Sunday, June 10, 2012

Laurel of the Mountains

Kalmia latifolia, or Mountain Laurel, has a special place in my family history.  My grandmother, on my father’s side, chose this flower to make up her bridal bouquet.  The wedding was in June and the laurel flowers were in abundant supply from local woods.  The flowers appear in a wide variety of colors ranging from whites and pale pinks to dark pink and white with a reddish band through the flower.  So many cultivars have been created you can find wide variety from plant to plant.  There are even dwarf versions which stay smaller and flower quite heavily.  When young, Mountain Laurel has a similar appearance to most broad leaved evergreens; it has a flowing, billowy profile and tends to put out growth that mounds upwards.  As the plant ages, however, it becomes much more heavy limbed, twisted, and gnarled.  The native plant can reach heights over 10 feet and become equally as wide or wider as stems will root into the ground.  This means that Mountain Laurel can be a tricky foundation plant due to size when it becomes older.  Luckily, it takes well to pruning and can be cut back like most other broad leaved evergreens (carefully removing overgrown sections and avoiding the use of hedge trimmers). 
                                                      Kalmia latifolia flowers.

Some gardeners have trouble with Kalmia as it does have some specific requirements.  It will not tolerate hot, dry locations so avoid planting it in a southern facing location.  Wind at any time of year can produce damage to the leaves.  At the same time, Kalmia does not tolerate wet feet and should be planted well away from automatic sprinkler systems and/or downspouts.  Like Rhododendrons, Mountain Laurels have shallow, mat-like root systems.  It is quite easy to drown them or have them dry out.  At the same time, I’ve seen them growing in dry oak forests in massive stands looking as healthy as can be.  I expect there’s enough of a composted leaf layer to protect the roots and trap moisture.  Kalmia have few pests and diseases, borers being a somewhat common insect pest along with rust fungus attacking the leaves.  Scale and lacebug may also prove to be pests; lacebug being a particular problem in bright, sunny, exposures.
                                                      Mountain Laurel Foliage

So you have a great spot for a laurel but aren’t sure which type to go with?  Here are some that I’ve had direct experience with.

1.       Kalmia latifolia.  This is the native and can range in color from pale pink to white.  The buds tend to be pale pink.

2.      Kalmia latifolia ‘Olympic Fire.’  This version has bright red buds and rich pink flowers.  It’s quite impressive when mature.

3.      Kalmia latifolia ‘Sarah.’  Another laurel with bright red buds, so bright they stand out even from a distance.  The flowers open a deep, pinkish red.

4.      Kalmia latifolia ‘Shooting Star.’  If you’re looking for flowers with a different look, this might be the plant to go with.  Unlike the other varieties, ‘Shooting Star’ has petals that bend backward, looking like miniature, white, shooting stars.

5.      Kalmia latifolia ‘Twenty.’  This impressive plant tends to have more compact growth and makes an excellent foundation plant.  The flowers start with dark pink buds and open to a more shell pink flower.
There are also a number of dwarf varieties with names like ‘Elf’, ‘Tiddlywinks’ and ‘Tinkerbell’.  The growth tends to be more uniform and they turn into low billowing mounds up to about 4’ high at maturity.  They will flower heavily but the leaves tend to be smaller.
                                                   A pink selection of Mountain Laurel.

Another option, if you’re interested in native laurels, is the Sheep’s Laurel or Kalmia angustifolia.  It is low growing, reaching about 3’ maximum.  The leaves are smaller and more willow-like.  I’ve not had them in a garden personally, but they seem to be especially tough; growing in dry, inhospitable places.  Occasionally, they turn up in areas that are damp in the spring, but dry in the summer. 

Recommended Plant:  Papaver somniferum ‘Lauren’s Grape.’  I met this plant for the first time today, 6/10/12 at Tower Hill Botanic Gardens.  Yes, it is a Bread Poppy or Opium Poppy, so purchasing it may prove difficult; state laws vary.  In some locations it’s possible to sell the seeds, but not live plants.  Luckily, this poppy is easy to start from seed and tends to self-sow.  I’ve never seen this kind of poppy with such a rich colored flower.  Pink and white varieties have turned up in my garden in the past and they’re quite pretty but cannot hold a candle to this rich purple.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Daylily Resources

Given the warmer than usual spring we've been having here in New England, certain daylilies are already beginning to flower.  Daylilies offer thousands of different colors, patterns, textures, and some are even scented.  Many of them are incredibly tough and need little in the way of special attention once established.  It took a while, but over time I learned who the reputable growers were and I learned to avoid the frequent cries of "Fantastic Daylilies at Low Low Prices!!!"  So, here are some of the places I've purchased from in the past and one place I visit on a yearly basis (for blueberries and for pictures as well as daylilies).
Marietta gardens offers up an amazing array of plants including many they've developed.
Probably the first grower I ordered from.  They tend to have older varieties with great prices and huge plants.  Many of the older daylilies have become harder to locate due to newer, showier plants taking their places.  It's important to preserve these more antique varieties for genetic diversity and because they're pretty fantastic in the garden.
Olallie Daylily Gardens specializes in especially hardy, early blooming, and late blooming varieties for northern gardens.  They also sell an amazing variety of Siberian Iris.  During July, they have pick your own organic blueberries and it's a fantastic place to wander about.  If you're ever in southern Vermont, their gardens are certainly worth a visit.
Tranquil Lake is a Massachusetts grower with an impressive selection of plants.  They also have many workshops and a fantastic "Garden Days" festival each summer.  Tranquil Lake also offers a large number of Siberian Iris.
Another Massachusetts grower, R. Seawright Gardens has numerous daylily cultivars along with hostas.
If you're willing to take a chance, the Lily Auction can be an amazing resource for new plants.  Similar to EBay, growers offer up plants for people to bid on.  I've had success with this process before and will probably use it in the future when I'm looking for deals on specific varieties.  Just make sure to check the seller feedback information to help guarantee that their plants are decent.

Recommended Plant:  Adiantum pedatum.  Maidenhair Fern
This native fern looks nothing like the more common ferns seen growing along streams or in fields.  It's far more delicate in appearance and tends to blend in well with other shade loving plants.  They are a bit picky about site selection and will not tolerate dry shade.  With adequate moisture and dappled sunlight, they will slowly form colonies of graceful, green whorls.  The leaf stems are black and the early spring fronds are red offering interesting contrasting colors.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

The Invasion of the Dame

"Hi, don't mind me, I'll just settle down here in your garden and look pretty each spring.  What?  Those plants over there?  No, not MY children.  I have no idea why those little ones choked out your prize Columbines.  These seeds?  Oh, pay no attention to them, they just aren't all that prolific.  My flowers look just like Phlox, you'll love me, and my children, and their children, and their children.  In fact, you'll like me so much you probably won't pull me out of the garden until it's too late and we've taken over.  Uh, not that we would take over, mind you, we're pretty and quiet and butterflies like us.  Look!  We're useful!"

Dame's Rocket, Hesperis matronalis, is in bloom this time of year.  It has lavender, white, or pinkish flowers.  Often confused with tall garden phlox, this invasive is a garden escapee.  Originally brought to the colonies from Europe, the plant now appears frequently throughout New England.  Here in Massachusetts, the planting of it is prohibited.  Generally, the plants are biennial producing leaves the first year and flowers the second.  They prefer sunny or partly shady areas with moist soil.  Luckily, when young, the plants are fairly easy to remove from the soil. 

Although invasive, this plant isn't quite so horrible as Rosa multiflora or Oriental Bittersweet.  It's not nearly as tenacious and is actually quite nice in small doses.  Unfortunately, if given enough time, the plant will take over.  I've seen Dame's Rocket growing next to highways, coming up between pavement and concrete steps, and readily growing in abandoned fields.  So, if it's appearing in your yard, you may want to pull it as soon as it appears, or perhaps enjoy it until it flowers, then cut it back so it doesn't produce seed.

Recommended Plant:  Hemerocallis "Bandit Man."
When this plant was first recommended to me, I read the description and said to myself, "Oh, it's another orange daylily, sounds pretty dull, why is someone recommending it?"  The first year I had it in the ground it performed well, flowered, and was fairly unimpressive.  Yes, the flowers were nice, but nothing to write home about.  The second year, and years beyond, I realized exactly why it was such a great plant.  It produces numerous flowers and all of them are large (4-5" across).  The red eye zone goes well with the orange tones of the petals.  The plant thrives in less than stellar conditions (hot and dry soil to be exact). Because the flowers are numerous and large, they look fantastic even from a distance.  Although it only blooms once during the summer, it generates enough flowers so the bloom period is lengthy.  It would be an amazing plant to have in a large grouping.  In the picture below the colors are a bit washed out due to the bright sunlight.  The orange is a tad richer in color and the eye zone more red than orange.