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Tag Archive: Elisabeth Ginsburg

  1. Best Shade Perennials for East Coast Gardens

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    Coral bells come in a wide array of colors.

    Shady spaces are a frequent source of frustration for flower-loving gardeners. Annuals, like impatiens (regular and New Guinea) and wishbone flowers (Click here to read more about wishbone flower), can help, but for a truly vibrant landscape, dependable flowering perennials are a must. Put your frustration aside, because the options are plentiful, even for the dreaded dry shade.

    The following are some of the best flowering perennials for shade ranked roughly by bloom time.  Some come with added bonuses, like interesting leaves, ground-covering ability, and deer resistance.

    Classic bleeding heart has some of the prettiest rose-pink flowers.

    Bleeding Heart:  The name is a bit misleading because the old-fashioned bleeding heart (formerly Dicentra spectabilis and now Lamprocapnos spectabilis) will make your heart sing in mid-spring. It features graceful, arching stems that rise to 2 to 3 feet. Pink, pendulous, heart-shaped blooms are the norm, but the variety ‘Alba’ has clear white flowers. Unlike some other shade perennials, bleeding heart dies back by summer, so you need to consider planting other ornamentals to fill in the gaps it creates. By early to midsummer, the leaves and stems will turn brown and fade away.  But never fear, they will return without fail next spring.

    The later-blooming fringed bleeding heart (Dicentra eximia) is a shorter species from the eastern United States with pink or reddish flowers. They have more delicately dissected foliage, but the pendulous “hearts”, or individual flowers, are similar. Unlike the old-fashioned bleeding heart, the leaves of this species remain through to fall.

    Silvery or variegated leaves are a feature of many Siberian bugloss varieties.

    Siberian bugloss:  Low growing Siberian bugloss (Brunnera macrophylla) is also known as false forget-me-not because of its delicate, blue, late-spring flowers.  These appear on 6- to 12-inch stalks in spring, creating dots of true blue in the shade garden. Brunnera is especially valuable because the heart-shaped leaves add interest after the flowers fade. The best garden varieties are also variegated to brighten shaded spots. ‘Jack Frost’ is one of these with its silvery veined foliage that looks great through summer. Siberian bugloss forms neat mounds. Easy to love and easy to divide as clumps increase, it also thrives best in evenly moist soil conditions. It is a good edging plant and also works well in containers.

    Bugleweed is a fast-spreading perennial groundcover.

    Bugleweed or Viper’s Bugloss:  Botanically called Ajuga reptans, this very low-growing perennial groundcover happily creeps in sites with light to relatively heavy shade. The plants will also persevere against deer, rabbits and the toxins emitted by black walnut trees. Depending on the variety, the crisp leaves may be green, variegated with cream and pink, or dark bronze-purple. The late-spring flower stalks, that are between 6 to 8 inches, have many blue, lipped flowers that are beloved by bees.

    Coral Bells: The world of hybrid Heuchera, or coral bells, has exploded over the last two decades to encompass an incredible range of leaf colors, including bronze, shades of green, orange, peach, purple-black, and russet-red. Some varieties feature variegated leaves, with two or more colors vying for attention. Those colorful leaves may also be wavy or even ruffled on the edges. Many hybrids are mostly grown for their leaves while the lovely Heuchera sanguinea is also grown for its wand-like spires of tiny crimson bells that wave high above the rosette of leaves in late spring. The bells aren’t always coral but may also be white or pink. While very tolerant of shade, the plants insist on even moisture for best growth and looks.

    The delicate blooms of barrenwort are subtle but pretty.

    Barrenwort or Bishop’s Hat: The popular garden plants in the genus Epimedium are vigorous and tolerant of a wide variety of shade situations, including dry shade. In spring, they are bedecked with spurred, four-petaled flowers of yellow, pink, red, or white, depending on the variety. They dangle from the wiry stems, providing delicate, woodland elegance. The low-growing, spreading plants feature elongated, heart-shaped leaves that redden at the edges, especially in cooler weather. For good spring appearance, cut back the dried foliage in late winter.

    Pretty pink astilbe make a big presentation in the garden.

    Astilbe: With feathery late-spring conical plumes of white, pink, peach, red or purple, Astilbe is a shade stunner, even in places where shade is deep.  With few requirements other than consistent average moisture, these late spring bloomers are bright spots in borders and large containers. The average astilbe rises 18 to 24 inches, with a plume-like profile. Shear back the old flower heads to enjoy the plant’s ferny foliage from midsummer to fall. Great varieties include pink-flowered ‘Rheinland’ and pale peach ‘Peach Blossom’.

    The dark flowers of this geranium are unique and striking.

    Mourning Widow: Hardy geraniums are among the workhorses of the perennial garden and mourning widow (Geranium phaeum) is an understated star for light to medium shade. Tagged with its somber common name, this geranium features dissected leaves and mauve to dark purple flowers that rise on 12- to 24-inch stalks any time from late spring through midsummer.  The lovely variety Alba’ features white flowers, which provide a nice contrast in shady corners. For even more interest, try ‘Samobor’, with its purple flowers and foliage splashed with maroon. Throughout the rest of the season, its mound of broad, notched leaves continues to look attractive.

    Blue spiderwort will self-sow and spread, but it is so pretty in early summer.

    Spiderwort: Modern garden spiderworts are descended from the native woodside species, Tradescantia virginiana.  Standing up to 1.5- to 2-feet tall, the plants feature long, strap-like leaves, reminiscent of iris. Round buds cluster and dangle like beads at the top of each sturdy stem. Opening a few at a time and lasting for only one day, the blooms may be purple (the most common color), violet-blue, lilac, white, or nearly pink. Bright yellow stamens punctuate the center of each flower. The first flush of bloom comes in mid to late May. Once the last petal drops, cut back the stems almost to the ground.  New growth will appear, and a second flush of bloom may occur. Happy tradescantia will multiply into significant clumps, but these are easily divided and shared. The golden-leaved ‘Sweet Kate’ is an extra pretty variety that simply glows in shade.

    The flowers of Ligularia dentata are daisy-like.

    Leopard Plant: Botanically referred to as Ligularia, these perennials are tall, wide, and handsome, rising from a basal rosette of large green leaves that can reach from 2- to 5-feet tall, depending on the type. These garden “leopards” prefer consistently moist soil and thrive in partial to deep shade. The bright flowers range from yellow to yellow-orange. ‘The Rocket’ is a popular tall variety, with gigantic, triangular, toothed leaves and towering yellow flower spikes made up of tiny daisies.  Ligularia dentata ‘Desdemona’, is a little shorter at about 2- to 3-feet tall, with glossy, rounded leaves that are green on top and dark purple on the bottom. Instead of spikes, its blooms are clusters of larger, golden-orange, 2-inch daisies.

    Hosta are some of the best foliage plants for shade.

    Plantain Lilies: Everyone knows and loves Hosta, which are grown primarily for their foliage. With leaf sizes ranging from small (‘Blue Mouse Ears’) to giant (‘Blue Mammoth’), hostas can suit any size of shade garden or container. Foliage colors include a range of greens, from the palest chartreuse to the darkest dark green. Powdery blue-greys and blue-greens are also common as are variegated hostas, with leaves striped, splashed, or edged in contrasting creams, yellows, and bright greens. At bloom time, tall stems of flowers bear lily-like blossoms that are often fragrant. One hosta with extra lovely flowers is the August lily (Hosta plantaginea), which is renowned for its fragrance. Hosta lovers do have to contend with deer and/or slug damage, but remedies for these pests abound. (Click here to learn more about warding off animal pests in the garden.)

    Japanese toad lily (Tricyrtis hirta) is one of the many species to try.

    Toad Lily: Toad lily is a whimsical name for a lovely fall-blooming shade lover.  Known botanically as Tricyrtis, toad lily, like the amphibian for which it is named, prefers consistently lightly moist soil conditions and partial to medium shade. Arching stems rise 2 to 3 feet and feature oval or oblong leaves that appear to clasp the stems. The flowers, which look a bit like small, spotted lilies, bloom on stalks that sprout from between the stems and leaves. Blooming in late summer or early fall, toad lily varieties may have flowers that are white with spots and splashes of medium to dark purple, pink, or mauve.  If given a chance, the plants will also naturalize.

    Planting Shade Perennials

    When planting your shade perennials, give them a good start by adding a quality soil amendment, like Fafard® Garden Manure Blend, and prepare yourself for colorful, exciting shaded spaces.

    If you plan to plant your perennials in dry shade, be sure to raise the amended soil several inches above the soil line and mulch them well with a fine mulch. This should give them a little more space to grow without smothering surface tree roots.

  2. Purple Vegetables for Color and Nutrition

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    At various times and places, purple has been the color of royalty, rock stars, and rebellion. It has represented bravery, as well as overwrought prose. A shade of purple—mauve—was even used to describe the 1890’s, a time when the invention and widespread use of aniline dyes made purple fabrics and clothes widely available.
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  3. Wishbone Flowers for Shade Garden Color

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    The flowers of Torenia Summer Wave® Large Blue look spectacular close up.

    Gardeners the world over have long suffered from a common ailment—we covet plants, climate conditions, and time that we don’t have. This is especially true of gardeners with shady landscapes. Our gardens may support all kinds of ferns, but we want roses. Hostas the size of small houses sprout without any help at all while we pine for sunflowers. The list of “wants” versus realities goes on and on.
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  4. The Sweetest Spring Carrots

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    Poet John Keats said, “A thing of beauty is a joy forever.” And a spring carrot is truly a thing of beauty, if even if it is covered with dirt when pulled from the ground. Wash off the dirt and take a bite of that carrot. You will discover its inner beauty. Time spent in cool spring soil gives home-grown carrots a fresh sweetness that store-bought varieties will never have.
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  5. Cool House Plants for Hanging

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    Tropical pitcher plant (Nepenthes spp.)

    Are you a house plant fanatic who wants new and different ways to show even more green specimens? Do you live in a small space with limited room for indoor greenery? Are you looking for new and different living accents to perk up your decorating scheme?
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  6. Clivia for Glorious Winter Flowers

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    From the last week of November through the first of the New Year, many of us are surrounded by colorful seasonal decorations.  But then January arrives and all that glitters is gone.  To stave off Seasonal Affective Disorder, or at least help tide you over until the first crocuses push up through the cold earth, invest in house plants that bloom naturally during the winter months.  Clivia miniata, occasionally called “Natal lily” or “fire lily”, but most often known as just plain “clivia”, is one of the best.
    With bold orange or yellow clusters of trumpet flowers blooming atop tall (18-24”) stalks and strappy green leaves, clivia is reminiscent of other well-loved Amaryllis family members, like Nerine and Crinum.  It is a perennial but is only winter hardy in USDA Zones 9-11.  The upward-facing clivia trumpets are somewhat smaller than those of another relative, the showy amaryllis (Hippeastrum app.), but each cluster contains more flowers.  Clivia colors are dramatic—bright orange is the most common—but it is not hard to find pale or bright yellow varieties.

    Clivia History

    Clivia is winter hardy in USDA Zones 9-11, but it is also a popular house plant.

    The genus was named in honor of an Englishwoman, Lady Charlotte Florentia Clive, wife of an early nineteenth century Duke of Northumberland.  Clivia is native to coastal areas in the KwaZulu-Natal region of South Africa, where the orange-flowered form was discovered by English plant hunters in the early 1820s.  The first plants to bloom in England did so in 1827 in a greenhouse at Syon House, one of the Northumberland’ residences.  Much later, in 1888, a rarer, yellow-flowered clivia was discovered, also in the Natal.
    The colorful flowers were a hit and clivia became a “must have” for wealthy Victorian plant collectors.  As the nineteenth century progressed, the cheerful orange blooms made frequent appearances in conservatories and greenhouses.  Fast forward nearly 100 years, to the second half of the twentieth century, and breeders in the United States, Australia and elsewhere were hard at work enlarging the number of forms and colors, especially in the yellow range.  Hybridization has also resulted in peach, pink and red-flowered forms, though they are quite expensive.  While clivia hybridizing is not difficult, it takes many plant generations to produce strong, reliable new strains that come true from seed.

    Clivia Sources

    These days, orange and yellow clivia are available at reasonable prices from many traditional and online outlets.  For instant color, buy blooming specimens, which are the most expensive.  However, if you are willing to be patient and play the long game, you can get a smaller plant for relatively little and nurture it to blooming size.  Remember that the pictures you see online or in catalogs are probably photos of mature plants.  Your clivia may not have as many blooms, especially in its first year or two of flowering.

    Clivia Care

    This deepest orange-red clivia is a real show stopper.

    Whether your clivia is mature or somewhat smaller, pot it up using a high-quality potting mixture, like Fafard® Professional Potting Mix.  The size of the decorative pot should only be a little larger than the nursery pot.  Clivia is fond of close quarters.
    The care regimen is reasonably easy.  If yours is already in bloom, position the pot where you can see the flowers best, water when the top of the soil feels dry, and enjoy the show for up to a month.  Afterward, place in a sunny window and continue to water and feed once a month with a balanced fertilizer diluted according to package directions.  If you can do so, let your clivia have a summer vacation outside in a lightly shaded location that is protected from wind and other weather-related disturbances.
    If you live in a cold-winter area, bring the plant indoors before the first frost.  To stimulate winter bloom, stop watering around October 1, and put the clivia in a cool place, ideally with a temperature between 50 and 55 degrees Fahrenheit, for at least five weeks and preferably a bit longer.  When the dormancy period is over, bring the plant back into the warmth and light and begin watering again.  Flower stalks should appear after a few weeks.  Keep up this routine for a few years, and you will most likely see more flowers every year.  When repotting, which should only happen after several years, do not increase the pot size dramatically or flowering may be affected.
    Unlike some other decorative plants, clivia is an excellent long-term investment.  It is well worth it to see some floral light at the end of the mid-winter tunnel.

  7. Bringing Herbs Indoors for Winter

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    Summer vacation is wonderful for people with culinary herbs.  While you enjoy longer days and uninterrupted stretches of shorts-and-sandals weather, your plants are basking in summer sunshine and warmth.  Basil grows bushy, thyme exudes powerful fragrance, and mints threaten to take over the landscape.  You can harvest herbs whenever you need them, secure in the knowledge that the summer garden will provide an ever-ready supply.
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  8. Growing and Harvesting Everlasting Flowers

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    Flowers are nature’s most beautiful and ephemeral gifts to us.  But for gardeners, especially those living in cold-winter climates, the gift is seasonal.  Winter comes, flowers fade, and the bright colors of spring and summer are just a memory.
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  9. Beating Tomato Pests and Diseases

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    Nothing’s better than a happy, fruitful tomato, but keeping pests and diseases at bay can be a challenge.

    All winter long, tomato lovers suffer, eating supermarket fruit with the taste and texture of foam packing peanuts.  Finally, summer arrives, bringing a harvest of tart, sweet, sunshiny tomatoes.  You can buy these edible jewels at the local farmers’ market, but there is something incredibly satisfying about growing your own.  A just-picked tomato, still warm from the sun is nirvana in a red wrapper. (more…)

  10. Flowers for Coastal Gardens

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    Rugosa rose is one of the classic hardy garden plants for coastal gardening.

    The phrase “coastal gardens” evokes a host of memorable images, billowing daisies flanking gray-shingled cottages, bright “dune roses” blooming against an ocean background, or pots of brilliant red geraniums on a wooden pier.  North America has an abundance of coastal areas that are home to a wide array of coastal gardens.
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