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Connecting to Our Food Web

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014 Thalictrum rochebrunianum cv Lavender Mist

Welcome to My Jungle - July, 2015


Some really spectacular summer blooming plants are providing a welcome distraction from what would otherwise be an overwhelmingly green landscape in July. Unfortunately not all of them are recommended plants. Take for example the beautiful pink silk or mimosa tree (Albizia julibrissin). Originally native to parts of Asia, mimosa was introduced to North America as an ornamental tree in the mid-18th century. Due to its prolific seed production though, it readily did, and still does escape from landscape plantings to become weedy and invasive. So until plant breeders create a sterile seeded selection, mimosa trees should stay off your plant wish list. One such example where sterile cultivars have been developed is Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus). The original unimproved species, though beautiful, produces a multitude of volunteers; that if not rogued out in the first year become ever increasingly difficult to remove due to the well-developed tap root. One of my favorite sterile hybrids, among many, is 'American Irene Scott' SUGAR TIP. It has variegated leaves which appear to be dipped or edged with sugar…and I'm guessing that's where it got its name—and the light pink double blooms just give it that wonderful old-fashioned garden appeal. It is just one of those plants that will stop you in your tracks and induce you to say "WOW!"

Another group of plants that gardeners need to research before buying and planting are the hybrid coneflowers. Many of us have planted at least one of the new eye-candy cultivars only to be disappointed the following year when it failed to re-emerge. One place to start your research is the Chicago Botanic Garden 2006-2012 evaluation of coneflowers; top performers in the trial can be found at: http://www.newenglandgrows.org/2013/uploads/handouts/HawkeHandout.pdf. The Mt. Cuba Center (DE) also conducted an evaluation 2007-2009 and their results can be found at http://www.mtcubacenter.org/images/PDFs-and-SWFs/Mt_Cuba_Report_Coneflowers_for_Mid-Atlantic.pdf. Two cultivars that have exceled in my garden jungle are 'Pica Bella' and 'Milkshake.' Without being invasive, both have filled their space nicely and have reliably returned every year, true to type. 'Pica Bella' is a pollinator magnet just like species coneflowers, but smaller in stature. Milkshake on the other hand is one of the pom-pom types and not as attractive to pollinators, but it adds a beautiful layer of texture and color to the garden.

Two summer blooming plants that pair together well are Shasta daisy "Becky' (Leucanthemum x superbum) and hyssop 'Firebird.' Many of the reliably hardy hyssops are in the purple hue but 'Firebird' is a definite red and the hummingbirds love it! I had my doubts when I first acquired "Firebird' because I had not had good luck with many of the other non-purple hyssops. Since red is such a challenging color to add to a hot/humid climate garden, I was still willing to give it a try. And unlike my lifelong failure with cardinal flower (Lobelia), I found immediate success with 'Firebird' hyssop returning multiple years in a row. And like 'Becky' Shasta daisy, stems of 'Firebird' hyssop are strong and resist logging.

And since I seem to be focused on plants in bloom the first week of July, I should mention one of my favorite oakleaf hydrangeas. Snowflake™ Oakleaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia 'Brido') is a real show stopper. Snowflake has large flower heads of intricate double blossoms layered on top of one another which take on purplish-pink hues as they dry. Blooms on this double-flowered cultivar are much longer lasting than the single-flowered types. If that is not enough, the foliage takes on a beautiful purple and crimson fall color.

When you are a collector of plants, you naturally out of either stupidity or gardening arrogance (both reason apply to this author) manage to establish at least a few plant thugs. So I spent quite a bit of time weeding over the 4th of July weekend, ending many plant thugs' race for supremacy in my garden jungle. Chief among them was fall blooming anemones (Anemone spp. and cvs.), dwarf periwinkle (vinca minor), chocolate Joe-pye weed (Eupatorium rugosum 'Chocolate') and the ever challenging garlic chives (Allium tuberosum). All of these plants are beautiful additions to the garden, but you can't turn your back on them EVER! Fail just once to remove a bloom before it produces seed and you lock yourself into an eternity of thug removal servitude. I am convinced they share survival genes with cockroaches because they just keep coming back no matter how aggressive you go after them. Save yourself a lot of work and just pass these sirens by.

And what would summer be without daylilies (Hemerocallis spp.)? Like iris, collecting daylilies can be a pleasurable torture—endless choices coupled usually with limited funds! I recently added 'Alabama Jubilee' and I can find no fault with the White Flower Farms description "Its huge (nearly 7"), iridescent, reddish orange flowers are sparked by a gold flash through each petal. The blooms also feature delicately ruffled edges and a fine fragrance." The color is almost unreal, it is so intense. No way to miss this in the garden!

From bold to delicate, meadow rue (Thalictrum) is another summer bloomer that catches the eye. I recently visited our Master Gardener Demonstration Garden in Godfrey and saw this beautiful plant. This clump-forming meadow rue features lacy, fine-textured, bluish-green, pinnately compound, columbine-like foliage. But what really caught my eye was the tiny, pendulous, lavender-purple flowers with contrasting yellow stamens floating well above the foliage (4-6' tall) in loose, airy clusters. And holding those flowers were sturdy, contrasting purple stems! I think I just found my next summer blooming "wish list" plant.


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