Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Piet Oudolf's Favourite Perennials

Another one of my favourite stops while visiting the Netherlands, was the garden and nursery of Piet Oudolf. He had this unforgettable, high and multi-layered hedge at the front of his property behind which was his main garden. In the picture below, he is moving a clump of Monarda (Bee Balm).

He has since become a renowned garden designer with many projects, both public and private, in Europe and North America. You can see some of his very cool work and photography on Flickr and on his website.

Virginia Small recently listed his favourite perennials here. It is tellingly divided into three groups: plants the provide structure, produce attractive seed heads, and maintain a distinct winter shape. Ultimately, the goal is to provide an abundance of multi-season interest.

I find a few things however, interesting to note in this list. Firstly, most are relatively tall plants -- you will not find any "cute" Campanula carpatica or Dianthus here. Second, there is mix of both native and non-native species. And finally, the list appears to be missing the most popular genera, specifically Geranium, Heuchera and Hosta. I would certainly love to share a pint with this great artist to discuss this last point!

Well, here's to dirt under your nails -- I hear spring has sprung in certain parts of the continent.

Mark, the coolplantsguy

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Not Necessarily New But....

For a change of pace from all the brand new and up-coming plants, here's a collection of less common, at least here in North America, plants offered by Hans Kramer's De Hessenhof nursery. This was another of my favourite stops while visiting the Netherlands.

First, is Amsonia 'Ernst Pagels' a hybrid of A. hubrichtii and A. ciliata, with fine foliage that turns bright golden-yellow in the autumn, and relatively large clusters of lavender-blue flowers during the summer. Named by Rob Leopold for the esteemed German plantsman.

Next is Dianthus gratianopolitanus 'Babi Lom', a beautiful selection from the Czech Republic with perfect mounds of steely-blue foliage, covered with electric-pink flowers in early summer. It's beautiful, but doesn't look that much different from the popular 'Firewitch'.

This (below) is Helenium 'Baudirektor Linne', an old German variety that has performed well over the years and recently received an AGM from the trials at Wisley.

Helenium 'Loysder Wieck' (below) is a unique form with quilled petals, developed by Paul Wilmink, a former professor of Horticulture at Utrecht. Loysder is the ancient name for the Dutch city of Leusden.

Finally for Helenium (yes, the Europeans love this North American native), is H. 'Ring of Fire', another AGM recipient, with beautiful red-brown, yellow-edged flowers. Why these Helenium, especially the award-winning varieties, are not available in North America is beyond me.

This is Nepeta 'Blue Danube', a selection or hybrid involving N. grandiflora, made by plantsman Christian Kress of Austria. It is a relative low form, growing to only 60cm (24"), and produces condensed clusters of purple-blue flowers for a strong impression. I like the contrast with reddish stems and calyxes.

This is Phlox (Paniculata) 'Oljenka', apparently developed in Russia in the 1930s, with beautiful, almost tri-coloured pink, white and red, flowers. For some amazing photography of this variety, and other Phlox (and Helenium), check out this very cool German website.

Finally, is Rodgersia 'Ideal', introduced by German breeder Peter zur Linden in 1987. The emerging foliage in spring is a deep red-brown, that slowly fades to green with a darker edge by mid-summer. The pinkish flowers are produced on a tall and narrow, but heavily branched plume. Hans calls this "graceful".

Here's to dirt under your nails.

Mark, the coolplantsguy

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

In the Pipeline -- New Plants for 2011 and Beyond, Part 3

Another genus that I've been fascinated with for some time is Kniphofia (Red Hot Poker, Torchlily), named in honour of the German physician and botanist, Johann Hieronymus Kniphof (1704-1763). It has 60-70 species, typically native to Southern Africa.

Its unique and brightly-coloured flowers make it an easy "stand-out" in the summer garden, often adding a somewhat desert-like feel to the landscape with its tufts of narrow foliage.

For some reason, it is now described as "old" and out-of-fashion, and certainly is one of those plants that is often associated with "grandmother's garden". Terra Nova Nurseries however, in Oregon, which is well-known for breeding and introducing new perennials to the industry, has recently expanded their work to include this beautiful plant.

Two series are being introduced in 2010, and likely will be available to consumers this summer. The Popsicles are compact and long-blooming forms, starting in early summer and continuing through autumn. The Solar Flares are larger and known for heavy bloom production from mid-summer through to hard frosts.

First is 'Pineapple' (Popsicles series) with lovely golden-yellow flowers.

Second, is 'Ember Glow' (Solar Flare series) with warm tangerine-orange flowers.

Finally, is 'Fire Glow' (Solar Flare series) with hot orange-red flowers.

These plants have been tested for hardiness in Michgan, so should do well in zones 5-9. Once established they are very drought tolerant. Some early-spring pruning of the old, winter-beaten semi-evergreen foliage (do not cut back in the autumn), and periodic dead-heading during the flowering season, will make for a better presentation.

Here's to dirt under your nails in the coming months, and the return of the Red Hot Poker (now that's a cool common name).

Mark, the coolplantsguy