Delightful Plants

Our perennial plant specialist David G drove the sprinter to Pine Knot Farms to pick up a large order of hellebores for our March hellebore festival. I wrote about that trip last week. David is a very serious and enthusiastic hort head – this is just one of many reasons why he is a treasured member of our group. As soon as he knew the plan to go to Pine Knot Farms, he started talking about Plant Delights Nursery.  Not that I wasn’t aware of Tony Avent. He is a highly respected grower who specializes in rare, native and otherwise interesting perennial plants. His catalogue is as readable and entertaining as it is loaded with information about those plants he loves and grows. I have never ordered from him, as the heyday of my perennial gardening was many years ago. David was very keen to go on from Pine Knot to Plant Delights. Why not? It was close by. The drive back to Michigan would be a long one. Once our hellebore order was picked up, he had the rest of the day available. He needed an overnight before the long drive home. He had ordered from them on line before, but what a hort treat it would be to visit in person. How could I not give him the go ahead?

He did pester me regularly before his trip south about whether I was interested in him picking up any plants for me at Plant Delights. I shrugged off his question long enough to see him off.  Once he was on the road, I read the catalogue from start to finish. The idea that he would be able to see the plants in person, and talk to me about them sounded great.  Oh yes, I made a list.  At the top of that list, a Chinese tree peony species, Paeonia Ostii. The catalogue description made it sound irresistible. A tree peony with a mature size of 4′-5′, that would have 100 white blooms or better at maturity-what gardener would not long to have one? Lurking in the background was the memory of the perennial gardens I cultivated in my late 20’s and my early 30’s, and how much I enjoyed them.  As long as I was at it, 3 of these peonies sounded better than one.  As long as I had the idea to dive in, why not dive deep? I was ready when David called. Did I have a mind to buy some plants?  Yes, I did.

Subsequent to making a decision to speak for 3 of these peonies, of course I had to round out and beef up my order.  None of my additional selections relate to each other. I just liked the sounds or the looks of them. Be advised that, unlike many other gardeners, I am not a plant collector. That is, until that moment David called me asking if there was anything else I wanted to add to those 3 peonies. Of course I did. It was a moment that might not come again anytime soon. I put together a collection. In my office now is a small collection of fabulous perennial plants from Plant Delights. Those paeonia ostii flowers that came in to bloom on David’s trip back were incredibly fragrant. My office was suffused with the perfume of this peony. Intoxicating that – the fragrance of that peony, and the arrival of some very special and interesting plants.

Some of the plants I spoke for were still dormant. I have 3 arisaema “Crossing Over” that I potted up that are just about to break ground. This jack in the pulpit will mature at 30″ tall.  Other plants were in full bloom, given a run of warm weather in North Carolina. I knew David would look over every plant before he spoke for it. The two of us were having a really great time. He was shopping too. We shared a moment about plants that I will not soon forget. My stash of plants was not that big, but each and every one would be treasured.  I have been keeping them in my drawing studio, as it has been much too wintry to plant them in the ground at home. To follow are some pictures of my choices.

Epimediums tolerate dry shade. They do not increase in size fast, but each and every one of them is a treasure asking for a special place in a shade garden.  The flowers of Epimedium “Pink Champagne” are extraordinarily beautiful.

stunning, this.

polygonatum odoratum “Angel Wing”.  Solomon’s seal is a favorite shade plant.  The variegation on this cultivar, which will eventually be white, is exceptional.

clematis ochroleuca “Bald Knob”, introduced by Plant Delights, is a shrubby clematis growing 15″ by 15″, and sports nodding white bells.  Sounds good to me.

seed head on this clematis

adonis amurensis “Fukujukai” has gorgeous semi double yellow flowers in very early spring. I hope to have a flower or 2 next year.

David did get me a trillium decipiens from John Lonsdale, who was showing and selling his plants at Pine Knot Farms.  I added a pair of trillium underwoodii from Plant Delights.

I did lose what little control I had when it came to the lady slipper orchids. I spoke for 5 Cypripedium “Phillip”, a hybrid of the native Michigan showy lady slipper orchid, cypepedium reginae. I have a memory of a field of them in bloom in an open sunny cedar bog in the upper peninsula of Michigan in June, some 35 years ago.  A bouquet of them in a restaurant led me to purchase 3 clumps of them from a property owner near by.  I had those plants for many years, and left them in place when I sold the house. To have them again in my garden sounds so good. One of these plants is due to bloom-I cannot wait. And of course there are 3 of the yellow lady slipper orchids-cypripedium parviflorum pubescens.

Now that I have these plants, where will I plant them? I have plans to change some areas in my landscape –  not just for this group of perennial plants, but for these and more. We’ll see where this small foray into buying plants goes.

Plant Delights   Plan to be delighted.





Be Picky About Perennials

pereennial garden  I know the title of this post sounds heartless, but there is no need to plant every plant you can find in your garden unless you are young, you want to learn by doing, and you have acreage. If this is not your situation, there is nothing wrong with being choosy. The fact of the matter is that no perennial plant is without its shortcomings. Some fall over, or seed relentlessly. Some are disease prone, or beloved of bugs. Others fail to perform unless they have a full time nanny. Still others would grow in your bedroom window if you take your eyes off of them. Still others have a painfully awkward habit of growth, or an incredibly short life span. Those perennials with nondescript or poor foliage – I will not plant them. I make a point of seeing new hybrid introductions in test gardens, as I am fiercely protective of what plants I give ground to in my own yard, or my client’s gardens. I designed and planted the garden pictured above 15 years ago. This year I will redo it.  I suspect my plant palette will be different. I like plants that deliver and endure.

double bloodrootThis said, I routinely break my own rules. I would plant double bloodroot, knowing that their yearly bloom time might be a few hours, and their foliage dies back in the blink of an eye. I would attempt to grow roses, even though they come with a long list of do’s and don’t’s. I like snakeroot, even though there flower stems droop.  The joy of my garden? My choices may be thoughtful or capricious. Either is fine. No one will be stopping by this week, or any week, to grade my garden. For good or for ill, and thankfully, I am in charge of my garden decisions. No one cares or ever will care more about my garden than I do. So I do think through my decisions about what to plant. I will have no one else to blame for my bloopers. I may ignore my own advice when I am so inclined. I make mistakes, most of which make me laugh. I should have known better. Be assured that I have planted lots of perennials that languished and died. I have planted even more that I wish would die. A poorly performing perennial that struggles back year after year to no good end – nothing makes me more furious than a mediocre performance from a plant.

Walters Gardens astilbe Visions in PinkYou may find fault with my notion that plants in my garden need to perform. So let me visit the idea of performance. A garden is a terrific amount of work, much of which is not all that much fun. I like plants that reward my efforts with their beauty. A great performing plant is a plant whose habit, substance, hardiness, flowers and foliage are equally beautiful.  The Visions series of astilbe come very close to this level.  They do remarkably well in open shade, and are tolerant of full sun if they have sufficient water.  The foliage is glossy and healthy all season long. The flower stalks are sturdy. They are hardy in my zone.

blue delphiniumIt’s a rare gardener who is not besotted by the sight of a well grown stand of blue delphinium. The day they come into full bloom is the June day we will have a driving rainstorm that will take most of them down to the ground. You can see the support strings in this picture from the RHS. But there are ways to limit your exposure to disaster. Thin mature clumps, to promote good air circulation and discourage fungus. Pinch them back early, for more sturdy stems.  Plant the smaller growing species, d. belladonna or d. ballamosum, or shorter growing hybrids, as opposed to the exhibition sized varieties. If you buy seed for delphiniums bred in England or New Zealand, consider their climate before you try to grow them in Wyoming. If you must have those big delphiniums, be good natured about the aphids and the less than wonderful foliage once the bloom is finished. Don’t forget to feed and feed again.

pure peonies    Every living thing is flawed one way or another. This includes me, and my opinions about what perennial plants I would recommend. I have a point of view based on my experience, patience, and . None of the aforementioned Some flaws are charming.  Other flaws are deal breakers.  I avoid plants that are not truly hardy in my zone. I also pass by those plants that need and thrive in an environment that I cannot provide.  A flawless perennial is even rarer. It may not even exist. It would have gorgeous foliage, a long and heavy bloom time, a weatherproof habit of growth, good resistance to disease and bugs, a minimum in hands on maintenance – as in deadheading, division, staking, feeding or any other attention, perfectly hardy ands winter tolerant in my zone, adaptability to a wide range of light and soil conditions, a long life span, a healthy respect for the plants next door, vigor without aggression, a compact habit, great substance, early to show and late to go down-am I missing anything? This photograph of a hedgerow of the peony “Moonstone”, from Pure Peonies, is a good example of a perennial that is worth a second look. If you love perennial plants, pick and choose what to grow.