Crocosmias Glow In The Heat

When the “feels like” temperatures are in triple digits, many annuals and perennials slow down or even stop blooming. This makes us appreciate those stalwarts that bloom through the hottest days of the year. One of these is Crocosmia (pronounced Crow-KAHZ-mee-ah).

Crocosmia leaves resemble gladiola or Siberian Iris. The blooms occur at the topmost part of a wiry stem. They last a long time as cut flowers. Blooms are most often red (‘Lucifer’ cultivar) or orange, occasionally yellow. Hummingbirds flock to all shades. They look especially great when paired with blue Salvia.

Crocosmia, sometimes called Montbretia, is a type of bulb known as a corm. Corms are much smaller than true bulbs like tulips or daffodils. They create a new bulb each year to sustain them through cold weather. These storage units stack themselves on top of each other, gradually developing into a loose chain, like a sleeve of Ritz crackers, only much smaller. The bond joining the corms is not strong, so they break apart when gardeners attempt to dig them up to relocate them. The corms left behind sprout into new plants, leading gardeners believe that they spread to the point of invasiveness.

Crocosmias are hardy in zones 6 to 10. They look best when planted in groups of 10 or more. Blooming is heaviest when the clumps of bulbs are divided every three years or so. Because they reproduce readily, many gardeners will be happy to share their divisions. They should be planted in full sun to light shade, in slightly acidic soil. Crocosmias are not browsed by deer or rabbits, and are usually ignored by slugs. A winner!

Orange Crocosmia glow when backlit by sunshine.

Orange Crocosmia glow when backlit by sunshine.

Beetle Mania!

While pulling weeds, I encountered this impressive beetle. It is a female Dynastes tityus. I felt lucky to find one. The grubs and the beetles are both large (grubs can be more than four inches long and adults can reach two-and-a-half inches), which means that they make a satisfying meal for predators such as skunks, raccoons and even spiders. The eggs fall prey to mites and maggots. Their meal-appeal means that Nature keeps populations in check. Please don’t run for the insecticide when you see one of these. The grubs live on decaying matter on the forest floor, so they are not damaging live plant roots.

The adult beetles range in color from green to gold; some have black spots and some do not. They are heavy for their size and strong, hence the common name “Hercules Beetle.” Insect authorities estimate that the Hercules Beetle can lift 100 to 800 times its own body weight. Even on the low end of the scale, that is like a 200 pound man lifting ten tons. 

How do you tell the girls from the boys? Males have C-shaped horns on their heads, used to battle other males when competing for mating privileges. Those horns have led to their characterization as a “rhinoceros beetle.”

 You will note that I handled this girl while wearing nitrile gloves. It wasn’t from the danger of being bitten. They do not bite, but when threatened they exude a nasty smell. This visitor to the Mary Snoddy garden is the Eastern Hercules Beetle. There are others in the same family found in many countries. Some places they are prized as pets. I recommend cats. Or dogs. Or both.

Marvelous Melampodium

Melampodium is one of the hardest working plants in the Mary Snoddy garden. Its butter-yellow bloom color is not at the top of my favorites lists, but all of its other characteristics make it a winner.

It starts blooming when it is only a few inches tall.
It blooms all summer and fall.
It does equally well in beds or containers.
The spent blooms drop off without the need for deadheading.
No need to stake. The strong stems keep it erect.
It thrives in heat and humidity.
It will forgive a little bit of drought.
The plant branches as it grows, making a nice round shape.
It is deer resistant.
It is fairly easy to grow from seed, but plants are widely available in nurseries during April and May. When left alone, it will reseed all by itself.
Bees and butterflies love the blooms.
It is rarely bothered by insects or diseases.

Several cultivars are available. Labeled height range from 10 inches to 24 inches, although mine usually grow a littler taller than the label predicts.

The only drawback to the plant is that the warm yellow color of its flowers does not mix well with pastels. Instead, pair it with bold reds and strong purples. Perhaps I am biased, but I think it looks pretty wonderful with purple-leaf Perilla frutescens here at New Hope Farm.

Melampodium makes an impressive companion to Perilla (left) and Ironweed (right).

Melampodium makes an impressive companion to Perilla (left) and Ironweed (right).

Melampodium in container (4 plants).

Melampodium in container (4 plants).

A single yellow Melampodium makes the colors of Gomphrena, Zinnia and Liatris POP.

A single yellow Melampodium makes the colors of Gomphrena, Zinnia and Liatris POP.

Pretty Purple Ironweed

Here is another easy plant for all gardeners who like purple. Vernonia noveboracensis (pronounced ver-NOH-nee-ah no-vee-bor-ah-SEN-sis), “New York Ironweed” is ideal for hot, humid climates. Please don’t confuse this one with Veronica, a totally different plant.

Ironweed is tall and narrow. It has large clusters of tiny purple flowers mid-summer to late fall. The flowers attract butterflies and bees, so it is perfect for the back of a pollinator garden.  It blooms best in full sun, but will also tolerate half-sun. If the spent blooms are pruned away, the plant frequently will branch and re-bloom. If you forego the deadheading, finches and other seed-loving birds will visit to remove the seeds for you. Mine have occasionally reseeded. Baby plants are easy to relocate.

Ironweed prefers an acidic soil, so don’t bother with lime. They like moist soils that are high in organic matter, but will tolerate less water. Mine are planted in heavy clay soil and do well. The plant’s tolerance for varying moisture levels means it will do well in rain gardens.

Left alone, Ironweed will reach 6 to 8 feet in height. This is a little too tall to fit into the garden beds in the Mary Snoddy garden, so I cut it back by half in mid-May. This delays the flowering a bit, but the plant branches where it is cut back, so I end up with more flowers than if I had left it unpruned. The brilliant purple blooms pair well with most other colors. In this year’s annual bed, I grouped it with Melampodium, a wonderful annual that I will write about next week.

Ironweed dies completely to the ground in freezing weather.  The dead stems should be pruned off. It is perennial in most of the US (zones 5a to 9b). This one looks equally at home in mixed borders and wildflower plantings. Highly recommended!

Angelonia - Summer Snapdragon

Last week I wrote about one of the best long-blooming summer perennials, Purple Coneflower. Today we focus on one of the very best annuals for heat and humidity. Angelonia angustifolia is heat resistant. It will also withstand short periods of drought, but it looks best if given regular water during the hottest part of the year.

Angelonia does well in containers and in ground. It is an annual but will act as a perennial in zones 9b and warmer. Plants are tall are narrow. I pack them densely into containers, where they reach about 24 inches tall with a limited spread. In the ground, they may reach up to 40 inches and will branch to 12 inches wide. They look fabulous planted in large masses.

Angelonias are available in blue, purple, white, rose/pink and a bi-color purple-white combination that I love. The spikes of blooms start opening from the bottom. The old blooms drop off without the need for deadheadling. Once the top-most blooms have opened, snip the entire stem off with scissors. The plant will branch and the new branches will bloom in just a few weeks. They make long-lasting cut flowers if you remember to remove any leaves that will be below water level.

For best blooms, give them full sun and good drainage. If the leaf color starts looking wimpy, give them a drink of liquid fertilizer to restore them to their original medium green. If you neglect them or allow them to dry out completely, cut them back hard and they will regenerate if given water and liquid fertilizer.

Angelonia are great plants for the new gardener. Easy and beautiful!

Purple, bicolor and white Angelonia.

Purple, bicolor and white Angelonia.

Angelonias in a cast iron urn.

Angelonias in a cast iron urn.

Long-blooming Purple Coneflowers

Most perennials have shorter bloom periods than summer annuals. One that flowers for a lengthy time is Echinacea purpurea, Purple Coneflower.  In upstate South Carolina, the first blooms open in late spring (just after Mother’s Day) and continue all the way to frost. Purple was the original color of this prairie native that has been adapted to garden use. Hybridization expanded color choices to rose, orange-red, yellow, pink, magenta,  white and green. The Latin name came from the Greek word echinos, meaning hedgehog, a reference to the spiky orange central cone. The coarse leaves are a bit rough.

Coneflowers prefer full sun. They are heat resistant and will tolerate moderate drought. They are adaptable to various soil types and will grow in zones 3 to 9. They rarely need fertilizer. Cultivars vary in height but average 3-4 feet with a 2-3 foot spread.

Bumblebees and butterflies flock to the flowers. Blooms are long lasting, either on the plant or as cut flowers. Deadheading keeps the plant neater and forces fresh buds to form. I stop deadheading in autumn and allow the spent flowers to remain through winter, offering a seed treat to finches and other birds.  Any uneaten seed self-sow for new plants in the spring but the seeds of cultivars may not be like their parent plants. Seedlings are easily transplanted. Cut dead leaves and stems to ground level in late winter before spring growth begins.

Deer ignore coneflowers but rabbits find them tasty. They are rarely damaged by insects or diseases, but may show occasional damage from aphids, Japanese beetles, powdery mildew or bacterial leaf spots. I have experienced an occasional problem with “aster yellows” but promptly removed the affected plants to avoid a spread to neighboring plants. My two favorite cultivars are ‘Magnus’ which has large, light purple blooms and ‘Kim’s Knee High’ which is only a foot tall. Both look best when planted in masses rather than as single plants.

A bumblebee busy on a ‘Magnus’ coneflower bloom.

A bumblebee busy on a ‘Magnus’ coneflower bloom.

A group planting.

A group planting.

Note the weird green buds inside the purple circle. These deformed blooms are a symptom of Aster Yellows. Remove and destroy the plant to prevent the spread. Aster yellows is a bacteria-like organism called a phytoplasma. It is spread by leafhoppers.

Note the weird green buds inside the purple circle. These deformed blooms are a symptom of Aster Yellows. Remove and destroy the plant to prevent the spread. Aster yellows is a bacteria-like organism called a phytoplasma. It is spread by leafhoppers.

Color Me Confused

Last year I received a gift shrub from a dear friend. The tag said “Blue Mist Spirea.” There was no Latin name included. When I did a little research online to learn the plant’s sun and water requirements, I was astonished to learn that it was NOT a Spirea. Not even close. Instead, this gray-leaf beauty with clusters of tiny powder-blue blooms is a Caryopteris. So why call a Caryopteris a Spirea? Beats me. They are not even in the same family. I can only guess that there was some confusion in the plant breeder’s greenhouse and once the patent was received or the plant tags were printed, it was too hard or expensive to make the correction.

Many garden centers will offer “Blue Mist Spirea,” but you may also find ‘Longwood Blue,’ ‘Beyond Midnight,’ ‘Dark Knight’ and ‘Grand Bleu.’ The ‘Worchester Gold’ cultivar has some yellow to its foliage, but it is not as golden as the name might lead one to believe. It tends to turn more green where summers are hot.

Plant Caryopteris in full sun, in well-drained, lean soil. Too rich a soil produces soft growth that is weak and floppy. It is heat and drought tolerant. The blooms attract numerous butterflies and bees, so site them away from busy pathways and entrances. The shrub naturally forms a nice mounded shape with a fine texture. It is deciduous, losing every leaf when hard freezes arrive. The branches should be pruned hard (down to 12 inches or less) in early spring because blooms occur only on new growth. Pruning will also keep the plant dense and compact. Resist the temptation to trim until spring arrives and new growth starts to show. If you prune in autumn or early winter, the plant may not live through cold weather. Wet soil in winter may also cause plant death.

Caryopteris are easy to grow from cuttings, but many times the plant self-propagates by growing roots wherever a branch touches soil. These rooted branches can be separated from the mother in spring and transplanted to new locations. Caryopteris look pretty when paired with gray-leafed Artemesia such as ‘Powis Castle’ or contrast nicely with burgundy foliage. It also looks fabulous planted next to orange Zinnias.

Caryopteris foliage has a distinctive odor that deer don’t like. Some people describe it as smelling like bell pepper. I don’t agree, but cannot find another comparison that is more accurate. Deer do not browse it and insects do not bother it. This small scale (36 inches or less) shrub is trouble free and should be planted more often. It is hardy in Zones 6-9.

Clusters of tiny blue blooms form along the stems of Caryopteris.

Clusters of tiny blue blooms form along the stems of Caryopteris.

Gloriosa Lily

Glory Lily, Gloriosa superba, is not really a lily but is absolutely superb. It is one of the few vines in the Mary Snoddy garden. When I purchased two odd looking bulbs, the label said they were only cold hardy in zone 8-10. I planted mine in two containers against one of my outbuildings, with plans to move the containers inside before freezing weather arrived. The vines were beautiful, although they did not bloom until late summer during their first year. I forgot to move them to a freeze-proof area, and assumed that I had lost them. That was fifteen years ago. The vines have made a return appearance every year. I believe that the outbuilding provides just enough protection to allow them to survive my zone 7b winters.

 The bulb resembles a fingerling potato or a Jerusalem artichoke, but it is kin to neither. Instead it is in the same genetic family as Colchium, the fall-blooming crocus. When vines emerge from winter dormancy, they grow very quickly. The tendrils at the tips of the leaves curl around whatever is close. I choose to provide a trellis, but they can be allowed to scramble over a shrub. The variety in my garden is ‘Rothschildiana’ which has red and yellow blooms. I have also seen it listed in catalogs as Gloriosa rothschildiana. Blooming starts in mid-June and continues until frost.

 Be prepared for the vines to reach anywhere from 6 to 15 feet. The deeper the bulb is planted, the shorter the vines and the more erect their growth habit. They like an evenly moist soil and full sun. The vines are a bit brittle, so if you plan to train them on a trellis, start while the plants are small and don’t require a lot of manipulation. Avoid windy areas to prevent to vine breakage.

 All parts of the vine are toxic and ingestion may be fatal. Enjoy looking but don’t eat.

Unusual and beautiful.

Unusual and beautiful.

The weathered wood of the outbuilding makes the color pop and the trellis disappear.

The weathered wood of the outbuilding makes the color pop and the trellis disappear.

Nature's Barometer Plant

Rumex sanguineus (pronounced ROO-meks san-GWIN-ee-us) is known by various common names including Bloody Sorrel, Bloodwort and Red-Veined Dock. It is not eye-catching, but EVERY gardener needs this plant! I reserve exclamation points for the most important points, so pay attention. This plant serves as your personal barometer.

Rumex tells the gardener when containers, window boxes or beds are thirsty. I suggest that you plant one in every mixed container and every garden bed as an irrigation alarm. Just like the Peace Lily in your kitchen window wilts when it is dry but then revives when watered, Rumex wilts horribly when it is too dry. Unless you have ignored its pitiful message for days, a little water will make it perk back up in a few hours.

While it is not a visual standout, the red veined leaves make a terrific addition to containers. The rosette clumps of leaves reach 12-15 inches in height. Rumex has a deep taproot; it ignores heat and humidity and will grow in either sun or shade. When you include this barometer in your plantings, you can stroll past your beds and containers and immediately know which ones need water. They are the ones with the wilted Rumex. If the Rumex looks fine, the bed does not need water. If you have numerous or large gardens, this messenger saves you time.

Rumex also works well as a pond-side plant or near your water garden. It spreads happily in damp areas. It is an evergreen perennial in Zones 6-8, although it may be a little tattered at winter’s end. Use scissors to cut off any damaged leaves, and avoid the red sap because it stains fingers and clothes. I have seen recipes for sorrel soups, but have never tried cooking any of my yard plants although I have chewed on a leaf. The taste was tart but lemony and refreshing – and left me with pink teeth.

Rumex is a reliable soil moisture indicator. Allow it to save you time.

A smart gardener featured Rumex next to a golden-leaf Abelia. The deep red veins of Rumex echoed the red stems of the Abelia, a wonderful combination I observed while on the 2019 Master Gardener tour of private gardens in May.

A smart gardener featured Rumex next to a golden-leaf Abelia. The deep red veins of Rumex echoed the red stems of the Abelia, a wonderful combination I observed while on the 2019 Master Gardener tour of private gardens in May.

A tiny Rumex nestled in a basket lets me know when the Lantana need water. The clear filament around the edges is fishing line used to secure the cocoa basket to the metal frame. Sweetgum balls discourage cats from sleeping amid the flowers.

A tiny Rumex nestled in a basket lets me know when the Lantana need water. The clear filament around the edges is fishing line used to secure the cocoa basket to the metal frame. Sweetgum balls discourage cats from sleeping amid the flowers.

Vitex - A summer-blooming beauty

I receive a few phone calls every year from people who want me to identify “that tree with purple blooms, looks like a lilac.” That beauty, my friends, is Vitex agnus-castus, commonly called “Chaste tree.” Vitex can be described as a large deciduous shrub or a small tree. Cold-hardy from zone 7b to 11, Vitex tolerates any type of soil and is very drought tolerant once established. They will not survive boggy soils, so err on the side of less irrigation rather than more.

Vitex blooms smell sweet and their five-fingered leaves (resemble marijuana) have a pleasant sage-like fragrance too. The odor means that deer usually leave it alone.

Vitex forms a multi-stemmed tree but can be pruned to a single trunk if the gardener is so inclined. The lavender blooms appear at the ends of branches and point upward, making them look like a cousin to Clethra. Our region is becoming saturated with Crape Myrtles. I love the Crapes, but wish that more people would plant Vitex because of its benefit to pollinators. Butterflies and bees flock to the blooms. They are frequently planted near beehives to increase honey production. There is no fall color to mention, but the loose, rounded crowns have a special charm. They are quick growers, reaching a mature height of 25 feet. Plants thrive in heat, in full sun or part shade. I think they look best as an under story tree, in the partial shade cast by larger trees. A neighboring town used them in the central median plantings along a major highway, which confirms their hardy nature.

The Vitex in the Mary Snoddy garden is at least fifty years old, maybe more. It is starting to show the effects of old age, with a few branches dying here and there. When it reaches the end of its life, I plan to replace it with another specimen of the same type. ‘Shoal Creek’ has the typical lavender bloom, but ‘Alba’ is white and ‘Rosea’ has pink flowers. Several blue cultivars are available, and so are dwarf forms.

I was surprised to read that Vitex is considered invasive in certain areas of the Carolinas and several southwestern states. I have not seen that in my own garden, nor have I seen them proliferate in ungroomed areas.

If Vitex has a drawback, it is that the limbs tend to droop with age. While graceful, this creates difficulty in lawnmowing nearby. The thin bark is easily damaged by string trimmers. Surround them with a ground cover to eliminate the need to prune low-hanging limbs. A grass-like ground cover like Mondo Grass (Ophiopogon) tolerates shade cast by the tree and has the added advantage of absorbing the fine leaves shed in fall. No raking – Yay!

Bumblebees buzzing around the blooms of  Vitex angus-caste.

Bumblebees buzzing around the blooms of Vitex angus-caste.

A mature Vitex.

A mature Vitex.

Architectural Acanthus

One of my favorite plants for shade is Acanthus, (pronounced ah-KAN-thus) commonly called “Bear’s Breeches” for unknown reasons.  There are two species available in nurseries, Acanthus mollis and Acanthus spinosus. See the accompanying photograph for a side-by-side comparison.

Both species have bold evergreen leaves that draw attention in the garden. When you see one in bloom, you cannot help but say, “Golly!” The leaves of mollis are large and shiny; the leaves of spinosus bristle with sharp spines. (Bet you saw that one coming, huh?).  Leaf clumps may reach three feet tall. Bloom stems jump up to five feet or more. In the Mary Snoddy garden, the height of the bloom stem is a direct reflection of any irrigation I have thrown their way. The more water, the taller the stem. They do prefer a drier soil, however, so don’t get carried away with the watering. Ensure good drainage during winter to prevent root rot.

Acanthus’s distinctive leaves served as the pattern for carvings on classical Greek architecture. Blooms appear in early to mid summer on sturdy stems, white petals held by dusky purple bracts.

Acanthus are cold-hardy zone 7-10. They are evergreen in my zone 7b garden. Plants may spread by seed or by underground roots. I have seen reports of invasiveness on the internet, but have not experienced any such behavior in the ten-plus years I have enjoyed them. Deer, rabbits and voles avoid them.

Acanthus spinosus  on left;  Acanthus mollis  on right.

Acanthus spinosus on left; Acanthus mollis on right.

Prickly  Acanthus spinosus

Prickly Acanthus spinosus

Mary Snoddy and  Acanthus mollis  ‘Rue Ledan’

Mary Snoddy and Acanthus mollis ‘Rue Ledan’

Moonstruck Over Lunaria

Money does not grow on trees, but it does grow on Lunaria, whose common names include Money Plant, Dollar Plant, or Honesty. Lunaria annua would lead one to believe it is an annual, but it a biennial. The Lunaria portion means “moon like” in reference to its round white seeds, called silicles. As a true biennial, plants germinate and grow foliage one year, then flower, set seed, and die the next year. Blooms are purple, with an occasional lavender or white. They look spectacular paired with late season daffodils or bearded Iris. Average mature height is about two feet, with a spread half their height. Stems and leaves are both fuzzy to touch.

Seeds left on the plant are decorative through the summer but begin to look a bit tattered toward autumn. They self-sow, so allow a few seeds to remain to produce next year’s plants. Remove most seeds or you will be forced to remove an over-abundance of baby plants the following year. Retain and store a few seeds in a cool, dry place so you can plant them the following year. Otherwise, the biennial growth pattern will mean flowers only on alternate years. Seed pods, the “money,” are perfectly round, papery, almost translucent.  They look like two pieces of tissue paper with a couple of seeds caught between them. Seeds can be extracted by running the dry pod between your fingers. Children can help harvest and plant these. Stalks of mature seeds make interesting additions to flower arrangements.

Plants prefer the dappled shade of woodland gardens or under deciduous trees. In the Mary Snoddy garden, they thrive on neglect. I have never watered or fertilized them.

Don’t confuse Lunaria with Dame’s Rocket, an invasive plant with similar flowers but different seed pods.  

It is too bad that gardeners cannot use the Lunaria’s money to feed our voracious plant-buying habits.

Copy of Champion Rose Campion

My apologies for the tardiness of this post. Evidently I included so many high-res photos in my first attempt that email programs kicked it to the curb. Who knew?  Anyway, better late than not at all. MNS

Rose Campion (Lychnis coronaria) is an old fashioned passalong plant that is heat resistant and has beautiful spring and summer flowers. Most have magenta blooms, but there are also pink, white and blush forms available. When it is not in bloom, the gray felted leaves are easy to confuse with Lamb’s Ears (see the photo for a comparison).

 The word “Lychnis” (pronounced LICK-niss) means “lamp” in Greek. Folklore says that the woolly leaves were sometimes rolled tightly and used as lamp wicks. A few people use the common name “Dusty Miller,” but there are multiple other plants that share that common name. Let’s stick with Rose Campion. Those soft gray leaves mean that it looks wonderful with pastels and makes a good peace-making divider between hot colors that might otherwise clash. I would avoid pairing it with pale lemony yellows, but it looks fine against school-bus yellow. The leaves look fantastic when paired with pink or red companions. They also look good against burgundy foliage.

Rose Campion forms a basal leaf rosette that mimics Verbascum. Thin bloom stems shoot up to 30”or more and erupt in small, velvety 5-petaled flowers. If you plan to pair yours with red or purple flowers, it is worth seeking out the white or blush colors.  I learned from sad experience that magenta clashes like thunder with red Amaryllis. (Plans are underway for a relocation of the Amaryllis.)  All colors bloom longer if deadheaded. I tend to leave those in the Mary Snoddy garden ungroomed so they spread seeds around. They reseed readily if left unmulched, which makes them a great passalong gift. The plants are easy to move when small. Space them a foot apart in full sun, zones 4-8.

Due to its fuzzy gray coat, Rose Campion rarely needs any supplemental watering. Mine are used as an edging, planted in full baking sun next to an asphalt driveway. They are never irrigated.  If plants receive too much water or if the leaves stay damp too long in periods of high humidity, they may rot. Locating them in an area with good air circulation helps. They tolerate clay and prefer poor soil. Too rich a soil makes their stems weak, so blooms flop. They are not bothered by insects or diseases. The deer have not damaged mine – yet.

Lambs Ears between Rose Campions.

Lambs Ears between Rose Campions.

Rose Campion paired with pink-blooming Limemound Spirea and purple Iris ensata

Rose Campion paired with pink-blooming Limemound Spirea and purple Iris ensata

Magenta Rose Campion

Magenta Rose Campion

Champion Rose Campion

My apologies for the tardiness of this post. Evidently I included so many high-res photos in my first attempt that email programs kicked it to the curb. Who knew?  Anyway, better late than not at all. MNS

Rose Campion (Lychnis coronaria) is an old fashioned passalong plant that is heat resistant and has beautiful spring and summer flowers. Most have magenta blooms, but there are also pink, white and blush forms available. When it is not in bloom, the gray felted leaves are easy to confuse with Lamb’s Ears (see the photo for a comparison).

 The word “Lychnis” (pronounced LICK-niss) means “lamp” in Greek. Folklore says that the woolly leaves were sometimes rolled tightly and used as lamp wicks. A few people use the common name “Dusty Miller,” but there are multiple other plants that share that common name. Let’s stick with Rose Campion. Those soft gray leaves mean that it looks wonderful with pastels and makes a good peace-making divider between hot colors that might otherwise clash. I would avoid pairing it with pale lemony yellows, but it looks fine against school-bus yellow. The leaves look fantastic when paired with pink or red companions. They also look good against burgundy foliage.

Rose Campion forms a basal leaf rosette that mimics Verbascum. Thin bloom stems shoot up to 30”or more and erupt in small, velvety 5-petaled flowers. If you plan to pair yours with red or purple flowers, it is worth seeking out the white or blush colors.  I learned from sad experience that magenta clashes like thunder with red Amaryllis. (Plans are underway for a relocation of the Amaryllis.)  All colors bloom longer if deadheaded. I tend to leave those in the Mary Snoddy garden ungroomed so they spread seeds around. They reseed readily if left unmulched, which makes them a great passalong gift. The plants are easy to move when small. Space them a foot apart in full sun, zones 4-8.

Due to its fuzzy gray coat, Rose Campion rarely needs any supplemental watering. Mine are used as an edging, planted in full baking sun next to an asphalt driveway. They are never irrigated.  If plants receive too much water or if the leaves stay damp too long in periods of high humidity, they may rot. Locating them in an area with good air circulation helps. They tolerate clay and prefer poor soil. Too rich a soil makes their stems weak, so blooms flop. They are not bothered by insects or diseases. The deer have not damaged mine – yet.

Lambs Ears between Rose Campions.

Lambs Ears between Rose Campions.

Rose Campion paired with pink-blooming Limemound Spirea and purple Iris ensata

Rose Campion paired with pink-blooming Limemound Spirea and purple Iris ensata

Magenta Rose Campion

Magenta Rose Campion

Chinese Foxgloves

Spring means “garden tour time” here in South Carolina. I enjoy garden tours and attend as many as possible because (a) I enjoy seeing the way other people have conquered garden challenges and (b) I discover exciting new plants.

Several years ago, I encountered a plant I had never seen before. The homeowner/tour host told me it was a Chinese Foxglove, Rehemannia eleta. The beautiful tubular blooms made a pink cloud in the dry shade under a tree. The voice that lives in my head said, “Must.Have.That.Plant!”

I scoured all local nurseries, trying to find this beauty for sale. When that failed, I turned to the internet. I did not find plants, but I did find seeds for sale, at a company located in Ontario, Canada. Fast-forward a couple of weeks, and I held the precious envelope, ready to start my own pink cloud. When I opened the seed envelope, there was a smaller, waxy envelope inside. And inside this envelope there was – nothing. I telephoned the seed seller, which was a bit frustrating. I do not speak French; they did not speak Southern. When I was transferred to someone who understood my problem, I was told that there was, in fact, seeds inside the inner envelope. They were the size of dust particles. I hung up and found my trusty jeweler’s loupe, one of the handiest items ever created. 

Yes, there were minute seeds, visible with 10x magnification. I had never started anything so small, so I took special precautions. I used a very fine seed-starting mix, soaked it completely, and packed it lightly into plastic 4-cell packs. I tore a paper coffee filter into tiny scraps. then used tweezers dip each filter piece into water. I touched a corner of the damp filter to  the seeds, one at a time.  The seeds adhered nicely to the damp filter. I laid each filter piece and its attached seed on top of the seed starting mix, one per cell.  In just a few weeks, I had tiny plants and large self-congratulation. (This technique works well for any tiny seeds.)

Since then, the Chinese Foxgloves in the Mary Snoddy garden have reseeded into large, handsome clumps. (I guess Mother Nature did not need tweezers and a coffee filter.) They have a travel plan of their own design, and crop up in other places in the same shady bed. I assume that their seeds are wind-distributed.

Chinese Foxgloves thrive in the same soil, moisture and light exposure as Hostas. Despite the common name, they are not true Foxgloves (Digitalis). The tubular blooms have a bit of flare to the petals. They are cold-hardy In Zones 7-11. If deadheaded, they will bloom for months. I choose to skip the removal of old blooms, and still enjoy four to six weeks of flowering.

Baptisia? Yes, please.

Baptisia is a beautiful, long-lived perennial. It is in the Fabaceae family (legumes) and has a similar bloom to other plants in that family (peanuts, soybeans, peas).

A common name is Wild Indigo or False Blue Indigo, but modern cultivars extend beyond blue shades to yellows, white, and reddish purple. The plants reach three feet in height and about the same width. The growth form is strongly upright, not yielding to punishment from thunderstorms and hard rains. Grow in full sun.

Starting in 1745, Baptisia was grown and exported to Great Britain for the extraction of blue dye. It served as a substitute for the higher quality, more expensive dye extracted from Indigofera. As an export, it was second only to rice. Charleston, SC was the growth and shipping center, where it became known as “the blue gold of the South.”

This rugged plant is native to American prairie but can be grown in most of the US. Once established, it needs little care beyond cutting down frost-killed stems in winter. In upper South Carolina, the first shoots emerge around mid-March and bloom for four weeks, beginning in early April.  The plant grows a deep tap root that helps it survive droughts but also means that it resents relocation. The blooms are followed by seed pods that look like inflated peas. They dry to a true black, making an unusual addition to cut flower arrangements. If you wish to propagate from seed, harvest the pods as soon as they are completely black and dry. Ripe pods are prone to bursting open, so take care to harvest them before they split. Each pod holds multiple seeds. These germinate easily. Plants can also be propagated from tender stem cutting along with a rooting hormone.

Baptisia was named 2010 plant of the year by the Perennial Plant Association. The name is pronounced bap-TEE-zsah.

Blue  Baptisia  contrasts with the adjacent blue and yellow bearded  Iris .

Blue Baptisia contrasts with the adjacent blue and yellow bearded Iris.

Emerging  Baptisia  stems look like asparagus.

Emerging Baptisia stems look like asparagus.

Grancy Graybeard or White Fringetree

Whether you call it Grancy Graybeard, Grandaddy Graybeard or Fringe Tree, Chionanthus  (pronounced kye-oh-NANTH-us) is an eye-catching spring bloomer. The southeast hosts two species, Chionanthus virginicus and Chionanthus retusus. Both grow to large shrubs or small trees. The two species can be distinguished by their leaves. Virginicus leaf tapers to a point, in a Vee shape. Retusus is rounded.

The slightly fragrant blooms look like drooping clusters of white fringe. Flowers emerge while leaves are still small. Flowering is heaviest when sited in full sun, but the foliage looks best if it receives light shade during the hottest part of the day. In the Mary Snoddy garden, they bloom just after the lilacs have finished.

Virginicus is native to east Texas. (So why isn’t it texicus intead of virginicus? I don’t know.) Retusus is from China. It grows a bit taller than its sister and its blooms are more numerous. Both prefer an acidic soil but will perform well in a wide pH range. They tolerate drought but look best when grown in moist soil.

Both males and females flower, but only the females produce the drooping bunches of navy blue berries that birds enjoy. Fall color can be variable but is normally unimpressive yellow. The exfoliating bark is pretty in winter. Some trunks may be marked with semi-circular leaf scars, similar to flowering cherry trees. These scars, called lenticels, allow the tree to put off oxygen and intake carbon dioxide. Yes, the bark breathes!

Despite its ease of cultivation, propagation is tough. The seeds have a double dormancy that requires time and patience to germinate. Propagation from cuttings is also difficult and best left to professional growers. The trees transplant best when small. They will grow in zones 3-9.  They are native from New Jersey to Florida, and as far west as eastern Texas. Plants need little pruning.

Chionanthus virginicus was named Virginia’s Wildflower of the Year for 1997. Its size means it is perfectly suited for use in smaller home landscape. Its undemanding nature makes it a good choice for new gardeners. It also serves as a larval host and a nectar source for sphinx moths, those giant night-flyers that look like oversized bumblebees or hummingbirds. The only drawback is that deer find them especially tasty.

Chionanthus retusus  bloom

Chionanthus retusus bloom

A lovely grouping of  Chionanthus retusus  at a local business.

A lovely grouping of Chionanthus retusus at a local business.

Chionanthus virginicus  grown in partial shade. Note the V-shaped leaves.

Chionanthus virginicus grown in partial shade. Note the V-shaped leaves.

Chionanthus virginicus  in the Mary Snoddy garden.

Chionanthus virginicus in the Mary Snoddy garden.

Lace Leaf Lilac

One of the advantages of living in balmy South Carolina is our long growing season and mild winters. That same weather creates challenges in growing peonies and lilacs, apples and cabbages. I was lucky enough to inherit a cut-leaf Lilac (Syringa laciniata) that was planted decades ago by my husband’s grandmother.  The finely divided leaves resemble marigolds more than other lilacs, and give the shrub a soft texture.

This deciduous shrub is described as graceful but I find that it becomes a bit ungainly with age unless it is pruned to generate new growth. It can reach heights of eight feet or so, with an equal spread. Clusters of fragrant, light purple flowers bloom in spring around the same time as daffodils. Any shaping should be done soon after the bloom period is complete. This is also a good time to take cuttings. Removal of dead blooms before the plant sets seeds will result in better blooming in the following year. Fall color is an unimpressive yellow.

Cut-leaf lilac is propagated from softwood stems, not bright green and flexible or dark brown and brittle. Use a rooting hormone for best results. To improve survival rate, the rooted cuttings should remain in a greenhouse or protected location at least a year before being planted out into the landscape. Several of the plants I started from cuttings have exceeded the size of the mother plant. Plants can also spread themselves by suckering. Suckers may be removed to limit spread.

It is difficult to find Syringa laciniata for sale in nurseries, but ‘Miss Kim’ lilac (Syringa persica) is widely available. Cut-leaf lilac is heat tolerant and mildew resistant. It is not troubled by insects or diseases, and is rarely browsed by deer. Butterflies and bees flock to its fragrant blooms. It performs best in full sun. Lilacs prefer neutral to slightly alkaline soil, so add lime if your soil test indicates acidity.

How I wish you could “scratch and sniff” to enjoy the fragrance!

How I wish you could “scratch and sniff” to enjoy the fragrance!

This “mother” plant is at least fifty years old. It has been the source of numerous cuttings, now larger than the original.

This “mother” plant is at least fifty years old. It has been the source of numerous cuttings, now larger than the original.

Wonderful Weigela

Weigela is one of those shrubs that puts on a heart-stopping bloom display in the spring, then fades into obscurity the rest of the year. Mature shrub sizes vary from two feet to ten feet. They don’t mind acidic clay soil, and will tolerate limited drought once established. They prefer morning sun and afternoon shade. Weigela florida sounds like they are Florida natives, but they hale from Japan, Korea and North China.

Most funnel-shaped flowers are white or pink with a darker pink reverse. The blooms occur the entire length of the stem, so the pink buds are seen along with the white blooms. I have seen true red and purple varieties offered in catalogs, but have not found them in local nurseries. All colors are loved by hummingbirds and bumblebees. One of my favorites is ‘Variegata,’ which has white edged leaves, making it pretty even when not in bloom. ‘Wine and Roses’ cultivar has a burgundy leaf and a dark pink bloom. ‘My Monet’ has variegated pink and white leaves, pink blooms, and is dwarf (no more than two feet tall) which makes it easy to incorporate into a mixed border.

This deciduous shrub is round and somewhat loose. There is no fall color. The branches of a mature specimen arch similar to Forsythia. Through experimentation in the Mary Snoddy garden, I have found that the shrub looks best if about one-third of the branches are cut back hard (half their original length) immediately after bloom. This forces new growth. Heaviest blooms occur on the youngest stems. I follow the hard pruning with an overall shaping, to restrict size. If pruning is done mid-summer or later, there will be little to no bloom the following spring.

Weigela grows in zone 4 to 8. The further south, the greater the need for a little shade during the hottest part of the day. Deer think they are delicious, so site them away from easily accessed areas. (We all know that deer will take a bus and climb a ladder to reach something they find tasty.)

The name is pronounced wye-JEE-lah. There is not an “i” in the last syllable, so it is not wye-JEEL-yah.

Rampant Wisteria

In my part of the southeast, a purple haze of Wisteria blooms contrasts with the tender green of emerging tree leaves. In the woodlands behind my home, Chinese Wisteria (Wisteria sinensis) has climbed to the tops of several trees. Other trees are endangered by their strangling vines. Make no mistake – this is one VIGOROUS vine.

I feel sad when I see an unknowing gardener plant a Wisteria on a wooden or wire trellis. It does not take long before its weight will crush the trellis. Last year, I watched a vine collapse the porch of an unoccupied home in our town. In a matter of weeks, tendrils came through the wooden siding and then through the second floor windows. It was like something out of a horror movie. Wisteria is not as widespread as The Vine That Ate The South (Kudzu) but it is much harder to destroy. I have been struggling to eradicate one planted on our property, using increasingly nasty herbicides, something I normally avoid. Just when I think I’ve been successful, a baby vine springs through the turf some thirty feet away. Sigh…

The deciduous vines are hardy in zones 5-8. They grow to 40 feet or more and bloom best in full sun. The 4-6 inch velvety seed pods are shaped like violins. When dry, the pods pop and eject the lima bean-like seeds, often shooting them ten feet or more. The seeds are toxic, so wildlife rarely spread them around. Instead the plants spread by roots, by stems, or by self-spread seeds. A less vigorous cultivar, ‘Amethyst Mist’ is more easily restrained and looks particularly beautiful when trained to a tree form. It is worth seeking out.

Wisteria is easy to admire. The large clusters of purple and lavender blooms are beautiful. The shape of the bloom resembles a pea blossom, to which the plant is related. Both are in the family Leguminosae. Some people think their sweet fragrance resembles grape KoolAid. The white variety is harder to find but is reputed to be more fragrant.

American wisteria (Wisteria frutescens) is less vigorous than Chinese Wisteria, but it still requires a twice yearly pruning to keep it under control. It is also less fragrant. Both Ameircan and Chinese vines must have a level of maturity (up to ten years) before they bloom, which can be a frustrating wait.

Despite all the warnings about its rampant growth, it is difficult to resist the lure of those beautiful purple blooms. Plant if you dare, but DO NOT let them anywhere close to your sewer or septic systems. The roots seek water and will cause plumbing problems.

A close view of Wisteria bloom cluster.

A close view of Wisteria bloom cluster.

Vine imitating a boa constrictor, slowly squeezing life out of the tree it is climbing.

Vine imitating a boa constrictor, slowly squeezing life out of the tree it is climbing.

This photo was taken from my car window as I drove down a major thoroughfare. A planted vine has escaped cultivation and spread through the surrounding area.

This photo was taken from my car window as I drove down a major thoroughfare. A planted vine has escaped cultivation and spread through the surrounding area.

Bloom cluster.

Bloom cluster.