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Plant of the Month - 2014

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: Cacalia delphinifolia ‘Sanshoku’

Cacalia delphinifolia ‘Sanshoku’I am always looking for new plants that are going to do well in the shade, even deep shade. There is a fairly limited palette of plants that will work well in those conditions but Japan seems to provide us with an amazing number of unique shade plants. That brings us to Cacalia delphinifolia. This is a quite rare shade plant originally from Japan. Hardly ever available in cultivation my good friend Lyle Courtice of Harkaway Botanicals is propagating this unique plant for us. Cacalia has maple leaf shaped leaves with 3 foot tall wands of white flowers in late summer. It is a true woodland perennial and thrives in shade, even deep shade. I love its leaves because they are such a great contrast amongst hostas, Brunnera and ferns. The cultivar ‘Sanshoku’ has leaves splashed with cream, making it a real standout in the shade garden. Being a woodland perennial it likes moist but well-drained soil. I would mulch it with either Sea Soil or chopped up leaves in the early spring to provide a more humusy soil. We should have it available in the nursery by April.

Cultural Requirements
Zone: 6
Soil: Moist, well-drained
Light: Shade to Full Shade
Height: 3 feet
Spread: 3 feet

FEBRUARY: Hosta ‘Curly Fries’

Hosta ‘Curly Fries’In keeping with the Mini Hosta theme this month the plant of the month is Hosta ‘Curly Fries’. Would you like fries with your Hosta? This is an amazing, unusual miniature hosta that looks equally fantastic in a pot or in the ground. The leaves are quite stiff, long and ruffled giving them a very unique look. The leaves emerge chartreuse then change to gold eventually ending up a soft yellow colour. In summer it produces red scapes of soft lavender flowers. It quickly forms an attractive mound of foliage. To have it looking its best, plant it where it will get lots of morning sun and afternoon shade. I think it would look amazing planted beside blue leaved hostas like ‘Halcyon’. Wow! We have just a few of these lovelies available this year so let us know if you would like one.

Cultural Requirements
Zone: 4
Soil: Moist, well-drained
Light: Morning sun and afternoon shade
Height: 6"
Spread: 16"

MARCH: Jeffersonia dubia – Twin Leaf

Hosta ‘Curly Fries’I am always looking for rare and/or unusual woodland plants to add more interest to my customer’s gardens (and my own). Jeffersonai dubia or Twin Leaf, is my latest find. It has only two species in the genus, Jeffersonia diphylla from the Eastern United States and Jeffersonia dubia from China and Korea. This choice woodland perennial has been very hard to find but now, thanks to Lyle Courtice of Harkaway Botanicals, I am finally able to bring in this wonderful plant. As you can see from the picture, the flowers start blooming in March/April before the leaves appear but the leaves follow closely after flowering starts. Its common name, Twin Leaf, is because of its two-lobed leaf. Jeffersonia makes a great companion plant to Trilliums, Epimediums, Hellebores and Cyclamen. It prefers part to full shade in moist but well-drained acidic soil. Enriching the soil with compost or leaf mould makes them very happy. As you can see from the photo on the right, even when it is not in bloom it is a very attractive plant. One interesting note is that its seeds are dispersed by ants just like cyclamen seeds. Definitely a must have plant for a shady spot in your garden.

Cultural Requirements
Zone: 5
Soil: Moist, well-drained and acidic
Light: Part shade to shade
Height: 1 foot
Spread: 1 foot

APRIL: Magnolia 'Little Gem'

Magnolia 'Little Gem'I’ve always admired the beauty & stateliness of Magnolia grandiflora – the evergreen magnolia – but let’s face it, there are not too many homes that can accommodate a tree that is going to get 60 feet tall. Then along comes Magnolia grandiflora ‘Little Gem’. ‘Little Gem’ gives you the beauty of its larger parent but only reaches a height of 20 feet or so. If you have ever wanted an evergreen magnolia this is the one to get. ‘Little Gem’ prefers full sun to part shade. It blooms from May to June with large, stunning, white saucer shaped flowers. Its evergreen leaves are dark green above and a lovely soft brown underneath creating a wonderful effect in the garden. It likes moist but well-drained soils and does not tolerate too much drought or too much water. Magnolia ‘Little Gem’ is a small tree that is definitely worth growing.

Cultural Requirements
Zone: 7
Soil: Moist, well-drained
Light: Full sun to part shade
Height: 20 feet (6 metres)
Spread: 10 feet (3 metres)

MAY: Actaea Pachypoda 'Misty Blue'

Actaea Pachypoda 'Misty Blue'When I heard about this Eastern North American native plant I knew I had to have it for the nursery. The species has regular green foliage but this cultivar has glaucous (blue-green) foliage which is a wonderful contrast in the garden. The best thing about this plant, though, is what happens after it flowers. It flowers in spring with small, white clusters sitting atop the plant that eventually produce stalks of pure white berries sitting at the ends of bright red stems. Stunning in the early fall garden. ‘Misty Blue’ prefers to grow in light shade in moist, well-drained soil. It will form a decent sized clump in a couple of years and can be divided every 4 or 5 years. This is another great addition to your shade garden.

Cultural Requirements
Zone: 3
Soil: Moist, well-drained
Light: Part shade to shade
Height: 2-3 feet
Spread: 2-3 feet

JUNE: Disporum cantoniense ‘Night Heron’

Actaea Pachypoda 'Misty Blue'I first came across Disporum cantoniense ‘Night Heron’ in Susan Koelink’s garden and was immediately entranced by its airiness, its purple-black foliage and the lovely limey-green flowers. I had never seen anything quite like it before. Of course I was also attracted to it because it grows in the shade and shade gardening is what I am all about. Naturally I couldn’t find it anywhere. I believe Susan got hers from Heronswood Nursery on Bainbridge Island, Washington. Dan Hinkley, the noted plant collector and original owner of Heronswood Nursery, collected seed of this variety in Sichuan, China However, several years ago one of the growers up here finally started growing it and now I have a beautiful clump of it.

While it is evergreen I find that it needs cutting back as the new foliage emerges from the ground. The new foliage colour is amazing, a wonderful purple-black that eventually reaches a height of 4 to 6 feet. In April the chartreuse yellow flowers appear adding a wonderful contrast to the foliage. By summer the foliage matures to a purple tinted deep green.

It grows best in bright full sun to light or open shade. Avoid locations with hot afternoon sun. If ‘Night Heron’ is grown in too much shade, the purple coloring will fade quickly and the stems will not stand upright. Provide rich well-drained soil in an area that receives regular summer watering. Although the stems and leaves are evergreen, they gradually decline as winter wears on. Cut them to the ground in late February to highlight the new growth.

Cultural Requirements
Zone: 5
Soil: Rich, well-drained
Light: Full sun to light shade
Height: 6 feet
Spread: 6 feet

JULY: Hosta ‘Praying Hands’

Hosta ‘Praying Hands’And now for something completely different, Hosta ‘Praying Hands’. The first time I saw this Hosta I was intrigued. It didn’t look like any Hosta I had seen before and I have seen a lot of Hostas. I loved that it was so upright, I liked the narrow wavy leaves and I liked its subtle variegation. I’m not the only one who likes this hosta, in 2011 it was the Hosta of the Year. This award finally gave ‘Praying Hands’ the attention it deserved and it is finally more widely available.

Like all hostas it likes a part sun location in moist but well-drained soil. It is completely hardy so you don’t have to worry about that. Its lavender flowers appear in mid to late summer and the hummingbirds love them. I think this is one of the best hostas to grow in a container. It just looks so elegant in a pot with its upright, wavy ‘hands’. That’s where I have mine and I love it.

Cultural Requirements
Zone: 3
Soil: Moist, well-drained
Light: Part shade
Height: 18"
Spread: 2 feet

AUGUST: Echinacea ‘Salsa Red’

Echinacea ‘Salsa Red’There has been a myriad of new echinacea over the last few years and unfortunately there has been a lot of death and destruction of a lot of them. However, the ones that have survived are real winners with wonderful colours and bloom styles. One of my favourites is Echinacea ‘Salsa Red’. The plant is shorter than normal, getting to about 2 feet tall, and quite compact with a multitude of flowers from mid-summer into the fall. The flowers are a deep, rich red that provides a wonderful accent in the late summer garden. You can pair it with Echinacea ‘Mac n Cheese’ and have a fun tomato soup and macaroni combination.

Like all echinacea, ‘Salsa Red’ prefers full sun and a well-drained soil. I would fertilize once at the beginning of the season and then maybe once again mid-summer. Otherwise treat it like all your other sun loving perennials. Once it is established it is also quite drought tolerant.

Cultural Requirements
Zone: 4
Soil: well-drained
Light: Full Sun
Height: 2 feet (60cm)
Spread: 2 feet (60cm)

SEPTEMBER: Phlox paniculata ‘Tequila Sunrise’

Phlox paniculata ‘Tequila Sunrise’Whenever I see phlox blooming it reminds me of my Mom’s garden in Richmond, where I grew up. She always had a large clump growing in her garden. They had a wonderful scent and the bees loved them. The only thing was that they tended to flop over if they weren’t staked. ‘Tequila Sunrise’ solves that problem because it is a much more compact grower than regular phlox, only reaching a height of about 20 inches. This makes it perfect for container gardening as well as middle of the border placement. ‘Tequila Sunrise’ is also fairly mildew resistant although if you want to keep mildew away make sure there is lots of air circulation around the plants. Do not crowd them. Also, keep them well watered and try not to get any water on the foliage when you water. If you do the above you will have beautiful, reddish-orange flowers from July to September and the bees and hummingbirds will love you for it.

Cultural Requirements
Zone: 4
Soil: Moist, well-drained
Light: Full Sun
Height: 20 inches
Spread: 14 inches

OCTOBER: Nerine bowdenii

Nerine bowdeniiI am particularly fond of plants that bring some colour into the fall garden. It’s one of the reasons I like Cyclamen hederifolium, Colchicum and fall crocus so much. Another plant that adds a big splash of colour in the fall is Nerine bowdenii. It makes a real statement in the fall garden with its flowers of vibrant pink atop 2 foot tall stems. Quite a few people are reluctant to grow Nerine’s in their garden because they don’t think they are hardy enough. However, we are lucky here on the West Coast and provided you give them a sunny place with well-drained soil you can grow Nerine’s for years in your garden.

As I mentioned, they like full sun and well-drained soil. Nerine’s also make excellent container plants and will grow happily in a pot or planter for years. In fact Nerine’s prefer to be a bit root bound and will flower more profusely that way. If you are planting them in the ground keep in mind that they don’t like to be disturbed once established. So, make sure that where you are going to plant them is where they are going to stay. If you must move them do so in late fall after flowering and be prepared not to have any flowers the next year.

Nerine bowdenii comes into leaf in spring, usually around April and keeps its leaves until the end of summer. As the leaves die back the flower buds begin to appear and by the end of September will be flowering in their full glory. They should continue flowering until the first frost when they go dormant. Nerine bowdenii is definitely a plant I will be adding to my garden soon.

Cultural Requirements
Zone: 8
Soil: Well-drained
Light: Full Sun
Height: 24 inches
Spread: 10 inches

NOVEMBER: Gentiana alpine ‘Success Blue’

Gentiana alpine ‘Success Blue’Blue flowers draw me like honey draws bees so it should be no surprise that I am a big fan of the Gentian family. The first time I saw Gentian acaulis I had to have one. The flower is one of the most beautiful blue flowers out there. But now there is a new gentian vying for my attention: Gentian ‘Success Blue’. It has gorgeous true blue flowers that appear in the fall. Considering that most gentians bloom in the spring and early summer it is wonderful to have such an attractive plant blooming in the fall with such stunning flowers. ‘Success Blue’ was developed by breeders in Europe for its ease of growing, pest and disease resistance and for its beauty. Give it a nice sunny spot in moist well-drained soil and it will thrill you with its flowers in the fall.

Cultural Requirements
Zone: 4
Soil: Moist, Well-drained
Light: Full Sun
Height: 8 inches, 20 cm
Spread: 12 inches, 30 cm

DECEMBER: Anemone ‘Wild Swan’

Anemone ‘Wild Swan’I first saw this stunning Anemone while conducting a garden tour of Julie Lane Gay’s beautiful garden. It immediately drew my attention and it was the most asked about plant on the tour. As you can see from the photo the flowers are raised up above the leaves and the backs of the petals are a lovely pale blue colour. Anemone ‘Wild Swan’ was the Chelsea Flower Show Plant of the Year for 2011. It blooms from May until November and grows best in partial shade in moist, but well-drained soil. I think it would look great planted with earlier blooming shade plants so it can show off its flowers after the other plants have finished blooming.

Cultural Requirements
Zone: 6
Soil: Moist, Well-drained
Light: Part Shade
Height: 18 inches
Spread: 24 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
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