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Summer 2020: Color Me Purple

One of the secrets of a happy life is continuous small treats,” said the late British author, Iris Murdoch. Since the pandemic turned our lives upside down, taking time to savor the good moments makes a lot of sense. Consider seeking comfort in the garden with the following plants — joyful “small treats” that flourish despite summer’s oppressive heat and humidity:

Albizia julibrissin ‘Summer Chocolate’ (Mimosa Tree) Z 6-9.

copyright 2020 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2020 – Lois Sheinfeld

I am enamored of the dark purple, fern-like foliage of A. julibrissin ‘Summer Chocolate’, an awesome hybrid Mimosa tree. Malevolent voles killed the first tree I planted in the garden. A pox on them! They ate the roots when the tree was well-established and in bloom.  I planted the current tree — shown above — four years ago with sharp-stone vole-repellent. (See post of April 2, 2012: “Hot Tips: Vole Damage Protection”.) So far, so good.

In the early Spring, don’t panic if your tree looks dead. It leafs out late. And the new foliage will be green — but don’t despair, it will change to purple. The tree just likes to fool with us. Summer Chocolate does well in sun or part shade, in well-drained acid or sweet soil. Late-summer pink flowers will attract butterflies. An additional “small treat.”

 

Platycodon grandiflorus (Balloon Flower) Z 3-9

copyright 2020 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2020 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2020 – Lois Sheinfeld

Balloon flower is a summer-flowering, disease-resistant, pest-resistant, long-lived perennial. It is aptly named for its delightful, puffy flower buds. The plants grow in clumps on sturdy stems to about 2 feet and produce flowers in clusters. While I occasionally cut flowers for the house, in the garden I don’t remove the faded flowers or their resulting seed pods. Therefore, I’m gifted with lots of volunteer plants. Yet, be aware: If you want continuous bloom all summer long, regular deadheading is essential.

My plants thrive in organically rich, well-drained acid soil in shade. Choose the planting site carefully. Platycodon grandiflorus has a chunky, fleshy, root system, which — much like the Magnolia — resents disturbance. In Asia, people eat the roots, which are thought to have anti-inflammatory/digestive benefits. Not to everyone’s taste, though. (If, like me, you would rather reap the rewards of eating dark chocolate, try my favorite “small treats”: Lisa’s Brownie Bites from Round Swamp Farm. Addictive!)

 

Canna ‘Australia’ (Canna Lily) Z 9-10

copyright 2020 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2020 – Lois Sheinfeld

Canna Lilies are tropical, rhizomatous perennials that love heat, humidity, and lots of water. C. ‘Australia’ with its showy black-purple foliage, and vibrant red-orange flowers that attract hummingbirds, is an easy-care Summer/Fall superstar.

I grow my Cannas in large pots. After the first frost, I remove the dead foliage and stems and then winter store the pots in my unheated basement. I ignore them until late May when I bring them outside. Once the plants are watered and fertilized they quickly grow to full size. I’ve been doing this for almost 20 years. Never lost a plant. And when you plant in pots, voles aren’t a problem. An added bonus.

Be well. Stay safe.

Autumn 2019: Caterpillars & Foliage Undersides

Caterpillars are fascinating.

Consider the camouflage trick of the peppered moth caterpillar: To protect itself from bird predators it can change its color to white, green or brown to blend in with the bark color of the trees it feeds on. According to a recent study, these caterpillars can actually sense the color of the tree’s bark with their skin as well as with their eyes.

The monarch butterfly employs a different defense against predatory birds. It has developed a unique immunity to the toxins contained in milkweed plants. Its caterpillars feed only on these plants, store the milkweed toxins in their bodies, and then transfer the protective poison to the adult butterflies. Birds have learned to give monarchs a wide berth. I was delighted to find a gaggle of monarch caterpillars feeding on my recently planted swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata). Photo below.

copyright 2019 — Lois Sheinfeld

[Note: For more information about swamp milkweed see post of Feb. 2, “2019: A Choice Selection of Garden Plants.” And when you need an ID, the illustrated field guide Caterpillars of Eastern North America (Princeton University Press 2005) is an excellent reference.]

In Autumn, migrating monarchs and other butterflies visit the fire engine red flowers of my favorite Dahlia ‘Bishop of Llandaff’.’

copyright 2019 – Lois Sheinfeld

Along with Dahlias, containers of colorful mums provide eye-popping appeal.

copyright 2019 – Lois Sheinfeld

 

And my Autumn garden is enriched by a group of time-tested shade plants with decorative red and purple foliage undersides:

Begonia grandis ‘Alba’ is a low-growing herbaceous perennial that produces masses of charming snowy-white flowers on pink-flushed stems in September/October. But it was the red undersides of the foliage that captivated garden writer Alan Lacy. “If placed where it catches the last low rays of the sun from behind” he said, “B. grandis offers a sight that is one of the epiphanies of Autumn.” My plants thrive in moist, rich soil. Photos below.

copyright 2019 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2019 – Lois Sheinfeld

 

Heuchera ‘Stainless Steel’ is another low-growing, shade-loving perennial. Its showy silvery leaves with  an eggplant-purple reverse are beautiful until frost. Yet for me, its greatest asset is its longevity. I’ve been seduced by countless orange-pink and russet-brown heucheras — so-called perennials — that didn’t survive more than one or two seasons. H. ‘Stainless Steel’ has flourished in my organic garden for more than a decade. Hardiness counts. Photo below.

copyright 2019 — Jessica Amsterdam

 

Henna Coleus.  Any celebration of shade plants with vibrantly colored undersides must include award-winning Henna Coleus.  As my loyal readers know, I’ve been singing the praises of this dazzling annual for years. Unlike other Coleus that are quick to give up the ghost at summer’s end, Henna would be happy to flaunt her ruffles at your Thanksgiving table. Photos below.

copyright 2019 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2019 – Lois Sheinfeld

 

Finally, my Autumn garden has been graced with an ever-increasing number of Cornus kousa dogwood volunteers  displaying extraordinary blood-red, over-sized fruit. Photo below.

copyright 2019 – Lois Sheinfeld

And I think I know who to thank for that.

copyright 2019 – Jessica Amsterdam

Summer 2019: Plants & Travel

Isn’t nature amazing? In Australia, a nightshade plant (Solanum plastisexum) has confounded scientists: Every time they studied the plant, the sex of its purple flowers had changed. Sometimes the flowers were female, sometimes male, and sometimes a mix of both. As one scientist observed about the unpredictable sexual expression of this very unique plant, “no one has been able to understand what exactly it’s doing, and how it’s doing it, and why it’s doing it.” (Hmm, could it just be showing off?)

No problem predicting what human manipulators of nature — a/k/a plant hybridizers — intend. They know exactly what they are doing. They are producing beautiful, seductive plants that weak-willed plant freaks, like me, will find absolutely impossible to resist.

One day between errands I had some free time and aimlessly wandered about the aisles of a local garden center — just looking mind you — when I saw Lupinus ‘Westcountry Manhattan Lights’. One look and I was besotted.  Photo below of this bi-colored beauty — in my garden.

copyright 2019 – Lois Sheinfeld

I’ve never before been tempted by Lupines. Granted, they are deer-resistant and attract pollinators and hummingbirds — but the plants hate humid, hot weather. We have humid, hot weather a-plenty. Ergo, no Lupines! Until now.

Lupines appreciate well-drained acid, moist, organically rich soil in sun or part shade. The flowers open bottom to top and it is generally recommended that spent flower stems be removed if you want a second round of bloom. I removed all but one because I wanted to see the seed pods. Glad I did. Photo below.

copyright 2019 – Lois Sheinfeld

My plant did not send up new flower stems. Was it because I left one dead stem standing? Maybe not. In her popular, informative book, We Made a Garden, British garden writer Margery Fish advised that the entire plant had to be cut to the ground, foliage included, or “there will be no second blooming.” I’m inclined to agree with her. Fish was an experienced hands-on gardener who wrote about plants she grew. (And, despite its name, L. ‘Westcountry Manhattan Lights’ was hybridized in England.)

 

I’ll be glad if the plant survives. Lupines like cold weather — they survive and thrive in northern New Hampshire (Zone 4). When my husband and I visited NH in June, we were thrilled to see fields of wild Lupine backed by the White Mountains.  Moreover, Mother Nature matched the bi-color beauty of Manhattan Lights when she partnered wild buttercups with the lupines. Photos below.

copyright 2019 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2019 – Lois Sheinfeld

Here are a few more highlights of our NH trip:

In the town of Bethlehem, we enjoyed a horse-drawn wagon tour of The Rocks Estate — a vast private property that is now a Christmas tree farm managed by the non-profit Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests. The first photo below is a view of the property and the second is of the handsome Belgian horses, Bert & Boomer, and the horses’ owner and driver Bruce Streeter.

copyright 2019 – Lois Sheinfeld

 

On the charming main street in Bethlehem we found out-of-print treasures in the vintage bookstore Beannacht, and we enjoyed a yummy outdoor lunch at the bistro a few doors down.

We were dazzled by the range and quality of the work of local artists displayed for sale at the League of N.H. Craftsmen Fine Craft Gallery located on main street in the town of Littleton. And it was here that we met Mortimer Moose — who followed us home. Photo below.

copyright 2019 – Lois Sheinfeld

I could go on and on. New Hampshire is a place of exceptional natural beauty, artistic endeavor and hospitality. Best times to visit are Summer and Fall.

 

As Autumn fast approaches, I’d like to look back and share some of my favorite Summer performers:

Geranium macrorrhizum

copyright 2019 – Lois Sheinfeld

This easy-care, evergreen ground cover’s foliage looks this way (photo above) for the entire Summer, even in dry shade. And it has been reliably perennial, despite heat, humidity, and topsy-turvy dramatic shifts in temperature. The showy magenta flowers in May are a bonus.

 

Kalmia latifolia ‘Carol’ (Mountain Laurel)

copyright 2019 – Lois Sheinfeld

For flower-power in early Summer you can’t do better than the native evergreen shrub Mountain Laurel . It is winter-hardy to zone 6, has excellent deer-resistance and blooms well in shade. Unfortunately, too often the foliage looks as though it’s infected with spotted plague. But the cultivar Carol is the exception. Her dark green foliage is largely disease free. And the sharp color difference between bud and flower creates a very showy bi-color display. To ensure flowering every year, as soon as the flowers fade, remove the seed heads.

[Cautionary note: If Carol is planted too close to a spotted offender, she may succumb as well. And if the deer are starving, they may eat toxic Mountain Laurel foliage even though it will make them sick.]

 

Heliotropium arborescens (Heliotrope White)

copyright 2019 – Lois Sheinfeld

Many years ago, I would always fill a container with the vanilla-scented annual Heliotrope White. Yet, I have not planted any for decades. Why? Don’t know. These things just happen. Then this Spring, when I saw the plant at my local garden club’s May sale it brought back fond memories and I grabbed a few pots. They bloomed all Summer — and haven’t stopped yet. And the delicious vanilla scent is intoxicating. The bees think so too. Thank you Bettina and Marie.

 

Rhododendron prunifolium (Plumleaf Azalea)

copyright 2019 – Lois Sheinfeld

copyright 2019 – Lois Sheinfeld

 

This large, deciduous, native Azalea is a hardy, late-summer star, reliably producing significant numbers of lovely orange flowers every year.  Nothing short of a show-stopper. In my organic garden the shrub has been disease free, and after more than two decades is about 13 feet tall. Blooms well in shade.

 

[Note: Hard to believe that Scott Aker is still recommending glyphosate to home gardeners. (The American Gardener, July/August 2019, pp. 40-41). Consider my post of January 18, 2018, “Jan/Feb 2018: Toxic Chemical Alert”, and the recent multi-million dollar court judgment against Monsanto and its cancer-linked glyphosate herbicide Roundup. When will Scott Aker stop playing Russian roulette with American lives?]