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Plant of the Month - 2013

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: Athyrium pictum 'Regal Red'

pom-jan13.jpgI have always loved the Athyrium pictum ferns (Japanese Painted Fern) and new cultivars are appearing all the time. 'Regal Red' is a real stunner with the midribs highlighted in a rich burgundy-red. The colour is a wonderful contrast to the silvery green foliage. Like all Athyriums it prefers full to part shade and it likes the ground to be moist. Do not let it dry out! It is easy to grow if given the above conditions. You can fertilize it a couple of times over the course of the spring and summer. Because it is deciduous try planting it with epimediums or Arum italicum so you will have some green in the winter season. It is also a great contrast plant when planted amongst Hostas.

Cultural Requirements
Zone: 6
Light: Part to full shade
Soil: Moist, well-drained
Height: 2 feet (60cm)
Spread: 2 feet (60cm)

FEBRUARY: Hamamelis x intermedia 'Arnold Promise'

pom-feb13.jpgEvery garden should have at least one Hamamelis or Witch Hazel if it is at all possible. They are striking at this time of the year with their brilliant yellow flowers (there are now also red, orange and lavender coloured flowers) and sweet fragrance. The flowers positively glow in the winter light. There is a really lovely Witch Hazel on the pathway beside Granville Island. I walked by it the other day and it was gloriously in full bloom. It is just a short walk past the children's water park on the path that takes you along False Creek. If you have a chance please check it out.

'Arnold Promise' is an upright, vase-shaped cultivar with ascending branches and a spreading habit. It will typically grow 12-15' tall & wide and is noted for its sweetly fragrant flowers and later bloom than most of the other x intemedia cultivars. Clusters of bright yellow flowers (to 1" long), each with four narrow, ribbon-like, crinkled petals and a reddish-green centre, bloom along the stems in February to March. Its broad-oval, green leaves that turn a warm yellow-orange to yellow colour in the fall can be quite attractive.

Cultural Requirements
Zone: 5
Light: Full sun to part shade
Soil: Moist, acidic, organically rich
Height: 15'
Spread: 15'

MARCH: Arisaema Ringens 'Cobra Lily'

pom-mar13.jpgAs many of you know I am an Arisaema addict. It's a good thing I have only 400 square feet for my garden otherwise I would be completely out of control. I just find them a fascinating and truly striking plant family. You can have Arisaema's blooming from early spring to late summer with all the varieties out there. One of the best and easiest Arisaema's to grow is Arisaema Ringens. Originally from Japan, Korea and China it is also one of the earlier of the Arisaema's to bloom appearing in late March to early April.

It prefers humus-rich soil that is consistently moist but well-drained and prefers part shade to full shade. Each tuber produces a single stalk with two glossy, green leaves. From the centre of the stalk the cobra-like flower emerges. Each flower consists of a showy, green and purple striped spathe (to 4-6" tall) with a hood that covers the inner yellow to white flower spike known as the spadix. The plant goes dormant in the summer after flowering. If you want to try growing an Arisaema for the first time Arisaema ringens is the one to choose.

Cultural Requirements
Zone: 6
Light: Part Shade to Full Shade
Soil: Moist, well-drained
Height: 18 inches
Spread: 1 foot

APRIL: Dichroa febrifuga - Evergreen Hydrangea

pom-apr13.jpgDichroa febrifuga is an evergreen member of the Hydrangeaceae family and is found throughout South East Asia. It is a wonderful, hardy shrub that produces either blue or pink flowers in late summer and then wonderful blue berries in the fall. I have had mine now for 7 or 8 years and it blooms beautifully for me every year. Mine is growing in deep shade so has been slow to grow. It would probably be better with morning sun and afternoon shade. Dichroa is hardy here but if we get an unusually cold winter, say -15C for a few days it may die back quite a bit. The good news is that it re-sprouts from old wood so in no time it will be looking good again. Keep the soil fairly moist, I know from experience that it doesn't appreciate drying out. Dichroa is pretty rare in cultivation so The Natural Gardener is really happy to be carrying them this season.

Cultural Requirements
Zone: 8
Light: Shade to part shade
Soil: Moist, well-drained. Remember, flower colour depends on the pH of the soil.
Height: 6 feet
Width: 6 feet

MAY: Calanthe x Kozu Hybrids

pom-may13.jpgI have always been fascinated by orchids and when I learned about hardy, outdoor orchids that would grow well here I couldn't wait to try growing a few. I started off with Bletilla striata and Pleione's, then got into Cypripediums and now I am hooked on Calanthe. They are a semi- evergreen species from Japan and Asia. They grow in woodland areas and make excellent garden plants for cool damp shady areas in soil with a large organic content. They flower either in the spring or late summer depending on the species.

Calanthe have pseudo-bulbs that gradually expand horizontally about 3 cm below the surface. The leaves develop as the plant flowers and will remain growing unless there is a heavy frost.

The spring flowering species develop flower spikes at the same time as the leaves begin to open. Flower spikes last up to four weeks and should be cut off when they finish. As the summer progresses the pseudo-bulb will produce one or more new buds and a set of new roots below that springs spike. The large leaves will deteriorate in the autumn but as long as they are green leave on the plant.

They are best planted either in the spring or autumn. Select a shady to part shade location and dig over the soil. Add a quantity of Sea Soil or leafmould as necessary to produce a woodland mulch. Dig a hole as deep as the plant is in the pot and twice its width. Cut off any dead roots or leaves. Fill the hole with the soil mix and cover with 3 cm of Sea Soil. Give the plant a good watering.

The Calanthe x Kozu Hybrids are a cross between a very hardy Calanthe and a very rare and very fragrant species. This has resulted in a beautiful, hardy orchid with a lovely scent. The flower colours range from a basic framework of red and russet but with hints of white, pink, yellow and even purple. The flower stalks reach a height of 25cm or nearly a foot. This is a fabulous hardy orchid and one well worth growing.

Cultural Requirements
Zone: 7
Light: Shade to part shade
Soil: Moist, well-drained
Height: 12 inches
Spread: 12 inches

JUNE: Baptisia 'Purple Smoke'

pom-june13.jpgBaptisia is a North American native perennial that seems to be able to grow just about anywhere. The first time I saw Baptisia actually growing I was at Free Spirit Nursery and it was growing straight out of a gravel pathway. In fact Lambert said that it grew more compact and sturdier than if it was growing in regular soil. "Purple Smoke" is an even stronger & more beautiful cultivar. It is superbly tolerant of every adversity from drought to heat, humidity, cold, and poor soil. It produces masses of smoky purple flowers from late spring to early summer and then its blue- green foliage provides a nice contrast in the garden for the rest of the season.

Cultural Requirements
Zone: 3
Light: Full sun
Soil: adaptable to almost any soil condition
Height: 4 feet
Width: 3 feet

JULY: Fuchsia magellanica 'Little Giant'

pom-july13.jpgThe Fuchsias magellanica family is a great addition to the part shade garden with its more delicate leaves and lovely hanging flowers. I have one in a pot sitting on top of my fence where it waves its flower laden branches in the breeze. They are semi-evergreen here on the coast and this past winter mine didn't loose any leaves at all. I just had to do a little clean-up pruning to get it looking nice and tidy again. 'Little Giant' is one of the nicer of the fuchsia magellanica's and is loaded with deep red and purple flowers from July until frost. The hummingbirds absolutely love this fuchsia so it is worth growing just for that reason. It will eventually reach a height of about 4 feet and a spread of 3 feet. I would not recommend growing it in full shade as it will flower sparsely and grow leggy, give it at least morning sun or dappled light throughout the day.

Cultural Requirements
Zone: 7
Light: Part shade
Soil: Moist, well-drained
Height: 4 feet
Spread: 3 feet

AUGUST: Verbena bonariensis

pom-aug13.jpgI first saw this hardy verbena in a friends garden and was immediately taken with it. All I saw at first where these clusters of lilac-purple flowers floating above the rest of the garden. It wasn't until I took a closer look that I saw the stems that hold the flowers. Those willowy stems can reach a height of 6 feet and don't need staking, making them perfect for the middle to back of the border. Verbena bonariensis is originally from South America but it is perfectly hardy here on the coast. Because of the way the flowers float atop the narrow, nearly leafless stems it makes a great 'see through' plant. It starts flowering in mid-summer and doesn't stop until frost. If you are looking for plants that attract butterflies, bees and birds this is a great one. The butterflies and bees love the flower nectar and the birds enjoy the seeds. For those of you with a deer problem, Verbena bonariensis is also deer resistant. It is pretty much a great all round plant for a sunny garden.

Cultural Requirements
Zone: 7
Light: Full sun
Soil: Moist, well-drained
Height: 6 feet
Width: 3 feet

SEPTEMBER: Echinacea 'Elton Knight'

pom-sept13.jpgNew echinacea cultivars have been all the rage the last few years but unfortunately too many of them weren't trialed properly and were rushed into production. As a consequence most of them failed to live up to their promise. Anyone remember Echinacea 'Mango Meadowbright'. That is not the case with Echinacea 'Elton Knight'. This cultivar of echinacea purpurea was developed in England at Elton Hall by the head gardener there, Anthony Brooks. It is a more compact echinacea that doesn't need staking. There are multiple flowers per stem which is highly unusual for echinacea. The flowers are a lovely magenta colour and appear from mid-summer until late fall. Like all echinacea 'Elton Knight' does best in full sun and well-drained soil and is drought tolerant once it is established. If you provide it with those conditions it is practically worry free. One of the nice things about the flowers is that they don't droop like the species, they attract lots of bees and butterflies and I think they smell just like honey.

Cultural Requirements
Zone: 3
Light: Full sun
Soil: Moist, well-drained
Height: 2 feet
Spread: 18 inches

OCTOBER: Paeonia suffruticosa 'Houki' (Japanese Tree Peony 'Houki')

pom-oct13.jpgI have always been attracted to the tree peony family. I love how they look like regular peonies to start with then as they age they develop into this wonderfully branching shrub with the most elegant of flowers growing at the ends of its stems. Susan Koelink has a couple of truly stunning tree peonies in her garden. If you get a chance next spring walk by her front garden and you will see what I mean. Once they reach maturity, usually in 3 years or so, they will produce dozens of huge, long-lasting blooms for you to enjoy.

Tree peonies are easy to grow. They prefer full sun and well-drained soil. They do not require much in the way of pruning, just the removal of any deadwood you may notice in spring. The fall is the best time to plant and transplant tree peonies. They seem to like the cooler temperatures and the reliably moist soil. Both of these conditions help with good root growth before the cold of winter sets in.

Cultural Requirements
Zone: 3
Light: Full sun
Soil: Moist, well-drained
Height: 5 feet
Spread: 5 feet

NOVEMBER: Heuchera 'Zipper'

pom-nov13.jpgOver the last few years the Heuchera family have become mainstays of the shade garden. Some of the new introductions have been a big success in the garden, think Obsidian, Plum Royale and Green Spice, while others have been complete washouts, think Lime Rickey. But overall they are wonderful additions to any shade garden. They are evergreen, the leaves are beautifully coloured, the sprays of flowers in the spring are attractive (to some people anyway) and they tolerate a wide range of soil conditions and light. There have been a lot of new cultivars introduced to the gardening public lately and I am always a bit leary of the new guys. But after talking to Ryan at Valleybrook Gardens I have to agree with him. Heuchera 'Zipper' is going to be THE must have Heuchera for 2014.

Huechera 'Zipper' has large, heavily ruffled leaves changing from orange to amber and with magenta backs. Stunning! In summer it produces short sprays of white flowers. Because of our cooler summers it can also take a bit more sun. As with all heucheras, trim off any faded leaves to keep it neat and tidy.

Cultural Requirements
Zone: 5
Light: Part shade
Soil: Moist, well-drained
Height: 8 inches
Width: 12 inches

December: Asarum maximum ‘Ling Ling’ – Panda Faced Ginger

pom-dec13.jpgAs you know I have a shade garden that I love. With shade gardening there are so many interesting and beautiful leaf shapes, colours and textures to work with, all contributing to a relaxing tapestry in your garden. There is one family of shade plants that I am having great pleasure in learning more about and that is the Asarum family. Most of us are familiar with our own native Wild Ginger – Asarum caudatum and with Asarum europeaum or European Ginger but I am discovering a whole other world of Asarums out there. Of all the Asarums that I have come across, Asarum maximum ‘Ling Ling’ is one of the most outstanding. It has glossy green leaves marbled with lighter green that alone make this a pretty spectacular plant. But, the flowers take this asarum to a whole other level. They appear in spring as 2 inch wide black flowers with a wide band of white in the centre giving them a ‘Panda Face’. Truly unique and almost primeval in their look.

Asarum ‘Ling Ling’ is perfect for the shade garden and compared to other wild gingers it is pretty easy to grow. It will grow in full to part shade in moist but well-drained soil. Asarum maximum is native to the low elevation forests of Hubei and Sichuan, China.

Cultural Requirements
Zone: 7
Light: Full to part shade
Soil: Moist, well-drained
Height: 6 inches
Width: 12 inches

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› A Checklist of Things To Do in the November Garden
› Poinsettia Care in the Home
› Fall Clean-up
› Fall Planting of Trees, Shrubs and Perennials
› Planting Perennials
› A Checklist of Things To Do in the December Garden
› January To Do List
› Fall Planting
› Growing Aloe Plants
› Pruning your Clematis
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› Planting and Growing Bulbs
› Pleione Formosana
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› Growing Winter Heather
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