring for me without a trip to The Flower Factory! I was a very good girl and only bought two things that were not on my list. Both were violets in bloom and too charming to pass by: Viola corsica and V. 'Etain.' At the top of my list were more ferns, including the new 'Godzilla' painted fern and cinnamon fern (below).
I have had great luck with Brunnera, so I picked up B. marcrophylla 'Silver Heart' which has a thicker leaf and is supposed to be more resistant to heat and humidity. Also got another dark leaved Astilbe: A. arendsii 'Chocolate Shogun.' (And splurged on a couple of Nasturtiums with variegated leaves at Whole Foods.)
Also bought a dozen or so Hakonechloa macra, the solid green form of Japanese forest grass. I am going to plant this as a ground cover in the moss garden as it transitions to a new concept. It will be interspersed with Cinnamon ferns. We will keep the large apple tree as long as possible and then replace it with a shady grove of we're-not-quite-sure-what!
Did you notice that most of my plant purchases are not very flowery? A good example of what happens the longer you garden: Foliage takes precedence over flowers. I am hoping to get everything planted before the predicted rains next week.
Last fall as I was putting together an order for tulips, I came across this description of the snowdrop 'Magnet' in the Old House Gardens catalog: "One of the most popular snowdrops for over a century, this strong-growing beauty holds its flowers on unusually long pedicels which, in the words of the great E.A. Bowles, “causes them to swing to and fro in a slight breeze,” making it especially graceful and “easily recognized even from a distance.”
I decided I'd take a chance and got ten bulbs of Galanthus 'Magnet.' This snowdrop is a gem! Every single one has come up and they are gorgeous. Very big showy flowers dance and dangle from the long pedicle just as described. Measuring from petal to petal, these flowers are just over an inch and a half long (3.81 cm)!
OHG is planning to offer "one different, extra-special snowdrop every year from now on." Wish I'd bought more 'Magnets,' but can't wait to see what they will offer next.
Look at the difference in flower size and shape as well as pedicle of the following two snowdrops if you think they all look the same. Galanthus 'Straffan' below and G. nivalis 'Flore Pleno' at the bottom.
Full disclosure: As a garden writer I do get a discount on OHG bulb purchases. Discount or no, OHG has been one of my favorite nurseries since the day I discovered them. If you like gardens AND history, there's no one quite like them.
Back in December I ordered snowdrops "in the green" from Carolyn's Shade Gardens on the East Coast. Their bad winter meant that the blooming plants were shipped much later than is typical.
Our weather had been so lovely that I wondered if it might be possible to actually plant them in the ground when they arrived. No such luck. Last week's snowstorm is still not melted and we've just ended a week of below normal temperatures.
So these pretty babies got potted up and will live by a cool window for the next couple of weeks until it seems safe to put them out. They arrived in good shape and I'm very excited to add a few new varieties to my slowly growing snowdrop group.
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: Very fine textured and delicate looking but it's been growing under a Silver Maple tree for ten years with no problems.
C. plantaginea: Pleated leaves give this one its name of seersucker sedge. Thick clumps suppress weeds. Delicately self-seeds with tiny plants that can easily be put where you want them.
C. rosea behind the Hosta and C. plantaginea in the foreground; all growing under a Silver maple tree.
C. siderosticha variegata: Been growing this since 1997 on a fairly sunny clay bank. I rake out the dead bits in the spring and that's all the work it needs.
C. caryophylla 'Beatlemania/Mophead': Another one with fine leaves but these are edged in gold. Lovely if you can find a raised location in order to enjoy its sweet charm.
Carex can also be used as accent plants.
C. siderosta 'Banana Boat' and 'Lemon Zest' are so colorful they will claim all the attention if you try to use them as a wide swath. 'Lemon zest' can take more sun than 'Banana Boat' in my experience.
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.
C. elata 'Bowles Golden' can get up to 18" wide and 24" tall, making a dramatic focal point, but its leaves are narrow and arching so it never overwhelms its neighbors, visually or actually.
C. platyphylla has slightly pleated long leaves that are a glaucous blue. I've always used this as a single accent but last fall planted a group as a ground cover under a 'Tiger Eyes' Sumac. We'll see what happends when the snow melts.
C. greyii is the one everyone always asks me about because the seedheads look like little Sputnik space ships. A real standout in the winter garden.
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.