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.

18 August 2012

Exploring Erodium

I'm getting all geeked about the genus Erodium. Previously, I'd never really thought much about them, I'd sort of mentally classified them as being basically like Pelargonium, and assumed they wouldn't survive the winter.

How much I had to learn.

 First I noticed this incredible flower on E. cheilanthifolium and fell a little bit in love.

Then I saw this massive patch of Erodium chrysanthum's gorgeous silver, ferny foliage in one of the rock gardens here at Arrowhead and realized, wait... at least some of these things are hardy!

And with that, a new love affair had begun. I'm still a novice Erodio-phile, so please chime in if you know more about any of these, or know other species that I should be growing!

Firstly, since you just saw the foliage, these are the flowers of E. chrysanthum. Yum. The palest, palest possible yellow. It gives a sprinkling of flowers in the spring, and follows it up with another one now-and-again throughout the summer. Though frankly, with that foliage, who needs flowers? Totally hardy at Arrowhead.
Almost all the erodiums, like this wee little baby E. glandulosum I just planted in the Arrowhead trial garden, have a distinctive growth habit, with a tidy little mass of leaves at the base, and then then flowers dancing gracefully at the end of long stems well above the leaves. I absolutely love the look, especially since the flowers move gracefully with the slightest breeze. It is, however, devilishly hard to photograph. So I resorted to pulling bits off the plants and laying them on the ground.

Here's E. glandulosum (left) and E. cheilanthifolium (right) I love both of them very very much. Chelianthifolium's coloring is a bit more dramatic, but is reportedly only hardy to zone 6, while E. glandulosum is supposed to be hardy all the way to zone 4. I'm really hoping that zone 6 is an underestimate. I've planted some outside, and we'll see if I can prove them to be hardy here in zone 5. Both of these are good bloomers, with a heavy flush in the spring, and periodic flowering throughout the summer.

This is the hot pink trio I am having trouble telling apart. From left to right, E. maniscovii, E. circutarium, and E. carvifolium. Though each species has slightly different flowers and foliage, the over-all effect is the same. Ferny leaves topped with a constant supply of vivid magenta flowers. E. maniscovii and E. carvifolium are both reported as only hardy to zone 6, though the big plants of E. maniscovii in the garden here at Arrowhead tells another at-least-zone-5-hardy story. E. circutarium is supposed to be an annual... which makes me think that what we have as that at Arrowhead must be something else altogether, because out plants are certainly several years old. I appreciate the steady flowering of these species, but I don't love them... a bit coarse and ill-bred. And magenta. Not my favorite color.
So how about a big dose of cuteness? E. chamaedryoides 'Charm' is perhaps the more adorable little plant in the history of the universe. 

Little teeny-tiny baby pink flowers dancing just above a perfect tight little mound of dense green foliage. 
The double form, 'Flora Plena' is nice too, but nice quite as graceful. The plants in these photos are from the production greenhouses at Arrowhead, and you could literally walk in any day since March and see plants looking exactly like that. Hot, dry, cold, wet, nothing seems to phase them, they just keep on blooming.The bad news? They're not quite as hardy as the rest. Not reliable here in zone 5 Michigan, though they'll come through a mild winter or in a nice sheltered, well-drained spot. I think I'm going to try to overwinter some inside on the windowsill this year as well. They are so tiny and easy going it shouldn't be hard, and it is hard to imagine a houseplant that could lift the winter doldrums more than these little nuggets.

So. That's everything I know about my latest plant crush. What do you think? Any favorites you love that I'm missing? 

15 August 2012

Want some free irises? Check this out.

Hey folks, my very dear friend and all-around amazing guy Kelly Norris wrote a (fun, gorgeous, wonderful) book about bearded irises, and he's giving it away, along with a collection of actual irises from his nursery. Head here to find out how to win: http://www.beardedirises.info/pinterest-contest-and-book-giveaway/

12 August 2012

Playing with weeds

You all know what this is, I suppose. Plantago major, the plantain. Also, apparently, called white man's footstep because it is a European plant that moved across America as rapidly as European humans did and is now of course firmly established as a weed in our lawns, road-sides, and other disturbed areas.
I've always sort of like plantain. One summer as a kid I spent days on end collecting seed from all the plantains in our yard, and carefully threshing and cleaning the seed, pretending I was a farmer harvesting grain.
As an adult my odd love of plantain has taken a new form... There are various interesting forms of this plant out there -- variegated, red leaved, etc. I've been collecting them up and breeding them together to produce new forms. Including this:
What do you think? It has been a side project I've never been terribly serious about because, after all, it is a weed, but... that is actually kind of nice. I'm thinking of calling it Plantago 'Purple Perversion' because alliteration makes me giggle, and you would have to be a little perverted to plant a weed like this on purpose.

10 August 2012

Blog follows suit

So, since I started working at Arrowhead Alpines back in March, my life has increasingly come to revolve around it. I love it here... On weekends at home, I find myself wishing I was back at the nursery. So, I suppose it was inevitable that this blog should take on a new life... as of now, this is no longer the Greensparrow Gardens blog, but the official blog of Arrowhead Alpines. Which means... well, basically, the content is going to be the same, I'll still happily provide Sciency Answers and babble about whatever planty-stuff comes to mind. Of course, what comes to mind is often the amazing plants that I get to work with everyday, so stand by to learn all about amazing daphnes, scutellaria, onosma, and tons of other cool plants. I'm also getting bit by the bug of serious butterfly gardening and and and... yeah. I'm having fun, and I plan to share it all with you here.