Years ago I was given a border pink named Heart’s Desire. A border pink is a group of Dianthus perennials that are used for border edging or rock gardens. They are small plants with gray green, grass-like leaves. They prefer full sun and are drought tolerant once established. Dianthus flowers range from pink to red, have the same ruffled look as a carnation, with the same clove fragrance as a carnation. But a Dianthus is a much smaller plant, a mound of foliage less than a foot wide with inch-wide blossoms on 6-inch stems. Heart’s Desire, a Blooms of Bressingham introduction, is bubblegum pink with a red halo.
Dianthus flowers are edible but fortunately deer don’t eat them. For my family, I pull apart the petals to add color to green or fruit salads and lemonade or fruit drinks. I also cut the flowers for small vases in the office. This plant is a performer — it has thrived on a sunny terrace in my Virginia garden with no maintenance and no fertilizer for many years. Heart’s Desire blooms all summer long and the leaves stay above ground during the winter.
Last fall, a friend gave me the root of her bleeding heart plant she called Fred. Unfortunately it was some time before I could get the root from her that by the time I did, it was very dry and hard. I soaked it in a tub of water for a day before I planted it. It was so desiccated, I did not think it would make it through the winter. But this spring I was pleasantly surprised by a tuft of foliage peeking through the soil. Fred is alive! Since March, Fred has produced beautiful fern-like leaves and nodding racemes of pendulous blossoms. Each blossom looks like an earring or a puffy locket on a chain and is actually comprised of two outer rose-colored petals and the two inner white petals. If you turn the flower upside down and pull the rose petals apart you will see the lady in a bath. Lady-in-a-bath is another moniker for bleeding heart.
Bleeding heart is an herbaceous perennial that prefers a woodsy environment with moist soil that is high in organic matter. Some shade is best, can be morning sun and afternoon shade or dappled light. With such delicate foliage, you would think that rabbits would decimate bleeding hearts but both rabbits and deer do not seem interested in this perennial. However, by June the leaves do get yellow and ratty and eventually the plant goes dormant as summer’s heat arrives. In order to prevent a gap in the garden, other herbaceous perennials such as hardy geraniums or hostas can grow to fill in the gap during the summer or annuals can be planted in its place.
Garden Bloggers Bloom Day is the 15th of each month.
Although it looks like a three-leaf clover because of its trifoliate leaf structure, a shamrock plant is actually a species of Oxalis. These green or burgundy foliage plants are often sold as novelty houseplants, especially around St. Patrick’s Day. The small flowers rise high above the leaves with five white or pink to white petals. Most people grow them as houseplants but they can be grown outdoors in the summer here in Virginia. Because they are small, it is best to grow them in containers (off the ground level) for better viewing. Shamrock plants grow from rhizomes called pips which can rot if overwatered so it is best to let the soil dry out a little between watering. Eventually the plant will go through a dormant period and produce more pips that can be dug up for more plants.
The plant is best grown in indirect light with cool temperatures. Usually it is only after you purchase the plant that you learn of its charm: the leaves move up and down every day. In the daytime, at maximum light, the leaves are horizontal or open. By nightfall, when light levels are reduced, the leaves bend down almost as if the plant is wilting. Don’t worry, this is normal and does not mean that you have to water.
Shamrocks are beautiful houseplants but there is one caveat: they do not combine well with pets. Oxalis contains a high level of oxalic acid, which can be poisonous.
Probably one of the more common summer flowers is the Shasta daisy (Leucanthemum x superbum) yet surprisingly it took Luther Burbank, an American botanist and horticulturist, 17 years to develop this hybrid. Inspired by oxeye daises in his Massachusetts hometown, Luther wanted to create an improved daisy plant with larger flowers, a sturdier plant structure, and a longer blooming period. He wanted the petals to be as white as the snow on California’s Mt. Shasta. In the late 1800s, he crossed the oxeye daisy with an English field daisy and then a Portuguese field daisy and a Japanese field daisy. The new species, really a quadruple hybrid, was introduced in 1901. Since then, others have continued his work and to date there are many different cultivars of Shasta daisies.
Shasta daisies are herbaceous perennial plants, about 2 feet tall and hardy to zone 5. They are deer and rabbit resistant and drought-resistant when established. My plants get morning sun and afternoon shade but they can be grown in full sun. The flowers attract butterflies and bees and are excellent for cutting and arranging in vases, which is encouraged to promote continuous blooming. Depending on the cultivar, Shasta daisies can bloom from May to September. Cultivars vary in the number and arrangement of the outer white petals, from a simple, single row to a double row, to frilly or shaggy.
Mine is a Blooms of Bressingham introduction called ‘Freak’ and it has just the right amount of “frilliness” for me. I have had mine for 3 years now with no problems, no pests or diseases. It seems to have expanded which is good because it will soon be time to divide and place in other areas of the garden. If you want to read up on Shasta daisies, the Chicago Botanic Garden trialed 36 cultivars from 1999 to 2006 to identify outstanding cultivars for the northern gardens (my Freak was introduced after the study). Check out https://www.chicagobotanic.org/downloads/planteval_notes/no30_leucanthemum.pdf
The 15th of every month is Garden Bloggers Bloom Day where gardeners across the country post about plant that is blooming.
Eight years ago I wrote an article for Chesapeake Home magazine about hardy geraniums. I interviewed Faye Brawner, then president of the International Geranium Society and author of Geranium: The Complete Encyclopedia (Schiffer, 2003). She recommended Geranium macrorrhizum as a “workhorse.” Fortunately, I spied this workhorse shortly afterwards at a plant sale so I brought it home to see how well it would do in my Virginia garden.
Today this plant thrives under a linden tree (morning sun and afternoon shade) and blooms every spring with purple/pink flowers. Geranium macrorrhizum, or big root geranium, serves as a weed-suppressing, foot-high groundcover, untouched by deer and rabbits. In the fall, the green palmate leaves turn reddish bronze but most of the plant remains above ground during the winter. In early spring the leaves green up again and the flowers bloom from April to May. Although the flowers bloom high above the plant, they are reminiscent of apple blossoms, small and five petals. However, these flowers have very long stamens that protrude, resulting in a long fruit pod that resembles a crane’s beak. Hardy geraniums are often sold as “cranesbills.”
I also interviewed Robin Parer who owns Geraniaceae.com, an online nursery devoted to geraniums. Robin suggested many other hardy geraniums which I am now trying in my garden. Hardy geraniums, she explained, are the species Geranium, and are cousins to the species Pelargonium, which are the bedding geraniums with the summer flowers. So far the hardy geraniums are proving to be ideal perennials and I am looking forward to reading her new book, The Plant Lover’s Guide to Hardy Geraniums (Timber Press, 2016).
Garden Bloggers Bloom Day is the 15th of the month, check out this link for other articles: http://www.maydreamsgardens.com
Years ago I lived in Maryland in a new townhouse development with stringent homeowner association rules. No fences were allowed and if that weren’t bad enough, the back of the property led into a forested area. Deer were rampant; they thought nothing of coming right up to the back door. When I told the local nursery folks, they suggested beauty bush (Kolkwitzia amabilis). Sure enough, beauty bush was deer resistant but it provided color and interest just once in the spring when it bloomed small pink flowers. For the rest of the summer, it was just a green bush.
When we moved to our Northern Virginia home a dozen years ago, there was an old beauty bush next to the neighbor’s property. The bush has bloomed faithfully every spring and is really a small tree, about 7 feet tall with several narrow trunks. The neighbor’s house existed during the civil war, I think the beauty bush is that old. I would have never bought a beauty bush again but a few years ago Proven Winners sent me a new cultivar called ‘Dream Catcher’.
Dream Catcher is a find, it is worth buying regardless if you have a deer problem or not. In the spring, the new leaves unfurl a bright lime green color. In April and May, the bush is covered with small, pink buds and pale pink flowers with yellow centers. By summer the flowers disappear and the bush remains chartreuse. It really lights up a shady area. In the fall, the leaves turn orange bronze, providing three-season interest.
My bushes are about 5 feet tall and 4 feet wide. I don’t do anything to them other than prune lightly after flowering to keep the height manageable. No disease, no pest, no fertilizer. They are hardy to zone 4, can tolerate poor soil, and seems to live in a range of light from full sun to morning sun-afternoon shade to light shade. Here in Virginia in zone 7, they do best with a little shade to maintain the chartreuse color during the hot summers. I nominate Dream Catcher for Garden Bloggers Bloom Day; it is a eye-catching, dream shrub for the landscape.
Emerald Creeper is not something that grows in my Northern Virginia garden but I was lucky to see it flower last week so I just had to share these photos with fellow gardeners on Garden Bloggers Bloom Day. Known for its turquoise colored flowers, which is an extremely rare color in the plant world, Emerald Creeper produces dozens of long pendent trusses, also called pseudoracemes, with claw-shaped flowers. In fact, the only way I was able to see such an exquisite flower was by visiting the U.S. Botanic Garden’s Conservatory in Washington DC. Few botanical gardens have the Emerald Creeper, which is rapidly becoming an endangered species. Native to the Philippines, this tropical vine lives in rainforests that are being decimated.
A member of the bean family, Emerald Creeper produces pea pods about 2 inches long but these are even rarer to see. The vine is pollinated by bats that hang upside down on the inflorescences to drink the nectar. Because there are no bats in glass houses, staff would have to mimic the way the bats enter the flower in order to hand pollinate.
The botanical name intrigued me. Strongylodon macrobotrys comes from the Greek word “strongylos” which means “round,” and “odontus” which means “tooth” and refers to the rounded teeth of the calyx. In the specific epithet, the Greek word “macros” means “large” and “botrys” means “grape-like clusters.” I can see all of that but “grape” escapes me!