Continuing with the third of seven daily posts about the plants that caught my eye last year, we come to a fine perennial that I noted thriving in a number of different situations.
xHeucherella ‘Solar Eclipse’
With so many heucherellas on the market, its important to take a deep breath before pronouncing one as “unique” – but here goes: xHeucherella ‘Solar Eclipse’ is unique.
This distinctive clump-forming variety has slightly ruffled, prettily scalloped, reddish brown, almost chocolate brown, leaves with a neat minty green margin. It keeps its color well and matures into a clump about 20cm high and 40cm wide. The flowers are white – but not really the point. The cut leaves last quite well in water, too.
Lovely in a terracotta pot, it also looked unexpectedly good in a blue pot and at the front of border in dappled shade. In cool areas with water retentive soil it will grow happily in full sun but is general happier in some shade.
‘Solar Eclipse’ is sport of ‘Solar Power’ (which has yellow leaves with a red central pattern) and was developed by Janet Egger and Chuck Pavlich at specialist perennial breeders Terra Nova Nurseries in Oregon.
xHeucherella ‘Solar Eclipse’ is currently available retail in the UK from these Royal Horticultural Society Plant Finder nurseries.
xHeucherella ‘Solar Eclipse’ is currently available retail in North America from many suppliers including Bluestone Perennials and Plant Delights.
The day the echinaceas died... It was yesterday. And this is how it happened.
Echinaceas, coneflowers, and especially all the fancy hybrids that have come on the market recently, like ‘Flame Thrower’ (above) and all the doubles (below), hate bad drainage in winter. That’s what kills them. But yesterday that’s exactly what they got.
On Sunday night the temperature in our garden here in Pennsylvania went down to -10F (-23C). So, after a temperature almost as low the night before, and low temperatures for a few days before that, the ground was frozen solid to a depth it was hard to assess.
And then it snowed. Not a lot, just a couple of inches and the whole garden looked lovely. But then, yesterday, Monday, it got warmer. A whole lot warmer, and quickly. By early afternoon the temperature had risen to 48F (9C), and the snow had melted and the top inch or two of soil had thawed out as well.
But because the soil was frozen down deep, all the melted snow just sat there on the surface, in puddles – it could not drain away because the soil underneath it was frozen. Our borders were covered in pools of water, yesterday, and they’re still there this morning.
And in those puddles of thawed snow are the crowns of our last remaining echinaceas (this has happened before...) – and echinaceas hate bad drainage. So those last few may well die.
Of course, this is not a phenomenon that comes into play in Britain all that much, or in parts of the USA where the winters bring less ferocious frosts. Because if the soil is not so solidly frozen, melted snow drains away and impacts much less on our, rather sensitive, echinaceas.
But here's what's important: it reminds us that, wherever we garden, it’s bad drainage in winter that prevents us enjoying the vast range of exciting new echinaceas for years and years after we first planted them. Which is a shame, because they really are gorgeous. As you can see.
“The Christmas Roses with which one meets in the majority of gardens are not white, but pink, or more or less suffused with pink or dirty purple.”
Really? Well, perhaps it was true in 1878 when a certain Mr. D. T. Fish wrote those words in William Robinson’s epic journal, The Garden, although it seems unlikely. He then goes on to explain in detail how to make Christmas roses (Helleborus niger) white.
Even allowing for the artist’s overenthusiasm, this Giant Christmas Rose, illustrated in The Garden in 1878 (above), is impressive and well illustrates how the coloring works: individual flowers open white and develop pink tones and become richer in color as they mature. Sunset Group, collected in Slovenia by veteran British hellebore expert Will McLewin was similar (but a whole lot less dramatic). Dark stemmed ‘Louise Cobbett’ opens with pink backs to its flowers and later develops additional pink tints but it’s not the color of the Giant Christmas Rose.
Neither is Blackthorn Group (below), developed by acclaimed hellebore and daphne breeder Robin White from ‘Louise Cobbett’ (right) and ‘White Magic’ although it’s a lovely thing.
Strangely, Josef Heuger, in Germany, who has introduced so many fine forms of the Christmas rose recently - ‘Jacob’ flowers dependably in November here in Pennsylvania - has created no pinks. Most of the pink ones such as ‘Pink Frost’ which listed as H. niger by mail order nurseries are actually hybrids. If Ernie and Marietta O’Byrne of Northwest Garden Nursery in Oregon, who’ve created so many spectacular double and single forms of H. x hybridus, turned their attention to Christmas roses we’d be in for a treat.
Anyway, it’s interesting (if difficult to believe) that pink was once normal in Christmas roses and that detailed suggestions were given in The Garden for turning them white. And what, in short, were the recommendations: “light soil”, “a warm, sheltered, partly-shaded situation” and “cover them with glass”. Somehow that doesn’t really seem a very convincing way to change their color…
National Public Radio reported this week that lilacs were in bloom in Washington, DC. A friend near here in Pennsylvania reports picking salad leaves from the open garden just a few days ago while anther says her spring crocuses are in bloom. It’s been mild back in Britain too.
Here in our garden the mild season has ensured that some plants developing late fall color have lasted and lasted. One young seedling of Geranium phaeum ‘Samobor’ has produced some spectacular leaves (above, click to enlarge); the original plant and other seedlings are more of a blotchy yellow.
One of my favorite shrubs, Hydrangea Little Honey (‘Brihon’) (right, click to enlarge), a dwarf yellow-leaved form of the oak-leaved hydrangea, always turns burgundy red in the fall but often a couple of sharp frosts reduces the plant to bare stems. Not this year, the leaves have been wine red for weeks with a few just starting to develop fierier tones as they prepare to drop.
The other effect of these unseasonably mild weeks has been that after the first few, relatively gentle, frosts turned everything in the riverside meadows tawny brown – that’s how they stayed. The foxtail grass in the fields where the rudbeckias are such summer stars, I think this is Setaria viridis, has neither been crippled by frost nor battered by rain or snow and still stands out against the leafless escarpment. Lovely.
We’ve gentle frosts forecast for the weekend, with a high of 57F and a low of 39F forecast for Christmas Day. The snowdrops are in bud, but check out the Snowdrops In American Gardens Facebook group for news of plenty of snowdrops blooming merrily all over the country.
Oh, and a friend in Downeast Maine reports that the grass is growing and needs a trim. But I don’t care how long it gets here we’re not cutting the grass in December.
In recent years, Barnhaven Primroses, originally from Oregon and now in France (via England) have been branching out. Nothing dramatic, but alongside primroses they’ve been expanding their choice of other primulas and also added hellebores to their range.
One exceptional, and much underrated, plant they’ve been championing is Primula sieboldii and they’ve recently announced the availability of some lovely forms from Japan, including the double-flowered ‘Flamenco’ (above). They’ve been quietly been building up stock for some time.
This is an exceptional species, with fresh looking, bright, divided leaves and a flurry of up to ten spring flowers held on upright stems. Sound like a polyanthus? Yes, but so much more delicate and stylish.
In the wild, it’s a woodlander creeping through wet woods in Japan, Korea, China, Russia and, as the canopy closes, the foliage fades away. In summer I find it will take drought, although it’s worth remembering that the plants dislike lime. And it’s very hardy: USDA Z4, RHS H7.
The only problem is that with no sign of it above ground from late summer until mid or late spring, it’s easy to forget precisely where you planted it and attempt to plant something else in its space.
Our plants here in Pennsylvania came from the late and much lamented Seneca Hill Nursery in upstate NY and I always pick a few stems to bring indoors from the expanding clumps. Some of the clumps have expanded so much that they’ve escaped the borders, meandered under the boards supporting the raised bed and emerged on the path.
Lazy’s Farm now seems to have the best choice in the US but, in Europe, always start at Barnhaven. They have seventeen varieties of their own raising, including ‘Trade Winds’ (right, click to enlarge) and twelve Japanese varieties available as plants, including the lovely ‘Flamenco’ (top) and some delightful forms with white picotee edges to the flowers. Nine more varieties are available as seed.
Barnhaven will send seeds, and also plants, to the US, with a phytosanitary certificate at a cost of 11.43 euros. If customers have a small seed lots permit there is no phyto charge for sending seeds. [After six months I'm still waiting for my small seed lots permit...]
Perhaps people are disconcerted by the fact that the plants disappear for much of the year, or perhaps the intolerance of too much lime puts people off. But considering how easy they are to grow, we really don’t see them enough. They’re much easier to keep over the long term than the special varieties of primroses and polyanthus which so often seem to fade away after a few years.
In Japan, the heyday of Primula sieboldii was from the beginning of the 17th century to the mid 19th century but now Barnhaven and others are re-inventing them after so many varieties have been lost over the centuries. And it’s not as if they need careful cossetting and conditions it’s tough to provide. They’re easy… give them a go.
In the first waves of enthusiasm for heucheras, back in the 1930s and then the 1950s, it was the flowers that were key and in fact many varieties were developed specifically as commercial cut flowers.
More recently, of course, foliage has been the thing and an astonishing range of foliage colors and patterns has been developed although many have poor flowers which are best snipped away.
So, obviously, the next thing was to bring the two features together. ‘Rave On’ is pretty good in combining good foliage with good flowers, but flowering tails off as spring passes. But, so far, ‘Berry Timeless’ (left, click to enlarge) really does look the part - even if the name is a bit corny.
OK, this is its first season on trial here but it’s clear that its bright silver foliage with minty green veins makes a lovely low dense mound. The flowers open in pale pink and fade to richer tones and, unlike the flowers many heucheras, they don’t fall off. Even while the little green seed capsules are developing the dusky reddish pink flowers are still colorful.
It’s now August and there’s plenty of old flowers, new flowers and buds still on the plants (right, click to enlarge). And there’s another thing about the flowers: the length of bare stem below the flowers is relatively short so the flowers sit just above the leaves without a long length of bare stem in between. That’s a feature that really improves the look of the plant.
Developed by Walters Gardens in Michigan rather than the heuchera hatchery that is Terra Nova Nurseries, where most new heucheras originate; look out for more from them in the future.
Slug resistant hostas? Yes, well, maybe…
Anyone who writes anything about hostas usually ends up saying that some varieties are slug resistant. But let’s stop right there: what do we mean by “resistant”? Well, we don’t mean immune, that’s for sure. What we mean is that they’re far less likely to be eaten than other hostas, that’s all.
These are varieties that have unusually thick and heavily textured leaves that the slugs struggle to munch through. They’re often related to the old favorite H. sieboldiana ‘Elegans’ and many of them have blue foliage.
Now, I was looking for a hosta for my daughter Lizzie’s small town garden recently. And slugs are definitely a problem. So, I took a look at the huge range on sale at the Plant Centre at the RHS garden at Wisley near London and picked out one I didn't know, ‘Brother Ronald’. The foliage is really tough and leathery, it’s a lovely puckered blue color and it doesn’t get too big. Ideal.
It turned out that it was raised by Britain’s only notable hosta breeder, Eric Smith, who also raised ‘Halcyon’, ‘Hadspen Blue’ and others that often hold their own against slugs. What’s more, I discovered that hosta wizard Mark Zilis marks it as “slug-resistant” in his superb Hosta Handbook.
Well, a couple of days later I had an email from Lizzie. You can see what happened (above). Too many starving slugs.
Here in Pennsylvania, we have not one slug bite on a hosta this year, in spite of the wet season. – although last night’s roof rattling thunderstorm has punched a few holes in one or two. But of course we have frogs and snakes around to help keep the slugs under control.
Diana Grenfell published a list of ten slug resistant hostas in her excellent book, A Gardeners Guide to Growing Hostas. She recommended: ‘Blue Umbrellas’, ‘Fragrant Gold’, ‘Green Sheen’, H. hypoleuca, ‘Invincible’, ‘Krossa Regal’, ‘Leather Sheen’, H. sieboldiana forms, ‘Silvery Slugproof’ and ‘Sum and Substance’. A good choice.
In my Encyclopedia of Perennials, I included a longer list of slug-resistant hostas that I and Mark Zilis put together. It included most of Diana Grenfell’s list plus: ‘Abiqua Drinking Gourd’, ‘Big Daddy’, ‘Blue Angel’, ‘Blue Dimples’, ‘Blue Mammoth’(above, good with us), ‘Blue Moon’, ‘Blue Wedgewood’, ‘Dorset Blue’, ‘Fragrant Bouquet’, ‘Gold Edger’, ‘Gold Regal’, ‘Great Expectations’ (great for us in PA), ‘Hadspen Blue’, ‘Halcyon’ (good with us), ‘June’ (below, good with us), ‘Love Pat’, ‘Northern Exposure’, ‘Sagae’, ‘Sea Lotus Leaf’, ‘Spilt Milk’, H. tokudama forms and ‘Zounds’.
I wonder if any of these recommended hostas can take the pressure that finished off ‘Brother Ronald’?
Order the Gardeners’ Guide to Growing Hostas in North America.
As I mentioned here recently, there’s a plan to change the classic botanical name of the Welsh poppy, Meconopsis cambrica. Chris Grey-Wilson, the world’s leading expert on Meconopsis, first proposed the idea of restricting the name Meconopsis to the Himalayan poppies in the botanical journal Taxon in 2012. He repeats the suggestion in his stunning new monograph on Meconopsis, which was published recently, and proposes a new botanical name for the Welsh poppy.
Actually, what he says, basically, is this: if you apply all the legitimate and agreed botanical rules, the Welsh poppy is in fact the only true Meconopsis. All the Himalayan blue poppies that have captured our imagination for so long are, botanically, so very different that they need a genus of their own. Fair enough.
But, because all the blue poppies are so fabulous and so well known to gardeners, we should call them Meconopsis and call the Welsh poppy something else. Technically, the Welsh poppy should probably be put back into the genus Papaver, where our old friend Carl Linnaeus first assigned it back in 1753. But, for various botanical reasons I needn’t go into, that would mess up the taxonomy of the seventy or so other species of Papaver. So Christopher suggests creating a new generic name: Parameconopsis. The Welsh poppy would become Parameconopsis cambrica.
He says that continuing to call the Welsh poppy Meconopsis cambrica and creating a new name for all the others “would be widely deplored in the botanical and horticultural worlds”. I wonder…
I’m entirely happy to accept that the two need to be separated. But, frankly, it sounds to me as if he simply wants to give the everyday, easy-to-grow, self-sows-everywhere plant a new name and retain the well known name for the tricky-to-grow ones with all the exotic and romantic Himalayan associations.
So I thought it would be interesting to see what the Welsh thought about all this and I asked Simon Goodenough, Curator of Horticulture at The National Botanic Garden of Wales.
“The Meconopsis debate has begun here in Wales,” he told me, “and there are a number of people who disagree with the idea of changing the botanical name of the Welsh poppy. However, I think changing its name will be a great opportunity to raise its status as a unique plant and one which Welsh botanists, gardeners and the people of Wales can be proud of. The National Botanic Garden of Wales will celebrate this change, however it plays out.” So, “always look on the bright side” is the message. Rather clever, actually…
As I said, it’s not the first time the Welsh poppy has had a change of name. Our old friend Carl Linnaeus named it Papaver cambricum back in 1753, but then in 1814 a botanist called Louis Viguier separated it out into a genus of its own. You see why here. It’s also been classified as an Argemone, a Cerastites and a Stylophorum – but let’s not dig all that up. Now, it’s going to be Parameconopsis cambrica. But I have the feeling that when someone finally takes a good long look at the whole poppy family it might be on the move again.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering… Gardeners in Britain and in North America can order seven different forms of the Welsh poppy, whatever its botanical name, from Plant World Seeds - including this double orange.
This is a tale of two corydalis. One spreads steadily, but very slowly, the other is worrying the invasive plants people.
Corydalis solida ‘Blushing Girl’ (above) is a spring ephemeral for woodland conditions, at its peak today. It comes and goes relatively quickly in spring, then its little tubers sit and wait to do it all again the following year. The soft pink of its crowded flower heads is lovely, but it spreads only slowly.
Corydalis solida has a wide European distribution and this form originates from the great Latvian plantsman Janis Ruskans. It was available in the US from the late lamented Seneca Hill Nursery but no one, not even Odyssey Bulbs who list a huge range, seems to list it. In the UK, there are three stockists.
Since I’ve started feeding my clump with Miracle-Gro it’s spreading; I split it last year and it’s increasing noticeably. However, no seedlings. This is because individual clones of Corydalis solida are self incompatible – they will not set seed when fertilized with their own pollen. I’ve been tempted to buy one or two different ones, so they’ll cross and I’ll get seedlings. Now I wish I had, but I'd been trying to be sure that the lovely ‘Blushing Girl’ stayed true.
By contrast, there’s Corydalis incisa. This is an annual or biennial from Japan, Korea, Taiwan and China described as “startling” by the authors of the excellent book Bleeding, Hearts, Corydalis and Their Relatives (Available in Britain from amazon.co.uk and available in North America from amazon.com). They also say that they’ve seen it naturalized along the Bronx River in New York City.
As you’ll have guessed, no incompatability problems here and it now seems to be spreading in the City sufficiently to have alerted The New York Botanical Garden. It’s also been spotted elsewhere on the east coast: Maryland, DC, and Virginia.
This is not a plant that’s widely grown in gardens, it’s stocked by four UK nurseries and by Sunshine Farm & Gardens in the US so, I have to say, it’s entirely possible that it escaped from one of the City’s botanical gardens!
But let’s not get carried away. Of course, we don't want another plant smothering our natives along river banks and in flood plains. But it It’s only been seen as an escape for a few years – which, in ecological time, is just a moment– and, as we know, sometimes plants that seem threatening just fade away. In the meantime, enjoy ‘Blushing Girl’ and the many other forms of Corydalis solida. I’m going to keep pouring on the Miracle-Gro and take a closer look at those listed by Odyssey Bulbs.
The blue poppies are amongst the most tantalizing plants we grow – or try to grow, at least. These exotic relatives of the corn poppy and Oriental poppy instantly attract visitors in any gardens where they’re in bloom. The Himalayan blue poppy… the very name is exciting. We’re almost in Indiana Jones country…
But there’s no doubt that not only are many species difficult to grow but their classification and naming has all been more than a little baffling. So the arrival of this fat – nay, enormous – new book from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and the expert on Meconopsis, Christopher (Kit) Grey-Wilson, is very welcome.
So, first of all: 300 pages, 300 color pictures, large format (almost 12in x 10in/30cm x 25cmm), spectacularly thorough (except see below) and amazingly detailed. The photographs are superb, many of plants are seen in their wild Himalayan home which is not only a treat in itself, but also helps inform us on how to grow them. The writing is admirably lucid (as we would expect from Mr. G-W), especially considering some of the difficult botanical issues that he discusses. It’s such a relief to have all the classification and naming set out in a way we can all grasp.
But, to be clear: This is primarily a work of botany, and not a work of horticulture. Based on the latest field, herbarium and laboratory studies Kit has completely revised the classification of the whole genus, given us detailed new descriptions of all the wild forms and published many new names for the first time. Garden hybrids and garden cultivars are not usuallly discussed and even some that have received the RHS Award of Garden Merit in recent years are not mentioned. As I say, this is not a book for gardeners.
There are many striking results of all this, but two stand out. Firstly, the name Meconopsis baileyi is now, again, the correct name for what we all finally got used to calling M. betonicifolia – the blue poppy most often seen and the easiest to grow. Secondly, our old friend the lovely yellow Welsh poppy, so familiar as Meconopsis cambrica, and native not only to Wales but Ireland and parts of south west England, and naturalized all over Britain, is now Parameconopsis cambrica. (More on that another time…)
So. This a very impressive work, and the culmination of many decades of dedicated and insightful study in the field, in the herbarium and in the laboratory. It’s an amazing achievement. But, as with The Genus Erythronium that I discussed here in December, it’s expensive: $112/£68. Isn't it time these books were published as ebooks for a third (a quarter?) of the price?
Kit taught me taxonomy when I studied at Kew many decades ago and he was mad about meconopsis then. This book is the triumphant culmination of a lifetime of study. Perhaps, next, he’ll give us a book for gardeners.
The Genus Meconopsis by Christopher Grey-Wilson is published by Kew Publishing in Britain and by The University of Chicago Press in North America.