Annuals & perennials Ideas, Tips & Guides

Getting ready to stash the tender plants, with marianne willburn - - state New York - county Hudson - county Valley

Getting ready to stash the tender plants, with marianne willburn

IT IS NOT TIME quite yet here for what I call the mad stash, storing those non-hardy plants for the winter that we wish to keep alive for another year of service. But it is time to make some plans to do just that.

Conserving, and growing, native lady’s slipper orchids, with longwood’s peter zale - - Usa - state Kentucky - state Pennsylvania - county Garden

Conserving, and growing, native lady’s slipper orchids, with longwood’s peter zale

TODAY’S TOPIC is orchids, but not the ones you might be growing as a flowering houseplant. Our subject is native terrestrial types that are more often than not under great pressure in the wild, their numbers dwindling.

Amsonias: dependable, beautiful bluestars, with mt. cuba’s sam hoadley - - Cuba - state Delaware

Amsonias: dependable, beautiful bluestars, with mt. cuba’s sam hoadley

EARLY ON IN making my garden decades ago, I bought a nursery pot of bluestar, or Amsonia, at a native plant sale, and planted it in a border here. It has never asked anything of me, never had any pests or diseases, and just keeps delivering sky-blue spring flowers and vivid gold fall color, year in and year out, and looking pretty handsome in between.

Expanding the zinnia palette, with siskiyou seeds’ don tipping - - New York - state Oregon

Expanding the zinnia palette, with siskiyou seeds’ don tipping

WHAT’S NOT TO LOVE about zinnias? Organic seed farmer and breeder Don Tipping of Siskiyou Seeds and I both vote an emphatic “yes” in favor of making zinnias a part of every garden year.

Time to succumb to sweet peas, with matt mattus - - state Massachusets

Time to succumb to sweet peas, with matt mattus

EVERY YEAR when I get to the sweet pea listings in the seed catalogs, I think: This is the year, the year I’ll organize some supports in the garden for them, and indulge in their unmatched extravagance of color and fragrance.

Seed shopping, with lia babitch of turtle tree seed - - city New York - New York

Seed shopping, with lia babitch of turtle tree seed

LET THE seed shopping season begin. The 2024 offerings are being loaded into seed-catalog websites, and the earliest print catalogs are already arriving in our mailboxes, as if to help soften the separation anxiety we may feel if we’ve already put our gardens to bed for the winter.

Diverse, powerful milkweeds, with eric lee-mäder - - Usa - New York

Diverse, powerful milkweeds, with eric lee-mäder

MOST OF US may automatically think “monarch” after hearing the word “milkweed,” or vice versa. And that’s in fact a critical and intimate relationship, the one between monarch butterflies and native milkweed plants.

High-impact obsessions: using gold and variegated foliage, with ken druse - - state New Jersey

High-impact obsessions: using gold and variegated foliage, with ken druse

EVERY GARDENER has their obsessions—or maybe a nicer way to say that might be to call it their “signature plants,” the ones that help define their garden. I confess to a serious issue with gold-leaved things. And last time I checked my friend Ken Druse had more than a few plants with variegated leaves of all kinds of daring patterns and hues that catch your eye in his New Jersey garden.

‘more plants is always better:’ immersive landscapes, with claudia west - - New York

‘more plants is always better:’ immersive landscapes, with claudia west

“Plants are the mulch,” Claudia said then about making immersive landscapes that engage humans as much as they do pollinators and other beneficial wildlife. So it’s tempting to choose the plants we buy for our gardens based on their looks alone. Claudia and her colleague, Thomas Rainer, of Phyto Studio, who are co-authors of the groundbreaking 2015 book “Planting in a Post-Wild World” (affiliate link), have tougher criteria for which plants

What did you say your favorite hosta was? -

What did you say your favorite hosta was?

WE TALKED HOSTAS MONTHS AGO, in the dead of winter, when they were just twinkles in a gardener’s eye, or images pulled from color catalogs and memory.

Annual keepers: things i’ll re-order next year -

Annual keepers: things i’ll re-order next year

I’m not usually much of an impatiens lover, but ‘Fusion Glow’ and the Fusion series from the giant breeders Ball Horticultural will have a place here again next year for its mounding habit and free-flowering, and of course its lovely color (one of several in the series). Also on my list to be sure to track down for next year: that elusive ‘Terra Cotta’ viola (above) I couldn’t find locally this year and should have ordered in advance. Come to think of it, Viola ‘Blue Bronze’ is on the list, too; I just didn’t love the substitutes I grew this year, as I have complained before. Oh, and that variegated Abutilon I found without a label on it (which I have since ID’d). It’s named

Waste not, want not: dill and other volunteers -

Waste not, want not: dill and other volunteers

There’s a spot beside my patio where Nicotiana and annual poppies like to propagate–don’t ask me why–and I’ve learned to let them do so, above, until they’re just big enough to move around where I want them. (This means we each get our way half the time, I guess you could say.) In the driveway gravel, wonderful sedums like ‘Matrona’ sow all the time, and I’m happy to have the freebies to add to the garden.If the colony of volunteers is in the right place but just too thickly sown, I edit (with repeated pinches of my fingers, removing enough to allow the survivors good spacing). If the colony isn’t where I want it at all, I scoop up trowelfuls (above, with Nicotiana) and move them, above, or sometimes even individual young plants.This is my system with not just the poppies and flowering tobacco, but with tall verbena (Verbena bonariensis), and would be with Nigella and larkspur and other things I no longer grow (though who knows why?).I know, I should neaten up my act–how messy to let the dill grow 6 inches high before weedi

Say what? the bud of all buds on angelica gigas - - North Korea

Say what? the bud of all buds on angelica gigas

A. gigas is a star of high-to-late summer, with 6-to-8-inch domed flowerheads of the darkest wine color in much of August or longer. But for me the show begins them those insane-looking buds form, always prompting garden visitors to ask “What’s that?” Indeed.This most dramatic of angelicas wants moist soil, and is adaptable in my area to sun or shade, but seems happiest in bright shade (the old happy medium of gardening conditions).To have a successful colony, as with any biennial, you need to be vigilant and not accidentally weed out your self-sown babies each spring. You also will need varying generations of plants: some at blooming age (one year old) and some babies (to bloom next year). So I suggest to get started you buy yourself some p

Warning: reversions in progress… -

Warning: reversions in progress…

First, the ‘Sensation’ lilac went mad, with some of its blooms going the palest of pinkish-whites (top). You’d think after 70 years or thereabouts as a named cultivar it would know what it was supposed to look like, but no. Then I saw a choice hosta called ‘Touch of Class’ go ’round the bend in a pot out back, sending up half of its foliage in blue, not blue with gold (below). ‘Touch of Class,’ which comes from the exceptional cultivar called ‘June,’ is even more vivid…well, at least it is when it cooperates and stays stable.My variegated kerria, Kerria japonica ‘Picta,’ reverts every year (above), bless its little heart, making sure I get to undertake the

Fern secrets, fern sex and fern gardening, with tony avent - - state North Carolina

Fern secrets, fern sex and fern gardening, with tony avent

Ferns have been on the planet for more than 300 million years—about twice as long as flowering plants—and in recent years breeders with sophisticated eyes have introduced extra-showy varieties for our gardens.No wonder there is a focus on ferns, since they are naturally deer-resistant, mostly adapted to shady gardens, and hey, you don’t need to deadhead them since they’re not flowering plants. You can’t attribute any of those qualities to, say, a daylily.On my radio show and podcast, Tony treated me to a 101 on ferns and how to use them in the garden (that’s a tiny section of the 28-acre private nonprofit Juniper

A plant i’d order: trachystemon orientalis -

A plant i’d order: trachystemon orientalis

Blue-flowered plants seem to always have that mystique. While still partly leafless in early spring, about mid-April here, Trachystemon sends up its showy blue flowers on stems perhaps 10 inches tall in my conditions, and gradually after that the big, heart-shaped leaves, about the same height, finally fill in, making a pleasing bold statement, if not a spectacular one.Good news, bad news: Trachystemon will do in sun or shade, and even in dry shade at the roots of trees (or in damp spots). This rhizomatous do-er seems to be happy with total neglect, almost anywhere (Zones 5 or 6-9). It outcompetes many weeds—a great trait in a groundcover, too. But this kind of cooperative nature also means it is a thug in climates like England’s, where it has been naturalized for as long as anyone can remember (so the Pacific Northwest, for instance, would be a potential romping grounds).I am about to move some of my little blue ocean to the hardest places i

Why won’t this plant die? houttuynia cordata, the chameleon plant -

Why won’t this plant die? houttuynia cordata, the chameleon plant

I bought the plant more than a decade ago, for the showiness of its (then) variegated red, green and yellow foliage and its touted use as a groundcover in moist shade (including plunged right in a pot in water, apparently). Certain that I had acquired a treasure, I was terribly upset when it didn’t return from underground after its first winter with me. Dead, I reported in my newspaper garden column at the time. Gone.It was another year before the chameleon turned on me again, and resurfaced. Its resurrection was cause for celebration. Not dead, not gone!I guess you know the rest of the story if you’ve ever grown an

An update on underplanting trees and shrubs -

An update on underplanting trees and shrubs

Early spring is the perfect time for this kind of project, when divisions of perennials are plentiful and there’s a long growing season ahead for everyone to settle in and get growing.Successful underplanting involves selecting the right mix of plants, and then being patient: There are 10 things I think about when I am tackling a new area, creating another botanical mosaic to cover the ground beautifully instead of a mass one one thing. Ready to create some of your own?Categoriesannuals & perennials for beginners garden design groundcovers shade gardening trees & shrubsTagsgroundcover

Taking a long look at lespedeza thunbergii -

Taking a long look at lespedeza thunbergii

A rescue mission a few years back landed it in the sun again, and that’s what the bush clover wanted.Lespedeza thunbergii, a legume or pea relative as the shape of its flowers and foliage quickly gives away, is hardy in Zones 4-9. Give it sun, and not much else—well, except a very large space to grow into, as the arching stems of a mature bush clover will reach 6 feet across or wider, and stands nearly 6 feet high. My resurrected, relocated ‘Gibraltar’ is closing in on 8 feet across today.Various white forms, like ‘Albiflora’ or ‘White Fountain,’ are another possibility (I like the gaudier purple) and because he must always outdo us, plantsman Tony Avent offers the 4-by-6-foot ‘Spilt Milk,’ with purple flowers but wildly variegated foliage as its name implie

Garden tip: first, make things worse -

Garden tip: first, make things worse

The new red-foliage polychroma cultivar, ‘Bonfire,’ seems to stand up better to summer, so I’m not chopping it down. Will I regret it? Don’t know…only my second year with the plant, so it’s all an experiment.Which is what cutbacks are: You observe what is going on, and if it’s not looking good, you consider administering a haircut.The pulmonarias were shorn to the ground after flowering last month, and already have a new set of showy leaves (instead of tattered, about-to-mildew old ones). They would have grown a new set right up and over the old, but I prefer to just shear them, rather than fussily deadheading each flower stem.Perennial salvias, like the popular ‘May Night’ and the nemorosa varieties ‘Snow Hill’ and ‘Caradonna,’ can do with a good, hard cutback when they’re done blooming. A new rosettes of foliage will be emerging down below, and a lower-impact second flush of bloom will eventu

Slideshow: 8 favorite garden ephemerals -

Slideshow: 8 favorite garden ephemerals

GET THEM WHILE THEY LAST: That’s the message with ephemerals, plants that are happy to pop up early, do their pretty thing, then tuck back in when the heat comes on. I grow a lot of them, brightening up the first weeks of a spring garden that would otherwise be mostly minor bulbs in April-into-May, meaning more pleasure out of the same space.

Colocasia ‘mojito:’ keeping our love alive in winter -

Colocasia ‘mojito:’ keeping our love alive in winter

Colocasia ‘Mojito’ (Zone 7b-10), like all its cousins that we call elephant ears or taro, is a heat-loving plant that’s also hungry and thirsty. I grew it in a bright spot in a potting soil with lots of compost, and stood a big, deep saucer underneath—something I wouldn’t do with most other plants outdoors for fear of rotting them off. I don’t use chemical fertilizers, but I mixed in some all-natural organic formulation at planting time and occasionally added fish and seaweed emulsion to the water I gave it.In food production, prevalent in Asia, the Pacific and the Caribbean, it’s the starchy tubers that are the thing—bigger is better. In ornamental horticulture, the above-ground portion is where it’s at, and here’s where the tricky part comes in about overwintering some of the most spectacular new taros—including ‘Mojito,’ and the better known ‘Black Magic.’ They don’t produce big tubers that can be lifted, like you might a canna or some of the elephant ears, and stashed dry in the cellar.

Slideshow: perennial stars of early may -

Slideshow: perennial stars of early may

H URRY, QUICK, RUSH: Get them before they vanish, and before the next pretty face distracts your gaze. That’s May in the garden here, a mad rush of bulbs and then ephemerals, and the first stick-around-awhile perennials, too, all happening beneath a canopy of blooming trees and shrubs. Have a quick look at some current beauties in the slideshow below, and I’ll be back to the computer to write profiles of the ones you haven’t met before.

Hosta pot? why not! -

Hosta pot? why not!

It’s easy, showy, and the hostas don’t seem to mind being put on display. A favorite for this purpose: the classic vase-shaped blue hosta ‘Krossa Regal’. Variegated hostas are especially ornamental, too. I like to plug in extra bits of golden moneywort, Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea,’ that have outgrown their place in the garden (shown in the pot up top), or snippets of the gold Sedum called ‘Angelina’ (detail, just above) to cascade o

What’s cooking in your pots? -

What’s cooking in your pots?

The Acalypha ‘Giant Leaf,’ splashed with pinky-peaches, gold and green, and my beloved Calibrachoa ‘Terra Cotta’ that I’ve grown flats of each year since it was introduced not long ago, seemed an obvious pairing. The Acalypha, a tropical shrub in its native haunts, will get 2 or 3 feet tall by summer’s end. You probably know what the million bells will do, much like a tiny petunia. I love how it, too, has a mosaic of color…two chameleons in a single big pot.The barrel below, beside by barn, is barely getting started. But in it is a canna called ‘Grande’ with red edges and giant green leaves (I remove the flowers if they ever form), a couple of gold leaf He

Fruit you definitely don’t eat -

Fruit you definitely don’t eat

Birds have already decimated my shadbushes (Amelanchier species), whose fruits I have also eaten on occasion (not bad). And there’s no competing against the birds and chipmunks for the lowbush blueberries.But with the baneberry (which has creamy April blooms, left) and with shrubby Daphne mezereum (fragrant purple flowers then, too) and some other showy creatures in their second glory right now, the fruit is poisonous to humans. The ba

Making mosaics: my video on underplanting - - state Oregon

Making mosaics: my video on underplanting

THE PLANT CATALOGS look delicious, but what plans have you made for where those wishlist items might go, and how many of each do you need to make them really say something in the garden? I love creating mixed plantings of shade treasures–bulbs and perennials, and especially extra-early bloomers–under deciduous trees and shrubs. I call the process “Making Mosaics,” and it’s one of the how-to sidebars in my 2013 book, “The Backyard Parables.” It’s also a video, with photos I’ve taken here at my place.

Urgent garden question: preventing mildew on phlox -

Urgent garden question: preventing mildew on phlox

“The biggest problem I encountered was with the Phlox I planted,” Dan wrote. “The leaves developed a terrible fungus and it slowed its growth terribly. When I first spotted it, I did some research and decided to use an organic fungicide. That worked alright, but the fungus came back. Then, I tried an organic remedy I found on the internet: spraying with a milk solution. That worked less well. The poor plants were so overcome with the black fungus that they eventually withered without flowering late in the summer. I finally cut them down. Now they are starting back with strong green growth and I’m pleased, but I wondered if you had any advice for treating Phlox fungus.”One of the best non-chemical ways to deal with powdery mildew, I replied, which Phlox paniculata is so prone to in our humid summer

Shacked up with big, tender farfugium - - Japan - city New York

Shacked up with big, tender farfugium

My original piece of Farfugium japonicum ‘Giganteum’ (then known as Ligularia tussilaginea ‘Gigantea’) came many years ago, from a friend at a New York City public garden. Summers, it was lusty and bold, growing mightily in a pot and showing off like crazy. But I could never make the plant completely happy in the offseason, or so I thought, and after torturing it in my house one winter and in my basement (trying to force dormancy) the next, I gave the exhausted creature to a friend with a greenhouse.I kept his likeness here with me, and I guess I pined for him: A mid-century tray I’d bought at at antiques store bore an image of Farfugium, though not to scale. The plant bears ultra-shiny leaves that get to about 15 inches across.When I saw its shining face not long ago in the Plant Delights catalog, which credited the same person I’d got

Turn up the heat: hot-colored annuals slideshow -

Turn up the heat: hot-colored annuals slideshow

Click on the first thumbnail to start the slideshow, then toggle from image to image using the arrows beside each caption. Enjoy!If you like begonias, by the way, some past posts have profiled my favorites:Begonia ‘Bonfire’ Begonia ‘Bellfire’ Begonia ‘Dragon Wing Red’ Categoriesannuals & perennials slideshows

Dame’s rocket: asset, or invader? - - Usa - state Wisconsin

Dame’s rocket: asset, or invader?

It seems that dame’s rocket, a short-lived perennial and prodigious sower, is taking up more than its share of the natural spaces it spreads itself into (read: becoming invasive). In my area it is common along roadsides and woodland edges, in the filtered light of those spots, and really breathtaking at its peak. My plants blew in from across the road. But some states, such as Wisconsin, are noting its invasive tendency: the fact that it “escapes cultivation” so easily and takes up space that natives then must yield. Dame’s rocket has been on our shores since the 1600s, so it is no newcomer, but it is not a native American species, hailing from Eurasia. It’s often sold in “wildflower” seed mixes, and in packs by itself.What do you think about our responsibility as gardeners when it comes to growing plants that are non-native, and this enthusiastic? It’s a subject I have a fair degree of knowledge about, having collaborated on “The Natural Habitat Garden” with Ken Druse some years ago and pondered many times since. Including just the other day on this blog when H

Everybody into the pool, er, pots - - Italy - state Oregon

Everybody into the pool, er, pots

I love the look of giant leaves of aroids like Colocasia (shown) and Alocasia looming over the surface of my various water gardens, but always found the “planting” of them difficult: Everybody always wanted to set themselves free and float to the surface, even if I set rocks inside their rims. Naughty babies. So here’s what I do:First, I hold the plant, black plastic nursery pot and all, under water until it stops bubbling and is fully soaked. Then I simply stuff it, black nursery pot and all, into the heaviest terra cot

When the normally tough peony fails to bloom -

When the normally tough peony fails to bloom

Are your peonies getting enough sun, or has a nearby tree or shrub grown and reduced the amount over the years (hence a recent decline in bloom, perhaps)? Nearby trees can pose another challenge: When peonies try to compete with extensive root systems of large woody plants, they can lose…meaning reduced bloom. Peonies ideally want a minimum of six hours of full sun a day (you may be able to skimp a little in the more southern part of their hardiness range, Zone 8).nutrientsOverfeeding peonies, which can even happen inadvertently if they are planted beside a lawn that’s being fertilized heavily, can result in bountiful foliage and no blooms. Best to feed them compost or a balanced, all-natural organic fertilizer (never one high in Nitrogen), or some experts like bone meal. If your soil is good, just a sidedressing each year with compost will do

A list of garden lists (part 1) - - Britain - state Minnesota

A list of garden lists (part 1)

100 Great Plants: From the English newspaper The Telegraph, a list of 100 great garden plants. (An aside: Why don’t our newspapers have garden sections like this one?)The Ambergate Lists: From Ambergate Gardens, Mike and Jean Heger’s nursery in Minnesota, a series of great lists covering topics from plants for deep shade to plants that don’t require frequent division.Vinnie Simeone’s Lists: Vinnie manages historic Planting Fields Arboretum on Long Island, my old stomping grounds, and has taught me many things. His personal website includes links up top to lists as desired as deer-resistant plants and plants for

A dozen unusual nicotiana, from daggawalla - - Argentina - state Oregon

A dozen unusual nicotiana, from daggawalla

I came upon Kollibri (below, curing tobacco leaves), and his farming partner, Nikki, thanks to their listing in the online collective called Local Harvest [dot] org. Why, I wondered, was my endless Nicotiana search, already many pages deep into Google results, taking me there?I knew Local Harvest as a great place to find a nearby CSA farm to buy a share of, or to order farm-made cheeses or meats or even wildcrafted salves and soaps and such—but Nicotiana? Turns out that Kollibri and Nikki are former CSA farmers from the Portland, Oregon, area, and so the connection. And I couldn’t resist their online claim, under their internet store called Daggawalla Seeds and Herbs, founded in 2012 [UPDATE: Daggawalla is h

Hey, big boys: 3 easy tall perennials - - Usa

Hey, big boys: 3 easy tall perennials

I used to grow Joe Pye weed, Eupatorium purpureum (above), in the back row of mixed borders with much smaller perennials. Eventually I relegated all these super-tall types to a bed of their own, where they could shine together instead of be the only bright light in beds with foreground companions who had seen better days, the sometimes-unavoidably tattered heroes of spring and early summer.One other resident of the big bed is Rudbeckia ‘Herbstsonne’ (I also see it listed various places as ‘Herbstonne,’ see comment from Yvonne after the post) or autumn sun coneflower (photo above). It gets to about 8 feet, with a wonderful linear quality and a graceful sway in every breeze.Both of

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