2019, Plant-of-the-month, Uncategorized

Plant-of-the-Month: Winterberry Holly

 

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People are often surprised that Winterberry Holly, or Ilex verticillata, is a holly at all, because it doesn’t have the glossy, spiky leaves that you think of when you hear the name Holly. And unlike the traditional Holly (Ilex meserveae cvs), it loses its leaves in the winter, which also seems foreign to “Holly”. While this is often seen as a bad characteristic, in this case it is when Winterberry shines, as the female plants are covered from head to toe in bright red berries. A hedge of Winterberry Holly can be a real showstopper in the snow, and the berries persist a long time- or, at least, until the birds are done with them or you have picked them for holiday decorations!

‘Red Sprite’ Winterberry grows to be about 3-4’ x 3-4’ and us very compact. It is hardy to Zone 3, so will tolerate some pretty cold conditions. ‘Sparkleberry’ is similar, but is bigger, at 8-10’ x 8-10’. Both plants will produce more berries if a male is somewhere in the vicinity, so get a ‘Southern Gentleman’ or a ‘Jim Dandy’ and stick it somewhere inconspicuous, as there are no berries and the flowers are inconsequential.

Winterberries prefer full sun to part shade and can be used in wetland areas as well in places with normal amounts of moisture. They won’t do as well in very dry conditions, although I have been surprised before.

Try some! They will make you happy when the landscape begins to look a little forlorn.

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2018, December 2018, Plant-of-the-month

Plant-of-the-month: Holly

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Holly is a quintessential December plant. It is hung about the house at Christmas time, and is steeped in religious tradition. The Druids believed that Holly stayed green in the winter and had red berries so as to keep the world looking beautiful when the Oak was without leaves. (Many a landscape designer has had that same thought, too.) Holly has been thought to keep away lightning, frighten off witches, and keep goblins away from little girls. Some say it brings about sweet dreams, and others say you can use it to make a tincture to get rid of a cough, although from what I have read, ingesting holly would only relieve a cough by giving you something much worse to worry about, so best leave holly out of any cold remedy.

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The Holly pictured above has the typical holly look: shiny, prickly evergreen leaves, and lustrous red berries. You need both a male and a female holly plant in order to get berries, which appear only on the female. Some grow to be 15-20 feet tall like Ilex aquipernyi ‘Dragon Lady’ while others are considerably shorter. Some are pyramidal in shape, some are tall and very thin, while others are rounded. If prickly leaves aren’t for you, Ilex glabra, or Inkberry Holly, has rounded leaves a lot like Boxwood, and is a decent substitute if you don’t like Boxwood’s smell. If bare branches covered with berries is more your style, Ilex verticillata, or Winterberry Holly, is a deciduous version that looks fantastic in the winter. All hollies like full sun to part shade, and moist, well drained soil.

 

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Winterberry Holly

 

Plant one or two to keep away the elements, witches, bad dreams or to just keep the world looking beautiful in the winter, it’s up to you. There’s a holly for everyone. All you have to do is find the one that makes you happy.

 

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Winterberry Holly outside my phone booth/tool shed.

 

 

2018, November 2018, Plant-of-the-month

Plant-of-the-Month: The Sourwood Tree

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Sourwood, or Oxydendrum arboreum, is a sorely underused tree. Native to eastern North America, it is probably at its northernmost limit here in southern New Hampshire, as it is only hardy to Zone 5, but we are so lucky to have it here! Sourwood is a slow grower, but will top out at 30 feet if given time and space and a moist but well drained environment. It performs best in full sun, but doesn’t mind part shade.

But those are the boring details – I haven’t told you the best part yet! Sourwood flowers in late summer, and covers itself in delicate sprays of fragrant, white, lily-of-the-valley-like flowers. Those flowers are enough to recommend it, but wait! There’s more! The flowers persist into fall, when Sourwood’s leaves turn a screaming red. IT is almost wrong, it’s so red. Then, for a little while, you have both the flowers and the red leaves, until the leaves finally fall and only the seed heads remain to decorate the bare branches.

If you have the space, I urge you to give one a try. It is an eye-catching addition to any garden and a must-have if you like unusual plants!

 

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A mature Sourwood.

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2018, Design ideas, October 2018, Plant-of-the-month

Montauk Daisy

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The Montauk Daisy is a plant with the rather regal mouthful of a botanical name, Nipponanthemum nipponicum. As botanical the name suggests, it is native to Japan, but it has done so well in places like Long Island, NY, that its common name is a lot more close to home.

The first time I saw a Montauk Daisy, I couldn’t figure out what I was looking at. First of all, it was October, when most of the plants like Shasta Daisies are about finished flowering. Secondly, the plant was huge, almost 4 feet tall and wide, and the flowers were bigger than your typical Shasta. On closer inspection, I could see that the leaves were  leathery and glossy, nothing like any other daisy that I knew. What was this thing?

Eventually someone told me what it was, and I was able to learn more about it. Although it looks like a daisy, it actually isn’t, and is in a genus (Nipponanthemum) all to itself. It doesn’t really act like a daisy, either, since it is more shrub-like than anything else, given its size and shape. If you have the room, though, it’s well worth having in the garden, as it is deer and rabbit resistant as well as being drought and salt tolerant. So if you live on the water or like a beach-themed garden and, like many of us, have deer around, this plant is for you. Provide it with well drained soil, and full sun, and prune it in summer (see blog post from July 12 on how to best do this) and you will get a really pleasant surprise come fall!

2018, Plant-of-the-month, September 2018

Plant of the month: Japanese Anemones

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Japanese Anemones, or Windflowers, are invaluable plants in the late summer garden. Not only do they suddenly appear when other things are looking tired, but they seem to fill a void without seeming to take up a whole lot of space. They can be described as “see-through” plants, meaning that the bulk of their leaves are near the bottom of the plant, while the flowers rise on tall stalks, creating a light and airy look.

Japanese Anemones grow to be 36-48 inches tall although they don’t seem as big, and have really interesting round buds which compliment the flowers. They prefer part shade but will be ok in full sun, and come in shades of rich pink like ‘Bressingham Glow” to white like ‘Honorine Jobert’ or ‘Whirlwind’, and every shade in between. Divide them in the spring, then forget about them and be pleasantly surprised when they show up in the fall to freshen things up!

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August 2018, Plant-of-the-month

Blanket Flower

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Gallardia, or Blanket Flower, is a wonderful addition to the late summer garden. Named after 18th century patron of botany Gaillard de Charentonneau, its common name comes either from the wild version’s tendency to blanket the ground, its bright colors which are reminiscent of the colors used in Native American Blankets. Either way, it’s a great plant to have around.

Gaillardia grows easily from seed and even though it’s a perennial, will flower the first year. They grow 8-24 inches, like full sun, and are drought resistant. Give them a try! Below are some sources for seeds.

Harris Seeds

Park Seed

American Meadows

Burpee

gallardia

2018, July 2018, Plant-of-the-month

Pinks

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Some of us are old enough to remember pinking shears, scissors that cut in a zig-zag line. I remember my mother having a pair, although I don’t remember her using them, or just what they were for. Maybe they helped keep cloth from fraying? Anyway, their use isn’t important to this blog entry, although I’d be interested to know if anyone out there can enlighten me. But Dianthus, the plant commonly known as Pinks, (Carnations are also Dianthus) have petals that look like they have been cut by pinking shears, thus the name. They have a sweet scent and come in all shades of… well… pink, from deep red to so pale they are almost white.

The name Dianthus comes from the Greek meaning “Zeus Flower”, and in the language of flowers symbolizes boldness. Varieties include some that form mats no higher than 4 inches tall, to others that reach 18 inches. Carnations grow even taller. Some are Annuals, some are Perennials, and some, like Sweet William, (which is also of the same family) is a biennial. They love sun and are deer resistant. Modern varieties will bloom for weeks, but the foliage is lovely to look at even when there are no flowers, especially those with blue green leaves. (which is most of them.) Deadheading, alas, is imperative to keep their blooms coming.

There is a Dianthus for everyone and I urge you to give them a try if like old fashioned favorites.  To see pictures of some of the possibilities, click here.

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2018, June 2018, Plant-of-the-month

Daylilies

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I have to admit that for a long time I was not a fan of Daylilies. I think that was because, until I started to get really serious about plants, “Daylily” to me meant those orange tiger lilies that you see growing everywhere from peoples gardens to roadsides. Not that a huge drift of tiger lilies isn’t a spectacular thing; but they just didn’t do it for me.

Fast forward a couple of decades, (or maybe three) and they are now one of my favorite flowers in the garden. First of all, there are just so many to choose from! They come in just about every color but blue. Some are scented. Some are long blooming, some are short, and some are tall. Some are single, some double, and some even like a little shade. All have great, green, strappy foliage that contrasts well with just about everything you put them with.

Check them out at your local garden center. Some of my favorites are the “Returns” series, because they bloom almost all season long. There is ‘Happy Returns’, a mid sized yellow one, “Rosy Returns’, a pink version, and ‘Fragrant Returns’, a buttery yellow one than, you guessed it, is perfumed!

Try them out! Red, Pink, Yellow, Green, Peach, Purple, and White is the new orange!

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March 2018, Plant-of-the-month

Scilla

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This month we are featuring Scilla siberica, or Siberian Squill (Or just Scilla), a delightful little woodland wildflower, whatever you choose to call it. It will spread, but since it goes dormant in late spring and virtually disappears, this can be a blessing rather than a curse. And as long as they aren’t planted in soil that is constantly wet, they will grow with very little help from us, which can be an advantage in our busy lives.

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Personally, I find them so lovely that I can’t imagine myself being sick of them, especially since the show that they put on in the spring is just what I need after a long winter. But I’ll let you be the judge!

If you decide to grow them, buy a few bulbs in the fall and plant them in a partly sunny place in groups of 3 or 5. Or, for a more natural look, just toss them in the ground and plant them where they land.  Before long you will have a spring carpet of blue to enjoy, sometimes even in the snow.

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Design ideas, January 2018, Plant-of-the-month

January Plant-of-the-month: Microbiota

Microbiota!

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I have long been a fan of Microbiota decussata, or Russian Arborvitae. While they definitely have their place, I have never warmed up to the host of evergreen, prickly things out there, like Junipers or some of the dwarf spruces. They just aren’t friendly to hands or shins and can get really rangy if left to their own devices. But Microbiota’s flat sprays of foliage are soft and supple and interesting to look at. Its tiny cones, which are some of the smallest of all the conifers, are so small that they rarely hold more than one seed.  The branches look beautiful in arrangements, and in the summer are the perfect backdrop for perennials. In the winter, they turn a wonderful purple-bronze, which adds subtle color to the winter landscape.

 

Microbiota grows to be about 1-1.5 feet  in height in New England, and about 4 feet in width, although it can grow much wider under the right conditions. It doesn’t take over, though, and can easily be kept within the confines of your garden plan. It prefers sun to part shade, and needs good drainage, but otherwise is relatively maintenance-free. It works well on bankings, or in a place where an elegant groundcover is wanted. And, as it’s a zone 3-8 plant, it can be used in a lot of different climates.

 

Try it with Daylilies or plants with lighter, broader foliage like Echinacea or Peonies, or plants with strong colors like Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia). Enjoy its soft waterfall of foliage – and leave the chain mail suit in the house!

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