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September 2014
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October 2014

Spoons for Escargot and more crazy plant names

Hemerocallis 'Spoons For Escargots' Image © Strictly Daylilies’ve been working on a piece for Amateur Gardening, Britain’s long established weekly magazine (Yes, Britain has two weekly gardeing magazines), about plants with names suited to special occasions. You know… ‘Golden Wedding’ rose, that sort of thing. There are plants for birthdays, plants for anniversaries, plants for retirements and… and plants for bereavements.

So, when your beloved terrier or retriever finally passes away, you can plant a rose called ‘In Memory of My Dog’ on its grave. Yes, really! And if yours is a cat household, there’s ‘In Memory of My Cat’! No sign yet of roses called ‘In Memory Of My Goldfish’ or ‘In Memory Of My Stick Insect’ let alone ‘In Memory of My Waistline’.

Of course, you know how I love the oddities of plant names and nothing beats the communist lilacs. But looking through the new plants that are being introduced this year there are some interesting curiosities amongst the names.

There’s a new abutilon rather oddly called 'Eric's Wotsit' and a clivia called, yes, 'Sweet Undress'… hmmm. Of course, as usual, daylilies and hostas excel with 'Romeo is Bleeding' and 'Spoons for Escargot' (above, click to enlarge) daylilies along with 'Tokyo Smog' and 'Rosedale Tractor Seat' hostas. And Americans will be horrified by the pulmonaria called 'Spotted Dick'… (It’s a traditional British baked desert, spotted with raisins).... I'll say no more.

Got any more?

Thank you to Strictly Daylilies for permission to use their picture of Hemerocallis 'Spoons for Escargot'.

Hostas for late season leaf color

HopstaPaulsGloryFallThis is not the time of year when we usually think of hostas turning on the color but look at this ‘Paul’s Glory’ outside my window here in Pennsylvania. All summer the golden leaves with their narrow blue-green edges have made an impressive clump but now, as the edges turn yellow and the centers fade to white (as they tend to do in shade), ‘Paul’s Glory’ takes on a whole new look. And it’s not the only one.

Years ago in my garden in Northamptonshire I grew that old favorite ‘Halcyon’ in a terracotta pot (below right, click to enlarge). And every year it turned this lovely biscuit brown in the autumn. The little hardy geranium in amongst it is a self sown Geranium thunbergii. I grew some from seed collected in China but it proved to be a small-flowered weedy ground cover although its autumn leaves take on these attractive tones. Hosta-Halcyon-2UP-700

The other hosta I especially like for its autumn display is the oddly named ‘Christmas Tree’ (below, click to enlarge) whose bold puckered leaves are turning a lovely soft yellow now.

Regular readers will appreciate that these all fall in a group of plants for which I have a special enthusiasm - individual varieties which have two different seasons of display. Powerhouse Plants, my publisher insisted on calling them for the book in which over five hundred such plants are covered – some of which actually have four or five different seasons of interest.

And after all, what's not to like about hostas that look wonderful all summer – and then turn a different shade of wonderful in the fall?!

Two ways to grow chrysanthemums

Chrysanthemums as footstools and in a crowded border. Image ©
I spotted these “mums” on the left (above, click to enlarge), growing outside the hospital where I’ve been going for my cardiac rehab. They’re replacements for petunias grown in exactly the same way and look like nothing more than a display of footstools outside a furniture store. Although they’re perfectly hardy, they’re treated as seasonal bedding plants and will be replaced when they’re over.

This is one two main ways we see chrysanths here in the US, the familiar alternative is to grow similar varieties as individual specimens in pots, on the front steps perhaps. These, too, will be discarded after a couple of months.

Interestingly, this approach replicates the way plants were grown hundreds of years ago when it was so often the individual plant that was important, and each was allowed space from its neighbor so that it could be appreciated as an individual.

An alternative style is shown above right, where tall single flowered types are planted in a slightly chaotic effervescence of color. As it happens, this much more British way of growing them is seen at the New York Botanical Garden, where all these so far unnamed varieties were developed. But they’re planted so closely together, and so in need of support, that getting in to dead head is impossible.

Personally, I wouldn’t grow them either way. I choose varieties in the same style as those single Korean At 88 cents/50 pence each these chrysanthemums are just too cheap. Image ©GardenPhotos.comtypes at the New York BG, but mix them with perennial asters of various kinds as well as eupatoriums, heleniums, sedums and other late perennials plus shrubs such as physocarpus and euonymus with a long season of fall leaf color. But unfortunately we don't have enough sun here in Pennsylvania for the these sun-loving autumn perennials to thrive, it’s now just too shady.

And while we’re talking about of chrysanths I thought you might like to see these bargain plants I spotted on sale (click to enlarge). Yes, 88 cents – that’s fifty pence. Too cheap, they’re too cheap. No one can make a living from producing plants that sell at that price.

Faded chrysanthemums - they didn't last long. Image ©GardenPhotos.comUPDATE: Today, nine days after I took the picture of the footstool chrysanthemums in full color - they look like this (left, click to enlarge). Ghastly.

Nearby - this is at the Pocono Medical Center at East Stroudsburg, PA, where I've been going two or three times week for my cardiac rehab - are plantings of New Guinea impatiens which have been looking good for months.

Today I also spotted some double yellow French marigolds which also look as if they've been there for months are are flowering away merrily.

OK, we can't expect a hospital to grow chrysanths like they do at the New York Botanical Garden. But first there were petunias - which we poor - and then there were these chrysanthemums which were colorful for about a week. The marigolds were surely the best value - by far.

Burning bush: fall foliage for cutting

Gladioli, amaranth and burning bush at Rachel's wedding. Image ©GardenPhotos.comHad a jolly time at my niece’s wedding on Saturday up in Woodstock, New York (where the festival famously wasn’t) and, as ever, spotted something of horticultural interest. The bold floral displays at the ceremony featured gladioli in autumnal orange with purple amaranthus and all backed by – burning bush, Euonymus alatus. Click the image to enlarge it and see the foliage more clearly.

It’s not often that we see Euonymus alatus used as cut foliage. It makes a spectacular feature in the landscape with its brilliant fall color and is also being mentioned as a worrying invasive. But not many people have the bright idea of using it for cutting. And one of the appealing things about it is that the older leaves color first so that at along one branch the foliage color changes from purple-tinted green at the tips to puce or brilliant scarlet at the base and this creates possibilities of harmonies with a range of colors.

Fall color on two plants of Euonymus alatus maturing at different times. Image ©GardenPhotos.comA feature worth keeping in mind is that many of the plants we grow are seedlings, so no two are exactly the same. The result is that different individual plants reach the peak of their fall color at different times. The foliage from two plants growing side by side in our Pennsylvania garden (right, click to enlarge) shows one at peak of color and one still some way off. This is a great advantage for cutting as it ensures that material is available over a longer period but in the garden, and especially when grown as an informal hedge, a mix of brilliant red and almost green foliage is much less effective than a continuous dazzle of scarlet.

Then, of course, there’s the issue of invasiveness. It grows naturally in China and Japan but planting burning bush is banned in Massachusetts and the plant is cited as invasive in Connecticut but I don't think it will ever be the menace of plants like Japanese knotweed because the deer eat it. The plants in the unfenced part of our garden ahave been eaten bare to about 5ft//1.5m and seedlings never grow more than a few inches before being eaten.

But, if you’d rather be cautious, there’s the varieties ‘Rudy Haag’ and Little Moses (‘Odom’) which set almost no seeds so are far less likely to spread. But, for cutting, they have the disadvantage of being dwarf and slow growing, as do most of the other named sorts including ‘Compactus’, ‘Fire Ball’ and ‘Timber Creek’.

Euonymus alatus fruits and autumn foliage. Image ©GardenPhotos.comBut burning bush has two other attractive features, both more noticeable when stems are cut for the arrangements and after the leaves have finally fallen. The winged stems of mature branches are a striking feature and while ‘Blade Runner’ has broader wings than other varieties var. apterus and ‘Compactus’ are less noticeably winged. And then there are those reddish purple fruits which split to reveal orange seeds. They last well and line the branches in winter.

I couldn’t find any info on how to treat cut burning bush stems to ensure they last as long as possible in the vase. My usual bible on cutting woody material is the invaluable Woody Cut Stems For Growers and Florists by Lane Greer and John M. Dole (available from and from but it concentrates on evergreen Euonymus species. So if anyone has any thoughts on how to ensure the fall foliage of Euonymus alatus lasts well in the vase, please post a comment.

Bee-friendly Himalayan balsam

Three of the colours seen in Impatiens glandulifera, Himalayan balsam, in Northamptonshire. Images ©
Himalayan balsam, Impatiens glandulifera, is a common plant of British riversides, pond margins and other wet places and is always said to be too invasive for us to be allowed to grow. It looks as if it’s smothering everything else where it grows, so it’s banned. It can be a lovely plant, so not being allowed to grow it is unfortunate.

On my recent short visit back to England I saw it along the River Nene in Northamptonshire (along with the American native Imaptiens capensis), by the Wey Navigation Canal and River Wey in Surrey and in other waterside places. Some stands of it looked dense and were well over 6ft/2m high.

Impatiens glandulifera, Himalayan balsam, growing by the River Wey in Surrey. Image ©GardenPhotos.comBut the most striking feature was the colours. The flowers varied from cherry red through various purplish and pink shades, including some pretty bicoloured forms, to almost white. Years ago I used to grow a pure white form called ‘Candida’ (with none of the anthocyanins that bring the red and pink colouring); it’s very pretty, but those pale flowered plants I came across this year all had a faint blush of pink.

Also known as policeman’s helmet from the similarity of the flower shape (though not the colour!) to the helmets worn by London policemen, it’s listed as a noxious weed in three US states though it’s not yet found in most country.

However – is it really that bad? Needless to say Ken Thompson gives us the low down in his latest book, Where Do Camels Belong? The Story and Science of Invasive Species. Himalayan balsam in Britain, like purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) in North America, turns out to be an example of a plant that looks as if it’s smothering everything to extinction while the basic science tells a different story.

Dr. Thompson reports that a large scientific study that compared areas that had been invaded with similar habitats that had not concluded that “it (Himalayan balsam) does not represent threat to the plant diversity of invaded areas”. But although one visual assessment turns out to be misjudged, another turns out to be valid. The late flowering of Impatiens glandulifera provides valuable food for bees when few other plants in its favoured damp habitats are flowering. So it’s actually quite useful as well as attractive – so it’s shame that we’re not supposed to grow it.