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
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!
Today is Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day where garden bloggers across the country post photos of blossoms on the 15th of the month. Although it is snowing today in Virginia, I am happy that spring is around the corner and “snow” in another form will appear soon in my garden. For many years now I have enjoyed Deutzia ‘Chardonnay Pearls’, a small, deciduous shrub that leafs out in March and covers itself with tiny, pearl-like buds in April. From April through May, the buds open to white, bell-shaped flowers, complementing the light green leaves. When my Deutzia ‘Chardonnay Pearls’ is in full bloom it looks like a snow-capped hill. Like snow, the flowers gently fall to the ground as they past their prime, melting and disappearing within the soil.
In the summer, the small shrub provides light green color in an otherwise dark corner of the garden. Some people say the leaves are lemon-lime colored; some say chartreuse, but mine are light green (I have another true chartreuse shrub near it so I can see the difference). The species has leaves of a darker green and grows taller, about 5 feet. Although the flowers are delicate, all deutzia shrubs are well-known for being pest, disease, and deer resistant. Proven Winners sent me my plant 9 years ago when it was a baby, only a few inches high. Since then it has matured into a 3-foot shrub and I do not expect it to grow any more. Mine is on the east side of the house where it receives morning sun and afternoon shade. Although that particular garden bed has well-drained soil, high in organic matter, the plant can tolerate a wide range of soils. Hardy to zone 5, Deutzia ‘Chardonnay Pearls’ thrives despite snowy winters and dry summers.
This past August and September has seen little rain in Northern Virginia, which is highly unusual. I am forced to water with my hose or watering can, which I don’t particularly enjoy. Except for the veggies and the new kids on the block, my other garden residents better be tough enough to make it without my constant attention. Yesterday, while watering a new kid on the block, a Proven Winners hydrangea given to me to trial, I noticed that one of my veterans has bloomed consistently during this dry period. Gaura or Gaura lindheimeri is an herbaceous perennial native to Texas and Louisiana, which explains its heat and humidity tolerance. Gaura grows to about 4 feet tall but really is a clump of leaves at ground level from which many wire-thin stems sway back and forth while butterflies try to land on the small, white flowers. Drought and deer resistant, gaura has bloomed every year for me in full sun with no pests or diseases. I have heard that gaura self-seeds but in my garden I consider myself lucky to find one new seedling in the spring. My plants are so old I don’t even know where I got them but they are easy to find in local nurseries and now there is a wider variety from which to choose — shorter stems or variations of flower colors. Gaura is my nomination for September’s Garden Bloggers Bloom Day!
Sugar Tip double flowers
Today is Garden Bloggers Bloom Day, the 15th of the month. Seven years ago, I was given a cultivar of the rose of Sharon shrub called Sugar Tip (Hibiscus syriacus) by Proven Winners Color Choice. I was unsure as I knew rose of Sharon plants were weedy, self-seeders. Like tall, thin cowboys, they provide lanky silhouettes across our Virginia countryside, too common to actually purchase and plant in one’s garden. But I had a particular space against the back fence that needed shrubs in full sun so I planted the cowboys, knowing they could take anything. Fortunately for me, my Sugar Tip plants grew to be large, robust shrubs, about 6 feet tall and 4 feet wide. Although their shape is still vase-like at the bottom, at the top they are broad enough to screen out the view of the neighbors in the back forty. Unlike the species, Sugar Tip’s foliage is variegated green and cream and the entire bush is studded with pink, double flowers that look more like roses than the few simple, hibiscus-like flowers on the species.
Sugar Tip buds
In addition to beauty, my Sugar Tip shrubs grow in full sun, too far away from the garden hose, so the only water they receive is rain. Rose of Sharon is a “low maintenance,” deciduous shrub, tolerant of our Virginia heat and humidity. I never fertilize and I don’t prune (or worse, spend time deadheading the spent flowers), yet my Sugar Tip bushes thrive in the summer and bloom continuously until the fall. Try growing a variegated rose of Sharon cultivar such as Sugar Tip instead of the species and you will be pleasantly surprised.
Sugar Tip variegated leaves