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Friday, January 24, 2014

The Perennial Class of 2014

This is Part 2 of my annual "These are all the new plants I added to the garden. I really hope I don't kill them" post. These were all added last fall, except as noted. I've also linked them to the nurseries where I purchased them. If they aren't linked, I bought them locally. (Because only a few of these have bloomed, all of the photos are from Google Images.)



Last fall I redesigned the largest section of my shade garden, as well as several other shady spots. Because most of my shade is dry shade, this was a challenge. An enormous amount of planning went into the redesign, even in the smaller beds I haven't posted about it. If everything dies, that's it. I quit. I'm going to bed.

Anemone hybrid 'Max Vogel' and 'Serenade'

Despite my constant battles with anemone canadensis, I am a sucker for the hybrid Japanese anemones. Located in a spot moist enough to keep them happy but too dry to allow them to take over, I look forward to their beautiful flowers all summer. I added 'Max Vogel' to a patch of white 'Honorine Jobert'. Both can grow to almost 3 ft tall in partial shade. 'Serenade' is much shorter and less aggressive.

Native Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)

I'm convinced there's always room for more columbine. The one downside to having a lot of dry shade is the limited options of pollinator-attracting plants. However, native red columbine is a tough beauty that attracts hummingbirds as well as pollinators. This spring bloomer grows to about two feet tall.

Campanula lactiflora 'Lodden Anna'

I've had my eye on this plant for a while but had only found it at one nursery that always seemed to be sold out. In my determination to create a garden that reflects the marriage of an English cottage garden with the American prairie, I added this campanula to a bright partially shady spot near my phlox and coneflowers. It can grow to 4 feet tall and attracts pollinators. I added a bit of lime to my acidic soil to help it feel at home. I hope it works.

Euphorbia corollata 'Carolina Snow'

According to the Plant Delights Nursery website, euphorbia corollata grows along the side of the road as a weed and is almost impossible to kill. This cultivar is a shorter version of the native with more flowers and thrives in bone dry shade. But when my plants arrived they were really tiny and a few immediately died. PDN refunded me for the plants that died but I'm not convinced any of the others will survive till spring. I should have just bought the straight native species from Niche Gardens, instead. Their plants are cheaper and bigger. Lesson learned!

Geranium pratense 'Laura'

I was so happy to finally find a spot for this geranium. It has double white flowers and a growth habit similar to 'Rozanne'. Like many perennial geraniums, in thrives in afternoon shade and blooms all summer.

Hellebores  'Red Lady' 'Blue Lady'

Have you noticed how absurdly expensive hellebore are? I bought these old standby's because they were the cheapest hellebores at the nursery and also the most dry shade tolerant. Even though I may have to lay in the garden to see the flowers, I couldn't justify $30 for a single plant.

Iris tectorum

Iris tectorum are also known as Japanese roof iris. I'd never given them much thought until Amy at Missing Henry Mitchell raved about what fabulous problem solvers they were for dry shade. A dry shade problem solver? Sign me up! After trying to convince myself that one of my shady spots was actually sunny, I finally conceded defeat, moved most of the plants to a sunnier spot, and add these iris. They bloom in the spring and are about a foot tall.

Pulmonaria 'Dark Vader'

I love the name of this plant. May the force be with them! I added 'Moonshine' pulmonaria to the garden last spring and they thrived. Following the garden adage of "If something grows well, plant more of it",  I added 'Dark Vader', too. Unlike many pulmonaria, these are more tolerant of hot, humid climates and less likely to develop mildew.

Salvia 'Koyame'

I heard about this salvia a few years ago and thought it both odd and wonderous that a salvia had been discovered that would thrive in dryish partial shade. With big heart shaped leaves and soft yellow flowers, it can be used as a ground cover or mixed with other perennials. It grows to about 18 inches tall.


Crocosmia 'Lucifer'

Last summer I drooled over croscosmia on every blog where it was featured. I'd never seen croscosmia until I moved to South Carolina 17 years ago and have always wanted to grow it. I once threw a few bulbs into the garden but nothing happened. When I saw these on the clearance table, I had to have them. Growing to almost 3 feet tall, they are powerful hummingbird magnets. I added my clump to my container garden so I can see the hummers up close.

Daylilies 'Prairie Blue Eyes' and 'Purplelicous'

I have a bit of buyers remorse about the 'Purplelicious' daylily. I bought it off the sale table after reading the tag advertising 'deep purple flowers'. To be honest, the flower is actually a bit creepy. I'll give it a summer but it may get the axe. 'Prairie Blue Eyes', however, looks like a keeper.

Lonicera japonica 'Mint Crisp'

While I know there are many gardeners who are convinced I'm going to burn in horticultural hell for planting a Japanese honeysuckle, I just don't care. Ten years of sinus infections caused by an allergy to common chemicals have robbed me of some of my sense of smell and I love the strong fragrance they offer. I can remove the berries when I prune it in the fall.

Monarda 'Petite Delight'

These are the only plants on the list that aren't in the garden yet. They're arriving this spring from Streambank Gardens, a small family run nursery in Delaware that grows its plants 100% organically. This dwarf monarda is headed for my rain garden. Monarda are hummingbird and pollinator magnets.

Sedums 'Plum Perfection' and 'Little Hennie'

I added these last spring so technically they are Class of 2013. But I'm not sure if they'll survive, so I'm including them with my freshman class.  'Little Hennie' is a ground cover sedum living in soil heavily amended with pea gravel next to a big rock at the tip of my rain garden. The rain garden has been redesigned so the water flows away from that spot so 'Little Hennie' receives moist, well draining soil. 'Plum Perfection' was nearly suffocated by an overzealous zinnia and has been relocated to a pot to give it the sharp drainage it needs. It forms clumps of purple foliage that love dry soil, making them an easy container plant.

Variegated catmint (calamintha grandiflora 'Variegata')

This is another plant I drooled over last summer. Ignoring the fact that I almost killed this several years ago by giving it moist shade, I was determined to try again. After seeing it thrive in a friends garden that embraces the Darwinian principles of 'survival of the fittest', I decided to plant it like a celebrity starlet - hot and overexposed.

Wallflower 'Fragrant Star'

If this plant even survives winter, I'll be shocked. It's currently growing in a pot and if it had access to anything sharp and pointy, I'd be toast. After killing its purple flowered cousin 'Wenlock Beauty' superdead last summer, I rescued 'Fragrant Star' off the clearance table last fall. If it had known how cold our winter would be, it would have resisted and asked for a quick death instead. I love the idea of having this 2 ft tall fragrant plant right next to my backdoor.So far, it's frozen but still alive.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Sweet Abraham

Some stories are hard to tell. They don't roll from the tongue or flow from the pen but lie tangled like twine with no clear beginning. This is such a story.


I stand in the kitchen, silent. Groceries clutter the counter and toys litter the floor. The children shout as he walks in, rushing towards him, lost in his long arms. He is home for seven days before leaving again for seven more. Home and away are our only constants and we lose track of time lost. Three months, six months. It all becomes the same.

He pulls me away from the stove, understanding my silence. "How was work?" he asks. "Crap". It is my only response. I lay my head against his chest, exhausted.

I can see them through the window as I dig. The boy parades in his flight jacket and the girl shows him how to dress her dolls. I thrust the shovel deeper, sandy soil crashing to the bottom like waves. I haul it to the top just to watch it slide back in.

Swiss cheese holes like craters fill the newest bed but the digging doesn't stop. The back door creaks open as the porch light flickers on. "Hey, it's dark" he yells before retreating into the house only to pop out like a prairie dog moments later. "Maybe if you had a mining helmet, this would be easier." I ignore him but start to smile. The door creaks open again and he continues his comedic assault. "The county called. They said you hit water and need to stop."

The gardens are all the same, regardless of address. There is no plan, just a need. Long beds circle the grass before curving back towards the house, a comforting embrace as perpetual as my singleness. I toss the shovel into the hole and sit in the grass. Fuzzy lamb's ears soft under my fingers slow down my breathing and I begin to relax. I leave the shovel in the hole. I'll be back in seven days.

To cope with the stress of being an almost single parent while working at a school I didn't like, grieving my fathers death and adjusting to another new town, I would create new garden beds and then fill them with holes. After finding a new teaching position, I began filling the holes with perennials and roses. I filled the biggest hole with the David Austin rose, Abraham D'Arby, a rose that also grows in my current garden.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Newbie Confessions

Every year I post a list of all the new plants I've added to the garden during my fall/spring transplant-a-thons and every winter I fess up to how many of them I've killed or tortured. It's humbling, to say the least. 

From fall 2012 to spring 2013, I added numerous perennials and a few small shrubs. Most are still in the garden. The rest have been buried in shallow graves.

The Casualties and Not Quite Deads

'Dream of Beauty' asters

I did my absolute best to kill these. I really did. Despite being excited to add them to the garden, I foolishly planted them in a "dry" section of my rain garden. News flash: there are no dry sections of my rain garden. That's why it's called a rain garden. Even when it's not raining, the soil is heavy and moist. I rescued the lone survivor mid-summer and planted it in a pot with excellent drainage. It's still alive but laughs when I pass.

'Ascot Rainbow' euphorbia

I added three 'Ascot Rainbow' to the garden last fall and they sailed through winter, their foliage growing more beautiful as the temps dropped. But while freezing weather didn't bother them, they couldn't survive the annual anemone invasion. They also didn't appreciate being planted under the shade of a crape myrtle. Oops! By mid-summer, I only had one euphorbia left. This fall, I found another on the sale table at our local nursery and as part of my shade garden redesign moved them both to a much brighter spot. I think they'll make it. At least that's what I'm telling myself.

'Wenlock Beauty' wallflowers

I killed these superdead. Planted in a pot near my back door so I could enjoy their fragrance, they never bloomed. Having read they thrived when neglected, I took my new knowledge to heart and ignored them. They repaid my efforts by dying a slow, miserable death. By the time I realized I had been duped, it was too late. They only want to be ignored if planted in full sun in moist, very well draining soil. Mostly sunny with dry soil isn't quite the same. However, my determination to figure how to grow these has led me to purchase a new victim off the sale table and try again. It's planted in full sun in well draining soil that I plan on keeping moist. Who knew?

'Dark Ponticum' monarda

This is 'Peter's Purple' instead of 'Dark Ponticum' but they look very similar.

Hello, I'm Tammy and I'm addicted to monarda. Maybe it's the Rastafarian flowers or their "Yes, my hair is supposed to look like this. Deal with it!" attitude, but I find them irresistible.  If they looked more normal, I would like them less. 'Dark Ponticum' needs less water than most but its reputed ability to grow in shade is pure baloney. It thrived in the garden until two months of rain created so much growth in my crape myrtles, they blocked the sun. I moved them to a sunnier spot and they immediately put out new growth.

The Survivors

'Star Dreamer' daylily

I completely forgot to take any pictures of this plant because I'm just amazing like that. They are a tall, fragrant, light yellow daylily. 

Since it's impossible to kill a daylily, I grow a lot of them. Every year I rip chunks of them out as my garden grows shadier and eagerly gift them to friends. But I added the 'Star Dreamer' daylily to a pot and it's thrilled. After telling myself to stop buying daylilies and just rearrange the ones I already have, I turned around and bought more dayliles. Why? Because they were purple. What color were the other ones? Not purple.

'Pink Octopus' campanula

These are so happy growing in well drained partial shade, I added more. Like most campanula, they spread quickly but I consider that a bonus since they are well behaved invaders. Of course, I spent all summer waiting for them to grow to 18" only to discover they only reach 8-10 inches. I consider this an indicator of either sleep deprivation or early dementia. Both are entirely plausible.

'Star Cluster' and 'Full Moon' coreopsis

'Full Moon' are yellow and 'Star Cluster' are white.

If you give coreopsis hot sun and well drained soil, they will love you long time. These bloomed all summer in my front butterfly garden and only needed to be watered during periods of drought.

'Caradonna' and 'Rose Queen' salvia 

'Rose Queen' with orange milkweed
'Caradonna' is in the background.

These grow alongside the coreopsis and are some of the toughest plants in my garden. I kept them pinched back to encourage more flowers and fuller growth. They were also some of the first perennials to bloom in spring, much to my surprise. But the pollinators must have been waiting since they were lined up like kids for
candy as soon as the flowers opened.

'Red Hot' lilies

These aren't actually red but I love the name, anyway.

The bulbs were planted in fall 2012 and the plants are still small. Next spring, I'm going to tie them to stakes to help them push their way through the bleeding heart foliage without growing crooked. The plantings around my Big Daddy rain barrel are a bit of a hodge podge.

Since I'm in confessional mode, I have to admit the name was part of the reason I bought these lilies. I like the idea of having a clump of red hot hussies strutting their stuff on the side of my house. But of course, I also think there should be a cultivar of banana tree known as Well Hung but that nugget of horticultural genius is continually ignored. I can't figure out why. My Red Hot ladies pushed and shoved their way through the massive bleeding heart to provide interest long after it had gone dormant. My gals need more support, though, and an artistic plant stake plan is underway.

'Shimmer' evening primrose (Oenathera fremontii)

This is a tough plant. It spent part of the summer fending of the advances of an aging parsley plant who was determined to have one last fling before calling it quits. They simply grew under the parsley like a rug until I yanked it out. Once their lanky growth was cut back, they flourished and required very little care.

'Venice' dwarf hydrangea

I wish they were more purple than pink, but the pink is pretty, too.

The hydrangea grows next to my mosaic pot. There is another one on the other side of the steps. 

I really shouldn't grow hydrangea since I don't have a good spot for them, but I missed them so much I bought these little dwarf cultivars and stuck them in pots on my front porch. As long as I remember to water them, they're very happy.

'Jelly Bean' and 'Peach Sorbet' blueberries

'Peach Sorbet' in early spring

I love blueberries but after losing my big shrubs in the Wheelbarrow Wars of 2005, I'd given up on ever growing them again. When I saw these at a trade show, I was hooked. I was hit with a serious case of plant lust and since a girl wants what she wants....I ended up with one of each. They have incredible fall and spring foliage and were bred to thrive in a container. They grow on my patio and I'm able to munch the berries before the birds find them. Score one for Tammy!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The Rock Bottom Resolution

I hadn't planned on making any resolutions this year after realizing I had failed miserably at the ones I created last January. Did I blow my budget, cuss at large trees and buy too many plants? Yes, yes, and yes. I was quite successful, however, at just enjoying life, singing like a strangled cat, and dancing even when people were watching. But I tend to be like that, anyway.

But this year, I've decided to class myself up a bit. I know you're shocked to discover I'm not the epitome of cool, detached elegance. So am I. It's a wretched way to start the day. Perhaps if I were more Audrey Hepburn and less Bridget Jones this wouldn't be so difficult. I've known for a while I wasn't the classiest dame out there but was having too much fun to care. But this year I want to give it a try. I resolve to become a classy gardener.

The Bridget Jones movies always make me laugh. I relate embarrassingly well to her gumption, silliness, and willingness to speak her mind.

As with most resolutions, my awareness that I needed to change was made stunningly clear last year. After finally realizing there were TWO Christopher Lloyds and that the mad scientist from the movie Back to the Future wasn't living a double life as a dead British gardener, I was able to bluff my way through conversations about garden design and history.


 Not a gardener

But I finally hit rock bottom when I had a notion to add more sweetbox  (sarcococca hookeriana -pronounced sar-COKE-co-cah) to my garden. Having grown this shrub in my garden for years, I should know how to pronounce its Latin name. Should - let's just emphasize that. Since many shrubs have common names that are only common in certain areas of the country, I decided to use the Latin name to make sure I purchased the right plant.

I no longer refer to sweetbox by its Latin name. Ever.

It never occurred to me when I opened my mouth that I would butcher and destroy the name so badly the polite, reserved horticulturalist helping me would burst out laughing and then try desperately to control himself.  The conversation went something like this:

Me: Where's your sar-COCK-cah? I really like them and was looking for a big one.
Him: Laughter
Me: Oops....

American Gothic at the Casa
Does imitating classic art make you classier?

The only problem with this resolution is I'm not sure how to become classier. Garden in matching outfits that have been sprayed with Teflon to repel soil and sweat? Whisper 'Oh my!' instead of shouting words that rhyme with truck when I impale myself on sharp objects or trip over my own feet? Maybe. Perhaps I'll sip Chardonnay from a lawn chair while a loin cloth clad Jeffery Dean Morgan look-alike gardens for me. So many options....