19 December 2012

Still looking good

Here in Michigan, we spend a lot of time with it being winter. I'm not opposed to that -- it is a quiet, restful time, and I like the break. But I still want the garden to look good. So the other day I took the camera out and walked around the Arrowhead Gardens to see what was still gorgeous despite the dark, gray time of year.
First up, Daphnes!
The wonderful 'Audrey Vochins' is STILL flowering. Which is a bit crazy.We've had weather, but still, dropped well into the low 20s. But still flowering. Daphnes are amazing.
Even without flowers, 'Lawrence Crocker' looks great
As does this collection of Daphne xhendersonii varieties, combines with a Thymus 'Lemon Variegated' and the spectacular bark of Pinus bungeana.
In the rock garden, all the dianthus look wonderful
Globularia nana is a green carpet creeping between rocks... can't wait for the lavender flowers come spring. Also can't wait for the cuttings I stuck to get big enough that we can list this gem in the catalog again...
I can't get enough of the spreading silver gorgeousness that is Teucrium 'Mrs. Milstead'
Moving into the shade gardens, Paxistima is a wonderful, underused evergreen ground cover. It takes heat, dry, and cold without complaint and always looks precisely perfect.
Helleborus foetidus is my very favorite of the genus... Admittedly, the flowers aren't that showy, but that FOLIAGE! This is 'Wester Flisk' which has a lovely reddish flush to the leaves in the winter that contrasts to perfection with the chartreuse of the emerging flower spike. We're busy propagating it, people... stand by.
You know by now that I'm obsessed with Cyclamen hederifolium... Can't get enough of them!
Acorus gramineus 'Minima Aurea' is a new obsession of mine. A tiny little grass-like plant with bright gold foliage that can take partial shade... This is a little one I just put in the gardens by the parking lot, hasn't filled in yet, so it looks a bit ratty, but I LOVE the color. And love that it is still that color now.
Finally, a promise of spring... knobby little flower buds on the witch hazel!

21 November 2012

AHHH! My book has a cover!

My editor at Timber Press sent me this yesterday:

The cover design for my book! I still don't quite believe that this is happening... But it is! Coming out in March and... even MORE insane, you can already pre-order it on Amazon. I'm going to be an author! 

18 November 2012

Psycho for cyclamen

I'm nuts about hardy cyclamen. How nuts? Well... Here is a picture of a shirt my oldest brother made for me one Christmas when I was 16 or so.
Yeah... I was so obsessed with cyclamen and wouldn't stop talking about them so he made me this shirt... It is rather faded with age, but I still love it -- and cyclamen!
C. coum was my first love, because it flowers so incredibly early (the same time as snowdrops for me). Like most gardeners, my love of flowers was soon overtaken by an obsession with foliage. Which C. coum also does pretty darn well.
But C. coum, as lovely as it is, now decidedly takes second place to C. hederifolium
Now THAT is pretty epic foliage diversity!
Not only does the amount and pattern of silver vary wildly, leaf shape is crazy too. I love the long leaf forms we've got at Arrowhead. Stock is low at the moment, but I've sown a massive amount of seed, and we should have more before too long.
C. hederifolium wins for me also for its performance in the garden. C. coum is hardy, but never seems to really thrive for me, while C. hederifolium gets beefy and happy and even seeds around a little.
The flowers are pretty epic as well, coming up in huge numbers in the early fall just before the leaves.
White is even better than the normal pink, to my taste anyway.

Most excitingly, to me anyway, we've for some really cool new cyclamen forms coming along here at Arrowhead... Looking through a seedling batch of C. hederifolium, I spotted a few individuals that show a distinct PINK flush to their leaf surfaces!
Admittedly, the pink color isn't that extreme yet, but if this is what is just popping up from open pollinated seed from our stock plants, I'm very hopefully that a little focused breeding and selection will be able to produce a whole new class of brilliant pink flushed C. hederifolium. Stand by! They're going to be all kinds of awesome.
Also cool this year is this C. coum seedling with MASSIVE leaves! Normal sized leaves are at the top for comparison... I'm hoping the flowers are similarly jumbo, and that it comes true from seed. We shall see.

Finally, there is the one that got away...
How incredibly kick ass is this VARIEGATED C. coum? Sadly, it is also incredibly dead. :( That is the depressing bit about variegated plants... they can be easy to kill, hard to propagate, and once gone, there's no way to bring them back. I'm look through every seedling batch of C. coum carefully, hoping against hope that this gorgeous thing will rear its head again, but chances are it won't... Ah well. We can always dream.

08 November 2012

Plants of Portland

I just got back from an exceptionally wonderful week in Portland Oregon. I was there for the Independent Plant Breeder's Conference, and got to spend a couple extra days tooling around checking out amazing gardens and nurseries! Too much fun. Here are some photographic highlights.
 A gorgeous selection of Veronica incana seen at Xera Plants. It is always a great plant, but this is by far the nicest form I've seen. Yes, they sold me a plant, and yes, cuttings are already stuck!
 Want to guess? Buddleia! Yes, this is a butterfly bush! Buddleia colvilei 'Kew Form' to be exact. Excuse me while I stop drooling. Not even close to hardy for us, of course, but still.
Fall color was just about perfect... here's a shot of the Japanese maples in the garden of Dan Heims (as in, Terra Nova) He was one of the organizers of the conference and a perfect host. Thank you Dan!
Japanese maples + moss = Perfection.
Attendees of the conference all busy taking photos of the spectacular maples at the Japanese Garden.
More Japanese maple perfection... I can't get over that PINK one on the left! Amazing.
One of the conference tour stops was Terra Nova... This is where all your heucheras come from. Kinda amazing. It was fun to see behind the scenes a little, and meet some of there breeders. I have to admit, I love their heucheras and kniphofia even more now that I've met Janet Egger, the genius breeder who creates them, and flat out one of the coolest ladies I've ever met.
 Gorgeous planting at Cistus nursery.
More Cistus beauty... I took lots of pictures at Cistus, most of which didn't come out well, so you'll have to use your imagination. Basically, truly amazing collection of gorgeous plants, most of which I could only sigh over, wishing they would be hardy for me.
This just made me sick. It is a bad picture, but this was just one of the many lush, vigorous, flowering blocks of Gentiana acaulis I saw at Edelweiss Perennials. Huge, gorgeous flowers of absolutely perfect blue on plants that were growing like WEEDS. If you've ever tried growing Gentiana acaulis here in the midwest, you'll appreciate my insane envy... I had a little patch that I was inordinately proud of... before it completely shriveled up and died in the baking heat and dry of this summer.

Would you guess this is in Oregon? This was at Rare Plants Research, where again, I walked around looking at gorgeous plants that I could never grow in Michigan...

Besides all the gardens and nurseries and amazing plants, the conference itself was amazing. A veritable who's who of horticulture was attending, I got to meet and hang out with a lot of incredible people and have a terrific time. If you are interested in plant breeding, I highly recommend attending the next one in 2014. Particularly because it is going to be held here in Michigan! Either Lansing or Grand Rapids, I believe, so I'll get a chance to try and make other people jealous of the gorgeous plants we can grow here.

30 September 2012

Do you need a new plant?

Trying to decide if you need more plants? 
This handy-dandy little tool will answer that question every time! (Click to see it full size)

16 September 2012

Bogging it up

I drew this a year or two ago... It was meant as a dramatic exaggeration, but... um... this is what my truck looked like after a trip I took earlier this summer visiting the great plantsman, Stan Tyson:

And yes, that is a pickup truck. The bed was already full.
And those plants are, sarracenia pitcher plants!
This what many of these plants look like growing in a bog garden we visited.
Along with venus fly traps, and sundews. All cool carniverous plants... and growing outside in zone 5 Illinois. I vaguely knew that these were native, hardy plants, but until I saw them growing so happily and beautifully in ground in Illinois it never really struck me what cool and useful garden plants they are.
So, thanks to Stan's incredibly generosity, I loaded up with an amazing collection of pitcher plants, and back at Arrowhead, started preparing them a place to live.
Basically all hardy carniverous plants grow in very acidic, nutrient poor bogs. That's what they catch bugs -- they don't really eat them, they simply break them down as a source of nitrogen and other nutrients. Bugs as fertilizer. (most tropical carnivorous plants grow in another nutrient poor situation -- as epiphytes on the branches of trees.) So, to grow them at the nursery, I've built an artificial bog along the side of one of our greenhouses. We dug out an existing (weedy, over grown) bed, put down a pond liner, and filled it with a mixture of peat and sand.
I divided each plant, and into the bog they went. I've got to say, so far, these are some of the absolutely easiers plants to take care of. With most plants you have to walk the line between over and under watering. These guys want to be totally soggy, so as long as they're not actually submerged, they seem to be pretty happy. The only trick is keeping the water acidic. Most tap water is quite alkaline with disolved minerals, and will bring the pH up too much. Positioning this bed where it catches the runoff from the roof of the greenhouse means they get mostly rainwater, which is what they prefer, only getting water from our well as a last resort.

I'm really excited about this new collection of plants! Once they bulk up a little, we'll be listing them in the catalog. So dramatically beautiful and unlike anything else we grow.

I have the feeling these are just going to be the start of a new obsession... there are so many more sarracenias to collect, not to mention beauties like this gorgeous little sundew:

Flies around the nursery better look out.

28 August 2012

The three rules to growing daphnes

 Gorgeous evergreen foliage, often a dark green so glossy it rivals hollies and puts boxwoods to absolute shame, profuse fragrant flowers in spring that put on encore performances through the summer, and growth habits ranging from big 3-4 foot shrubs to tiny compact mounds less than a foot tall. Daphnes are basically amazing, and you need some. Here's the three things you need to know about enjoying them in your garden.
'Audrey Vochins' is one classy lady.
Rule number 1: Ignore everything the British say.
This is a good general rule for any sort of gardening in the US because our climate is so radically different, but it applies particularly to daphnes. The definitive book on daphnes is by Robin White, a British gentleman who claims that many of the species we grow are tender and require an alpine house to survive winter. Yeah... Come to Arrowhead sometime, and I'll show you massive 20 some year old bushes of all sorts of daphnes that have sailed as happily as can be through many a brutal Michigan winter. I'm not sure if it is the misty-moisty British weather they hate, or the lack of summer heat that doesn't allow them to fully harden their new growth before winter, but whatever the reason, daphnes really seem to prefer our climate to that of England, and are much tougher, hardier, more reliable plants than you've probably been lead to believe.
D. xhendersonii 'Fritz Kummert' as cute as a button with a smattering of summer reblooms
Rule number 2: Drainage, drainage, drainage.
Daphnes hate wet feet. Loath it, as it opens them up for attack by their one nemesis. Daphnes are generally stunningly pest and disease resistant, I've never seen any sort of insect munching on them, deer and rabbits ignore them, and never does a speck of mildew or rust or any other sort of fungus mar their leaves. Their one weakness, however, is a root rot called phytopthora. It is usually a problem on heavy wet soils and when it shows up infected plants up and die dramatically almost overnight. The solution is simple: drainage. If you have sandy soil, as we do at Arrowhead, you can grow daphnes anywhere. If not, a raised bed of sand or a rock garden will grow happy daphnes even if your soil is the thickest clay. Then all you have to do is resist the urge to over-water them. At Arrowhead, we never water the daphnes in the garden, and they never seem to mind. Even during this brutally hot, dry summer when the toughest plants were dropping like flies, the daphnes sailed through rainless weeks of temperatures reaching 100 without batting an eye.
Other than drainage, daphnes aren't too picky. Full sun is best, though they'll take part shade (expect fewer flowers), and they are one of those happy plants that grows on acid or alkaline soils.
D. burkwoodii NOT aging gracefully
Rule number 3: Don't plant 'Carol Mackie'
My love of daphnes was severely hindered by the fact that until I started spending time at Arrowhead, the only daphne I'd seen was the variegated cultivar of D. burkwoodii, 'Carol Mackie'. Problem is, Carol is one trashy lady. Where most daphnes have an elegant, tight growth habit, she, and the other D. burkwoodii cultivars get tall and leggy and then flop in a most repulsive, unladylike fashion. Though the spring flower display is nice, rebloom is marginal to non-existent.
Variegated D. burkwoodii cultivars looking pretty darn nice
To be honest, D. burkwoodii isn't ALL bad. The front walk to Brigitta's house is lined with several of them and they look stunning. But though they have their place, they're far from the best of this exquisite genus, so put off Carol and the rest of her ilk, start with some of these:

D. xhendsersonii loaded with blooms... again!
D. xhendersonii
This hybrid grex is my hands-down favorite group. Fragrant, great rebloom on most varieties in the summer, and the best growth habit. You could sheer your favorite boxwood every other day and never get a the perfect, tight little dome of leaves that a xhendersonii will produce without you doing a thing, AND the leaves will look better and never show a speck of insect damage.
Daphne xhendersonii -- perfect foliage, even without blooms.
 Not to mention the fact that they'll cover themselves with flowers at least twice a year. Hard to beat that. Usually less than a foot tall, and about twice as wide, these are perfect for even the smallest garden or container.

A little baby 'Kilmeston'
This is a tiny little guy, only a couple inches tall, with a spreading growth habit, almost a ground cover. The foliage isn't nearly as nice as most other daphnes, but makes up for it with the most profuse flowering of the lot. The photo above is a little baby one that went into the garden quite recently, and I could have taken a picture of this plant almost any day of the summer and have it looking the same, liberally covered with small, fragrant flowers. Even the newly rooted cuttings fresh out of propagation in the greenhouse are generally a mass of blooms. Probably because it is so busy blooming all the time, this is a slower grower than most, but SO worth it. Tuck it in at the edge of a raised bed where it can trail over the edge and you will be a very happy person. Also, everyone who visits your garden will be overcome with jealously, which will make you even happier.
D. caucasica 'Variegata'
D. caucasica
If you want a larger daphne, D. caucasica is one of the best, eventually forming a roughly 3 foot sphere of wonderfully grey-green foliage. Profuse fragrant white flowers in the spring, and generally excellent rebloom again in late summer. For an extra kick, 'Variegata' has lovely white margined foliage that you really need. For a similar growth habit with a darker green, glossy foliage, and pink flowers Daphne 'Matens' and its variegated sport, 'Audrey Vochins' are spectacular as well.
So that is the low down on daphnes. If you've grown then, especially in very different climates, I'd love to hear about your experiences. Also (not really related to anything...) can I just say that it is incredibly annoying that Daphne is also a woman's name? Makes googling it a pain. I wish there was an option to filter out all non-plant results from my searches.