A single blossom on a young Calycanthus ‘Aphrodite” in my Virginia garden
I have been admiring Carolina allspice (Calycanthus floridus) in other people’s gardens for a few years, taking photos whenever I can. This is such a beautiful plant I don’t know why other people don’t grow it more often. A native, deciduous shrub, Carolina allspice grows to 5 to 8 feet tall, is deer resistant, and has no major pests/diseases. The leaves are green and large for a small bush and the brown red flowers bloom all summer long. Pollinated by beetles, the 2-inch flowers look like a cross between a star magnolia (outer strap-shaped petals) and a lotus (curved inner petals with a central, raised button). In the fall, the leaves turn golden yellow.
Calycanthus ‘Aphrodite’ at High Glen Gardens looks like a cross between a star magnolia and a lotus blossom
Fortunately Spring Meadow Nursery read my mind and sent me the cultivar Aphrodite two years ago as part of their Proven Winners ColorChoice collection. Aphrodite’s flowers are redder than the species and are supposed to smell like apples. In my Virginia garden, my 3-foot tall youngster is thriving under the edge of a red maple’s canopy, so it receives partial sun. This past week, Aphrodite bloomed for the first time.
I cut the flower and put it in a vase. There was no scent but I have read that young plants do not always have a fragrance. Apparently this attribute comes with maturity. I did crush a leaf though and the camphor scent was nice, almost lemony. It reminded me of a friend who would put eucalyptus branches in her car so the heat would release a pleasant scent. The bark too was aromatic when I scratched it. Mark Catesby said the bark was as “odoriferous as cinnamon” although I think the scent is more like a cross between lemon and camphor. When my plant matures and I get more flowers I will use them for flower arrangements. In addition to the flowers, I could use the leaves and branches for potpourris. But I think I will pass on the car trick, it may create a strong odor, more like a disinfectant.
Regardless of its scent, Carolina allspice is a great shrub for the Washington DC metro area. Aphrodite certainly holds great promise in my garden.
Mature shrubs of Calycanthus ‘Aphrodite” at High Glen Gardens, Frederick, MD
Baptisia ‘Lemon Meringue’ photo courtesy of Proven Winners
Baptisia, also called false indigo, is an herbaceous perennial shrub that performs well in our hot and humid summers. Recent breeding efforts have expanded the range of flower colors requiring a new look into an old favorite. I myself have falling in love with two top performers according to Mt. Cuba Center’s 15-page report, Baptisia for the Mid-Atlantic Region. The Mt. Cuba Center’s Trial Garden, managed by George Coombs, research horticulturist, evaluates native plants and their related cultivars. From 2012 to 2015, staff evaluated 46 selections of Baptisia including representatives from 11 species to determine which performs best in the mid-Atlantic region. Over 60 percent of the plants tested receive 4 or 5 stars. Among those, 10 superior cultivars outperformed the rest. Fortunately for me my two recent Baptisia additions to my garden are included in the ten.
Pea-like flowers, photo courtesy of Proven Winners
This year I acquired two Lemon Meringue and two Dutch Chocolate plants. They are small now so a photo won’t give you the full flavor of their beautiful flowers but I was able to borrow Proven Winners‘ photos of what my plants should look like when they grow up. Baptisia plants die back every fall and comes back in the spring. By summer, the plants will have grown to their mature height of about 3 x 3 feet each year. However, they do not like to be moved so give them plenty of space when you do plant them. Chances are the nursery plants will be young thus small but they will grow into full bushes once established in the garden. In May, pea-like flowers bloom on tall spikes, similar to lupines. In the fall, pods appear, which can be used for dried flower arrangements. Baptisia plants are deer resistant, heat and humidity tolerant, and drought tolerant once established. These natives make great additions to the garden and the new cultivars increases the color selection.
Baptisia ‘Dutch Chocolate’, photo courtesy of Proven Winners
Posted in flowers, plants
Tagged Baptisia, deer resistant, Dutch Chocolate, herbaceous, Lemon Meringue, Mt. Cuba Center, native, perennial, Proven Winners, shrub, trial
Lady in Black aster at Derwood, September 2014
I love participating in giveaways for gardening items and plants. Recently, I won a flat of fifty asters from New Moon Nursery, a New Jersey-based, wholesale company that specializes in Eastern native plants. The gift was actually a flat of any plant they had in stock and I specifically asked for Aster lateriflorus ‘Lady in Black’. I first saw Lady in Black last fall at the Master Gardener Demonstration Gardens at the Agricultural History Farm Park in Derwood, Maryland. I was struck by mass of pretty small flowers and the colorful foliage. Also known as calico aster, this particular type of aster grows to 3 feet, has purple black leaves, and blooms small, daisy-like white and purple pink flowers in September and October. Drought tolerant when established, Lady in Black is a low maintenance, native plant known for attracting butterflies but not attracting rabbits and deer.
Fifty asters in flat, September 2015
I was excited to get the asters but fifty plants! What was I going to do? I barely had the space for five let alone fifty! And even if I had the space, it was too hot and dry to plant in the ground, the small roots would shrivel up in no time. These plants were in a 50-cell, deep plug tray which means that each plant was only about 2 inches in diameter with a 4-inch depth. Planting them in the ground now during the current drought and high temperatures would only kill them. Yet leaving them in the flat all winter long would also kill them. For now, I put the flat in a place in the garden that received morning sun and afternoon shade to reduce the heat and stress and watered every few days. Later in the month, when the heat diminishes, I will plant all fifty in my melon patch, which is a new bed in full sun, but vacant now as melon season has passed. The little asters will live in the melon patch over the winter in a holding pattern (alive but not growing) while their roots dig down for moisture and insulation. In May, I will transplant most of them into small plastic containers and plant the ones I want to keep elsewhere in my own garden. So friends and family, next year I will be sharing about 40 native aster plants, lovely perennials with beautiful fall flowers!