{ Posts Tagged ‘low-maintenance plants’ }

Low-maintenance Monday: Creeping Japanese sedge

Carex morrowii ‘Ice Dance’, a low-growing, ornamental, variegated sedge is selected as one of the top ten low-maintenance plants by the illustrious gardeners in Gardening from a Hammock.

What makes it such a favourite?

The creeping Japanese sedge grows 20 to 30 cm and spreads between 30 to 45 cm in zones 5 to 9. It is a slow-spreading perennial with grass-like, arching stems covered with forest-green leaves trimmed in bright white or cream. It is grown for its foliage and for its ability to complement other plants.

Garden designer Kim Price of Kim Price Landscape Design Inc. likes it because it handles half sun or shade and flowers from June through July. “The variegated green and cream leaves provide interest throughout the season,” she says.

Creeping Japanese sedge can be used for an accent, border edging or groundcover. It also is a valuable addition to a woodland garden, in mass planting or in containers. Photo courtesy of Heritage Perennials.

The creeping Japanese sedge ‘Ice Dance’ is as “fresh and green in January as it is in August,” says Jeff Mason who runs Mason House Gardens in Uxbridge, Ontario. “It looks like someone took a bunch of spider plants and plunked them in the ground.” This sedge spreads but is not invasive. It has white, creamy variegation with a relatively fine texture.

Aldona Satterthwaite, executive director of the Toronto Botanical Garden uses it to fashion a dramatic silver and white palette in her garden. She combines ‘Ice Dance’ sedge, lamium ‘White Nancy’ and variegated Solomon’s seal under an old silver-edged dogwood. She explains that the leaves of the sedge are trimmed in bright white, while the lamium has silver leaves with white flowers.

Creeping Japanese sedge 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: Giant goat’s beard

There is drama and there is high drama. Aruncus diocus or giant goat’s beard is high drama, looming up to 180 cm, bearing creamy-white plumes that rise above the dark foliage and brightening up the shady garden. Susan Lipchak, one of the master gardeners featured in Gardening from a Hammock, suggested both the giant Aruncus diocus and the smaller Aruncus dioicus ‘Kneiffi’, cutleaf goat’s beard, for the shade. “The Aruncus diocus is a dramatically bold plant because of its size – it looks like a giant astilbe,” says Susan. It holds its own beside a giant clump of tall grasses in her garden. This perennial stands between 120 to 180 cm and is spectacular in flower with its creamy white plumes and lacy leaves. It eventually forms a dense clump. The ‘Kneiffii’ variety is smaller, but still stands 90 cm and has finely cut leaves, which would suit a smaller garden.

This hardy perennial complements summer-blooming shrub roses, brunnera, ferns and hostas. Photo courtesy of Heritage Perennials.

The giant goat’s beard is ideal for the back of a shady border or beside a pond. It needs room, as it will spread between 90 and 150 cm. Expect a strong statement from the creamy-white flowers June through July. Where the giant goat’s beard would be too large, the more compact cutleaf goat’s beard (Aruncus dioicus ‘Kneiffii’) would provide the impact without the height. It is smaller at 75 to 90 cm high, but with the same spread.  It has finely cut leaves similar to a Japanese maple with creamy-white flowers June through July.

As an interesting aside, the male flowers produce showier and more erect plumes (I am not making this up) than do the plants with female flowers.

To get new plants, divide clumps in spring or fall, but be aware they do not like being moved.

Giant goat’s beard 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: Speedwell

It is almost impossible to pass by a garden and not notice the showy, violet-blue flowers of Speedwell, especially when offset by yellow Black-eyed Susans. It is a showstopper. The dramatic ‘Sunny Border Blue’ Speedwell has violet-blue spiked flowers on emerald green, textured foliage. The colours are long lasting, from mid-summer until late summer or early fall. They make an artistic statement when mass planted.

Master gardener Kim Price, award-winning designer of Kim Price Landscape Design Inc., chose this native plant as one of her favourites for the sun in Gardening from a Hammock. She appreciates the tidy plants as spikes of blue flowers rise above compact mounds of foliage. She explains that although the tall flower has spikes with lots of blue blooms, it stands erect and can withstand dry conditions.

This variety grows 30 to 45 cm high and wide in zones three to nine and can grow even taller in ideal situations. Photo courtesy of Heritage Perennials.

This low-maintenance plant is a workhorse: it can serve as an accent in the garden or as edging in sun or part shade. As well, it is ideal in cottage or meadow gardens and attracts butterflies and bees.

Consider planting it with yellow flowers for contrast such as Rudbekia (Black-eyed Susan), the yellow lily Hemerocallis ‘Stella de Oro’ or Coreopsis ‘Moonbeam’ (tickseed).

Speedwell 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: Ligularia

It is difficult enough to find a plant that provides colour in the shady garden, but add the challenge of a bog or very moist soil, and you have your work cut out for you.

Let us introduce you to Ligularia. The Latin word ligularis or ligulatus translates as like a strap. It also translates more loosely to little tongue, referring to the tongue-like shape and linear nature of its petals. Ligularia is native to China and Japan, and grows in moist woodland areas along ponds and streams.

If planted in similar conditions, Ligularia will prove how happy it is by providing tall sprays of yellow flowers waving from strong stems. Since they are tall, they look best in the back of shady beds or at the edge of water gardens.

There are many species of Ligularia that provide architectural detail, colour and foliage including purple, burgundy and green. The two varieties of Ligularia that master Gardener Kim Price has selected for Gardening from a Hammock are Ligularia ‘Little Rocket’ and Ligularia dentata ‘Desdemona’.

Little Rocket’ (which isn’t so little) produces tall spikes of bright yellow flowers in midsummer, with some of the flower spikes 30 cm tall on top of the existing 90 cm plant. It grows in a clump of large, jagged green leaves with purplish-black stems.

These varieties of Ligularia complement one another. ‘Little Rocket’ (which isn’t so little) produces tall spikes of bright yellow flowers in midsummer, with some of the flower spikes 30 cm tall on top of the existing 90 cm plant. It grows in a clump of large, jagged green leaves with purplish-black stems.

The ‘Desdemona’ variety has purple colour on the underside of its leaf. Kim prefers them as focal point plants because their leaves are large and the rocket flower spikes catch the eye.

All Ligularia are ideal for the shady, moist garden. They can be used in many ways: as an accent, cut flower, a specimen, or to illuminate woodlands or ponds. It also attracts butterflies.

Ligularia 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: The blanket flower

Orange is currently a hot colour: orange jeans, tops, shoes and coats—bold, cheerful and friendly. That defines the orange in Gaillardia ‘Oranges and Lemons’.

Also known as blanket flowers, they are super-tough, perfect for benign neglect in heat and drought, and will tolerate poor soil. The daisy-like, tangerine-orange flowers call out for attention with their yellow serrated tips. Downy green leaves have a hairy texture. One of the most valuable features of this cheery plant is its long bloom, from early summer to late fall.

Blanket flowers make a vibrant cut flower. They attract butterflies and can be used in meadow gardens, massed in a border or as an accent. Photo courtesy of Heritage Perennials.

Dugald Cameron, owner of gardenimport.com, selected the variety ‘Oranges and Lemons’ as one of his plant choices for the sun in Gardening from a Hammock. This plant provides a show of up to 75 extra-large, yellow-tipped, soft orange blossoms from midsummer on, he explains. If you do a little deadheading, Dugald predicts, they will bloom into the fall. This is a prairie native workhorse that thrives in poor, well-drained soil in the baking sun.

‘Oranges and Lemons’ grow 40 to 45 cm high and spread 30 to 45 cm in zones 4 to 9.  Other varieties come in warm colours of red, orange and gold and may be slightly smaller or larger.

Gaillardia ‘Oranges and Lemons’ 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: The toad lily

Although it looks as if it could have been Photoshopped for a sci-fi cartoon, the toad lily (Tricyrtis hirta) actually comes from moist woodlands and high elevations from Eastern Asia to the Philippines. Its unfortunate common name, the toad lily, refers to the frog-like blotches and markings on the flowers. This is misleading, since the bright purple markings on the flower are intriguing rather than toad-like. The funnel-shaped white flowers are spotted with vibrant purple spots with matching centres. The stems are leafy and arching.


Despite their exotic look, toad lilies are easy to grow. What makes them a special perennial is not only the bright, unique flowers, but also their ability to bloom in shade from late summer to early fall. Not too many plants provide bright colour in the shade this late in the season.

The toad lily grows 60 to 90 cm high and 45 to 60 cm wide in zones 4 through 9. They can be used as an accent, a cut flower or in a woodland garden. Gardeners note that Tricyrtis hirta should be planted where they can easily be seen.

Master gardener Merle Burston chose the specific variety Tricyrtis hirta ‘Miyazaki’ in Gardening from a Hammock. “The starry, burgundy-spotted white flowers of the toad lily bloom down its stem in autumn,” she explains.

‘Miyazaki’ is a slightly smaller variety, 45 to 60 cm high, with a 45 to 60 cm spread. It grows in a compact green mound. 

The flowers of the toad lily have both male and female organs and are pollinated by insects. The clumps can be divided in early spring.

Tricyrtis hirta 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: 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.

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