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Plant of the Month - 2011

Each month The Natural Gardener will be highlighting one of the many unique and unusual plants here at the nursery.

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JANUARY: Cosmos atrosanguineus - Chocolate Cosmos

pom-jan11.jpgThe first time I came across the Chocolate Cosmos, way back in the late 80's I was immediately smitten. Not just because of the striking chocolaty red flowers but because it smelled almost exactly like my most favourite food group, dark chocolate. Being a chocoholic how could I not have this plant in my garden. I was told it wasn't the easiest to grow being a zone 8 plant but I had to try. I planted it in a well-drained, warm, sunny location and that first year it did wonderfully producing a continuous supply of fragrant flowers all summer and into the fall. I don't pamper my plants and decided to leave it in the ground all winter even though I had been told to lift it and store it like a dahlia. It was with some trepidation that I looked forward to spring and whether my chocolate cosmos would emerge. Sure enough, as soon as it warmed up it started emerging from the soil and once again produced a multitude of flowers all growing season. I grew that plant for years, until I moved, and it did beautifully every year. The only caveat with chocolate cosmos is that it tends to get a bit floppy over time so discretely tying it up helps it hold its shape better.

I highly recommend growing it in a warm, sunny part of your garden. Keep it watered on a regular basis although once established it is drought resistant. It is a great conversation plant as you get your visitors to take a sniff of the flowers and they exclaim with delight that it smells just like dark chocolate. A plant I like to plant chocolate cosmos beside is Melianthus major. Melianthus smells just like peanut butter so combined with the chocolate cosmos you end up with a chocolate peanut butter cup in your garden. Yummy!

Cultural Requirements
Zone: 8
Light: Full sun
Soil: Well-drained, average
Height: 75cm, 29 inches
Spread: 30cm, 12 inches

FEBRUARY: Saruma henryi

pom-feb11.jpgI first saw this wonderful woodland plant in Susan Koelink's beautiful garden several years ago and immediately lusted after it. It isn't available commercially very often so it was over a year later before I was able to track one down. And am I ever happy I did. I love its soft, almost velvety foliage and its butter yellow flowers appear for an extended period of time from spring and sporadically right into late summer. It forms an upright perennial, 2 feet high by 2.5 feet wide, with heart-shaped leaves that fan out horizontally in all directions. This Chinese native is a choice plant for the woodland garden as a single specimen or even in drifts if you want to create a dramatic effect in your garden. I should be getting some plants into the nursery this spring for you to purchase.

Cultural Requirements
Zone: 4
Light: Part shade to full shade but does best in part shade
Soil: Moist to slightly dry
Height: 3 feet
Spread: 3 feet

MARCH: Ribes Sanguineum - Red Flowering Currant

pom-march11.jpgRibes sanguineum is one of our most popular native shrubs and is found growing on Vancouver Island and Southern BC. One of the aspects of this shrub that makes it so attractive is that it comes into bloom in early spring when we are craving blooms and colour in our garden. Ribes sanguineum gives that to us in a big way. It produces racemes of pinky-red flowers in early spring, here on the coast that means in March, and Rufous hummingbirds love them. It is not a small shrub. It can reach a height of 12 feet in ideal conditions so keep that in mind when deciding where to plant it. I have one in my small garden that I have had for 12 years now. Every year, after blooming, I prune it back quite hard so I can keep it to a size that is manageable for my garden. The pruning doesn't seem to bother it because I still get masses of flowers every year. After flowering small fruit develops and while I don't think they taste all that great the birds love them. It is versatile as far as lighting, growing well in full sun to part shade although mine is growing in full shade and doing fine. There are several cultivars available, two of the most popular are King Edward Vll which has darker red flowers and Icicle which has white flowers. Interestingly enough it took 19th century botanist David Douglas to introduce our native shrub into cultivation. If for no other reason, grow this lovely native for the hummingbirds, they will thank you for it.

Cultural Requirements
Zone: 6
Light: Full sun to part shade
Soil: Moist, well-drained. Will become drought-tolerant once established.
Height: 12 feet
Spread: 8 feet

APRIL: Trillium luteum

pom-april11.jpgI love the spring garden and one of the main reasons for that is the Trillium family. They are the queens of the spring garden with their beautiful blooms and interesting foliage, especially the species with mottled leaves. Trillium luteum is one of the outstanding trilliums available. As its name luteum suggests, it has wonderful yellow flowers atop a trio of leaves. Like most trilliums luteum prefers moist, shaded locations and if it is not allowed to dry out the leaves will remain until early fall making for a stronger plant next year. One thing to remember is that trilliums in general hate to be moved so make sure that you plant it in a location where you want it to remain. If you do have to move it the plant will probably sulk for a whole year before settling down in its new spot. Trillium luteum is usually slow to establish itself but if you provide it with shade, moisture and don't disturb it, eventually you will be rewarded with a wonderfully showy clump of flowers adding splashes of light to your shade garden.

Cultural Requirements
Zone: 4
Light: Part shade to full shade
Soil: Moist, well-drained, humusy
Height: 12" to 18"
Spread: 12" to 18"

MAY: Pittosporum tenuifolium 'Gold Star'

pom-may11.jpgPittosporum are wonderful, evergreen shrubs that I think look very elegant in the garden. 'Gold Star' is especially lovely with its touch of variegation and chartreuse, wavy new leaves. It is a smaller growing pittosporum with interesting yellow leaf tips that become variegated as they mature. Gold Star produces small flowers when mature, and gives off a beautiful scent that all Pittosporums are famous for. It has a naturally very bushy and tidy form and is cold hardy and happy in most situations. I would plant it in an area of good drainage and a little protection from winter wind.

Cultural Requirements
Zone: 7
Light: Full sun
Soil: Moist, but well Ğdrained
Height: 4 feet but takes pruning very well
Spread: 6 feet

JUNE: Iris siberica 'Ruffled Velvet'

pom-june11.jpgThe iris family is one of the few plant families that I can take or leave. Mostly I think because the flowers don't last long enough for me. However, if I have to choose an iris it would always be an Iris siberica. They are easy to grow, tolerant of all soil conditions from dry to wet, have attractive, grass-like foliage and the flowers are beautiful. Iris siberica 'Ruffled Velvet' has an exceptional flower that I absolutely love. The flower is a deep purple with darker purple falls and looks exquisite. It mixes well with other perennials and provides excellent colour and contrast to the perennial border. It is also very effective when planted on a slope or hillside or along a stream or pond. Massed plantings or well-placed specimens can enhance almost any setting, and the foliage provides lasting beauty after it finishes blooming.

Cultural Requirements
Zone: 3
Light: Full sun to part shade
Soil: From boggy to dry
Height: 2-1/2 feet
Width: 2-1/2 feet
Bloom Time: June

JULY: Corydalis 'Blue Heron'

pom-july11.jpgAs you can see from the photograph, "Blue Heron" has gorgeous blue flowers set amongst ferny, blue green foliage. This is definitely my absolute favourite Corydalis and one that every shade garden should have. It does well with morning sun and afternoon shade but will be fine in day long shade as long as it isn't deep shade. As an added bonus it tolerates the heat of summer better than most corydalis and usually will not go summer dormant here on the West Coast. When growing "Blue Heron" keep the soil evenly moist and a top dressing of Sea Soil will keep it happy.

Originally from Sichuan, China and collected by master Plantsman, Dan Hinkley you will be happy you added this beauty to your shade garden.

Cultural Requirements
Zone: 7
Light: Part Shade to Full Shade
Soil: Moist but well-drained
Height: 9 inches
Width: 1 foot

AUGUST: Fritillaria imperialis rubra

pom-august11.jpgThis really is one of the most amazing varieties of fritillaria possible. It will display spectacular orange-red pendants in spring/early summer and like all imperialis varieties, it will have a very unusual group of pineapple looking bracts on top of each flower. They naturalise very well if left undisturbed in well drained soil.

Fritillaria Imperialis bulbs can be planted at 15-20cm deep and 20cm apart in well drained/light and moist soil. When planting handle the bulbs carefully as fritillaria bulbs are renowned for being fragile. Because the bulbs have depressions and openings on the top of the bulb plant them on their sides so water can't collect and rot the bulb. They can be planted in areas with full sun access or preferably with partial shade, and can be left to naturalise in grass, borders or even cold greenhouses. For something so beautiful they do have a bit of a skunky smell to them, but you only notice it if you get up close.

For a touch of the exotic in your garden do try Fritillaria imperialis rubra, you'll be glad you did.

Cultural Requirements
Zone: 5
Light: Full sun to part shade
Soil: Well drained, moist
Height: 3 feet
Spread: 1 foot

SEPTEMBER: Origanum 'Kent Beauty'

pom-september11.jpgI first saw this stunning member of the oregano family at Thomas Hobb's Southlands Nursery about 10 years ago. At that time it was very hard to find and I hadn't seen anything quite like it before. Of course I wanted one but none were to be had. Fast forward to the present and Origanum 'Kent Beauty' is now regularly available and everyone should have at least one pot of this plant.

This bushy, trailing perennial produces wiry stems bearing small, oval, blue-green leaves that are quite attractive in their own right. Though not particularly aromatic, they retain some oregano fragrance. Prized for its bloom, 'Kent Beauty' flowers from summer to fall. Its flowers resemble those of hops, dense bundles or whorls of pink bracts (petal-like leaves) that, together with the true leaves, offer a gorgeous effect. Both leaves and flowers are pendulous when grown in pots, dangling over the edge with soft colour and interesting form. Kent Beauty asks for very well-drained soil kept on the dry side with occasional deep watering. It thrives best in full sun although mine only gets about half a day of sun during the summer and less in the winter.

Cultural Requirements
Zone: 7
Light: Full sun for best results
Soil: Well drained
Height: 9 inches
Spread: 1 foot

OCTOBER: Geranium cinereum 'Ballerina'

pom-october11.jpgThere are many different cultivars of Geraniums out in the market these days but only a few that I think perform well in the garden with a minimum of fuss. Geranium 'Rozanne' comes to mind but Geranium 'Ballerina' is most definitely one of my favourites. This is a small, mounding geranium with blue-grey foliage and the daintiest pink flowers with beautiful mauve veining. It is the perfect perennial for a rock garden, alpine trough or the front of the border. It begins blooming in early summer and continues right through until the end of summer. If for some reason it stops blooming halfway through the summer just shear it back and it will beginning blooming again for you right into fall.

Cultural Requirements
Zone: 5
Light: Full sun to part shade
Soil: Well drained
Height: 8 inches (20 cm)
Spread: 18 inches (45 cm)

NOVEMBER: Arum italicum ssp. italicum 'Marmoratum'

pom-november11.jpgOnce winter arrives and nearly all your plants are asleep there isn't much of interest out in the garden. There are of course the lovely hellebores who begin blooming in January and who doesn't love them and there are also the epimediums, heuchera and a few ferns. But other than that there isn't much to see. However, there is another wonderful winter foliage plant that needs to be planted more often and that is Arum italicum and in particular Arum italicum ssp. Italicum 'Marmoratum'.

The arums are a striking, almost tropical looking plant for the shady winter garden and especially the silvery veined ones like 'Marmoratum'. The leaves are arrow shaped and heavily marbled with silver. On the West Coast they start emerging from the soil in late September or early October and by mid to late October are out in full leaf. Then, there they are through rain and sleet and snow. It is quite something to see them buried in snow and then emerging unscathed as the snow melts. The two cultivars I grow have been completely flattened by the snow but as soon as it melts they spring back up like nothing has happened. About mid-spring a cream coloured, spathe-like flower emerges for a couple of weeks. Once pollinated, usually by flies, the flower falls off and you are left with a seed stalk that gradually turns bright red by the end of the summer. Shortly after the flower fades the leaves disappear only to emerge again a few months later to start the cycle all over again. I highly recommend Arum italicum 'Marmoratum'. I hope you will give it a try.

Cultural Requirements
Zone: 4
Light: Shade to part shade
Soil: Moist, well-drained
Height: 18 inches (45cm)
Spread: 15 inches (38cm)

DECEMBER: Helleborus niger "Double Fashion"

pom-december11.jpgIn the last few years Hellebores have become immensely popular for the winter/early spring garden and quite rightly so. Who couldn't appreciate the attractive foliage and the stunning flowers. The flowers appear in a wide range of colours from almost black to pink to red to spotted to white. They also appear as singles, anemone flowered or, and this is the one I like best, double flowering. Just a few years ago double flowered hellebores would cost up to $50.00 for a small pot of them but now, thanks to selective breeding and tissue culture, the cost for them is much more affordable. Helleborus niger "Double Fashion" is one of the newest and most attractive of the white, double flowering hellebores. This is a new introduction from Holland that forms a sturdy clump of leathery, evergreen leaves and reddish stems that hold fluffy, double, pure white flowers with striking yellow stamens. The flowers will appear in mid winter to early spring sometimes even appearing around Christmas. Like all hellebores it does well in part shade although it will do fine in full sun as long as it isn't too dry. It prefers well-drained but moist soil and like all hellebores resent being moved or re-potted so make sure you plant it in an area where you want it to stay. We will be carrying Helleborus niger "Double Fashion" in January and the cost will be $19.00 each, much better than the $50.00 double flowered hellebores used to be.

Cultural Requirements
Zone: 4
Light: Shade to part shade but will take sun if it isn't too dry
Soil: Moist, well-drained
Height: 16 inches (40cm)
Spread: 16 inches (40cm)

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