A standard bit of advice is to head to the nursery, list in hand- specific to your garden, so you don’t return home with a carload of plants and no idea where to place them. BUT, if you’re planning to make broccoli yet you discover the stalks chilling in the produce section are pale and flabby, you must look to an alternative. Be open to plants that inspire and don’t cleave to that list at all costs. Like this pretty thing, found nowhere on my list: I have a terra-cotta pot in my garden that is always anchored by a lime cypress, which I typically surround with high contrast colors. This year a local grower had healthy specimens of Lavandula x intermedia Phenomenal™ (Phenomenal lavender). Offered by White Flower Farm at a hefty $21.95 per gallon, this soft gray lavender was loaded with buds and became a new accent for my old pot this year at a reasonable $7.99. I mean, if the broccoli sucks and the asparagus is fresh and crisp…toss the list!
Out went high contrast and I ended up with a monochromatic container of purples and gray. I combined the lavender with Calibrachoa Superbells® ‘Miss Lilac’ (million bells) and lacy Euphorbia ‘Diamond Frost®
I’ve never embraced lavender because of its woody growth habit, but this cultivar has won accolades for strong performance from growers worldwide. After spending this season in a pot I will move it to a sunny spot in with the best drainage I can provide, hoping it will make a permanent home in my garden.
If you head to the nursery in May, clouds of white and pink flowers bedecking cherry, crabapple and Bradford pear trees dominate the scene. Rhododendrons clad in purple and raspberry flowers will vie for your attention, making a perfect palette for a pretty spring garden. That’s fine, but think about when you are actually IN your garden. Grilling on the the July 4th? Playing badminton on a sunny weekend in June? That pretty purple rhododendron calling your name in the spring will be a quiet spot of green in the summer or early fall, when you are likely hanging out in your yard. Meanwhile, languishing in the nursery are the plants like bottlebrush buckeye (described below) that will take center stage in mid-summer.
Take a look at this beauty! It’s bottlebrush buckeye or Aesculus parviflora, a grand shrub reaching a height of up to 8-10 feet with about equal girth. It tolerates full sun through nearly full shade. For the giant candelabras of buckeye flowers in this image, give it at least 4 hours of sun. Unfussy about soil and usually unbothered by deer, the coarse foliage creates a weed-proof spot perfect for the woodland edge or tucked under large deciduous trees. In my landscape, a sunny hillside with unamended clay soil was planted with gallon pots of bottlebrush buckeye over 20 years ago. Today, they create a dramatic show, covered with bees and butterflies, making the garden gorgeous when we’re outside sipping rose’ and listening to the BOOM of fireworks on the 4th of July. The bottom line- ask your local nursery staff to steer you toward plants that will make your garden shine when you are outside enjoying it with your family and friends.
Plants that shrug off a late snowfall and frigid temperatures
Helleborus orientalis, commonly known as hellebores or Lenten rose, have been a feature in my garden for almost 20 years. They are tough plants, thriving in shade or sun. Deer leave them alone. Hellebores begin to bloom in my garden around mid-March and continue well into May, an exceptionally long bloom time for a perennial. When crisp, cloudless late winter days are followed by night temperatures into the mid-teens, hellebores show their true mettle. The flowers can be lying on the ground in the morning, yet perk up by mid-day once temperatures reach back into the thirties. Plants don’t get tougher than that!
They self-seed, not in an annoying way, but creating a weed-proof patch, providing a small spot of winter garden interest or a big swath if left to their own devices. Allow the flowers to mature; the fluffy yellow stamens develop a prominent seed capsule. Consider it a reward for not bothering to deadhead! The seeds ripen and the following spring you’ll see lots of seedlings at the feet of the mother plant. Flowers aren’t true to type, meaning that they are not identical to the parent plant. Depending on what you start with, the babies, which can take a year or two to develop into mature flowering plants, range in color from cream, to pale olive or mauve, burgundy to a deep plum. Some are speckled, others are solid. All are beautiful. After the first year they are very easy to move and their adaptability make them perfect adding to other parts of the garden or giving away to friends.
Orlaya grandiflora or Minoan lace flower came tucked inside a seed order decades ago as a “bonus”. I don’t even remember which seeds I originally ordered, but this freebie brings cottage charm to my garden and is a welcome addition from late spring through mid-summer. Orlaya is a pretty wildflower which has the feeling of Queen Anne’s lace without being too weedy. It makes a long lasting cut flower, adding fine texture to a few cut peonies, or just plunked into a simple vase where its foliage and flowers can be enjoyed up close.
- Self-sowing annual.
- Full sun preferred, will tolerate part-sun, well-drained to dry soil.
- 24 inches high and about as wide. Does not require staking.
Geranium. The word brings to mind the ubiquitous red flowers growing in clay pots with the requisite “spike” and vinca vine for a classic summer display. The common name “geranium” is given to the genus of plants that are actually Pelargonium species. A true perennial, geraniums are a very large genus of plants comprising both fussy little rock garden specimens to tough plants that shrug off clay, drought and deer. One of the best of the latter type is Geranium macrorrhizum or bigroot geranium (also known as cranesbill). A perennial which actually earns the epithet “low maintenance”, Geranium macrorrhizum makes a pretty edging plant in both sun and part-shade- whether in the perennial border or as an inspired choice surrounding shrubs in a traditional foundation planting. Topping out at around 15 inches high, it has lobed leaves which turn reddish in the fall. The species and its cultivars have pale pink to warm purple flowers, which bloom heavily in mid-spring and may re-bloom throughout the summer. Its aromatic roots dissuade deer, and plants will naturalize and form a weed-proof ground cover even in dry shade. Easily divided and simple to grow, Geranium macrorrhizum is a stalwart perennial plant which belongs in every garden.