This gallery contains 8 photos.
The calendar read Spring but the garden was having none of it. Warm December breezes seduced Forsythia, Spring’s herald, into untimely bloom — which was then zapped by Mother Nature’s icy hand. So now the remaining buds, exercising extreme caution, were shut tight.
Thankfully, daffodils and the deliciously fragrant flowering shrubs Pieris japonica and Sarcococca hookeriana humilis stepped up and saved the day.
Ah, Spring, at last.
Still, it’s not all “raindrops on roses.” Because of climate change, we have to contend with a dramatic increase of pollen in the air. The National Institute of Environmental Health Services recommends that allergy sufferers remain indoors from 5 a.m. – 10 a.m. when the pollen count is highest. Regrettably, that’s Prime Time for work in the garden — especially in hot weather.
But we cope and move on.
British author Iris Murdoch got it right: “One of the secrets of a happy life,” she said, “is continuous small treats.” A wonderful small Spring treat is Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis). I’ve treasured this vigorous, rhizomatous, perennial groundcover for over forty-five years. I can’t imagine my garden without it. In May the plant produces enchanting racemes of very fragrant, tiny, snowy-white bells. A striking variegated-leafed variety, Convallaria majalis ‘Albostriata’, is also available. Photos below.
Lily of the Valley thrives in moist, well-drained, acid soil in shade. All parts of the easy-care plant are poisonous and deer don’t mess with it.
But not everyone is a fan. One of our best garden writers, Allen Lacy, had this to say: “I once planted lily-of-the-valley in a far corner of my garden, for what garden should be without its graceful nodding bells in late spring? But I now have a sheet of it fifteen feet in every direction that must be confined by ripping out great numbers of plants each year. I should have known better.” In a Green Shade (Houghton Mifflin Co. 2000).
Another outstanding American garden writer/author, Elisabeth Sheldon, was even more emphatic: “Who warns people about lily of the valley?” she said. “[It] sends its troops forward underground — under rocks, pathways, and other plants. I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t be stopped by a cement sidewalk, so if you want to grow anything other than lily of the valley in your shade garden, you should never let it get started, no matter how much you love its scent.” A Proper Garden (Stackpole Books 1989).
Lacy and Sheldon: Accomplished, hands-on gardeners and a joy to read.
Both writers are factually correct: Lily of the Valley likes to travel and increase. But plant numbers are depressed now because of climate change, so I welcome the volunteers. (I’m sure the voles also deserve credit for the reduced numbers in my garden — unlike deer, voles never let toxicity get between them and a yummy plant meal.)
It all began with a fabulous Peony.
I was checking out the exhibits at the New York Flower Show when I was stopped in my tracks by Paeonia ‘Largo’. It was love at first sight. As soon as I discovered that Klehm’s Nursery was the mail order source, my order went in. That was nearly 30 years ago.
The New York Flower Show is now long gone but P. ‘Largo’ is alive, healthy and continues to dazzle. And I’m still ordering outstanding plants from Klehm’s Nursery. Here are a few from my 2019 order:
Clematis viticella ‘Madame Julia Correvon’ Z. 4-9
This award-winning deciduous climber produces masses of small, vibrant red flowers with contrasting yellow stamens from June to Fall. Thanks to its viticella genes, Madame Julia possesses excellent resistance to the dreaded Clematis wilt. It blooms on new growth, so hard prune to the ground in early Spring. The Clematis will attain a height of 9-12 feet. Provide fertile, moist, well-drained alkaline soil. Attracts butterflies.
Clematis viticella ‘Purpurea Plena Elegans’ Z. 4-9
This heirloom, award-winning, distinctive Clematis is true to its name: From midsummer to midautumn it produces abundant, elegant, dark-magenta, multi-petaled flowers. Like Madame Julia and other viticellas, it is hardy, vigorous and disease-resistant. After hard-pruning in early Spring, the plant can attain a height of 10-13 feet in one growing season. Provide fertile, moist, well-drained alkaline soil. Attracts butterflies.
Baptisia ‘Vanilla Cream’ (Decadence Series) Z. 4-9.
Baptisia is a tall, deer-resistant, American native perennial that attracts butterflies. It is a tough, long-lived plant that succeeds in nutrient-poor, well-drained acid soil. It is slow-growing at first because it expends considerable energy in producing a deep and extensive root system. Carefully choose the planting site: while the deep, extensive roots support a long-lived plant, successful transplanting is all but impossible.
Baptisias thrive in poor soil because they are able to fix nitrogen from the atmosphere. A partnership has evolved between the plants and specialized root-colonizing bacteria. The bacteria live in nodules on the plant roots and take nitrogen from the atmosphere and turn it into a form the plant can use. As quid pro quo, the plant provides the bacteria with sugars created through photosynthesis. Pretty neat!
Baptisia’s natural foliage is blue-green and its flowers resemble the bloom of Lupinus and Delphinium. After flowering, the plants produce decorative seed pods that rattle when you shake them. Much like maracas.
B. ‘Vanilla Cream’ is a new cultivar in the Decadence Series. It sports unique grey-green foliage and a compact size of 2.5-3 feet. Its flowers have pale yellow buds opening to showy, creamy white blossoms.
Baptisia ‘Pink Lemonade’ (Decadence Deluxe Series) Z. 4-9.
Plants in this Series have taller stems and exciting new flower colors. B. ‘Pink Lemonade‘ flaunts yellow flowers that mature to raspberry-purple, and both colors appear at the same time on the charcoal-colored stems. A striking display.
Klehm’s Song Sparrow Farm and Nursery, email@example.com, 1-608-883-2356
Finally, I have to end this post with a photo of Paeonia ‘Largo.’ She insisted.
This gallery contains 5 photos.
On an icy cold day in January — when I was loath to venture out — I decided to finally slog through humongous piles of old garden magazines, a task I’d been avoiding forever. While I was sorely tempted to chuck the whole lot sight unseen, I’m glad I didn’t. It was clear as soon as I started reading: the older the magazine, the more interesting and informative the content. As for example, in a 1999 copy of Garden Design I read that in Israel a professor of plant physiology discovered that a pill would extend the life of cut flowers for a whole week. The name of that magic pill? Would you believe Viagra?
(If anyone is interested in the science, the professor knew that nitric oxide preserves vegetables by blocking production of ethylene, which causes produce to age. When he read that Viagra induces the production of nitric oxide, he decided to experiment. And, as often happens in science, one thing led to another.)
Valentine’s Day is fast approaching. If you intend to give that special someone a bouquet of roses, why not tuck in a Viagra pill. (Best to also tuck in an explanation.)
In addition to reading old garden magazines, I’ve been checking out 2019 mail order garden catalogs. Looks like a very good year for plants. My orders are in and I’ve chosen favorite nurseries and a garden-worthy selection of plants to highlight and share with you:
SELECT SEEDS, www.selectseeds.com, 1-800-684-0395.
When I was searching for an elusive Salvia cultivar, my friend and plant maven, Anne Haines, suggested I contact Select Seeds. I did, they had it, and I’m happy to recommend this excellent, environmentally friendly source. Following are three of Select Seeds’s favorite plants for Hummingbirds, Bees and Butterflies:
Salvia guaranitica (Blue Brazilian Sage) Z. 8-10
Of all the many Salvias offered by Select Seeds, this deep-blue sage is the Hummingbird hands-down favorite — and the plant also attracts butterflies. It can grow 3-6 feet and blooms from mid-summer to frost. According to Salvia guru, Betty Clebsch, author of A Book of Salvias, you may be able to increase S. guaranitica’s winter hardiness by protecting the plant with pine boughs — a method I use successfully with my container roses. Worth a try. Plant in rich, well-drained soil, in sun or part shade with regular water. (Select Seeds also offers the fabulous and hard-to-find Salvias: S. splendens ‘Van Houttei’ and S. x ‘Amistad’; I snatched up both.)
Pycnanthemum muticum (Mountain Mint) Z. 4-8
A magnet for bees, this 1-3-foot spearmint-scented, hardy perennial blooms from July-September with showy silvery white bracts surrounding pink-flowering centers. Grow in sun or part shade in rich, well-drained soil. Mountain Mint is vigorous but not invasive like the mint Mentha. Plant this deer-resistant U.S. native, and bees — our hard-working pollinators — will thank you.
Asclepias incarnata (Swamp Milkweed) Z 3-9
Monarch butterflies voted this U.S. native perennial their number one favorite. Moreover, the plant has numerous additional assets: Pink vanilla-scented flowers form in summer on erect 3-4-foot stems and when the flowers fade, the plant produces attractive seed pods. In the Fall, the leaves turn vibrant autumnal colors. Site in full sun or part shade in moist, well-drained soil. Site carefully because Swamp Milkweed has a deep tap-root and when established should not be disturbed.
BLUESTONE PERENNIALS, bluestoneperennials.com, 1-800-852-5243
Bluestone is one of the few sources — if not the only source — for my treasured Trifolium purpurascens. And their plants are shipped in biodegradable pots which do not have to be removed for planting. A plus for the gardener and less stress for the plants. Below are three plants I chose for my garden:
Trifolium purpurascens (Black Four-Leaf Clover) Z. 5-9
A must-have plant for my garden and a perfect gift for gardening friends as well. Everyone appreciates a little luck, especially now that Mother Nature has become loony and unpredictable. This lucky clover is perfect for containers or as a ground cover, and will flourish in sun or shade.
Astilbe ‘Chocolate Shogun’ Z. 4-8
Lovely pink-blushed flowers in summer and handsome, unique, chocolate-bronze foliage set this Astilbe apart. Shogun, an award-winning native of Japan, requires a moist, shady site. It is deer-resistant, but needs protection from voles.
Sempervivum ‘Pacific Blue Ice’ (Hens and Chicks) Z. 3-8
I love the look of succulents, and Pacific Blue Ice is pretty irresistible with its elegant, icy-blue rosettes. In addition, the plant is evergreen, deer-and-rabbit-resistant, and, when established, tolerant of drought. Provide a sunny site with neutral or alkaline well-drained soil. It will do well in containers or in the ground.
NOTE: Punxsutawney Phil predicts an early Spring. After experiencing the recent polar vortex, I hope we are alive to see it.
Watch for the next post: 2019 Choice Garden Plants Part 2