My first mail order plant — Eryngium giganteum 'Miss Wilmott's Ghost' (foreground below) — arrived yesterday afternoon even as I was getting an email that another order had just shipped. I hope last night's low temperature of 35 degrees F. ( -15 C. ) is the last one like that I'll see this Spring. I want to be able to plant things as they arrive without having to harden them off!
I don't expect 'Miss Wilmott' will do much this first year other than get settled into her home. But I hope that she looks as ghostly in my garden when she flowers the first time as she does in all her photographs. I guess time will tell.
I think this is the moment when Dicentra spectabilis 'Gold Heart' looks its best. The range of colors in the leaves as the plant emerges is just glorious, from apricot to rose to chartreuse to gold. It changes hourly as the plant gets larger and as the light changes.
I've had great luck with this plant once I moved it into a spot that gets quite a bit of sun but has somewhat moist soil. When I grew it in shade as recommended, it barely grew and it certainly never put on a show like this.
Can you tell that I am trying to get through all the garden books before the weather improves and I can actually garden?
Karen Chapman and Christina Salwitz are garden designers and authors who focus on foliage on their blog, in their landscape work and in their books. Ever since I discovered their blog I have been a fan.
I finally got a copy of their latest book — "Gardening with Foliage First: 127 Dazzling Combinations that Pair the Beauty of Leaves with Flowers, Bark, Berries, and More" — and have been delving deeply into it. Let me just say it's heaven for those of us who do consider foliage first.
The book is divided into two large categories looking at sun and shade combinations by season: spring/summer and fall/winter. The authors begin with an explanation of how to use the book in order to get the most out of it. At the top of every page is a template or key to the growing conditions the plants depicted require: Site, soil, zone and season.
Before you even read the details you can immediately tell if that grouping will work for you or if you should just move on. It's a simple but very smart set-up, making the book a veritable design primer for beginning gardeners. At the same time there are lots of ideas for experienced sophisticated plants people.
The book is published by Timber Press so I don't have to tell you it's beautifully produced and a quality product. But let me say that the book is clever, funny, and very useful. Besides giving specifics on the plants in the combos, the authors provide information on how the design grows as well as the finishing touches that make the whole design sing. That may range from seedheads to sculpture. Each plant combo is also given a title; they're evocative, obvious or a downright scream like "Cherry Garcia" or "Beauty Without the Beast."
Despite the fact that my garden is fairly mature, I found a great many combinations that caught my eye. All of them used plants that I am currently growing but not with the partners the authors suggest. I also discovered a number of plants that are new to me and immediately went on my shopping list.
I was already anticipating the plants that are beginning to appear in the garden, but Karen Chapman and Christina Salwitz have me salivating with new possibilities. This spring will definitely see me moving plants at the very least to create a few of their dazzling combinations.
While I think the book is well-worth the $24.95 cover price, it is available in the South Central Wisconsin Library System. Be sure to check Olbrich's Library as well, if you prefer not to buy it.
After going on yesterday about how I only like white or pale daffodils I came across this photo by Rob Zimmer on the Wisconsin State Farmer website of bright yellow and green splashed Hostas emerging in a drift of equally colorful daffodils.
I thought this was a pretty stunning example of companion planting and one that might make me change my single-minded pursuit of white daffodils. Even though there are plenty of white daffs in this grouping, those yellow perianths are very bright and are the detail that makes this planting so effective. Plus the Hosta foliage will hide all the dying daff foliage as an added bonus.
The National Garden Bureau has proclaimed 2017 the Year of the Daffodil. Every year the organization selects one perennial, one annual, one bulb and an edible to feature. The daffodil is this year's bulb choice. You can read all about it, including care tips, here. Since I love daffs I am jumping on this bandwagon to share a few of my favorites that I grow in my garden.
You may notice one quirky thing about all my daffodil flowers: they're white or cream and not bright yellow. Those big bright yellow daffodils just don't do it for me. I want more charm, more delicacy and a little horticultural history with my bulbs. So, naturally, I grow Pheasant's Eye or Poet's Narcissus (N. poeticus 'recurvus) which was first mentioned in the 1600s. This daffodil is late, naturalizes and is scented.
When I discovered Narcisssus 'Dreamlight' I was smitten. I've been growing this beauty for ten years. Old House Gardens, where I bought this variety, calls 'Dreamlight' a "platinum blonde pheasant's eye" which I consider a perfect description.
I grow enough daffodils that I feel free to cut them for bouquets like this one which includes N. 'Dreamlight', N. 'Rose of May' (a double variety), stems of Epimedium and Hellebores flowers turning green and going to seed.
This is N. 'Sinopel' which looks very yellow in bud and, indeed, opens with yellow-washed petals on the back and front. The eye is very yellow which is how it presents in cooler temps. When it is warmer or it is indoors, it tends to be a bit more green.
This bulb combo in the driveway garden bloomed for the first time last spring and it is a winner in my book: Muscari armeniacum 'Saffir,' which is sterile so the florets don't open and Narcissus 'W.P. Milner'.
My idea of yellow daffodils! Flowers in this group include Narcissus 'Beersheba' (1923), N. moschatus (1604) and N. 'W.P. Milner' (1869). 'Beersheba' is the largest one and its trumpet opens yellow and quickly fades to cream. Also in the grouping are Helleborus Royal Heritage Strain and H. 'Sympathy'. There's a spray of Dicentra spectabalis foliage and a stem of Hyacinth 'City of Haarlem'.
Forget the snowdrops that were starting to make their presence felt last week during our record-breaking high temperatures. By Saturday morning it was 16 degrees when we got up to go meet our Saturday coffee-shop gang. There won't be anything to bring indoors from my garden for quite a while longer I'm afraid. All that is in a vase that actually came out of my garden is this arrangement that I kept adding to all last autumn.
Usually I put a bloom or two in this traditional Japanese holder but its rich brown color suggested that I use it for a dried fall display. If these plants needed water this arrangement would never work because it is so stuffed into the vase area that not a drop of water could be added.
I love watching plants slowly dry out, waiting to see which ones retain their color and a recognizable form. Ferns, Dahlias, and a couple of dark Hellebore blooms at the very bottom are all easy to identify, as is the Bergenia leaf retaining a bit of its pink fall color.
But the twisted ferns may be my favorite parts of the entire composition.
As I get older I am trying to make my garden a lower-maintenance project. For me, that means using my own "proven winners": plants that perform well, don't need much attention or extra water and don't have pest problems. My top performers: Epimediums, true Geraniums, Hellebores, ferns, Carex and Hakonechloa grasses
The last few years I have been creating sweeps of those plants in the garden AND adding more shrubs. This year's shrub choices extend the variety. The nursery where I ordered the plants is listed first and descriptions are taken from their catalogs as well. My comments follow the descriptions.
A very dwarf evergreen shrub for the shade border, with coppery fall/winter color and apricot buds that open in early spring with drupes of white lily of the valley flowers. Slowly grows to 2-3' tall and wide. Best in an evenly moist soil that has good drainage in partial shade. Zone 5.
Though Avant Gardens lists this as evergreen I doubt that will hold true in my zone. But this has the big advantage of being shade tolerant and that's what I have more of than sun. I've been lusting after a couple of other Pieris plants from Rare Find Nursery but am still on the fence about buying them.
Rubus spectabilis 'Golden Ruby'
A plant to brighten the woodland with brilliant chartreuse foliage and rosy pink single rose-like flowers in spring. Not as floriferous as the species. Plants grow 4' tall and do spread. Attractive to hummingbirds.
I was on the verge of ordering a white-flowered, thornless variety of this plant when I found this one. I decided that this foliage would look better in the shade than the typical green leaved-forms and that the reddish flowers would work better with the other reds and purples already growing in the area where I will put this. Full sun to full shade. Zone 5.
Salix purpurea 'Nana"
A hardy compact shrub with narrow deciduous dark blue green foliage, and stems that take on more pronounced purplish red tones in winter. Dwarf Arctic Willow responds well to pruning and stooling and is probably most attractive when kept at a 2-3 tall plant, but can grow to 5' if left alone. Attractive to butterflies. Zone 4.
Willows grow well here and I plan to keep this small, preferably 2 rather than 3 feet. I'm thinking of putting it near our Purple Weeping Beech. The willow foliage and stems would look beautiful next to the tree's leaves which emerge coppery, turn purple and then dark purply green.
Tough little mutant redstem dogwood. Intensely columnar and slow with curled leaves held close to the vertical stems. These turn a most satisfying purple in the fall. As far as flowers go, forget about it. Slow growing, our 6 footer in the garden is pushing 40 years of age. Zone 4.
I've seen this growing in a couple of gardens but this is the first time I've found a source. Can take half sun which is always a selling point with my garden. Alas I will be dead before this reaches 6 feet tall.
Arborvitae. Deep sage green summer foliage transforms to blue foliage through the winter months. Long fingers of foliage on a low flat profile. No pruning needed to maintain the shape. Native to North America. Zone 3.
This is the first time I've ordered from Bluestone Perennials in years so we'll see how it turns out. I will put this charmer by the dwarf willow for a little compare/contrast moment.
Ilex verticillata 'Berry Poppins'
Winterberry Holly. Berries appear on females after flowering and mature to bright red, remaining until mid-winter or later. Dwarf variety. Needs 'Mr. Poppins' for pollination. Grows 3-4 feet tall and needs sun. Road salt tolerant.
After seeing a stunning display of dwarf winterberry shrubs on the UW-Madison campus this winter, I fell for this one. Our garden no longer has many berried plants, having lost them over the years to storm damage. I want to plant this in the driveway towards the road where I will be able to see it from the kitchen window, so salt tolerance is a plus. Of course, I bought 'Mr. Poppins' as well.
The first bulbs I bought for the coming season were snowdrops from Carolyn's Shade Garden. They will be delivered "in the green" in March or April, having already bloomed. The other bulbs I ordered elsewhere will get planted this spring and bloom later this season if I'm lucky. The photo below shows the stunning Nectaroscordum tripedale that I planted in 2016. I'm hoping they return again this year.
The Nectaroscordum are growing just to the right of Lilium asiaticum 'Landini. I had hoped the two bulbs might share some bloom time but you can see from the dried up Nectaroscordum flower heads that it did not happen.
I'm hoping I have better luck getting the L. 'landini' to bloom in tandem with my new lily, L. asiaticum 'Forever Susan' which I'm planting across a path from 'landini.' I first saw 'Forever Susan' last summer in my friend Cindy's garden and it was a stunner. Cindy's garden was on the WHPS members' garden tour on the same night as mine last June.
In the second photo from the top you will notice L. leichtlinii in bloom (and bud) on the edges of the picture. They are yellow touched with a bit of orange and I am picking up that combo on the other side of the path as well. I already have L. henrii in place (directly below) and I'm adding L. longiflorum 'Apricot Fudge.'
Bulb connoisseurs Brent and Becky Heath describe 'Apricot Fudge' as a very unusual, "almost rose-like" form. It certainly is not typical looking, judging from the photo on their website (below).
Then I saw this Alstroemeria 'Inca Ice' at Avant Gardens and had to have it. Imagine, an Alstroemeria that's hardy in Zone 5. I only ordered one plant because I haven't a clue what they actually look like growing in a garden. And I will believe it's hardy in this zone when I see it. But look at this baby! It would be a swoon-worthy moment if its bloom time managed to cross that of L. 'Apricot Fudge.'
I've gardened for enough years that I am well aware that flowers rarely bloom on a strict schedule or in concert with other plants the way we hope and plan. That's why I am such a fan of foliage: it looks good all season. Foliage combos always work all the time.
These lilies have dramatic flowers but stems and leaves that don't make a big statement or take up a big space. They can be squeezed in between other plants so they disappear once they've flowered. But one can always hope that perhaps one of these lovely floral matches will prove to be made on earth and not just in my heavenly dreams.