{ Archive for the ‘perennials’ Category }

Low-maintenance Monday: Purple coneflower

When I was so much younger than today, I used to jump into projects two feet forward, head a little behind.  The purple coneflowers that are rising so regally in this hot, dry summer remind me of one of those days. The purple coneflower, or echinacea purpurea, was one of the few hardy, robust, blooming plants in my small, neglected garden when I read an article about how powerful the it is at boosting the immune system. Ever the Earth Mother, I dug up a giant clump and took the roots for a tonic. I followed the recipe and let the roots sit in an alcohol-based concoction for six months, after which I drained the liquid. The only problem was that none of my children or my husband would go near the muddy, foul-smelling tonic. Only later did I learn how to properly wash and cut up the roots.

Medicinal lore is only one of the reasons that the purple coneflower is one of our most popular native wildflowers. It gives in so many ways. Drought tolerant, it provides a show during hot, dry summers and blooms longer than most perennials, from summer through autumn. It can be used as an accent or a cut flower.

The purple coneflower is ideal for the middle or back border as it grows from 75 to 120 cm tall and spreads 45 to 60 cm wide anywhere from zones 3 to 9.  The purple, daisy-like flowers rest on coarse dark green leaves with an orange-brown central cone. The Latin name, echinacea comes from the Greek echinos, meaning hedgehog as the flowering heads are cone shaped. Petals often droop down in a graceful pattern.

Master Gardener Susan Lipchak, one of the many gardeners featured in Gardening from a Hammock, explains that there are now many hybrids of Echinacea available in orange, pink, yellow, white and lime green, and different flower shapes, but she prefers the tried and true native.

Photo courtesy of Heritage Perennials

Bees and butterflies are attracted to the Echinacea purpurea, and the seed heads are attractive to American goldfinches during the fall and winter. “The sight of snow capping the seed heads during the winter is an unexpected bonus,” she says.

Aldona Satterthwaite, executive director at the Toronto Botanical Garden, also selected Echinacea purpurea, but the ‘Vintage Wine’ cultivar. This species has large purple-red flowers with a reddish-brown centre cone and non-drooping petals.

Echinacea purpurea is one of the star plants selected by 17 expert gardeners in Gardening from a Hammock by Ellen Novack and Dan Cooper. Gardening from a Hammock is an easy-to-use book describing how to create a fabulous, four-season garden using low-maintenance plants. It’s loaded with tips and has a botanical reference guide.

Low-maintenance Monday: Astrantia major or masterwort

Astrantia major, commonly called masterwort, is also called Hattie’s pincushion. That’s because the ruby-red flowers look like pincushions. Master gardener and lecturer, Belinda Gallagher of Hooked on Horticulture, chose Astrantia major ‘Ruby Wedding’ as a superior plant choice in Gardening from a Hammock.

Masterwort lasts almost eight weeks in Belinda’s garden. “It is a very cool plant because it feels like a dried flower,” she explains. “When picked it lasts a long time in water.”
 The ‘Ruby Wedding’ variety is a deeper pink than the species, and provides colour in the shade in midsummer. The star-like flowers bloom June to August, and may even re-bloom in the fall. The leaves are interesting as they are dark green and deeply lobed. The starry flowers provide an intense, brilliant, ruby red colour.

Masterwort grows 60 to 70 cm high, with a 45- to 60-cm spread in zones 3 to 9. It has many uses in addition to providing colour in the shade. Try it as a filler anywhere in a sunny or shady garden, or in mixed containers. These long-flowering perennials are ideal when planted in borders or along streams. The cut flowers are outstanding and are easily dried for winter arrangements.

An added bonus is that slugs don't like astrantias, so interplanting them among other shade plants tends to repel the creatures. photo by Heritage Perennials

Astrantia major ‘Ruby Wedding’ is one of the star plants selected by 17 expert gardeners in Gardening from a Hammock by Ellen Novack and Dan Cooper. Gardening from a Hammock is an easy-to-use book describing how to create a fabulous, four-season garden using low-maintenance plants. It’s loaded with tips and has a botanical reference guide.

Low-maintenance Monday: Maidenhair fern

Adiantum pedatum is a name that rolls off the tongue like an ancient song or a musical chant. Yet it will mislead you. It looks dainty because of its delicate, doily-like, finely divided foliage, but maidenhair ferns are some of the toughest plants around.

Botanist, teacher and nursery owner Martin Galloway saw them on Newfoundland’s Table Mountain where the environment is toxic to almost every other plant. “They survive when it is very hot, extremely cold, and where there are no nutrients in the soil because of metals,” he says. “They also grow in deep shade beneath giant trees. Although the ferns look delicate and lacy, they are indestructible.”

Teacher and lecturer Frank Kershaw calls them tough as nails. “Any garden would appreciate a maidenhair fern.” Kershaw adds that it provides richness to the garden.

The maidenhair fern adds bright green foliage as well as texture to the garden. Photo courtesy of Heritage Perennials.

The maidenhair fern grows 30 to 60 cm high and wide. It has a rounded clump of delicate, fan-shaped fronds with light green lacey leaves on purple-back stems. The fern thickens from the root. A thin leaf stalk emerges in spring liked a coiled violin head and contrasts with its fan-like sculpted leaflets.

An interesting fact is that these plants have water-repelling compounds in their foliage so water runs off the leaves. Even when the plant is immersed in water, the leaves remain dry.

For an interesting collection of plants with the same leaf shapes in a variety of sizes, Aldona Satterthwaite, executive director at the Toronto Botanical Garden, suggests planting maidenhair ferns and hellebores under fiveleaf aralia. These have similar leaf shapes, but different textures and sizes. Maidenhair ferns also contrast well with the bold foliage of hostas.

Adiantum pedatum is one of the star plants selected by 17 expert gardeners in Gardening from a Hammock by Ellen Novack and Dan Cooper. Gardening from a Hammock is an easy-to-use book describing how to create a fabulous, four-season garden using low-maintenance plants. It’s loaded with tips and has a botanical reference guide.

Low-maintenance Monday: Butterfly bush

I have almost killed our butterfly bush many times by cutting it back too much and at the wrong time, pruning it improperly and not watering it. Yet it continually forgives and survives my mistreatment, blooming its heart out with striking, bold, blue-purple flowers from mid to late July until the first frost. It fills the garden with butterflies and other busy pollinators. I now leave it alone most of the time, except for admiring it from afar. It’s much safer that way.

Photo © Alan Lagadu, iStock

Master gardener Merle Burston, one of our wonderful gardeners featured in Gardening from a Hammock, raves about the ‘Potter’s Purple’ butterfly bush or Buddleia davidii. She likes it not only for its appealing flower, but also for the fact that it attracts the Monarch butterfly to the garden. Buddleias provide food for the butterfly during its migration.

This shrub grows tall, up to 1.2 metres high and 1 metre wide in zones four to nine. It boasts deep purple flowers. ‘Potter’s Purple’ has a rounded habit and large, dark green leaves. It is doubly appreciated as its blooms arrive just as many other plants in the garden are spent. As well, it is fragrant and provides dramatic cut flowers.

Ideally you would grow it in full sun, but it can handle partial sun, as well. Start it in moist, well-drained soil and the plant will become moderately drought tolerant once established. It is recommended to cut all the old wood back to about 30 cm in the spring to get a more compact plant. Don’t worry, it will grow back quickly by late summer.

‘Potter’s Purple’ butterfly bush is one of the star plants selected by 17 expert gardeners in Gardening from a Hammock by Ellen Novack and Dan Cooper. Gardening from a Hammock is an easy-to-use book describing how to create a fabulous, four-season garden using low-maintenance plants. It’s loaded with tips and has a botanical reference guide.

Low-maintenance Monday: Japanese painted fern

It is no accident that so many of the gardeners featured in Gardening from a Hammock included Japanese painted fern (Athyrium niponicum ‘Pictum’) in their recommendations for an interesting, low-maintenance garden. It is one of the top ten plant picks.

This colourful fern is one of those plants that gets along with just about everyone, brightening a shady area and making almost every other plant around it look better. No wonder it is a must-have for the shade garden.

Japanese painted fern is compact, growing between 30 and 60 cm high and wide. It has deep burgundy leaf stems with olive-green arching fronds lit with silver. Each plant has its own unique colour and pattern. Although native to Japan, Korea, China and Taiwan, it does well in zones 4 to 9 here. Master gardener Merle Burston asks: “with this growing in the shade, who needs flowers?”

Although it can stand alone in the garden, Japanese painted fern is a favourite dance partner. Its upward reach and shape provides interesting contrast for plants with downward arching forms, such as Solomon’s seal.  It looks dramatic when set against any dark green background or with other plants that pick up its burgundy colour, such as red Japanese maple, maroon Heuchera, black-purple Cimicifuga simplex ‘Hillside Black Beauty’, or chocolate-purple Ligularia ‘Britt Marie Crawford.’ It lights up an area with its silvery shimmer. Consider it as an accent, a specimen, for edging or as a woodland plant. But by all means consider it for one of your prized shade plants.

Japanese painted fern is one of the star plants selected by 17 expert gardeners in Gardening from a Hammock by Ellen Novack and Dan Cooper. Gardening from a Hammock is an easy-to-use book describing how to create a fabulous, four-season garden using low-maintenance plants. It’s loaded with tips and has a botanical reference guide.

Low-maintenance Monday: Solomon’s seal

“Solomon’s seal is one of those spring plants that make your heart beat faster,” Aldona Satterthwaite says about the perennial plant whose arching leaf and white drooping flowers signal spring. A master gardener, Aldona is executive director of the Toronto Botanical Garden and knows of what she speaks.

Fellow master gardener Belinda Gallagher of Hooked on Horticulture, agrees. “Solomon’s seal is my favourite plant of all times–today,” she says. “It takes dry shade, and is very elegant and graceful. I love the flowers, but particularly the arching shape of the stems. They emerge like sea serpents from the ground in the spring.” The native Solomon’s seal grows 60 to 70 cm both in height and width and grows well in a dry, shady spot from zones 3 to 9.

Solomon's seal adds grace to the garden. It can be featured as an accent or woodland plant, or used as a cut flower.

Delicate, white bell-like flowers hang from gracefully arching stems in late spring. The small flowers are self-cleaning and will drop off naturally. The foliage remains attractive all season, so the plant is virtually maintenance free. The stems even disconnect from the rhizomes on their own after a frost. But before that, the foliage turns a golden yellow.

Belinda explains that Solomon’s seal is usually misnamed in garden centres. The native and non-native (mainly from Asia) are often mixed together. “I like them all,” she says. “The variegated ones are wonderful, but take a longer time to mature and bulk up so people may be disappointed.”

To me that is a good thing, since that means they are less invasive in the garden. The variegated Solomon’s seal is my favourite, since its arching stems of green leaves are edged in white, brightening the shade. They are scented, which is an additional gift.

Note: The other recommended varieties of polygonatum in Gardening from a Hammock may not grow as quickly as the native species, but are valuable additions to any shade garden. Check out Giant Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum commutatum), which makes a statement in any garden as it grows from 90 to 120 cm high.

Solomon’s seal is one of the star plants selected by 17 expert gardeners in Gardening from a Hammock by Ellen Novack and Dan Cooper. Gardening from a Hammock is an easy-to-use book describing how to create a fabulous, four-season garden using low-maintenance plants. It’s loaded with tips and has a botanical reference guide.

Low-maintenance Monday: Crocosmia

Have you ever been to a party where a beauty in red catches every eye in the room? In your garden, that beauty would be crocosmia. Devilishly beautiful, this perennial is aptly called ‘Lucifer’, familiarly known as crocosmia or montbretia.

“Crocosmia is the reddest of the reds,” says Frank Kershaw, horticultural teacher and one of the expert gardeners featured in Gardening from a Hammock. Frank uses this tall, dramatic plant as an accent against a green cedar background in his garden. The plant is 90 to120 cm high and spreads 30 to 60 cm.

Crocosmia can be used as an accent, border, or specimen plant. It also makes an outstanding cut flower. ~ Image courtesy of Marilyn Cornwell

Crocosmia forms clumps of deep-green, sword-shaped leaves with wiry, gracefully arched stems holding up spikes of brilliant flame-red flowers. Frank and his wife enjoy watching the hummingbirds that are attracted to the flame-red flowers in late summer and fall. These plants are most dramatic when planted in clumps.

Master Gardener Sonia Leslie also recommends crocosmia for the sunny garden, but a different variety: (Crocosmia x crocosmiflora). This crocosmia is very hardy with long, pale-green strap-like leaves, and branching stems that grow in a zigzag fashion.

Its showy orange and yellow flowers spread to make sturdy clumps of colour in late August and September. Each flower is about 5 cm across and the nodding cluster can be several centimetres long. Crocosmia dies back to the ground in winter in zones six to nine, only to regrow from its circular, flattened corms in spring. This variety of crocosmia is a little smaller, 50 to 60 cm, with paler green leaves and showy orange or yellow nodding flowers on slender, arching, zigzag spikes in late summer.

Crocosmia is one of the star plants selected by 17 expert gardeners in Gardening from a Hammock by Ellen Novack and Dan Cooper. Gardening from a Hammock is an easy-to-use book describing how to create a fabulous, four-season garden using low-maintenance plants. It’s loaded with tips and has a botanical reference guide.

Low-maintenance Monday: Epimedium

The Rodney Dangerfield of plants, Epimedium, commonly called barrenwort or bishop’s hat, doesn’t get the respect it deserves. This underused plant is a superhero in the shady garden, providing colour and texture where few plants dare to go. Eight of the 17 expert gardeners interviewed in Gardening from a Hammock selected various forms of barrenwort for the shade garden. Although this perennial looks delicate, it is “tough as nails” says one.

It is a dependable, no-nonsense groundcover says garden lecturer Frank Kershaw. “It takes sun in the rockery and shade in the woodland and keeps its leaves into winter.” He adds that it is tough and flexible enough to flourish in dry shade. Depending on the variety, white, pink or yellow flowers appear from May to June while the heart-shaped leaves emerge bright green with a slight tinge of pink or red and later run a deeper green; by autumn they take on yellow, bronze or red tones.

Not only does this perennial form a lovely carpet of interesting leaves, but the flowers can work with many themes.

Epimedium comes in three colours: red (rubrum), yellow (sulphureum) and white (niveum). Aldona Satterthwaite, executive director of Toronto Botanical Garden, teams the yellow Epimedium with ghost fern, Bowles golden sedge and golden Japanese forest grass for a spectacular combination of colour, texture and interest in the shady garden.

Barrenwort is a lazy gardener’s treasure because it will grow under just about anything, including maple trees. Dugald Cameron, of gardenimport.com, recommends the variety ‘Frohnleiten’ because while the regular species has blossoms that hide under its leaves, this one holds its butter-yellow blossoms above the heart-shaped leaves. The glossy leaves are a bonus as they turn deep red in autumn.

Chalk Lake Nursery owner and teacher Martin Galloway adds that the old foliage of barrenwort crumples and covers the ground in winter through spring, at which time the new leaves rise above the old in company with the flowers. “It is slow growing but consistent, will live forever and is drought tolerant and tough,” he says.

All varieties of barrenwort are hardy, bloom in the shade and are an excellent groundcover or edging. They can brighten up a woodland garden in full or part-shade. Typically barrenwort grows 20-25 cm high with a 15-30 cm spread in zones 4-9.

Sedum spurium ‘John Creech’ is one of the star plants selected by 17 expert gardeners in Gardening from a Hammock by Ellen Novack and Dan Cooper. Gardening from a Hammock is an easy-to-use book describing how to create a fabulous, four-season garden using low-maintenance plants. It’s loaded with tips and has a botanical reference guide.

Low-maintenance Monday: Sedum ‘John Creech’

I don’t like all the work in maintaining a perfect lawn—mowing, re-seeding, weeding—and watering the lawn just seems wasteful. Our dog also does not help the cause.

In Gardening from a Hammock, the book I wrote with Dan Cooper, we were advised by several gardeners to “ditch the grass.” Teacher, biologist and nursery owner Martin Galloway suggested a sedum lawn instead; using a variety of sedums that would provide colour and texture with little need to water or weed. Although we may not all want to replace our lawns, sedums are most welcome anywhere in the garden. And if we were to choose a favourite, it would be Sedum spurium ‘John Creech.’

Commonly called stonecrop, this plant was named after plant explorer John Creech, a retired horticulturist from the US National Arboretum. On his travels to Siberia, he discovered this plant and obtained the original from the Central Siberian Botanic Garden in 1971. ~ Image courtesy of Northscaping Inc.

Like many sedums, ‘John Creech’ is low growing—only about five to 10 cm—and is a fast-growing groundcover, spreading 25 to 30 cm. It provides a green carpet of tiny, rounded, deep-green leaves with small clusters of pink, star-like flowers in late spring through early summer.

It is a favourite low-maintenance plant because, once established, you can simply forget about it. ‘John Creech’ is a workhorse in all kinds of soil from zones 2 to 9.  Although it is most commonly used as a hardy groundcover, it can be so much more. This modest plant needs a publicist to shout out its attributes. It can be used:

  • As a groundcover that works well on both flat and sloped areas
  • For edging
  • As an accent in a rock garden
  • In containers where it will cascade over the sides.

As well, it is non-invasive, keeps its colour in full sun, is deer resistant, drought tolerant and attracts butterflies. If that is not enough, here is the best part: the leaves are so dense that they choke out the weeds.

Sedum spurium ‘John Creech’ is one of the star plants selected by 17 expert gardeners in Gardening from a Hammock by Ellen Novack and Dan Cooper. Gardening from a Hammock is an easy-to-use book describing how to create a fabulous, four-season garden using low-maintenance plants. It’s loaded with tips and has a botanical reference guide.

Previewing plants from President’s Choice

The annual President’s Choice Lawn & Garden Insider’s Report luncheon is a hot-ticket event for garden writers, because we get to turn our plots into trial gardens. This year, a room at the Toronto Botanical Garden was turned into a greenhouse so we could preview all the hot new plants that we’ll find at garden centres this spring. And let’s face it, most of us will make it to one of Loblaw’s parking lot nurseries at least once. Who doesn’t love buying a chicken, a Joe Fresh T-shirt and a dahlia or two in one shopping trip? Plus, I have to say their plants are always top-notch and affordable. I was able to chat with some of the growers, as well as listen to them tell the whole group of us about their breeding programs and their latest innovations.

Here are just a few of the plants I’m excited about. I’ll be including others in a “Hot plants for 2012″ piece premiering next week! Also premiering next week is the Lawn & Garden Insider’s Report. Keep an eye out for it in stores!

1. Haskap berries
To be honest, I had never heard of these little gems until Signe Langford wrote about them in her 2012 “new edibles to try” piece. Apparently they taste like a cross between a raspberry and a blueberry. Apparently you need two different varieties to get adequate pollination. I got ‘Indigo Gem’ and ‘Indigo Treat’. Excited to see how they grow–and to taste the berries!

Haskap berries

2. Brunnera Jack Frost
This will be one of my first purchases from the nursery this year. Named “perennial of the year” for 2012, brunneras are deer-resistant and shade-loving. This will be a perfect plant for the back of my lot where the tree canopy casts a giant shadow for most of the day, and where the deer enter the yard if they’re in the neighbourhood!

Brunnera 'Jack Frost'

3. Suncatcher Pink Lemonade Petunias
Last year it was the black petunia. This year, it’s all about pink lemonade. The colour on these blooms is just so unique and pretty, and they’ll contrast nicely with most other hues.

Suncatcher Pink Lemonade Petunia

4. Lanai Verbena Twister Pink
This pretty little number is so unique with its ring of miniature, two-toned blooms around a hollow centre. These will be fantastic for pots. I have a cone-shaped bamboo wall planter that I bought at the Ideal Home & Garden Show in Hamilton. I think one or two are destined to be included in it!

Lanai Verbena Twister Pink

5. PC Vegetables in a Cage
President’s Choice always has great edible plant offerings for both small and large spaces. A couple of years ago it was the upside-down, hanging tomato basket, last year it was the salad bowl garden. This year they’ve introduced vegetables all potted up with a cage around them. All you need to do is add water!

PC Vegetables in a Cage

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