Tag Archives: deer resistant

For winter: Arum italicum ‘Pamela Harper’

Look who’s popping up in one  of our shady corners, on cue, in mid October.  This Ellen Hornig selection of Spotted Arum (named for the wonderful gardener, Pamela Harper)  has stunning white marbled foliage edged in dark green throughout the winter, even when temperatures dip well below freezing.  It does send up a flower spathe in spring, which will be followed by orange  fruit that encases the seeds. The foliage is summer dormant, so you may forget that it’s in your garden until fall arrives when once again the new growth emerges.

Arum italicum ‘Pamela Harper’ is hardy in zones 5a-10. It prefers well drained soil in dappled shade.  Foliage height is 6-10″ tall. Not especially fast growing for us in a northern climate, but the bulbous roots produce little offsets which can be lifted and divided to spread about your garden.

Do note that all parts of this plant are poisonous.

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Growing Biennial Angelica

One of the stars of our late summer pollinator garden is Angelica, whose umbels of tiny flowers invite insect and butterfly activity galore.  Angelica are biennials, and most of you know this  means that seed sown this year grow roots and foliage, with flowers appearing in year two. The hope is that once planted, the Angelica will self sow, providing progeny for years to come. Hmm, sounds good, but….

Angelica germinates best after the seed has been exposed to cold temperatures. If plants are allowed to self sow in the garden, the seed naturally gets a long winter chill, and wakes up with the spring rains. When this works, it’s wonderful! In our experience this is not always something to be counted on. What if the seed germinates but then a dry spell settles in and you are too busy to observe and water?

We choose not leave our supply up to chance. After collecting seed in the fall, we store it envelopes in a cool dry space. In February we sow the seed in a slightly dampened germinating mix and let it sit for 2 weeks at room temperature (60-72F). We then transfer the seed flat, enclosed with a sealed baggie, into the refrigerator (35-40F) for 4-6 weeks (you could also try leaving the flat in a safe spot outdoors). In April, we transfer the seed flat out to germinate under 60-70F conditions. Once the seedlings have developed first true leaves, we transplant them into deep 2” tubes (Angelica do develop a taproot). When plants are established enough they can be transplanted into the garden, or in our case, into deep nursery quart pots for retail sales.

Angelica atropurpurea

There are numerous species; here are a few of our favorites. Angelica gigas, native to Korea has bolder foliage with dense deep wine globular umbels. Angelica stricta ‘Purpurea’. (aka A. sylvestris purpurea) hails from northern Europe and has dark tinted stems and foliage, with 4’ stems bearing dark purple flower buds opening maturing to lavender-pink, followed by attractive seed heads. There is a species native to parts of the US, including New England, Angelica atropurpurea, (Purple angelica) which has medicinal uses, plus it is quite ornamental with tall  red tinted stems and green to white umbels.

If you want to grow Angelica in large swaths of your garden, why not order seed and sow this winter. You’ll have to wait a year for blossoms, but you’ll have dozens of plants. Or, compromise. Purchase a few established first year plants and get them in the ground this year for color and activity next, but still sow seed next winter for your endless supply.

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Hydrangea involucrata

Rosebud Hydrangea stands out in a crowd, despite its small stature. Slightly fuzzy soft green ovate leaves adorn the branches and it slowly grows into a 3-4’ x 3’-4’ shrub (more like 4′ in mild winter climates). From rosebud shaped  buds emerge blue lace cap flowers…clusters of tiny lavender-blue flowers are surrounded by white 4 petaled florets. It often dies back to the ground for us each winter, but since it blooms on new wood it always provides a show for us in late summer. (My honeybees descend on it as a pollen source in September.)

The literature suggests growing Hydrangea involucrata in part shade, but we’ve been growing this Hydrangea in full sun in sharply drained soil and have had it in our garden for 15 years. It has put up with weeks of dry condition this summer without looking thirsty, but we finally gave it a good soaking after the last forecast of rain didn’t materialize.

Plants are hardy in zone 6-9.

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The Prettiest Grass…Melinus nerviglumis


Ruby Grass is really truly one of the prettiest ornamental grasses ever, especially when illuminated by end of the day light. Blue-green leaves form tidy clumps and in mid-late summer, ruby pink inflorescences are formed on 18-24” stems.  It likes full sun and heat, and although somewhat drought tolerant, prefers average moisture conditions. Besides offering a casual elegance to planting  beds or containers, Ruby Grass is a stunning addition to floral arrangements both fresh and dried.

Melinus nerviglumus is native to South Africa, and is evergreen where hardy (in zones 8-10). It grows quickly to flowering stage in areas with warm summers so don’t hesitate to use it as an annul accent. Clumps can be wintered over in a cold frame or protected spot that stays above freezing.

PS  We’ve seen this listed as both Melinus and Melinis in botanical literature, & to add to the confusion it used to be called Rhynchelytrum.

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The Forgotten Hellebore

No, I’m not referring to the legendary Christmas Rose, Helleborus niger. I am suggesting that this lovely winter bloomer, Helleborus foetidus (pictured above), should be more widely grown. Unfortunately its specific name is Latin for “foul smelling”, and thus is commonly called Stinking Hellebore. Take note, in case you are already prejudiced, that I have never detected a smell, foul or otherwise.

What Helleborus foetidus does offer are lovely clusters of celadon green  bells sometimes as early as late fall or early winter. The flowers begin forming in November, and emerge on caulescent stems above dissected dark green foliage. Unlike the familiar Lenten Rose hybrids (Helleborus orientalis), these babies bloom on past season’s growth. A mild start to winter will encourage H. foetidus to flower away on the shortest days. If more frigid temperatures take hold, no harm is done; the blooming picks up again at winter’s end. Once the flowers set seed, the branched stems die and then need to be cut back. This encourages a surge of fresh new foliar growth.

You may ask why this plant is often overlooked. Blame its common name, perhaps, but it is not a patented and cloned variety; you need to grow this species hellebore from seed.  It is perfectly hardy in zones 5-9, is easy to grow in either sun or shade in a well-drained soil, and in our garden it self sows, always in the right spot. I don’t consider this tendency to be a nuisance, but a good thing. Helleborus foetidus is not extremely long lived, and its seedlings insure future plants.

So here we have a perennial that blooms when little else does, grows in sun or shade, is deer resistant, with flowers that are visited by the earliest foraging bees.  Is it time to add this forgotten Hellebore to your winter garden?

 

Two Time Tested Groundcovers To Try

Some of you will remember that many (20+) years ago, there was a wonderful specialty nursery on the West Coast called Heronswood. Heronswood Nursery turned us on to so many great new plants! Yes the climate on Bainbridge Island was much milder than ours here in zone 6, and some of their offerings would not survive our cold winters. Still there were plant discoveries that could.  One was this evergreen ground cover commonly known as Silver Veined Wintercreeper, (Euonymus fortunei ‘Wolong Ghost’).

We’ve had this planted for decades in a spot with only a few hours of sunlight. Here it has gracefully spread and spilled over a low retaining wall. Plants do not get much taller than 8-10″ but can cover an area as the stems might root along as they touch the earth. It is known to be hardy in zones 5-9, is adaptable to part sun or shade plus it is disliked by deer.

Sedum sichotense

Another ground cover we have enjoyed in our garden for years is Sedum sichotense. (now reclassified as Phedimus sichotense). Low growing (under 4″) but ever spreading, it is a superb choice for dry soil in full sun. The narrow serrated leaves add textural interest, but what is most exciting is the foliage turns shades of brilliant red in the fall .

Fall color starting to turn red

Sedum sichotense offers clusters of starry yellow summer flowers that are favored by bees. It ishardy in zones 4-9 (it’s native to a part of Russia we’re told).  And yes, it is deer resistant.

Buy Euonymus fortunei ‘Wolong Ghost online

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Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Snowflake’

I can’t believe I’ve never written a blog post on  one of my favorite summer blooming shrubs….Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Snowflake’.  For 20 years now this  beautiful double flowered form of Oak leaf Hydrangea has graced our garden in dappled shade, never missing a beat.  By mid June the flowers have formed, and develop their lovely celadon, white and mauve coloring over the next 6 weeks. The flower heads age magnificently and are wonderful in both fresh and dried arrangements. Do note: Oak leaf Hydrangea bear flowers from old wood, so take care not to cut too many branches or you may sacrifice next year’s show.

In fall, the bold oak shaped leaves take on bronzy maroon tones. Oakleaf Hydrangeas are dear resistant, but hardly any plant is deer proof these days. ‘Snowflake’ grows 6-8′ tall (can get taller, I’m told, but after 20 years, that’s the size of our plants) and wide and is happiest if it gets partial shade.  Shrubs are hardy in zones 5-8.

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Vitex agnus-castus ‘Shoal Creek’

Why plant Buddleia when you can grow Vitex?  Mid summer blue-lavender fragrant spires begin in July and carry on through August on bushy plants with attractive palmate foliage. Here in the northeast, our colder winters don’t allow plants to become as large (10-15′) as the data says, since they  do get some  winter die back.  Vitex blooms on new growth, so it can be cut back hard each spring to grow into a perfectly sized 5-6′ flowering shrub.  And yes,  it is a great addition to a pollinator garden as it is a favorite of butterflies and bees.

The fruits of Vitex agnus-castus resemble peppercorns and have medicinal properties. It has been used to treat women’s health issues such fertility and menstrual problems. In the middle ages it was used to reduce the male libido (heaven’s no!) hence its common name, Chaste Tree. Grow Vitex in full sun in well drained soil in zones (5, with protection) 6-9.

A Versatile Fall Aster

Heath Aster planted itself in the dappled shade of our oak tree.

I take no credit for planting the occasional surprise of native Symphyotrichum ericoides (heath aster) in our gardens…they just appear and often in just the right spot. Unobtrusive all summer, but a delightful accent when flowers form in mid-September, Heath Aster presents 1-2′ stems bearing hundreds of tiny white daisies with yellow centers, creating a frothy foam in both sunny and even somewhat shady areas.

Synphyotrichum ‘Bridal Veil’…a Chicago Botanic Garden Introduction. ( image courtesy of CBC)

There are selected forms out there….‘Snow Flurry’ stays quite low at  6-8″ with 2′ branches that hug the earth, making it a useful native ground cover for the edge of a border or in the rock garden. A new selection ‘Bridal Veil’, introduced by the Chicago Botanic Garden, is believed to be a naturally occurring cross of ericoides and “?”. It produces strong 2′ arching stems with copious amounts of blossoms and forms vigorous clumps.

All forms of Heath Aster prefer well-drained soil and are quite drought tolerant once established. As I mentioned we’ve had plants pop up in even shady situations, but I think you get more flower power with full sun. Deer resistant and pollinator-friendly and hardy in zones 5-8…yay!

5 Plants for the Late Summer Shade Garden

Sunny borders can be wonderfully colorful, but when the heat of summer settles in, it is the comfort of the shade garden that I am drawn to. Hosta is now excluded from so many gardens due to its “appetizer for deer” reputation, so you might want to consider this short list of shade-tolerant plants that shine in August.

Hydrangea  arborescens ‘Haas Halo’... This lace cap selection of Smooth Aster boasts sturdy stems that can bear the weight of the large white blossoms.  This native shrub is a favorite of pollinators and grows 3-5′ tall and wide. Hardy in zones 3-9.

Aralia cordata ‘Sun King’.…. It’s hard not to be impressed by a glowing golden specimen of Sun King Spikenard. This Aralia grows 4-6′ tall and we have 6-year-old clumps that are easily 6′ across.  (It might take a few years, but be ready…). In late summer white “Sputnik” flowers top the tall stems, followed by showy black fruit. Pollinators love this plant and the deer don’t. Hardy in zones 4-9.

Kirengeshoma palmata… I remember the first time I saw  Korean waxbells, looking very shrub-like in front of an antique farmhouse, fresh and in flower in August. Bold Maple like leaves are its main feature, but it does have soft yellow somewhat bell shaped flowers.  Slow growing at first,  but in about 4-5 years you will have a clump 4′ tall and 5′ wide. Oh, and yes, it is deer resistant. Hardy in zones  5-9.

Tricyrtis ‘Autumn Glow’ Toad lilies tend to get resentful if the soil isn’t evenly moist, but I have found ‘Autumn Glow’ more forgiving than most. The extra-large foliage has a wider band of gold than the other variegated forms, and the purplish orchid-like flowers are produced in profusion during August and September. Hardy in zones  5-9.

Hakonechloa macra aureola Japanese Forest Grass is simply rewarding. It clumps up, not too quickly, to healthy expanses  2-4′ across and its yellow and green variegated leaves brightens up shady corners and adds contrast to other bold foliage plants. The deer are not fond of Hakonechloa, but we are learning that the bunnies like to nibble its young shoots in the spring, so an application of repellent is in order by those who are being pestered. Hardy in zones 5-10.

Do you have a favorite late-summer plant that tolerates some shade? I’d love to hear your comments.