Blog entries categorized under plantphile
As great a fan as I am of our native plants, I can’t deny my gratitude for the beauties that have come from Asia. Since China and Japan share temperate climates similar to ours, we are able to grow many of their plants with great success. And what distinction they bring to the garden!
I have a particular fondness for some of the Japanese evergreens. They offer colors and textures we can’t find among North American natives and make a statement wherever they are planted.
After nursing an American Holly for many, many years in a shaded corner, I finally replaced it with a Japanese Cedar (Cryptomeria japonica). Within its first year, it has settled in easily and is producing extravagant new growth. The branches of this conifer are clothed in long, soft “branchlets” of gray-green needles creating a unique texture. It develops a natural conical shape but can be pruned as desired. This tree does well in shade, so it is a valuable alternative to the overused Hemlocks and Boxwood for evergreen coverage.
In a more open location, in a shrub border, I have a Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Crippsii Aurea.’ This false cypress has lacy, fern-like leaves in a bright lemon-lime color that makes it a wonderful focal point for Zones 4 -8. It is dramatic against a purple Smokebush (Cotinus cogyggria) and Coral Bells Heuchera ‘Palace Purple.’ I have noticed that the yellow is brighter with more sun, and the color tends to get subdued in the winter.
Another false cypress, Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Gracilis’ offers a distinct contrast. Its branches grow in circular whorl-like patterns, with the outer edges a brighter, lighter green than the deep forest green of the inner leaves. Like the Crippsii, it is a slow grower and well suited to a shrub border or a specimen planting. All of them are happy with neutral to slightly acidic, well-drained soil. They all tolerate some shade and have been trouble-free for me.
Tags: Chamaecyparis, false cypress, Japanese Cedar, Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Gracilis', Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Crippsii Aurea', Coral Bells, Heuchera, Heuchera 'Palace Purple', Smokebush, Cotinus Coggygria, Nana, Cryptomeria japonica, alternative to American Holly, alternative to Hemlock, Japanese evergreens, organic gardening, CT gardening, Gardening in New England, gardening in the Northeast, gardening in zone 6, shade gardening
Another benefit to these evergreens is that they are available in compact versions. If the scientific name includes the word, “Nana,” it means that it will grow slowly and remain a modest size for locations where space is limited.
In this quiet season, I appreciate any signs of green life I find. Besides the obvious evergreens, I notice the rosettes of leaves left behind by the biennials. This group of plants seems to be largely neglected by garden writers. But they play an important role in the garden.
Biennials, like annuals, will only flower once, so they have an extended bloom time. And since they are mature in the second year, they can fill space more quickly than perennials. This makes them a good choice for gaps between new perennials and immature shrubs.
My theory is that gardeners resent biennials because they allow us even less control than other plants do. They travel. The first year, a biennial establishes itself, producing leaves but no flowers. Generally, it retains a rosette of green basal leaves through the winter, preparing for its maturity and flowering in the second and final spring or summer. The good news is that, where biennials are happy, they reseed themselves so that they will “perennially” be in our garden.
The bad news is that the self-sown progeny may show up yards away from the original planting site. This can frustrate our plans for a well-designed garden bed.
I find this is true especially of foxgloves (Digitalis purpurea). The second year after I introduced them to my yard, I was perplexed to find them sprinkled randomly. But they are so impressive, particularly in a shade garden, that I humored them. Now my strategy is to keep planting foxgloves periodically to ensure a generous selection each year. Then, when they pop up unexpectedly, I can move, remove or leave them be.
There is a perennial foxglove (D. ambigua) that stays put. These come in only one soft yellow and are lovely dangling their heads in late spring.
For the erect, architectural flowers in pinks, purples, and speckles, we have to look to the biennial “Common Foxglove.”
Lunaria, also known as Honesty or Money Plant, is another biennial that goes where it likes. With its delicate lavender blossoms, it makes a wonderful companion for Bleeding Hearts (Dicentra) and Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica) in April and May. When its flowers are done, it forms the disc-like seed pods that, when peeled, resemble silvery sheets of mica. Wonderful to collect and dry.
Evening primrose (Oenothera biennis) and Forget-Me-Nots (Myosotis sylvatica) tend to seed themselves in dense clusters that spread vigorously. Though these, too, can be found popping up in another part of the garden entirely. A drift of either flower can be an awesome sight in spring, and they continue blooming for long periods. The Forget-Me-Nots can provide a sea of blue for as much as six weeks, but be aware that they are actually considered invasive in some areas.
Unfortunately, once these biennials have set seed, their work is done. They fade away, leaving a hole in the planting bed for the rest of the season. In the case of the Forget-Me-Nots, their spent flower stems turn black and must be removed, leaving only the tiny seedlings that will flower next year. One way to avoid the holes is to plant latecomers like Hostas and ferns among the biennials. Another is to fill the gaps left behind with annuals.
All the biennials I have mentioned will bloom and prosper in sun to part shade, which enhances their value. Give them moist soil and they will return reliably, though only they know where. Make the most of their reseeding to let them naturalize and fill an area for impact. But remember, too, that one of the joys of gardening is the unexpected or happy accident. Some biennials will come up in places more striking and beautiful than we could ever plan.
Tags: gardening in zone 6, gardening in the Northeast, Gardening in New England, CT gardening, naturalizing, Digitalis purpurea, Digitalis ambigua, perennial Foxglove, Winter interest, spring flowers, dicentra, Bleeding Hearts, Mertensia virginica, Virginia bluebells, Annuals, shade gardening, self-seeding, Evening Primrose, Oenothera biennis, Honesty, Money Plant, Lunaria, Foxglove, Myosotis sylvatica, Forget-Me-Not, biennials