Plants Go Head to Head in the Heat

It was a plant geek's version of a marathon.  My neighbor, friend, and partner in all things seriously-garden-related, Lesley, and I were scoping out the four acres of more than 3,000 plants displayed at C. Raker & Sons in Litchfield, Michigan. We baked in the hot sun as our heads spun nearly 360 and our feet carried us along the grassy paths through a crazy quilt of color.

Mandevilla 'Heatwave' offered up plenty of buds and flowers in a
hanging basket.
Names I recognized from plants I've bought, read, and written about had entries in the mix: Ball FloraPlant, Benary, Danzinger, Dummen, EuroAmerican, Floranova, Greenfuse Botanicals, Hort Couture, Jelitto, Panamerican Seed, Selecta, Syngenta, Takii, and others that contribute in a big way to bringing new plants to market.
Hemizygia 'Candy Kisses' looks great even without the
pink flowers that bloom late summer through fall.
Just one of the many intriguing contestants in the plant pageant was Hemizygia 'Candy Kisses', a variegated form of a plant that might also commonly be called sagebush or pink Salvia. Up close it resembles Plectranthus (Swedish ivy) or even Basil; not surprising as they all belong to the mint family. According to The Plant List- a working list of all known plant species - another name for the plant is Syncolostemon transvaalensis. The genus name (according to another excellent reference called PlantzAfrica) is taken from the Greek words syn: united, kolos: stunted, and stemon: pillar. The species name indicates the plant's original home, the Transvaal region of South Africa. No matter what you call it or how you pronounce it, this plant looks promising as a great "go with everything" accessory in the most fashionable mixed containers.

Nemesia 'Honey Metallic Blue' offers a color that could go a
long way toward cooling down hot colors.
Nemesia Seventh Heaven 'Raspberry'
I can't remember ever having seen a live flower in quite this color before. Nemesia Honey 'Metallic Blue' would all but disappear at dusk if it weren't for its cute yellow centers. I'd love to mix it with a lemon yellow Osteospermum. Another highly saturated Nemesia is called Seventh Heaven 'Raspberry'.

One of the best things about visiting a trial garden is to see how plants do during the hottest, and typically the driest, time of year. At Raker, there are field trials in which plants are planted in rows in the ground, hanging basket trials and container trials. There are also sponsored beds, which feature displays of each sponsor's plants. This year, there are 32 companies from all over the world that sponsor a display bed.

Scabiosa 'Gelato Blueberry' looked amazing growing in a
large container. Wouldn't it look good with white Lobularia?
According to Greg Michalak, Trial Gardens Director for Raker, plants in the trial beds are fed and watered. "For our sponsored beds we give them the conditions recommended by the breeder," he explained. It's a different story in the comparison trial areas. "If we do something to one plant in the comparison trials, we have to do it to all of them."
Stachys 'Bello Grigio' goes with everything. Imagine it at dusk,
planted with white lilies.
As saturated as the last few plants were, Stachys 'Bello Grigio' is positively ghostly. A lamb's ear relative, this starkly pale silver stunner looks cool with blue, purple, magenta, ... pretty much anything, as you can imagine
Torenia 'Moon Yellow' will grow
in sun if it receives
sufficient moisture.
When Impatiens walleriana came down with Impatiens downy mildew, it was probably the best thing that could happen to Torenia, a colorful shade-loving flower, also known as wishbone flower, with plenty of pizazz. Although it typically doesn't smother itself in flowers like Impatiens will, Torenia brings some yellow into the shade-garden department.
And in "speaking of which" category... At first glance, it looked something like a Torenia. But the bright crimson flower also had freckles. 

It's a cross between Torenia and Mimulus - or what do you get when you cross a monkey with a wishbone? Why, a Torelus, of course! This new genus is said to do as well in sun as in part sun, which, when you think about it, is more than you can ask of many annual flowers. If you look closely at these little beauties, you'll see the freckles left from its monkey flower genetics.

Torelus in a trial bed.
Just to clarify, not all of the plants in the trial beds at Raker are brand new. Some have been on the market for a couple of years, but are being compared to the standard in the category. Either way, if you look next spring for the plants I've listed here, there is a good chance you'll find them. Better yet, ask your garden center manager if they can order them if they haven't already.

The Perfect Venue for Floral Magic

Imagine a bright spot in the midst of one of the most blighted cities in America. Could that bright spot be so imaginatively possible with anything but flowers? 

Credit Lisa Waud, of Pot & Box for the idea of turning an abandoned Detroit duplex into a house of flowers. The Michigan florist purchased two buildings, one of which will host a flower installation in October.

Lisa has inspired florists from all over the country to fill the entire 15-room house with American grown fresh flowers and plants. The project is called Flower House, and the concept has taken my breath away.
In May, Lisa created a "teaser" room in an adjacent house to stir up some excitement for the project. That's when these photos were taken. How eerily beautiful an entire house, once home to families but abandoned to decay, will look when the installation is complete on October 16.
That is when Lisa and a team of floral artists will work some serious magic and give the house "one last hurrah" before having it torn down in order to create a flower farm.

In a February podcast, Debra Prinzing of Slow Flowers fame, interviews Lisa Waud about the process through the unfolding of this inspiring project. Learn more in the Flower House Teaser about the transforming effects of living plants, and the importance of using locally-grown flowers. I can't think of a better way to send the message.

July is the Coolest Month - Garden Bloggers Bloom Day!

Crocosmia 'Lucifer'
If describing my plants were like predicting the weather, the July forecast would be partly sparse but mostly vibrant.

Compared with the color bounty in June, new hues, although bright, unfurl in a parsimonious sequence through July.

We must share our gardens with uninvited guests this month. Starting with swarms of mosquitoes laying in wait in every cranny not protected by a 30 knot wind, grasshoppers growing to gargantuan proportions, and beetles from the Orient ruining any plant's chance at reaching its potential, it takes rose-colored glasses to overlook the carnage.
Eucomis 'Katie'

July is the month during which the wise Midwestern gardener first coined the phrase, "Gardening is not for Sissies."

More Eucomis cavort with potted tropicals.
Plants must be tenacious to bloom or look their best in a July garden. I've tried other Crocosmias, but the stalwart in my July garden is 'Lucifer', whose brilliant red is always welcome.

Bread poppy 'Lauren's Grape'
Although not proven hardy yet in my garden, but new for me and grown in a pot, Eucomis 'Katie' keeps on truckin' as the saying goes. Like many of the tropical bulbs I've been growing this year, this one comes from Easy to Grow Bulbs. All of the Eucomis cultivars I have are gearing up for a big splash in just a few weeks. (how's that for optimism?) For now, though, it's fun watching their little tufted topknots rise through the succulent leaves to make their presence better known.

Besides the double-flowered Papaver somniferum, another I don't recall planting in the spot where it's growing is 'Lauren's Grape'. I'll take the credit for sowing the seed in front of the fence, though, as it seems to be made for its ability to positively pop when paired with grey.

Echinacea 'Solar Flare' acts as leaning post for Nicotiana (flowering tobacco).
A more serendipitous yet short-lived pairing involves self-sown Nicotiana alata threatening to overshadow my favorite coneflower. 'Solar Flare' is one of the strongest hybrid Echinaceas I've grown.

Pelargonium 'Peppermint Star'
It's a good thing there are so many plants waiting on my "To-Grow" list. This July I'm particularly impressed with Stellar Pelargonium 'Peppermint Star'. The stellar type of garden geranium have compact stature, star-shaped flowers and notched leaves. I love the contrast between the bright pink flowers and chartreuse leaves.

For now, though, on this mid-July Garden Bloggers Bloom Day celebration, my excitement has been aimed at the Gloriosa Rothschildiana growing from bulbs I bought from Easy to Grow Bulbs. One of the coolest thing about this vining plant is that each flower looks good for several days, transforming itself from pale greenish yellow lightly streaked with red to a nearly solid red color about five days later. For something really exotic yet easy to grow in a pot on a lightweight trellis, I can't say enough about Gloriosa lilies, except that I wish I'd grown them sooner.
Gloriosa lilies just getting started.
This blog is in celebration of Garden Bloggers Bloom Day, started by blogger supreme Carol Michel, and populated by more flowers from more garden bloggers than you've ever thought possible. For a glimpse and a dose of inspiration, please check out some of 70+ gardens here.

Still in Love with Heuchera and Family

I'm not an organized gardener. When I receive a plant, whether I buy it or it is given to me by a breeding company to try, I might not put it in the absolute best place. But often I'm surprised at how well it fares regardless of its location. Some of the most forgiving are the Heucheras and Heucherellas.

I've long since lost the tags, so I'm unsure except for the Mukdenia (top right) and Heuchera 'Sashay' (bottom right)
Heucherellas are an intergeneric hybrid; a cross between Heuchera and Tiarella. They're all very hard to pass up in a garden center, especially if they're perky, full and colorful.
They're similar to Hydrangeas in the sense that they've been given the "shade-lover" moniker. While this is partly true, putting them in a spot where they get some direct sun brings out the best colors.

Heucherella 'Buttered Rum' in July
Heucherella 'Buttered Rum' from Terra Nova (planted in 2013) has some seriously interesting leaves. I love not only its colors but its leaf shape as well. I've been planting my Heucheras and Heucherellas in two spots mostly. The established plants that I've had for five years and more and are doing quite well are on the north side of the house in an area that receives direct sun for about two hours a day, with bright light the rest of the time.

The second, newer area consists of a combination of Epimedium and ferns, with the Heuchs in the spot that gets the most direct sun late in the day.

Heuchera 'Lava Lamp' at left; Heucherella 'Buttered Rum' at right.
Epimedium 'Domino' puts on a flower show that is complemented by Heuchera 'Lava Lamp' in the background.
Some Heucheras and Heucherellas, while still colorful, tend to fade somewhat when they don't get as much sunlight as they'd like, especially if they're planted beneath deciduous trees that leaf out and eventually shade the ground. Some of my Heuchs are planted at the feet of a really full Magnolia, and by late July aren't as vibrant as they would be if they received more sun.
I like to station Coleus in the shade beds and here an unnamed Coleus shines a light on Heuchera 'Delta Dawn'.

You Can Grow That: Sturdy Salvias in a Host of Heights

Salvia 'Love and Wishes'
Some reseed without being a pest and pop up at opportune places. Others like shade in the afternoon and offer up a soft yellow in the late summer, while others will grow tall enough to look you in the eye. Grown widely in the dry states (and I don't mean states that don't serve alcohol.), Salvia, or sage, is one of the most forgiving plants on the planet.

I've become a serious devotee of the tall varieties with huge flowers, and this year purchased two that are prettily nestled into one of the hot, sunny spots in my garden. Two have already been blooming, because I purchased quart-sized pots from Flowers by the Sea in northern California.
Salvia 'Wendy's Wish'

It cost a bit more in shipping, but it was well worth it for the well-established plants I received. Anything smaller and I'm lucky if the plant blooms by September. When I saw that FBTS offered 'Love and Wishes', I had to have one.

Salvia 'Amistad'

Here is what FBTS says about the three feet-tall 'Love and Wishes':

Retired government worker John Fisher of Orange, Australia, hybridized Love and Wishes from Wendy's Wish Sage (Salvia x 'Wendy's Wish'). He decided that it should benefit Australia's Make-a-Wish Foundation similar to its parent plant. Wendy's Wish is an accidental hybrid from the Victoria, Australia, garden of Salvia enthusiast Wendy Smith. Smith found its seedling beneath S. mexicana 'Lolly'. However, the plant's parentage remains a mystery.
Salvia Cathedral 'Sky Blue'

Even quicker to bloom is 'Amistad', a hybrid discovered in 2005 at a plant show in Argentina. According to Rolando Uria of the University of Buenos Aires, 'Amistad' has been replacing South American native Salvia guarantica in the gardens of Buenos Aires. Another hybrid whose parentage is in question, there is nothing shy or retiring about the four feet-tall 'Amistad', with its huge fluorescent purple calyxes and well-branched habit.

Another more typical garden Salvia is Cathedral 'Sky Blue', a fairly new introduction in the S. farinacea family of hybrids, and an improvement over 'Victoria' with its delightfully compact nature and pale but true blue color. It's been blooming its head off at no more than 12"-14" tall.

As part of the YOU CAN GROW THAT! community, I've offered up a selection of plants that are unusual but easy, and that give some verticality to a garden often filled with rounded flowers.

It's Just Silly to Live without Succulents

If you don't think you have enough sun for succulents, find a partly sunny spot and pack up a pot-full or two.

After visiting with Chris Hansen, co-founder with Mary Walters of Great Garden Plants, and breeder of the Winter Thriller series of Hellebores and now lots of hardy succulents, I was smitten. Chris is as memorable as his plants--a full-force jolt of energy and enthusiasm--as quick to spot something different as he is to work it into his breeding program.

The latest in this Michigander's repertoire? The first Sedum and Orostachys hybrid, a little tightly-clumped beauty in blue that is said to sport fragrant (think grape soda) blooms in late summer. Chris has named it SunSparkler x Sedoro 'Blue Elf'.
Chris Hansen
Although his introductions are hardy for my Zone 6 garden, I honestly wouldn't care if they only lasted one season. I picked up a plastic bowl of mixed succulents from Great Garden Plants, and added a few more specimens when I got it home.

To the non-hardy Echeveria and others whose names I do not know, I added a variegated Sedum called 'Lime Zinger' and one called 'Jade Tuffet', both in Chris's SunSparkler line. These two, and one of the new Sempervivums from the Chick Charms collection, were given to me to try in my garden.

It's easy to find a sunny spot for a small bowl of sun-loving succulents, which offer up the best color with serious sun.
Clockwise from bottom center: Sempervivum 'Appletini', Sedums 'Lime Zinger', 'Jade Tuffett',
and x Sedoro 'Blue Elf', with the tiny Eucomis in the center.
A rainbow of "semps" in
Chris Hansen's greenhouse.

I had another sad little ceramic bowl from last season into which I'd planted one of my ever growing collection of Eucomis. In went Sempervivum 'Appletini', another Sedum 'Lime Zinger', 'Jade Tuffett', and x Sedoro 'Blue Elf'.

So, what's so captivating about succulents? I think it's their concentrated color. Even without flowers, these little cuties sport more shades and versions of green than a Hosta. Sempervivum, or more commonly "hens and chicks," are Grandma plants personified. But if Peonies and Dahlias can make a comeback, why not the chubby, child-sized houseleek?

I predict an upsurge in strawberry jars, the preferred vessel (after the strawberries died) for hens and chicks. For now, though, the sensible container is made of Hypertufa, clay, ceramic, or even plastic. Semps are not only colorful and interesting, they are forgiving about their conditions.

I also predict that I'll be devoting more space and a larger percentage of containers to Sempervivum, Sedum and x Sedoro.

This Hypertufa trough is one of several in the rock garden display bed at Great Garden Plants headquarters.