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October 2013

Distinctive trees of our local forests

Sassafras albidum (left) and Liriodendron tulipifera: two fine trees of the eastern American forests. Image ©
Two native trees of the eastern American forests have leaves which you just can’t confuse with anything else. Both feature fine fall color (although they're now past their peak) and both make fine specimen trees for gardens, on both sides of the Atlantic.

On the left in the picture (click to enlarge) the quirkily lobed leaf of Sassafras albidum. Kids call it the mitten tree, especially as seedlings may only have two lobes. We have a dying tree – one huge woodpecker hole is causing it to rot from the inside – but it’s inside the deer fence so its seedlings are popping up all over. Outside the fence – none.

Ours all seem to color yellow or orange, some with a few purple veins, but fall color on other trees can be a vivid red. And although we have plenty of seedlings they’re almost impossible to transplant. Suckers seem to work better. And it insists on acid soil.

The tulip tree, Liriodendron tulipifera (above right), seems more widespread across the river from here in New Jersey although there are a couple of young trees by the side of the road a few miles away and farther afield in Pennsylvania it’s moved in to take the place of all the chestnuts that died of blight. Again, its leaves are very distinctive – but very different – and its fall color is yellow to old gold.

Tulip tree develops into impressive straight-trunked specimens, the tallest in our state is 133ft/40m. Sassafras develops into bushier specimens, half the size.

Both these trees have many other valuable features, but as fall fades these are two of the most distinctive trees of our local forests and impressive in gardens too – if you have the space.

British gardeners can order Sassafras albidum from these RHS Plant Finder nurseries.

British gardeners can order Liriodendron tulipifera from these RHS Plant Finder nurseries.

North American gardeners can order both these trees from Forest Farm, and they're also sometimes available from local conservation groups.

Powerhouse Plant For All Seasons: Polygonatum odoratum var. pluriflorum ‘Variegatum’

Polygonatum odoratum var. pluriflorum ‘Variegatum’ - summer and autumn foliage. Image ©GardenPhotos.comTime for a look at another Powerhouse Plant, these are Plants For All Seasons - individual varieties which provide color and interest for at least two seasons of the year and not just a fleeting flush of flowers followed by months of dull foliage. I feature over five hundred of them in my latest book, Powerhouse Plants, and every month in Gardeners' World, Britain’s top-selling garden magazine (and also available in the US) I focus on one very special Plant For All Seasons, highlighting three features which bring color to the garden at different times of the year. This month, in the magazine, I feature Cornus kousa, next month it’s Ampelopsis brevipedunculata var. maximowiczii ‘Elegans’, a lovely plant in spite of its long-winded name.

And every month here on my Transatlantic Gardener blog I bring you details of another Powerhouse Plant this month it’s another with a long name: Polygonatum odoratum var. pluriflorum ‘Variegatum’ (click to enlarge) – a perennial with four, yes four, different features.

As I look out of my window today, it’s the bright yellow, daintily dappled autumn leaf color which stands out, arching elegantly. Earlier, it was the neatly white-edged green foliage that caught the eye, with the addition of small, green-tipped white bells dancing daintily.

Those white bells are followed by blue-black berries although, I have to say, they don’t seem to last very long Polygonatum odoratum var. pluriflorum ‘Variegatum’ - colorful spring shoots. Image © here before something eats them. But before all that, right at the start of the season, there are these dramatic red spring shoots.

This is a vigorous, graceful multi-season perennial for light shade or a site that’s shaded for part of the day – I’d say its spring to autumn interest and that fact that it’s so easy to grow makes it indispensible.

In North America you can buy plants of Polygonatum odoratum var. pluriflorum ‘Variegatum’ from Digging Dog Nursery, and a whole range of other exciting polygonatums is available from Plant Delights.

In Britain you can order Polygonatum odoratum var. pluriflorum ‘Variegatum’ from these RHS PlantFinder nurseries.

Favorite new garden tool

One Touch™ Rain Wand from Dramm, 30in/76cm model. Image ©

Guest post from my wife,  judywhite - though I think it's great too.

Just a quick note to say I love the new One Touch™ Rain Wand from Dramm, which they sent us to trial this year (above, click to enlarge).

By ‘One Touch’ they mean that the on/off switch can be controlled with your thumb, and slides easily through a range of water flow in a gentle steady shower pattern. It’s incredibly simple to slide it on and off as you move around the garden, so you don’t end up watering the steps and pathways, a great water saver. Ours is the long version, 30in/76cm) but it also comes in a shorter 16in/40cm version.

The Rain Wand is made of sturdy aluminum but is still lightweight and of high quality. It’s designed expressly for watering, not for power washing or other options, and it does its job extremely well. We received the beautiful red colored one – you can choose from six colors from purple to orange. (I am a bit hard on it, so the color has been dinged a bit.) Make sure to look for “One Touch”, because there are other kinds of Dramm Rain Wands.

In the North America, you can order in both sizes and all colors

In the UK, only the green 30in/76cm oprion seems to be available Some enterprising UK distributor should take it on.

Doll’s eyes and tulip trees

Actaea pachypoda, Doll's Eyes; the fruits weigh down the stem. Image ©
Just a quick post to show you these amazing fruits that we spotted on a woodland walk at the weekend. The plant is Actaea pachypoda, also known as Doll’s Eyes or, more prosaically, as White Baneberry, and we came across just one plant, its two shoots weighed down by these spectacular berries.

This is one of those plants that used to be seen far more often until the deer population grew so dramatically that in much of our area the ground flora has been decimated. The whole plant is poisonous, but that doesn’t seem to deter the deer. There’s an interesting discussion of this and the other North American Actaea in the exceptional Spring Wildflowers Of The Northeast by Carol Gracie.

In the garden this is a fine shade plant, especially when it's matured into a fat clump  - although here in Pennsylvania the fruits - which follow white fluffy flwoers - tend to rot before they reach their full glory; I think our plant is too crowded and overhung by shrubs.

The other fine sight at Tillman Ravine in New Jersey was a huge tulip tree, Liriodendron tulipifera, its fall foliage bright yellow high against the blue sky, way above the trickling creek. I remember the one at Kew, planted in 1770! Great to see such a fine specimen in the wild (but impossible to photograph).

In North America you can buy plants of Actaea pachypoda from The Tree Nursery

In Britian you can buy plants of Actaea pachypoda from these RHS PlantFinder nurseries

Recently published online…

Sweet Pea 'Northern Lights', a unique dwarf variety. Image ©Mark Rowland

Time for another quick recap on my work which has been published online over the last few weeks.

Transatlantic Gardener

Be smart when choosing Dill, Cilantro and Chervil

Wasps’ nest over the water

Powerhouse Plant For All Seasons: Clethra 'Ruby Spice'

Unique British sweet pea - also available in the US (That would be the dwarf 'Northern Lights', above clck to enlarge)

"Don't buy seed of perennials," says British expert!

Hitler rants on taxonomists who change plant names

Four, long season foliage plants

American tomatoes for British gardeners

The Telegraph
Sow now for sweet pea success

The Guardian
A perennial problem: Is plantsman Bob Brown wrong to claim buying seed of perennials is a waste of money? Yes, says me
This is a revised version of my "Don't buy seed of perennials," says British expert! post that was published here on Transatlantic Gardener.

The Plantsman
Chelsea Plant Of The Year 2013 Winners and finalists reviewed. The winnner is seen below (click to enlarge)

Royal Horticultural Society New Plants blog
Lavatera ‘Dwarf Pink Blush’: new colour from Thompson & Morgan

New sweet peas to sow this autumn

Sweet Pea 'Sir Henry Cecil': New from Mr Fothergill's Seeds

Rose Lady Marmalade: Rose Of The Year for 2014

Royal Hortcultural Society website
Ten award-winning autumn grasses

Exotic and unusual climbers

Chelsea Plant Of The Year 2013: Mahonia 'Soft Caress'. Image ©

American tomatoes for British gardeners

The Tomato Growers Supply Company will send seed of a vast range of heirloom tomatoes to British gardeners. Image ©
The number of different varieties of tomato available in the US is enormous. Just one supplier, the Tomato Growers Supply Company lists nearly 300 varieties (as well as over 150 peppers and nearly 30 aubergines (egg plants) – and they will send seed to Britain, in fact they’ll send it anywhere. So this is a great opportunity for British tomato lovers to try something completely different. American gardeners will find some tasty surprises too.

Of course, some of the varieties they list are available from the big British seed companies and some from specialists like Simpsons Seeds (who do not send seeds to North America). But the range of American heirlooms available from the Tomato Growers Supply Company is impressive, and includes ‘Lillian’s Yellow Heirloom’ (“one of the finest tasting yellow heirlooms”), ‘Mexico’ (“huge dark pink fruit with outstanding taste… brought into the U.S. by a Mexican family”) and the more modern ‘Copia’ (“a stunning combination of fine-lined golden yellow and red stripes… the real treat comes when you cut them open. Their gold flesh is streaked with red and is very juicy, flavorful, and sweet.”

You get the picture, a vast variety of intriguing new tomatoes to try.

One really useful feature of the Tomato Growers Supply Company listings is that each variety is rated as early, midseason or late and they give the actual number of days after planting that you can expect your first ripe fruit: around 60 days for the earlies, to about 90 days for lates. British seed suppliers don’t seem to do this.

Hardly anyone grows tomatoes in greenhouses in North America, so these are all outdoor timings. In areas of Britain where the first frosts come late you can probably grow them all; in chillier areas, you might want to forget the late varieties.

The Tomato Growers Supply Company will charge British customers a flat rate of just $12.00 (c£7.50) per shipment ($5.25 for North American customers). You can check out the terms here.

For the benefit of North American readers, sweet peas are the opposite. British suppliers list a large range of varieties, and some will send seed to North America. I’ll be looking at transatlantic sweet pea opportunities for North American readers soon.