Sunday, December 28, 2008

Cool New Plants for 2009

New plants still make the plant and garden world go around, at least for most that consider themselves interested in gardening as a hobby. Something new is usually something different, and experiencing some of that is half the fun.

This is despite frustrations in recent years, and therefore some current scepticism, and increased wariness. No doubt with current economic conditions, most will be more cautious in there purchase decisions.

For casual or non-hobby gardeners, new plants still provide, at least hopefully, improved forms and more colourful selections to choose from.

Here are a few that my nursery is offering as "new" for 2009:

Coreopsis 'Red Shift' is another introduction in the Big Bang™ series by Darrel Probst, and comes after eight years of hybridizing many species. Large (5cm, 2") yellow flowers boast an interesting red eye-zone, and in cooler weather, the red colour "runs" to cover most and somestime all of the petals. Plants reach 75-90cm (30-36") in height, and bloom from mid-summer through fall. It has overwintered in zone 5.

Below is a collage of some of the other hybrids that Darrel is working on. WOW!

Heuchera 'Plum Royale' is a cool new Heuchera (Coral Bells) from Terra Nova Nurseries (Oregon). I've always loved good ol' 'Plum Pudding', and 'Plum Royale' simply looks like an improved version of that classic variety. Terra Nova is promoting the fact that it maintains the shiny purple foliage all summer, and suggests combining it with silver-foliaged plants.

Hosta 'Rainforest Sunrise' is a cute small variety (45cm wide) with excellent golden-yellow leaves that are edged in dark green. The above photograph shows a plant in our trial gardens a couple years back, and was likely grown in too much sun. In any case, it still performed admirably, and it remains the brightest variety that I've seen to date.

Here's to dirt under your nails.


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Cool Blog & Forum

The web is such a monolith of information, it's often difficult to find new sites of interest. Here's two that I've discovered and recently enjoyed.

First is a great blog for all you avid gardeners: Garden Rant. I just posted a comment on Allan Armitage's blog re native plants this morning.

Another is the GardenWeb Forums. I check the Perennials section almost on a daily basis. It's full of good, simple information from, and exchanges between, mostly every-day gardeners (from across North America).

Here's to dirt under your nails.


Thursday, November 20, 2008

Fall Colours

It's been a while since my last post -- the end of summer has quickly progressed through autumn, and I didn't really get a chance to get out to take any pics recently, but here's a couple of cool plants with some lovely fall colours.

The first is a very cool Maple (Acer sp. -- I'm not sure which), I saw along Lakeshore Road in Niagara-on-the-Lake in October.

The second is Heucherella 'Stoplight' -- I've always been somewhat disappointed with this plant, but was impressed with it's "fall colours" the other day when I saw it in our nursery.

Here's to the last bit of dirt under your nails for 2008.

I hope to post a bit re. some new plants for 2009 in the coming weeks.


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Not so Cool Tricyrtis virus?

I've always been a fan of the Tricyrtis or Toad Lily, particularly for their late, orchid-like blossoms. It was only recently that I was to learn about the origins of the name, thanks to Dr. Armitage, who said it likely refers to the three toad-like bumps that are visible when you view a flower from the reverse angle. This makes sense to me.

Above is the variety 'Taipei Silk', and if you look closely at the bottom or rear of the buds that are just about to open, you can see the "toad-like" bumps.

In any case, they are beautiful flowers that provide subtle colour and exotic form to the late summer or fall, partially-shaded garden. However I was shocked to also learn recently that some of the "spotting" characteristics on some well-known cultivars, may be due to a virus. Chris Wilson of Hallson Gardens seems to be on the cutting edge of this discovery and writes about it here.

The above is the cultivar 'Empress" and may be part of the group that is virus-infected. It's unfortunate because this was one of my favourties for vigour and colour. This may lend to the question, "Who cares if it has a virus?"

Here's to dirt under your nails.


Sunday, September 14, 2008

Cool Grass -- Molinia (Moor Grass)

Ornamental grasses are a prominent feature of the late summer and autumn garden -- the more common Calamagrostis (Feather Reed Grass), Miscanthus (Maiden Grass, or Chinese Silver Grass), or Panicum (Switch Grass) are common, easy, and useful plants.

One slightly less known is Molinia (Moor Grass). A noted feature of most varieties within this genus are their "transparent" or "semi-transparent" habit. This is in reference to their relative low mound of foliage, and much taller but loosely-bunched "flowering" stems, through which the observer can see plants in the background.

The above shows the "semi-transparent" nature of Molinia 'Variegata' with Physostegia (Obedient Plant) visible behind it. Generally, the non-variegated varieties are even more useful for this purpose.

The above is Molinia 'Variegata' in all its glory on its own.

Here's to dirt under your nails.


Native Plants

Here's a beautiful combination I saw the other day of late summer native perennials in a garden at the Niagara Parks' Botanical Gardens.

It's a relatively "hot" combination (i.e. hot colours) with the red Lobelia cardinalis (Cardinal Flower), the orange Helenium (Helen's Flower), and the yellow Solidago (Goldenrod -- looks like 'Fireworks' just beginning to open).

"Native" plants are all the rage in gardening circles, particularly those with an environmental consideration. I'm not a big "tree-hugger" but I do believe that the use of native plants makes sense for most gardeners. In a nutshell, I will support the fact that plants that originated in North America will generally be easier to grow in our gardens. Of course, we still have to take sun/shade (i.e. prairie/woodland), and other variables on occasion, into consideration.

In any case, this is a great combination with lots of colour for late summer and early fall.

Here's to dirt under your nails.


Sunday, August 24, 2008

Angelica gigas, Purple Parsnip

I remember seeing this plant as the "European Plant of the Year" back in the 90s, and being immediately intrigued by its size, foliage shape and the colour of its stems and flowers.

Angelica gigas, or Purple Parsnip, Purple Angelica or Korean Angelica, was introduced to North America by Barry Yinger, one of the principals at Asiatica Nursery, a cool mail-order company based in Pennsylvania. It is native to Japan, Korea and China.

It is usually listed as a biennial, although seedlings will take a couple of years to mature before flowering. It also self-sows readily in the garden under favourable conditions.

I've grown it in two gardens here in Niagara-on-the-Lake. It is definitely more striking in brighter light. It is also loved by the bees!

Here's to dirt under your nails.


Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Plant Snobbery

I had the wonderful opportunity last week to see a presentation by Dr. Allan Armitage (Canadian; currently at University of Georgia).

Speaking at a local garden centre, his main point was to "have fun" while gardening. He reviewed several plants, telling us of their attributes, and a little bit about where they came from. He minimized the fact of whether a plant was a perennial, tender perennial, annual or tropical indoor plant -- if you like it in your garden, that's all that matters.

One suggestion he had re botanical names was to "Get the syllables in the right order, then fire away." In his book on perennials, he adds, "Don't worry about sounding silly; it is only the garden snob who continually tries to correct you. And who needs snobs in a garden?"

Good advice, I'd say.

Here's to dirt under your nails.


Monday, August 4, 2008

Cool Plants in Cool Light

Sunlight does amazing things to cool plants...

Hosta 'June' in the nursery:

Canna 'Praetoria' (Striata) at Queenston Heights:

I didn't intentially plan the above shot this way, but it's definitely cool with the shadow of the flower falling near the centre on the leaf.

Here's to dirt under your nails.


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Cool Plants - Two Lilies

I've never been a big fan of Lilies (Lilium sp.), usually considering them too common, usual and a plant with otherwise overly-large and gawdy flowers, to be of much interest. Good ol' Oriental Lily 'Stargazer' is a beauty but essentially everywhere, and Asiatic Lilies are also nearly a dime for a dozen at any retailer in June.

A friend however got me onto L. martagon (Martagon or Turk's Cap Lily) a few years back, as an excellent plant for dry shade. I've since been enamoured with one called 'Moonyeen', a beautiful mid-pink selection.

More recently, I've been very impressed with an OT (Oriental/Trumpet hybrid or "Orienpet") variety called 'Orania'. It has buds that are strikingly brushed with pink, later opening to a perfect blend of creams and yellows. A two year-old plant consists of stems that are several cm in diameter, atop of which are dozens of flowers. The fragrance too, is delicious.

Here's to dirt under your nails.


Tuesday, July 8, 2008

All Those New Echinacea (Coneflowers)

I know they've been all the rage for the last few years, ever since the Chicagoland Grows breeding program came out with Orange Meadowbrite. And then some Dutchman discovered the interesting double form eventually named 'Razzmatazz'. Since then, we've got the Big Sky(TM) series, the Conefections(TM) series, a couple more in the Meadowbrite series, and several more from Terra Nova.

Desipte all the hubris, my favourites remain 'Kim's Knee High', an outstanding relatively dwarf form with excellent branching, flower production and petal colour. Introduced by Niche Gardens and named for its founder Kim Hawks.

Also a favourite of mine, is the relativley new 'Green Envy', with unique green petals that eventually fade to a light pink. Some propagators have said this detracts from the plant, and have therefore been promoting another called 'Green Jewel' as one than has petals that remain green all the time. I disagree, and feel that the green petals of 'Green Envy' turning to pink are actually more unique and interesting than those that remain green.

In any case, all Echinacea (Coneflowers) are easy to grow in full sun and relatively drought tolerant once established. They do tend to self-seed a little bit, which makes the introduction of all these new hybrids into the garden, somewhat interesting.

For what's it worth, here's an interesting semi-double I found in our nursery the other day.

Here's to dirt under your nails.


Monday, June 30, 2008

Cool Plant Combos II

Here's a few more suggested perennial plant combos...

First, an interesting combination of Iris sibirica 'Butter and Sugar', Tradescantia 'Concord Grape', and a Rose.

Second, good ol' Veronica spicata 'Red Fox', with the newer Coreopsis 'Autumn Blush'. I have generally found the latter not to be hardy here in zone 6, and so have been somewhat disappointed, but I am however, looking forward to trying the newer varieties as they become available. You can see some here.

Finally, here's one that I've loved for several years now, Campanula 'Kent Belle' with Aruncus aethusifolius. Similar combinations could be made with variations of the above and/or Campanula 'Sarastro' (generally better than 'Kent Belle'), Aruncus dioicus, Aruncus 'Horatio', or Aruncus 'Misty Lace'.

Here's to dirt under your nails.


Monday, June 23, 2008

Cool Plant Combos I

One fun challenge of gardening is finding two, three or four plants that combine well with each other. One suggestion to see "what works" is to visit other gardens, whether it be your local city, botanical, or fellow-gardener's, they typically have something that we may find useful.

Here's a first set of a few suggestions re. plant combinations. This is a classic combination of "layers" or horizontal bands of colour: Geranium 'Brookside' in the foreground, Iris sibirica 'Butter and Sugar' in the middle, and a Rodgersia is the background.

Here's an interesting combination of perennials and trees/shrubs: Geranium 'Rosemoor', Hosta 'Paul's Glory', a Cornus (my best guess) and a Blue Spruce. The purples/blues of the Geranium, Hosta and Spruce create some harmony, in contrast with the white flowers of the Dogwood.

Finally, a favourite shot of mine, of the flowers of Iris sibirica 'Caesar's Brother' leaning over after a rain, and lying on top of Hypericum 'Albury Purple'.

Here's to dirt under your nails.


Monday, June 9, 2008

Favourite Peony

Peonies are easily considered a "classic" perennial -- certainly the flowers are big, bold and beautiful. They are long-lived as most herbaceous perennials are concerned, and are generally easy in the garden. With recent advances in commercial propagation, newer varieties, including Tree Peony types, ITOH, and other "inter-sectional" hybrids are becoming more readily available.

My favourite of all is the herbaceous P. 'Flame', a 1939 introduction of American breeder Glasscock. It's simply a beauty with early single, and brilliant deep coral-pink flowers. It does not require staking.

An interesting source of information (and some excellent photography) is Carsten Burkhardt's Web Project Paeonia.

Here's to dirt under your nails.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

A Cool New Digitalis II

Well, it turns out that my cool new Digitalis is an outstanding form of a variant of Digitalis purpurea that has turned up on occasion since the 1800s.

Graham Rice of the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) in the UK made an excellent post on his blog re. my "new but old" plant over at his blog The Transatlantic Plantsman, including an intersting explanation from a former plantsman at the RHS.

In any case, if you Google "peloric Digitalis" you will find all sorts of interesing reading regarding this type of occassional variant.

Upon Graham's suggestion, I will isolate this plant and collect seed in attempt to create a new strain.

Here's to dirt your nails.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

A Cool New Digitalis

A very weird and wonderful Digitalis (Foxglove) was discovered by one of my growers at our nursery yesterday. It was one amongst several dozen D. purpurea 'Excelsior Hybrids'.

Although I have seen oddities before in certain plants, nothing quite as extraordinary as this.

Time will tell, with a few emails zipping around the world, whether it is truly of any horticultural significance. In the meantime, it is fun and otherwise a plain testimony to nature's wonderful variability.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Three Cool Rare Plants

OK, so we took a peak at three relatively "new" plants (and more to come soon) in the last post. Here's a look at three cool "rare" plants. Of course, rare is relative, but they can be fun, simply because no one else has them yet.

Rare plants may or may not be new, in fact, some have been around for decades if not centuries, but remain rare by virtue of their difficult production in a commercial environment. In any case, they will not be available at your local garden centre. You might be able to obtain them at one of the links (mostly high-end mail order nurseries) below under 'Other Cool Plant Sites'.

These are plants that I have not tried before myself, but certiainly hope to in the near future. One that caught my eye was Eupatorium fortunei 'Pink Elegance' at Thierry Delabroye's nursery.

This is the same plantsman that has been introducing the latest Heuchera cultivars, e.g. 'Caramel', 'Tiramisu', 'Pistache', 'Pinot Gris', etc. In any case, I've always been a fan of variegated plants, and a variegated Eupatorium at 1m+ (3-4') would be very cool.

A very cool, but mysteriously rare plant so far in the horticultural industry, is Veronica 'Christy'. This is a hybrid of Veronica austriaca ‘Crater Lake Blue’ and V. prostrata discovered by Christy Hensler in Washington state. It has performed admirably in our trial gardens for a few years now.

Finally, another cool rare variegated plant, is Symphytum × uplandicum 'Axminster Gold'. For whatever reason, this plant is near impossible to produce commercially, but is an outstanding and tremendously colourful addition to the garden.

In my experience, this plant is easy once established and provides very dramatic colour in mid to late-spring. For a variegated plant, it is indeed bold and beautiful.

So, in addition to trying something new or cool, to be really different, try one of these rare plants.

Here's to dirt under your nails, and enjoy.


Saturday, May 10, 2008

Three New Cool Plants I

Most gardeners are interested in "what's new" as far as plant varieties are concerned. It provides us with an opportunity to be different than our friends, and to learn about and appreciate something that is, at the very least different from what we're use to, but also hopefully better or improved, than what most are used to.

These three plants are relatively new, but also tried and tested for a couple of years in trial gardens here in Niagara-on-the-Lake. The pictures were taken May 14, 2007.

The first is Geum 'Mango Lassi', which was introduced by Blooming Nursery of Oregon a few years back. It's origin or parentage is, as far as I can tell, unknown. In any case, it performed admirably and made a tremendous display of colour for several weeks in our trial garden last year. Try it with something that has silver foliage like Stachys 'Big Ears' (Lambs Ears) and/or a plant with similar colour like Physocarpus Coppertina.

The second is Euphorbia polychroma 'Bonfire', a new introduction a few years back via Blooms of Bressingham. It is a definite improvement upon older selections of the Cushion Spurge that had dark foliage but faded quickly to the usual grey-green. In any case, this one is a beauty with dark foliage that contrasts nicely with the chartreuse flowers in spring, and holds its colour nicely into the summer.

Finally, new varieties of Pulmonaria (Lungwort, Lords and Ladies) have been plentiful in recent years, but some have been prone to mildew and otherwise less than stellar. Pulmonaria 'Samurai' however (P. 'Majeste' × P. longifolia cevennsis) has performed like a star with clean silver foliage and brilliant near-blue flowers.

If you'd like to try something new this year, try one of these -- plants that have been tried and tested.

Here's to dirt under your nails.


Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Another Cool Native Plant, the Canadian Columbine

Another native plant that I've really enjoyed growing in my garden is Aquilegia canadensis. It's sometimes called Wild, Red or American Columbine, but I prefer Canadian Columbine.

Photo from Cornell University, Cutler Botanic Garden

In any case, it's a beauty to combine with Hostas, ferns and other North American woodland natives in a shady garden. It's short-lived but self-seeds pleasantly, and is also relatively resistant to the nasty Columbine borer.

The common names, and my preference aside, the USDA does indicate that its distribution pretty much covers the eastern half of the North American continent.

One recent form that is particularly impressive is 'Little Lanterns' which is a shorter version, but also seemingly more prolific in it's flower production. Here's a two-year-old plant with an impressive number of flowers.

Even more recently, the Dyck Arboretum in Kansas, discovered and developed a pink-flowered version called 'Pink Lanterns'. I have yet to try it, but it looks promising and I can hardly wait.

Photo from Jelitto

Here's to the Canadian Columbine, and dirt under your nails.


Sunday, April 27, 2008

A Spring Beauty I - Dicentra spectabilis 'Goldheart'

One beauty that came out a few years ago and has since done well, is Dicentra spectabilis 'Gold Heart', with the usual pink and white flowers, but accompanied on this version, by brilliant golden-yellow foliage. The emergence of this plant in spring is truly a sight to behold.

It was developed by fellow-Canadians Nori and Sandra Pope while they were looking after the gardens at Hadspen House in Somerset, England. It has good vigour and simply wonderful colour.

Here it is brightening up the shady front of a Blue Spruce:

If you have not yet, please try it this year -- you will be pleasantly surprised.

Here's to dirt under your nails.


Tuesday, April 8, 2008


Spring has finally sprung ... enjoy.

A cool red Helleborus (Hellebore) with interesting lighting.

Iberis (Candytuft), Aubrieta, and Phlox in a wonderful combination.

A Primula veris and Myosotis (Forget-me-Not)

A Primula and Myosotis (Forget-me-Not)

A Primula and Viola