Nine New Perennials for Your Spring 2014 Garden

January is a great time to peruse plant catalogs and choose some new perennials to bring pizzazz to the spring garden. After a long winter, I am outside every day in early spring, watching the rapid changes in the garden as the perennials start poking out of the ground. And every year I wish that I had more plants for this delightful season!

Here are ten intriguing plants to add to our Zone 5-6 gardens this year:

From White Flower Farm


Pulmonaria ‘Silver Bouquet’

A silver-leaved Lungwort that shines in shade, this new pulmonaria is mildew resistant with lance-shaped silver foliage and flowers that change from pink to blue.

Blooms in April-May, height 7”, full or part shade, deer resistant

Polygonatum odoratum ‘Double Stuff’

Just what you need to brighten up a shady spot! This variegated Solomon’s Seal has foliage with very broad white margins, and fragrant white blooms in early spring.

Blooms in May, height 18”, full or part shade

Helleborus Winter Thriller ‘Ballerina Ruffles’

A hellebore with fluffy 2-3” double-petaled blossoms in gorgeous shades of pink with purple speckles. This vigorous cultivar features exceptionally large, outfacing flowers and thick, sturdy stems.

Blooms in March, height 18”, full or part shade

From Bluestone Perennials


Heuchera ‘Paprika’

Heucheras, also known as Coral Bells, retain their brightly colored leaves throughout the winter, so they are wonderful plants for the spring garden. This variety has spicy, hot paprika colored foliage with silver veining that will add bold flair to your garden. White flowers hover above the blazing leaves.

Foliage color all year, blooms in early summer, height 8”, full sun to part shade

Helleborus Winter Jewels Amethyst Gem

A hellebore with amethyst-rose double flowers margined in opal. The finely sculpted blossoms brave cooler temperatures to become one of the first gifts of spring.

Blooms in March, height 12”, full or part shade

From Plant Delights Nursery


Glanthus nivalis ‘Flore Pleno’

There are more than 70 varieties of snowdrops in cultivation, but only a few are sold in the US. This award-winning snowdrop has a dangling white bell composed of several floral layers, each green edged in white. A delightful addition to the early spring garden!

Bloom in early March, height 6”, sun to part shade

From Arrowhead Alpines


Beesia deltophylla

I saw this plant for the first time on a garden tour in Boylston in July and was really impressed! Another specimen brought to the US by Dan Hinkley from Sichuan, China, this is a beautiful groundcover for the woodland garden. Glossy, heart-shaped purple-tinged evergreen leaves form dense rosettes, and are topped with spires of white flowers.

Blooms mid to late spring, height 18”, full to part shade

Lathyrus vernus

Lathyrus is a non-climbing, clump-forming perennial sweet  pea with showy pink flowers and light green leaves. A low-maintenance plant that dazzles in the shady border!

Blooms in April, height 12”, full to part shade


Arrowhead Alpines features a stunning 57 varieties of primulas (primroses). These are not the primroses that you find in the grocery store and that rarely return year after year. Primroses are a huge, diverse genus with flowers in every color of the rainbow. Although some species prefer cool, moist conditions, there are quite a few that can take the heat and dryness of the summer. It is worth browsing through this large collection of varieties and choosing a few to try in your own garden this spring.

I hope this list inspires you to add a few new varieties to your spring garden!

October Pleasures in the Garden

October is a month filled with fall garden chores - from cutting back dying perennials, to planting bulbs and the last new acquisitions still in pots, to preparing the houseplants for their return back into the house. It's easy to get caught up in the activity and not notice all the fleeting beauty that this month offers. Beautiful blooms, rich foliage and dramatic seed heads abound. In a few weeks it will all be gone, so take some time to enjoy the warm October afternoons outdoors in your glorious fall garden!

Above: Miscanthus and bloodgood Japanese maple.

Anemone 'Honorine Jobert'

Anemone 'Honorine Jobert'

Hydrangeas 'Limelight' and ' Annabelle' with miscanthus zebrinus and dogwood

Hydrangeas 'Limelight' and ' Annabelle' with miscanthus zebrinus and dogwood

'Oregold' rose

'Oregold' rose

Rhododendrons 'Patriot' and 'Album' with Siberian cypress

Rhododendrons 'Patriot' and 'Album' with Siberian cypress

Variegated tricyrtis

Variegated tricyrtis

Hydrangea 'Endless Summer', faded from blue to rose and burgundy, with Juniper 'Blue Star'

Hydrangea 'Endless Summer', faded from blue to rose and burgundy, with Juniper 'Blue Star'

'Karl Forrester' grass with gold arborvitae, viburnum 'Winterthur' and variegated sedum

'Karl Forrester' grass with gold arborvitae, viburnum 'Winterthur' and variegated sedum

Montauk daisy with sedum 'Autumn Joy'

Montauk daisy with sedum 'Autumn Joy'

Winterberry holly 'Shaver'

Winterberry holly 'Shaver'

Clematis 'Comtesse de Bouchaud' scrambles through 'Aloha' rose

Clematis 'Comtesse de Bouchaud' scrambles through 'Aloha' rose

Shady Partners

Garden tours provide a wonderful opportunity to view private gardens, discover new plants, and meet the garden owners that have created these beautiful retreats. Sometimes the most interesting gardens are the smallest, such as this Sterling garden that I toured on the Garden Conservancy's Worcester, MA Open Day in late July.

The owner, who had served as a docent at Tower Hill Botanic Garden, had accumulated an intriguing collection of plants for her mostly shaded garden. My friend Julie and I were stumped by some of these rare beauties, and had to research them once we got home and add them to our own wish lists.

The real success of the plantings came from her artistic eye, as she grouped these shade plants for wonderful effect. Here are a few glimpses of her shady paradise:

A show-stopping mass planting of hakone grass (Hakonechloa 'All Gold') in the front yard.

An informal path leads the way to a shady backyard retreat filled with arresting combinations of perennials and shrubs.

The round, waxy leaves of Ligularia are set off by the delicate fronds of Japanese Painted Fern

A rough-hewn granite column markes the entryway to the back yard, surrounded by hosta and sineilesis.

he glossy marbled leaves of bessia calthifolia complemented by ferns and epimediums. Bessia is a Chinese native of the Ranunculus family, brought to the US by Dan Hinkley in 1996 and introduced to the American market through Heronswood Nursery.

he large maple-like leaves bearing red fruits of Golden Seal (Hydrastis canadensis) stopped us in our tracks. Golden Seal is native to the Northeast, and is extensively used in herbal medicine.

n unfailing trio for the shade: any combination of heucheras, hostas and ferns. The plants in this garden were incredibly robust thanks to the owner's annual application of a thick layer of home-made leaf mulch.


A trio of young Paw Paw trees intrigued me as I had just received a pair of Paw Paw sapplings last summer. Paw Paws are native to North America and produce a large fleshy fruit with a flavor similar to mangoes and bananas.

For more information about the Open Days program, visit The Garden Conservancy's website:

Hydrangea Heaven

I love the lush flowers of hydrangeas both in the garden and in bouquets for the house. As a novice gardener, I had mixed success with growing hydrangeas and getting them to bloom every year. There are dozens of tantalizing hydrangea varieties, and the key was finding the best ones for my mid-Massachusetts location.

Planting several types of hydrangeas ensures color in your garden from June through October. Here are the hydrangeas that are blooming in my garden right now:

Hydrangea 'Annabelle' has been in bloom since late June. This hedge is five years old, and has provided me with more than 20 new plants. Annabelles are very easy to propagate via layering.

Annabelle's flowers fade from pure white to a soft chartreuse.

Hydrangea 'Endless Summer' is the most reliable blue mophead for my area because it blooms on both old and new wood. It is lovely paired with blue hosta and blue shrubs such as Juniper 'Blue Star' above.

Hydrangea 'Pinky Winky' has loose panicles of flowers and is blooming well in the shade of two dogwood trees.

Pinky Winky's rosy flowers are highlighted by the pinkish new growth on Leucothoe 'Girard's Rainbow'.

Hydrangea 'Glowing Embers' is a new addition to my garden. I could not resist the deep pink and chartreause color combination of the flowers.

Hydrangea 'Fuji Waterfall' has white double florets tinged with pale blue and thick, shiny green foliage.

Hydrangea 'Wedding Gown' also has pure white double flowers that fade to a deep red in autumn.

Hydrangea 'Pink Diamond', in its second year in my garden, is a robust grower. Its flowers open in white and fade to a dark rose color by fall.

Hydrangea 'Little Lamb" was a rescue plant from Lowe's 50% off bin last year. It's growing well in a pot on the patio, and sports flowers that are similar to a PeeGee but much smaller.

Hydrangea 'Limelight' is just starting to open its buds. The flowers on this strong shrub will be close to 18" in diameter when they are fully open. They are a glorious contribution to the fall garden.

Vigorous and Carefree Climber: Clematis Viticella

Given that there are over 300 species of clematis and several thousand hybrids, it is no wonder it can be difficult to choose the right ones for your garden. If, like me, you prefer plants that are fuss free and easy to care for and bloom over a long season, then look no further than the vines in the clematis viticella group.

Clematis 'Betty Corning'

Clematis 'Betty Corning'

The  Viticellas  all share certain attributes that make them outstanding garden plants; they are highly tolerant of both sun and shade, they are disease resistant ( never succumbing to the dreaded clematis wilt), they  bloom profusely for many weeks in the summer, and are all extremely winter hardy ( most to zone 4 ,some to zone 3).

Clematis 'Albu Luxurians'

Clematis 'Albu Luxurians'

Many viticellas, like the pale lilac ‘Betty Corning’ sport delicate nodding bell- shaped flowers. This beautiful vine grows 10-12 feet very quickly and can easily bloom 16-18 weeks non-stop. Some other great viticella cultivars are ‘Alba Luxurians’ with its green tipped white flowers and dark purple stamens that put on quite a show , the vibrant red ‘Madame Julia Correvon’ , the aptly named  ‘Abundance’ that is continuously  smothered in reddish- pink semi nodding blooms , and the funky double flowered ‘Purpurea plena elegans’ .

Clematis "Purpurea Plena Elegans"

Clematis "Purpurea Plena Elegans"

The viticella group are all perfectly suited to growing through large shrubs and small trees including viburnums, lilacs, hollies and forsythias and crab apples, giving these spring bloomers another season of interest when the clematis flowers hang down from their branches. Here in my garden I grow ‘Kermesina’ through my willows, and the dark dramatic purple ’Etoille Violette’  (an RHS Award winner) through my holly bushes,  and ‘Betty Corning through more shrubs than I can count!

 They are equally at home on a large trellis or fence where they will brighten any corner of your garden with their carefree blooms. All clematis in this group get hard pruned, meaning you cut them back to 8-12 inches from the ground in late winter/early spring.

Like all clematis they will benefit from deep planting, placing the crown of the plant 2-3 inches below the soil line and close attention to watering in the first year after planting to ensure their root system gets well established.  Once these gorgeous vines get going their profusion of bloom will be matched only by the profusion of compliments you will receive from your garden visitors. Feel free to take them all in and never ever tell how very easy this stunning vine is to grow.

For more information on growing and caring for clematis visit me at my website

Guest Post by Cheryl Monnroe, Garden in the Burrow. Cheryl is a licensed adult educator, master gardener and lecturer. She "follows the science," reading constantly and taking classes to stay current with the latest in plant research, new plant introductions and design trends. She grow dozens of ornamental vines, perennials, trees and shrubs in addition to almost 100 clematis varieties on her one acre plot in central Massachusetts.

A Bouquet of Spring Containers

After a long, snowy winter, I can't wait to fill my containers with spring blooms! Here are some ideas for fun spring container plantings.

Above: Violas, creeping jenny and heart-shaped stones adorn a small wire basket welcoming visitors to a lovely private oasis.

Purple and orange tulips, purple heather, miniature daffodils, variegated vinca, accented with pussywillows in a classic iron urn. (courtesy

Orange and maroon tulips underplanted with english daisies and red lettuce. 

A Victorian-style white wire basket planted with heather, trailing variegated ivy, pansies, white tulips, and  lily of the valley. (courtesy

Scarlett tulips, yellow, orange and burgundy primroses, and creeping jenny are fabulous in these dark crimson pots. (courtesy

Bright orange tulips are set off by blue grape hyacinths and heuchera, and complemented by 'Midwinter Fire' dogwood. (courtesy

'Golden Hearts' bleeding heart in a beautiful jade-colored pot complements spring bulbs. (courtesy

In my own garden, pansies in shades of burgundy, yellow and pink with golden lamium highlighted by gold hosta and hanoke grass.

I like to experiment with a mixture of plants in a large container - shrubs, perennials, annuals and veggies. Above, a PJM rhododendron is set off with blue salvia, violet wallflower, purple and white pansies, and red-tinged lettuce.

Davidia Tree – Worth the Wait?

When I first read about Davidia trees, I was immediately fascinated. Imagine finding something that satisfied both my love of flowering trees and my love of unusual plants! It seemed the perfect choice for the long shade border I was creating across my backyard.

So, when I found a Davidia involucrata at an end-of-season sale at Weston Nurseries, I immediately bought it. It was small, only about five feet tall, but I had high hopes. I planted it, nurtured it and awaited the grand show.

After five years had passed with not a flower in sight, I did some homework. I found that not only was it border-line hardy in my area, but it typically did not bloom for twelve years after planting. It was a good grower and created nice shade; its leaves were attractive and it had lovely bark; I consoled myself as I waited for Year Twelve.

Year Twelve came and went. Finally, after thirteen years, I was thrilled when one branch produced some of the most intriguing flowers I had ever seen: fuzzy brown spheres with two white bracts, the larger one nearly seven inches long! This continued for the next couple of years: a branch here and there with a smattering of flowers. But this year, nearly the entire tree is blooming. As the white bracts of each flower flutter in the breeze, I can see why its common names are Handkerchief Tree and Dove-tree. It is just as fascinating as I had imagined.

And, yes, it was worth the wait.

By Joan Butler

Pulmonaria Pops in the Shade

As a garden designer, one of the questions that I’m often asked is “What can I plant in the shade that the deer won’t eat?” We all know that while hostas may be gorgeous and highly collectible, they are also a tantalizing “salad bar” for grazing deer. Pulmonarias, with their eye-catching foliage and early flowers, are the answer.

Relegated to grandma’s shade garden for many years, Pulmonarias have seen a recent resurgence of popularity as hybridizers have produced wonderful new varieties. Like several other perennials, Pulmonarias are plagued with an unattractive common name – Lungwort, due to the resemblance of their leaves to a diseased lung. But their subtle beauty, hardiness (Zones 3-8), pest and disease resistance make them a great addition to the modern shade garden.

Pulmonaria 'Silver Bouquet'

Pulmonaria 'Silver Bouquet'

Pulmonarias are low-growing, clump forming relatives of borage, with similar fuzzy leaves and deep-blue flowers. Like hostas, pulmonarias can be collected just for their foliage contribution to the garden. Leaves range from apple-green to olive and deep emerald, and many are spotted in white or streaked with silver. They also differ in shape, from spear-like to oval. The plants range in size from 8-28” high and 12-24” wide. Outstanding cultivars for foliage include ‘Silver Bouquet’ with solid silver leaves, and ‘Milky Way’ with large white spots.

Pulmonaria 'Milky Way'

Pulmonaria 'Milky Way'

In addition to showy foliage, pulmonarias rival hellebores to be the first flowering perennials in the early spring garden. Clusters of funnel-shaped flowers appear in early spring, and many change colors as they age. My pulmonaria flowers transform from sky blue to lavender and pink, and since they open gradually, you see all three colors on the same plant at once!

While pulmonarias are generally known for their deep blue flowers, there are varieties that bloom in white (‘Opal’), salmon (‘Redstart’) and raspberry (‘Berries and Cream’).

Pulmonaria 'Opal'

Pulmonaria 'Opal'

Pulmonarias are easy to grow in average, humus-rich garden soil, in part to full shade. Moist soils and good drainage ensure the best success. They spread slowly by creeping roots and can be easily divided in late spring or fall. They also cross-pollinate and self-seed naturally, so you may find unexpected new varieties sprouting up in your garden.

Pulmonaria 'Redstart'

Pulmonaria 'Redstart'

Eye-catching as specimen plants, pulmonarias are also effective when massed as a ground cover. They can be artistically combined with almost any shade plants, particularly Japanese Painted Ferns, Coral Bells, Hostas, and Black Mondo grass. No matter how you use them, these old-fashioned, deer-resistant perennials will breathe new life into your shade garden.

The Blazing Beauty of 'Midwinter Fire'

I have always admired bloodtwig dogwood (Cornus sanguinea) for its colorful contribution to the winter garden. During a recent visit to Tower Hill, I fell in love with a new cultivar of this wonderful plant – ‘Midwinter Fire’. This outstanding ornamental shrub features stems that are yellow at the base, igniting to shades of coral and culminating to fiery orange-red at the tips. Planted as a formal hedge with small boxwood at its feet in the new winter garden courtyard at Tower Hill, it was absolutely stunning.

This shrub is a plant for all seasons, with oval medium-green leaves, clusters of tiny white flowers in late spring, dark purple berries in summer, and golden autumn foliage. It grows to 5’ tall and 6’ wide, and looks great backed by dark green shrubs. For more information about growing and caring for bloodtwig dogwoods, please see our previous blog article.

‘Midwinter Fire’ makes a spectacular container plant surrounded by snowdrops and black mondo grass.

Dazzling Hellebores for 2013

Hellebores have fascinated me ever since I saw huge swaths of them blooming in a Washington, DC botanic garden 12 years ago. I started with a few plants in one garden bed, and as they faithfully returned year after year, I added more varieties, began dividing my own plants, and growing on seedlings in nursery beds. At this time of year, though, I realize that I just don't have enough of these amazing winter bloomers.

As I scouted the websites for new plants, I thought that I would share with you some of the dazzling varieties available to gardeners in 2013.

From Bluestone Perennials: Harlequin Gem and Amber Gem

From Pine Knot Farms: Pine Knot Pink, Double White with Pink Edging, Yellow Picottee

From Burpee: Onyx Odyssey, Phoebe and Stained Glass

From Arrowhead Alpines:  Potter's Wheel  From Plant Delights:  Golden Lotus, Red Sapphire

From White Flower Farm: Winter Thriller 'Ice Follies', Nite Coaster, Pink Frost

Sweet Autumn Clematis Perfumes the Early Fall Garden

Although some Clematis have a reputation for being difficult to grow, Sweet Autumn Clematis (Clematis terniflora, formerly C. paniculata) is a vigorous vine that adds beauty and fragrance to the fall garden.

After two unsuccessful attempts at growing clematis, I became disillusioned and gave up on these lovely vines. A new friend whose garden featured close to twenty types of clematis scrambling over arbors and winding their way through perennial beds convinced me to give them another chance. She recommended the two easiest varieties to try: Clematis montana, which blooms in the spring, and Clematis terniflora, which blooms in the fall. I planted one on each side of a small wooden arbor with a bench, backed by a stand of tall lilacs, and have enjoyed their spring and fall displays ever since.

Native to Japan, Sweet Autumn Clematis is a twining deciduous vine, with shiny, deep green, leathery leaves. From late August to October, is is covered with a profusion of dainty, white, star-shaped blossoms with a sweet vanilla scent. The flowers mature into a silvery mass of fluffy, plume-like seedheads, which are almost as showy as the blooms themselves.

Sweet Autumn Clematis is a rapid grower, and can reach a height of 30 feet with a 10-foot spread. It can cover a small trellis or arbor in one season. This makes it an ideal plant for covering an unsightly feature or providing seasonal privacy around a deck or patio. It is also an attractive way to break up an expanse of solid wood fence. To keep the growth in check, you can cut the stems back to 12 inches in the spring. This clematis blooms on the current year’s growth, so no flowers are lost with early season pruning.

Clematis terniflora thrives in Zones 4-9, and unlike many clematis, will bloom well in both full sun and part shade. It prefers a rich soil with good drainage. The crown should be planted 3-4 inches below the soil surface to protect dormant buds from frost damage and injury from cultivation. Clematis prefer a cool root run which can be achieved with a flat stone at the base, with mulch, or with annuals or shallow-rooted perennials planted around them. I feed my Sweet Autumn Clematis in early spring with the same balanced 10-10-10 fertilizer that I use on all my perennials, shrubs and trees.

Although generally trouble-free, all clematis varieties are susceptible to fungi that can cause the vine to suddenly wilt and turn brown or black. These stems should be pruned out and destroyed, and the pruning shears disinfected with a bleach solution. Generally, this disease is not fatal, as dormant buds will send up new growth from the crown. All parts of clematis plants are toxic, so they are not suitable for gardens with young children or pets.

I have found Sweet Autumn Clematis to be an undemanding, attractive addition to my garden, and my clematis collection is growing every year. If you have a large structure to cover, give Sweet Autumn Clematis a try – it is a gorgeous vine for the fall garden.

Orienpet Lilies Dazzle the Mid-Summer Garden

As a gardener, I have always been attracted to perennials that have a bold presence in the garden – mammoth hostas, towering Joe Pye Weed, tree-sized heleniums, 30-foot tall rambler roses. My garden is large, with flowerbeds surrounded by expanses of lawn and framed by huge maples and Norway Spruces. Tiny plants just disappear in the surrounding greenery.

So when I first heard Kerry Mendez of Perennially Yours rave about her giant Orienpet Lilies, I was intrigued. I ordered a collection of 12 mixed bulbs from White Flower Farm, and have found them to be just as spectacular and easy to grow as Kerry promised.

My gorgeous Orienpets have topped 7 feet in height, with each flower stalk sporting a dozen or more giant blooms. The flowers are gracefully curved, with colors ranging from clear white to soft pastels to bold golds, magentas and oranges. Each flower is sprinkled with spots and freckles (called “spreckles” in lily breeder circles.)

Best of all is their fragrance, at once spicy, sweet and musky. Orienpet lilies perfume the garden from sunrise through the long summer evenings. In my foyer, three lily stalks create a sumptuous bouquet that fills the whole house with its heady scent.

Although they originated more than 50 years ago, the stunning Orienpets did not become available in the garden flower trade until the early 1990s. Orientpet lilies are the result of complex crosses of Oriental lilies from Japan and Trumpet lilies from China - hence their name.

Like most hybrids, Orienpets inherit the best qualities of their parents. They combine the stature and ease of the trumpets with the wide flowers and spicy fragrance of the Orientals. These hybrids exhibit more vigor than either parent – more strength and disease resistance, as well as a higher tolerance of extreme hot and cold temperatures. They flourish in Zones 3 to 6, and bloom from mid-July to mid-August, a time when many other lilies have already faded.

Orienpet lilies are easy to grow, provided they have excellent drainage, average moisture, and at least 6 hours per day of dappled sunlight. They will not thrive in deep shade and blasting sun will fade their blooms quickly. As with all perennials, lilies grow best in soil amended with compost prior to planting. Bulbs should be planted in late fall, at a depth of three times the bulb diameter and at least 4 inches apart. They look best planted in groups of five or more bulbs. When the blooms have faded, they should be removed to direct energy to the bulb. The remaining stems should be cut back to the ground in fall after severe frost.

Although popular with rabbits, deer and woodchucks, the greatest threat to lilies in my garden is the lily beetle – a bright red insect that devours lily leaves, stems and flowers. I have tried various products and techniques to halt these destructive insects, but the simplest and most effective has been a sprinkling of Bayer Advanced 2-in-1 Rose and Flower Care around the base of each lily in early summer, just as the stems emerge.

The brilliant blooms and towering height of Orienpet lilies will astound visitors to your garden and delight you for many years to come. Plant some bulbs this fall for unsurpassed color, stature and scent next summer!

Hydrangea Annabelle Continues to Please

Several years ago, I decided to create a flowerbed alongside my screened porch. I wanted a low-maintenance planting that would provide a beautiful view from the two areas where we entertain the most: the screened porch and the fenced garden. A hedge of Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’, underplanted with two varieties of green and white hostas was a perfect solution for this east-facing side of the house.

As soon as the bright green hydrangeas and variegated hostas leaf out in May, I enjoy a beautiful border that lasts until the final days of autumn. The flower display begins when the hydrangea’s lime green buds appear in early June, then open to huge white snowball flowers, up to 12” across. The flowers last all summer long, then fade back to a soft green in early fall, and dry to a tawny brown in winter. The overall effect is lush yet serene, and the billowy hydrangea blooms are a perfect complement to my 100-year old house.

With so many new varieties of hydrangeas in the nurseries, why choose the old-fashioned Annabelle? Having grown Annabelle in another corner of the garden for several years, my decision was an easy one. Annabelle genuinely lives up to its reputation of low maintenance, long bloom and no serious pest or disease problems. Annabelle is easily grown in average, well-drained soil in part shade. It can also grow in full sun as long as it is not exposed to drought, and in fairly deep shade, although there it does not flower as profusely. During the first summer after planting, I watered my new hydrangeas regularly to get them established. Since then, they receive no supplemental water and look great all summer long.

Annabelle hydrangea is a very attractive cultivar of our native Hydrangea arborescens, with much larger flowers than the species. Annabelle is a naturally occurring cultivar that was discovered in the wild in Anna, Illinois. It is a deciduous shrub with large, serrated leaves and a rounded habit, typically growing 3-5’ tall. It is extremely cold-tolerant, recommended for zones 3-9. Best of all, unlike many other hydrangeas, Annabelle blooms on new wood. This is a huge bonus for northern gardeners. I have often been asked why a hydrangea does not bloom reliably. Many hydrangeas form their flower buds on last year’s growth, and these buds freeze over the winter, resulting in no flowers for the next year.

Many hydrangea species are susceptible to bud blight, leaf spot, bacterial wilt and mildew, but Annabelle exhibits excellent resistance to these diseases. Although Annabelle’s stems are fairly strong, the weight of the flowers, especially after a rain storm, can cause the flowers to droop. This can be corrected with staking, low fencing, massing several plants together, and pruning the plants in late fall or early spring. I like to leave the dried flower heads on the plants for winter interest, and then cut back the stems in spring to about 18”. I also remove any dead stems at this time, and any rooted stems that can be used elsewhere in the garden. This produces plants with strong stems and keeps my shrubs to an acceptable size.


Annabelle hydrangea can be used in many ways in the garden: as a hedge, a specimen, as erosion control, or in a rain garden. It’s also my number one source for cut and dried flowers. Since it is so attractive and has so many uses, I have been propagating my shrubs to increase my supply. The easiest method is to remove rooted side stems in ealy spring with pruners or a sharp spade, preferably before they leaf out. I usually grow these on in a nursery bed for a year, where they enjoy the best garden soil and extra water and attention. Softwood cuttings, about 6-8 inches long, taken in May or June and dipped in rooting powder will also root readily. Annabelle hydrangea is widely available in garden centers and in friend’s gardens, so give it a try and discover why it is perhaps the most popular flowering shrub in American gardens.

Centaurea Montana: A Cottage Garden Favorite

Centaurea montana captured my interest many years ago, when I saw it in the garden of the Holliston Historical Society. The flowers of this Mountain Bluet were similar to the annual cornflower that I had grown from seed, but they were much larger, on a plant sporting silvery, fuzzy leaves and a bushy habit. Best of all, Centaurea montana was a perennial, so it would not need to be planted every year. I was sold, and shortly acquired three plants of my own.

Centaurea montana, also called “Perennial Bachelor’s Button”, has been flowering in gardens for centuries. Equally at home in cottage gardens or more naturalized settings, Centaurea is an old-fashioned flower with a relaxed habit, and long-lasting, boisterous blooms that are equally charming in a vase as they are in a garden bed. Its bright blue flowers open from attractive buds in late spring, then leave behind a mass of vigorous, silvery-green woolly foliage. In my early summer garden, the cornflower hue complements the blues of baptisia, geranium ‘Johnson’s Blue’, salvias and alliums, and contrasts with the bright yellow blooms of ‘Stella d’Oro’ daylilies, sundrops, and the foliage of dicentra ‘Gold Heart’ and lamium ‘Cannon’s Gold’.

Centaurea’s history extends all the way back to ancient Greek mythology. When Chiron the Centaur was wounded by one of Hercules’ poisoned arrows, he was cured by this herb’s amazing healing powers. In times past, Centaurea was appreciated for its astringent herb qualities, and its flowers were used to treat minor wounds, mouth ulcers and eye ailments such as conjunctivitis. Today, extracts of the plant are used in shampoos and conditioners.

As a garden plant, I have found Centaurea montana to be a versatile perennial that grows best in full sun to light shade in ordinary garden soil. It tolerates drought once established, but will not thrive in waterlogged conditions. Its short stature makes it ideal for the front or middle of a perennial border. Centaurea blooms in late May to late June, at which point I cut it back to secondary stems for continued blooms. Once the plant starts to look ragged in mid-summer, I trim back the stalks to the basal leaves, and wait for a second flush of blooms in late summer. After flowering, Centaurea montana self-seeds freely, creating welcome drifts in cottage gardens. I always have enough plants to share with friends but not so many that I find it invasive.

New hybrids of Centaurea montana have recently been introduced. ‘Amethyst in Snow’ has silky white blooms with royal purple centers. My friend Kathy grows this Centaurea in a garden filled with dark purple bearded iris, purple heuchera, and Rhododendron ‘Calsap’, with its striking white blossoms adorned by a dark purple splotch. Echoes of purple and white accented by chartreuse and yellow create a garden that is energetic and fresh.

Another new cultivar of Centaurea Montana is ‘Gold Bullion’, a dramatic combination of electric yellow foliage, black-etched buds, and lacy, bright blue flowers.

‘Black Sprite’ is a dramatic hybrid with purplish black flowers that bloom from July to August and would look terrific underplanted with Black Mondo Grass. Whether you prefer the cottage look of the original cornflower blue Centaurea, or the modern appeal of ‘Black Sprite’, Centaurea montana will add an interesting twist to your summer garden.

Dwarf Crested Iris Brightens the Spring Garden

After a week of much-needed spring rain, the garden looks lush and expectant. Everywhere, there seems to be a new wonder to appreciate and admire. Hosta leaves unfurl, the blossoms of the crabapple trees are buzzing with bees, and the arching stems of old-fashioned bleeding heart are lined with dangling blooms. And, hugging the ground, a drift of dwarf crested iris offers delicate charm.

Dwarf crested iris (Iris cristata) is a small iris, less than 6 inches tall in bloom, with 2- to 3-inch wide flowers that hover just above its blade-shaped foliage. It spreads by creeping rhizomes, eventually forming a dense groundcover. It is one of the most common of the irises that are native to the northeastern United States. It can be found growing on stream banks and on wooded slopes or rocky bluffs in its native habitats. Despite its delicate appearance, it is a tough little plant that is extremely hardy (Zones 3-9).

Most people are familiar with the tall bearded iris. The flowers of the dwarf crested iris are beardless. They are very showy, with three narrow petals and three broad, down-curved sepals. The sepals are centrally marked with a yellow or white band, with a crested ridge and a white splotch. Flower color is typically shades of blue-lavender, deep violet or white.

Iris cristata ‘Alba’ is the white form of the dwarf crested iris. The flowers are a particularly bright white color that is outstanding in moon gardens. Its softly spiky form and clear color enhance other garden plants. I have planted it in front of a yellow-leaf bleeding heart (Dicentra ‘Gold Heart’), a green-edged yellow Hosta (‘Golden Meadows’) and a dark pink azalea (‘Renee Michelle’); just dazzling.

Other garden-worthy Iris cristata cultivars include the dark purple ‘Navy Blue Gem’ and ‘Eco Purple Pomp’, the light blue ‘Powder Blue Giant’ and the ruffled blue ‘Shenandoah Sky’.

Dwarf crested iris prefers well-drained soil with moderate fertility and moisture. It will tolerate drought once established. It performs well in sun or shade, but does best in part-shade. When planted in sun, it requires extra moisture.

Its ability to perform well in shade increases its usefulness. When planted in both sunny and shady areas of the perennial border, it helps create unity through repetition. At the shaded end of my mixed border, I have planted it amongst ferns, Epimediums and hostas (H. ‘Yin’ and H. ‘Allegan Fog’). In a sunnier location, it keeps company with assorted campanulas, Heuchera ‘Venus’ and Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’.

Dwarf crested iris is an excellent plant for the home garden. It is lovely planted along the edge of a path or perennial border. It will naturalize in woodland gardens, where it will produce great swaths of springtime color. Like all irises, it is deer resistant. It will grow and bloom in dry shade.

By Joan Butler

Variegated Kousa Dogwood: The “Eyes” Have It

Plants with variegated foliage add interest and vitality to the home landscape. They brighten shady corners and create a feeling of depth and movement in the shrub border. In addition, they make a noticeable contribution throughout the entire growing season: colored leaves are longer lasting than the longest blooming flower.

Variegated plants help bring attention to plain green plants in their midst, by virtue of contrast. Large variegated plants should be selected judiciously. One or two contribute just the right amount of drama and clarification to the shrub border, too many overwhelm.

Variegation can take many forms. On some plants, green leaves are splashed or streaked with color, such as yellow, white and pink. On other plants, leaves may be edged with contrasting color. This can mean a green leaf outlined in white, or a white-centered leaf outlined in green. There are many variations on this theme, with purple, yellow and pink combining dramatically with shades of green to produce plants of stunning beauty.

One such plant is a variegated form of the popular kousa dogwood, Cornus kousa ‘Wolf Eyes’. This tough, shrubby tree reaches a height of 10-15 feet at maturity and is nearly as wide as it is tall. It is an excellent small specimen tree and is a valuable addition to the shrub border. It flowers in late spring, after our native dogwood. Each bloom is made up of four white, pointy bracts that can last up to 6 weeks. These are followed by red, raspberry-like fruits that are produced in late summer.

Like other kousa dogwoods, ‘Wolf Eyes’ prefers fertile, acidic soil that is neither very wet nor very dry. It is considered disease-free and has few pests. Mature trees have mottled, attractive bark that adds to its beauty and provides winter interest.

It is the show-stopping foliage of the ‘Wolf Eyes’ kousa that sets it apart. Each 3-inch-long, grey-green leaf is margined with white. This contrasting leaf edging emphasizes the leaf shape: elliptical with wavy, rippled edges. New summer growth is flushed with pink, as are the new branches. Fall brings these pink tones to every leaf, for a distinctive autumn show.

I have planted a ‘Wolf Eyes’ kousa in my shrub border, where it simultaneously  is accented by and calls attention to adjacent all-green shrubs such as longstalk hollies and rhododendrons. It is a harmonious companion to hostas that echo its white-edged leaf variegation, such as H.’Cherub’ and H.‘Tambourine’. It is complemented by other green-and-white variegated perennials that have distinctly different forms: a dwarf striped grass and a stand of Solomon’s Seal.

Grouping different variegated plants can sometimes produce garden chaos, but this collection has a sense of serenity and harmony. This is achieved by casting the ‘Wolf Eyes’ kousa in the leading role and pairing it with plants that either have related variegation or no variegation.

Even within a named cultivar, such as ‘Wolf Eyes’, variegation can vary from plant to plant. When I was selecting my tree, I had six specimens to choose from at the nursery. The variegation was slightly different on each one, so leaf pattern was an important consideration for me, as was tree health and branch structure. Ultimately, I chose one that had extremely wavy leaves and green flecks in the white margin. This tree never fails to elicit comments and questions from guests, who find it just as fascinating and gorgeous as I do.

‘Wolf Eyes’ kousa dogwood is as eye-catching as its name suggests. Its stunning variegated foliage, white flowers and mottled bark add drama, beauty and distinction to the home garden and landscape.

By Joan Butler

Erythronium: What’s in a Name?

Every spring, there are a few new plants on my “plant lust” list – plants that I have read about or seen and just have to add to my garden. This year, the spring flowering Erythronium is high on the list. Depending on what part of the country you’re from, you may know Erythronium by a different name – perhaps Adder's Tongue, Dogtooth Violet, Trout Lily, Glacier Lily, Serpent's Tongue, Deer Tongue, or Yellow Snowdrop.

Whatever you call them, the 25 species of Erythronium are among the earliest of our native lilies to bloom in the spring. Most of the species are native to Western North America but there are also a few native to the Northeast and to Eurasia. These long-lived plants can be found in deciduous woodlands, sometimes in sizable colonies that can be up to 300 years old. They grow with other spring ephemerals such as Trillium, Hepatica and Uvullaria.

Erythronium’s distinctive silver or brown-mottled leaves basal leaves resemble the coloring of brook trout, hence the common name “Trout Lily”. Plants typically grow 6-12” tall. Their single, nodding bell-shaped flowers somewhat resemble violets. The flowers may be white, yellow or pink, depending on the species. Petals and sepals are bent backwards exposing six brown stamens. Erythronium’s flowers may last ten days to three weeks, depending on the temperature. The leaves last into June as the bulb goes dormant. They should not be removed until completely dried up, as they provide nourishment for the underground corm.

 Some of the more common species include Erythronium americanum (Trout lily,) with yellow flowers tinged with red, Erythronium albidum (White Dogtooth Violet), and the widely-available native hybrid 'Pagoda' which sports 3-5 flowers per stem in a rich yellow with a contrasting central reddish eye ring. In the garden, Erythroniums will readily hybridize if you plant two or more species together, yielding new combinations of flower color and foliage pattern.

Although Erythronium may be grown from seed, they will not flower for 4-5 years. Quicker and better results are obtained from planting corms, which are sold by many bulb suppliers and nurseries. The tiny white corms have a tooth-like shape, which lead to the common name “Dogtooth Violet”.

Like other spring-flowering bulbs, Erythronium corms should be planted in fall, 2-3” deep and 4-5” apart, and mulched well. The corms will produce stolons, and new plants will slowly spread to form large colonies if left undisturbed in optimum growing conditions. Offsets from mature plants may also be harvested and planted to increase your supply of these lovely plants.


Erythronium grow best under deciduous trees in a deep, fertile loamy soil. They should not be planted where the soil remains wet, as the corms may rot. They can also be naturalized in thin lawns or grown in shrub beds around rhododendrons and other part-shade lovers.

Erythronium are beautiful additions to the early spring garden, and combine well with species tulips, epimedium and other early bulbs. Since their foliage disappears for the summer, they can be planted where later growing perennials will take their place. I am looking forward to adding these woodland lilies to my shady border and enjoying their elegant blooms next spring.

Miniature Hostas: It's a Small World

Miniature and dwarf hosta are gaining in popularity. They are widely used in troughs and rock gardens. When planted in the landscape, they look best grouped together, accented with other tiny perennials and conifers.

An elevated position is particularly useful when planting miniature hostas, to bring them closer to eye level. This incredible planter is actually a water trough in a garden in PA. The mix of texture and form and fascinating plant choices give this distinction.

This astounding display is from a garden in Bridgewater: three rusted oil tanks cut in half, filled with miniature and small hosta. Use your imagination! Anything can be adapted for use as a container.

This trio is an example of a variegation connection, pairing plants that have different amounts of the same two colors. In the front we have 'Bitsy Gold', and the ginger is Asarum naniflorum 'Eco Décor'. Labeling miniatures discretely can be difficult. This gardener used flat river rocks with black labels, a creative solution.

'Blue Mouse Ear is a miniature/small hosta. Here it is paired with the variegated dwarf grass, 'Beatlemania', pulmonaria, and the miniature Epimedium 'Liliputian'. Many sports of 'Blue Mouse Ears' have been introduced, including 'Cat and Mouse', 'Country Mouse', Mighty Mouse' and 'Snow Mouse'.

With so many possible uses and occupying such a small amount of real estate, is it any wonder that miniature hostas are gaining in popularity?

Welcome Spring with Species Tulips

We are all familiar with the grand Dutch hybrid tulips that grace our gardens in late May, and were the cause of  the “Tulipmania” frenzy in Holland 400 years ago. But the parent cultivars of those tulips, less well-known but equally beautiful, are the “species” or “botanical” tulips. Smaller and simpler than hybrid tulips, species tulips delight the gardener with vivid colors, diverse forms, interesting foliage and arresting fragrance from early April to early May.

I had always thought that tulips came from Holland, and it wasn’t until a trip to Istanbul ten years ago that I learned that they are actually indigenous to Central Asia. Tulips have been cultivated in Turkey for almost one thousand years, and were brought to Europe by an Austrian ambassador to the Turkish Empire. European gardeners saw a resemblance between the flower's shape and Turkish headwear, and dubbed the flower "tulipan", from "tuilbend", the Turkish word for "turban". Tulips were favored by Ottoman sultans, who staged poetry and musical evenings in their expansive tulip gardens, illuminated by candle lanterns on tortoise backs. The reign of Sultan Ahmed III (1718-1730) is in fact called the “Tulip Era,” an era of peace and tranquility, when tulips enjoyed particular popularity in the arts and folklore. Tulips are still widely used to embellish tiles, ceramics and textiles today, and I happily brought home a souvenir tile set decorated with a tulip motif.

Species tulips still grow wild in the mountain ranges, gorges and remote meadows of Central Asia, but they also thrive in the US zones 4-7, preferring areas where winters are neither too warm or too wet. They prefer full sun and excellent drainage. Unlike hybrid tulips, they are hardy and long-lived. Because they thrive in poor soil and rocky areas, species tulips are a classic choice for rock gardens. They look wonderful planted in casual drifts in the woodland garden or combined with other spring bloomers such as grape hyacinths, windflowers and small early daffodils at the front of the perennial border. Species tulips should be planted in groupings of at least 6 bulbs for best effect, and each bulb should be surrounded by sharp sand during planting. This provides the drainage that they demand and protects the bulbs from tunneling rodents.

With more than 150 cultivars offering a wide range of colors, sizes and interesting foliage, it is easy to develop your own “Tulipmania” for species tulips.  Some of the most popular include Tulipa kaufmanniana, the Waterlily Tulip, whose flowers open wide to form six-pointed stars, and T. fosteriana, a bright red species that is widely available. Other notable varieties include T. tarda, with white star-shaped blooms and bright yellow centers, T. clusiana, the Peppermint Tulip, with creamy white and red striped petals and T. pulchella, a small early bloomer. For exotic looks, you can’t beat T. acuminata, the Fireflame Tulip, with its wispy, spidery, yellow and red petals. For fragrance, you can try T. sylvestris, T. marjolettii and the early blooming T. batalini, with its pointed buds that resemble a wizard’s cap.

The greatest selection of species tulips can be found in the fall from mail-order bulb nurseries, including, and

Spring Ephemerals: Early to Bed and Early to Rise

My husband’s Uncle Charles is an avid outdoorsman who loves to hike and canoe all over the country. At the young age of 81, he is constantly conquering another river, portaging his canoe over landmass obstacles or encountering a bear in the campground of a national park. When we started writing our gardening articles last year, I learned that he is also an avid naturalist, and has been photographing our native wildflowers for years. I had just recently become interested in spring ephemerals, and knew most of them only from friends’ gardens. It was a thrill to see his photos of Hepatica, Bloodroot, Trilliums, Erythronium, Jeffersonia, Uvullaria, Jack-in-the-Pulpit, and Phlox captured in their forest habitats throughout the U.S. and Canada.

For those of us gardening in northern climates, spring ephemerals stretch the gardening season with their early blooms. Many spring ephemerals are native to our North American woodlands, where springtime begins slowly and ends with a crescendo of blossoms that carpet the forest floor in May. These early wildflowers can be effective and adaptable additions to the home shade garden.

 You will be surprised at the number and variety of cultivars of our early spring bloomers: 40 species of trillium, 20 species of erythronium, more than 100 cultivars of hepatica, to name just a few—there are ample opportunities for collectors!

As with all living things, having knowledge of a plant’s natural habitat and lifecycle produces success in the home garden. Spring ephemerals represent a unique ecological strategy and share these traits:

Quick Growth Cycle. Spring ephemerals are perennial wildflowers that develop their aerial parts - stems, leaves, and flowers - early each spring and then quickly bloom, go to seed and die back to their underground parts (roots, rhizomes, and bulbs) for the remainder of the year. Many emerge in April and are completely gone by June.

 Forest Dwellers. In early spring, the forest provides a warmer habitat than open field. Trees absorb the heat of the sun with their trunks and slowly radiate this heat to the air at night, when frost is still a threat to small plants. Until the trees leaf out, the sun’s rays can thaw and warm the soil of the forest floor. Trees also act as a windbreak, reducing the “wind chill” factor in the woodland.

 Reaching for the Light. Spring ephemerals take full advantage of early spring sun by blossoming before the forest trees leaf out.

 Moisture Lovers. Early spring is also the time of year when soil moisture is at the highest because the trees are not actively soaking up all the available water.

 Early Feeders. Soil nutrients are at their highest levels in early spring, when decay of the previous year’s leaves produces a bumper crop of nutrients in the soil. The spring ephemerals have first crack at this abundant food supply.

 Early to Bed. Once the leaves of taller plants expand and command the light and water, the ephemerals simply go dormant. Reserving the nutrients they gathered in their tubers, rhizomes, or other underground storehouses, they wait quietly until they can be “early to rise” the following year.

So if you want to add beauty and interest to your early spring gardens, look for the spring ephemerals that will enchant you with their woodland wildflower magic.