Plant Geek Alert-Pink Zazzle Gomphrena

 

 

‘Pink Zazzle’ Globe Amaranth
Yellow star shaped flowers top off the flower head which is composed of petal-like bracts.

Ok, Plant Geeks of the world listen up. Have you heard of the plant genus Gomphrena, or Globe Amaranth? Yes, it is mostly a boring run of the mill plant that has the advantage of drying well. I think that is why most people like to plant it, for its quality of lasting long into the winter in dried flower arrangements – certainly not for its garden bedding characteristics. In Hawaii, they use the flowers in leis because of its lasting qualities.

The usual globe amaranth is much smaller
Pink Zazzle at the nursery
Pink Zazzle at the nursery

 

Pink Zazzle Gomphrena has burst on the scene with a blast and not only did the flowers get a makeover, the foliage is quite beautiful with a downy coating of fur on the leaves, like a soft blanket of lambs wool. Pink Zazzle, a hybrid of Globe Amaranth from Proven Winners is easy to grow, tolerates drought and has long-lasting jumbo-sized flowers held on the plant for months on end.  The flower heads take the old Gomphrena form and turn it into something new and exciting, and people love the tactile quality of the plant.

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 Culture

Pink Zazzle will get about 12 inches tall on a well branched plant and bloom prolifically with “knock your socks off” hot pink blooms up to 3 inches across. It prefers hot sun and dry conditions. I noticed this when I first bought it in the early spring and kept the plant inside. I watered the plant to keep it moist, but when the plant started to droop and looked like there was rot in the stem, I stopped watering it and it perked up. Grown indoors as a pot plant or outdoors in the garden or container, I planted Zazzle outside in the hot sun and heat when it got warmer. The flowers literally last for weeks, almost drying in place on the plant. Remove them as they turn brown to encourage the formation of more blooms.

Planted in a container, Pink Zazzle is the focal point

The price point of the plant will be higher than a marigold and most likely treated in the nursery as a premium annual. I planted these out last year in containers and in the ground, and though they are slow to get going, they eventually form a nice mounding plant covered in these “strawflower” type of flowers. I found my plants at a Lowes and it looked like they had been over watered as they weren’t the best looking.

Seen at a Lowe’s, I rescued a Pink Zazzle and took it home; it had been over watered
I used dried Pink Zazzle blooms in this pod basket for the fall
I used dried Pink Zazzle blooms in this pod basket for the fall

According to Valley View Farm’s website, the flowers will attract hummingbirds and butterflies and is hardy to zone 8. Growing only a foot high and wide, Pink Zazzle is perfect placed in front of a flower border.

Great as an addition to a dried flower/herb wreath: go to Making an Herbal Wreath
Pink Zazzle Gomphrena likes hot dry situations
‘Pink Zazzle’ Gomphrena likes hot dry situations in full sun

Silvery Beauty-Silver Falls Trailer

 

Silver Falls is a great trailer for containers

Silver Falls, Dichondra argentea, has been in the gardening world for a while now but I don’t find that gardeners use it very often. Too bad! This plant makes an easy to grow spiller/trailer out of containers and a great low ground cover. An annual native to northern Mexico, Arizona, and western Texas, it thrives in hot dry conditions. A Proven Winner plant, I buy at least a flat of it in the spring for my containers.

Here are some quick facts about this great plant:

Features

  • Vigorous, fan-shaped silver foliage on silver stems; very heat and drought tolerant

  • Cascading plant that works in containers and looks good on stone walls

  • Grows 2-6 inches high, space in the garden 18-24 inches apart

  • Needs part sun to sun

  • Hardy to 20 degrees

  • Ideal for containers, hanging baskets, and ground covers

  • Works well with Creeping Jenny trailer

    Silver Falls planted in a free standing table container with Creeping Jenny in partial shade
Dichondra, Silver Falls
Silver Falls seen at Longwood Gardens

Definitely not deer proof but deer don’t prefer it. They only eat Silver Falls if there is nothing else tastier on the menu. Also, if you get it going so it has some size to it, deer tend to leave it alone. Get it through the juvenile and tender stage, and deer will browse on something else.

Cold tolerant, Silver Falls can last through some winters; here it is seen in a container at the end of November
Because of the small scale of the trailer, Silver Falls is useful for miniature gardens

My Silver Falls dripped out of my window boxes and rooted in the ground underneath. I let it do its thing as I thought it made a great ground cover. And yes, this is a vigorous (but not invasive) plant and I welcome the speed that it drips or cascades as once really cold (below 20 degrees)weather hits, it is gone. In the mid-Atlantic region here in Maryland, that means that it lasts until January.

Ground cover Silver Falls rooted in from a window box
Silver Falls works well trailing out of containers

 

Silver Falls seen at the Ripley Garden next to the Smithsonian in D.C.

Impatien Alternative-SunPatiens

SunPatiens used around a house make a big impact, image from Sakata
Sunpatien Compact Blush Pink, image from Sakata

Filling the Gap

If you have depended on Impatiens for your shady areas for years, you probably have gotten a rude awakening one day and looked at dead and dying plants littering your flowering beds.

SunPatien Compact Fire

If you haven’t heard by now, the common Impatien, Impatien walleriana, is in trouble.  Lots of shade gardeners are bemoaning this right now, and wonder what should they plant instead!!?? So don’t throw up your hands and give up gardening. Pest and diseases have been around a long time and I have a great suggestion for an alternative, that is vastly better than the common Impatien – SunPatiens from Sakata Seed.

Bold and bright blossoms from SunPatiens make a great flower bowl arrangement, image from Sakata

Downy Mildew is the Culprit

First, a little background. I found out about “massive death by mildew” when I visited a client three summers ago who gardens in the shade, and took a look at all her wilting, disgusting Impatiens, and was at a loss to explain their demise. After calling around to different help desks at county and state offices for gardeners, I found out that Impatiens are taking a direct hit from Impatiens Downy Mildew (Plasmopara obducens), a new disease that has recently has reared its ugly head in the states, and has killed off masses of Impatiens throughout the U.S. It started as long ago as 1942, with only sporadic outbreaks, but really starting getting going in 2004. In 2011, widespread kill-offs of Impatiens were reported and things aren’t expected to get any better.

Closeup of a SunPatien blossom of Spreading Shell Pink, image from Sakata

Leaving Downy Mildew Behind

This is a relatively new disease that only targets the common Impatien (Impatien walleriana), not the other Impatiens (Impatien hawkeri)like the New Guinea, Big Bounce or  the best of the lot- SunPatien. Sunpatien has been around for 10 years now and I find that people still don’t know about this great choice. A husky vigorous plant, SunPatien is way more interesting and attractive than the garden variety Impatien that you used to see planted in masses for color in the shade.

SunPatien Spreading White has gold variegated foliage, from my patio

SunPatien Compact Neon Pink, image from Sakata

SunPatien Compact Fire, image from Sakata

Symptoms

If you experienced Downy Mildew in your Impatien plantings in previous years, then this year watch out! The pathogen overwinters handily and can persist for years. Here are the things to look for:

  • Yellowish or pale-green foliage

  • Downward curling of the leaves

  • Distorted leaves

  • White to light-gray fuzz on the undersides of the leaves. There are excellent images on the web if you search for “Impatiens Downy Mildew”

  • Emerging, new leaves that are smaller than normal and discolored

  • Flower buds that either fail to form or abort before opening

  • Stunted plants

    Sunpatien Spreading White with variegated foliage on the right, image from Sakata

SunPatiens

Sounds like a horror story for any gardener who relies on Impatiens for color in the shade. And there are a lot of gardeners who plant them exclusively, hauling home flats and flats of these colorful shade annuals. Try SunPatiens instead. You will be glad that you tried them!

Here are some attributes of SunPatiens:

  • Flowers up to 3 inches across

  • Easy to grow

  • Thrives under heat, humidity, rain or shine

  • Thrives in sun or shade

  • Blooms nonstop, spring through frost

  • Downy mildew resistant!

    SunPatien Compact Fire, image from Sakata

Three Types of SunPatiens

Compact – The Compact series is bred for smaller containers and has excellent branching for a dense, bushy plant. Available in 10 colors. Great for containers. Grows 12 to 24″ tall  and wide.

Spreading or Mounding – Spreading SunPatiens have a mounding habit and are suited for basket and in the landscape where fast coverage is needed. Available in 5 colors. Can spread from 20″ to 36″.

Vigorous – Need fast growing coverage? Then Vigorous SunPatiens are the way to go. These plants cover a lot of ground quickly and provide outstanding performance where massive color is essential. Can get up to 42″ wide and tall. This is a strong growing plant.

SunPatien Spreading Salmon, image from Sakata

Available only in plant form, SunPatiens are a cross of several species that produces larger, better branched plants with bigger blooms and a much longer season of bloom. Able to thrive in full shade to nearly full sun, it is ideal for gardens that have high shade or dappled sunlight. For more information, go to Sakata SunPatiens.

Hellebores-Deer Resistant, Low Maintenance, Shade Loving Perennial

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Gardeners and Hellebores

Ok, drumroll here….I think I can say that Hellebores are my favorite perennial plant. A well-kept secret of garden enthusiasts, Hellebores should be more widely known to serious and not so serious gardeners alike; this is a plant that is worth seeking out. What other plant resists deer, neglect, likes shade-even deep shade, is evergreen, arranges beautifully, and has stunning flowers?  Did I mention that it blooms for 3 – 4 months of the year?  That was not a typo- Hellebores bloom for at least 3 months, sometimes longer, starting in mid February for me in the mid-Atlantic region, and soldiering on until at least April or May. Increasingly, I have seen them for sale at Trader Joe’s and other unlikely places, so I think finally people are waking up to the value of this flower. Poisonous, deer turn up their nose at these beautiful plants.

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So, why isn’t this plant in more gardens? Several reasons…First they are pricey.  Retail prices can range from $15 to $30 a piece. Second, when most people are browsing the garden centers in May, the plants have mostly finished their blooming show and people move on to fresher blooming plants. Third, Hellebore flower colors are usually subtle greens, pinks, and whites, and many gardeners want something brighter and flashier. But hybridizers are working on that with increasingly colorful flowers being released every year.

 Double hellebore, not sure of the variety

Double hellebore, not sure of the variety

 

Nearly black Hellebore
Nearly black Hellebore
'Ivory Prince' is a beautiful variety with outward facing creamy flowers
‘Ivory Prince’ is a beautiful variety with outward facing creamy flowers

For bee and nature lovers, this plant is extra important because it is an early nectar source for pollinators. There isn’t much blooming when they are in their glory in the late winter and I am sure to see the flowers filled with bees on a warmer day.

One of my honeybees visiting a hellebore
One of my honeybees visiting a hellebore

Good Things Come to Those Who Wait

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Float your blooms in a bowl and they last for a couple of weeks

Another drawback other than their high price, and I warn my clients about this when I include them in a garden design; they take a while to establish. To get a nice size blooming clump, it will take about 5 years if you start with a quart size plant. So, in this day and age of instant gratification, this can be a deal stopper for some people.

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Very few perennial plants can tolerate the winter snow and wind that nature throws at them in January and February, but Hellebores emerge in late February with a welcome spring show. Some of the evergreen foliage might get burned on the edges and get tattered but you can quickly nip off those leaves for fresh to emerge.

'Wedding Party' has beautiful double flowers
‘Wedding Party’ has beautiful double flowers

The most popular varieties are the Oriental hybrid hellebores (Helleborus x hybridus ) which grow in the USDA zones 6-9.

Lenten Rose

The common name for Hellebores is Lenten Rose, because they bloom around the season of Lent. Hybridizers have latched onto Hellebores and specialized in creating a rainbow of colors, such as yellow, burgundy, spotted, black, pinks, and picotees. And the names!….Honeyhill Joy, Ivory Prince, Amber Gem, Berry Swirl, Cotton Candy, Black Diamond, Golden Lotus, Onyx Odyssey, Rose Quartz, Peppermint Ice, are just the tip of the iceberg. They sound like paint colors on a paint swatch.

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The downward facing flowers have been bred to tilt outward instead of downward facing so that you can easily see the flower show. Hybridizers have also turned their attention to the foliage, breeding for variegation, burgundy flushed stems, and silvery sheens. All these efforts must have paid off as they are flooding the nurseries and the prices are top dollar.  I have seen Hellebores for more than $50 a piece.  They are getting as expensive as some hybridized peonies!

This hellebore has variegated foliage
This hellebore has variegated foliage

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Culture

The culture of Hellebores is so easy that if you just plant them in a shady or partly shady spot, you’re done! I have some in sunny locations here in Maryland, but in more southern states, like Florida, plant them in full shade. In particular, Lenten Rose is a valuable player for dry shade, the nemesis of many gardeners. I use them as a ground cover under large trees where deer are prone to browse. For more shady ground cover choices, go to Made for the Shade.

A flock of Hellebores!
A flock of Hellebores!

Hellebores will set seed all around the plant and when the seedlings appear, dig them up and scatter them around. You will have large clumps in no time that last for years and years.

Seedlings surround the mother plant
Seedlings surround the mother plant

As I noted earlier, if you nip the older outer leaves in late winter, so the new stems and leaves can come up in the center.  That is it for maintenance!

A large clump of Hellebores in late February that needs to be trimmed
A large clump of Hellebores in late February that needs to be trimmed
Clump transformed and showing flowers better once trimmed
Same clump transformed and displaying flowers better once trimmed

 

My advice for buying these beauties is to buy them in bloom so you know what you are getting as the colors can vary widely. Take a nursery shopping trip in late February and early March to get the best pick. For people who live near me in Central Maryland, go to Happy Hollow Nursery off of Padonia Rd in Cockeysville, at 410-252-4026. Tell them TheGardenDiaries sent you!

Hellebores covering a bank

So, gardeners of the world-Are you listening?  Tell all your friends and neighbors about this plant. It should not be a secret any longer.

Bee Catnip-Pollinator Superstar

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Cats are naturally drawn to aptly named Catmint or Nepeta

If you own at least one square foot of sunny or partially sunny garden space, you should plant Catmint, or better known in the trade as Nepeta, for longevity of bloom, ease of maintenance, and attraction to pollinators.

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A gold banded dragonfly nectaring on a Nepeta

As a landscape designer, I feel so strongly about this plant, that I incorporate Nepeta in virtually every design that I create.  One of my “go to” plants when designing gardens, there are different varieties that range from a diminutive 8″ high to over 3 feet tall. Growing in billowing aromatic mounds, I place it in front of borders.

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Nepeta paired with Heuchera in border

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Related to catnip but a much showier flower, it will attract cats to explore it and rub against, though I have never had trouble with cats destroying it as I do with catnip. A “drug of choice” for my cat, she makes a beeline for my many plants of Nepeta when she escapes outside.

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Not only is it a totally reliable perennial for zones 3 – 8,  you can enjoy the lavender shades of blooms for many months if you sheer it back by 1/3 after the first flush of spring.

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A bee superstar, I am profiling all the plants on my poster “Plant These For Bees” available at TheGardenDiaries Etsy shop. Catmint is one of my all time favorite perennials in the landscape as it is trouble-free and most importantly-deer, rabbit, and any other critter resistant. Gray green leaves give off a minty fragrance that four-legged varmints stay away from. I even use it to barricade other more desirable plants that deer prefer.

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I use Catmint in heavily deer browsed areas in the landscape

Approaching a good stand of Catmint/Nepeta, the first thing you notice is the darting of insects, throughout the profuse lavender blue flower wands. Mostly bumble and honey bees, but I see all kinds of small native bees and butterflies are attracted to the display.

070Easily grown in average to poor soil, even clay hard-pan, Catmint once established is quite drought tolerant. Limey green is one of my favorite colors in the landscape, and I can even get Nepeta with a lime foliage, called ‘Limelight’. A great companion to roses and peonies, Nepeta should be on your “must have” list.

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Used in an entrance garden, Catmint looks good with golden leaved plants

Lots of varieties are available, but I prefer ‘Blue Wonder’ at 1 to 2 feet tall or the taller but confusingly named ‘Walker’s Low’. The smaller varieties, like ‘Kit Kat’ are so dwarf that they don’t flower as profusely as the larger ones but are useful in small areas. Preferring full sun, but tolerating some light shade, Catmints are great selections for a bee friendly landscape.

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Cats love this plant!

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It’s a Small, Small, World-Mini Hostas

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Mini hostas spilling out of a strawberry jar

A shade workhorse, hostas, according to the Perennial Plant Association are the most widely planted perennial in the world. Easily tucked into small places in the garden, and a perfect accent in trough and other miniature garden containers, these diminutive hostas are becoming a crowd favorite.

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Hosta ‘Mini Skirt’

On the pricey side, these adorable plants are being snatched up everywhere. They can run from $18 too $30 a piece.

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Planted into the garden, miniature hostas stay low to the ground and form a tapestry of color, making a great ground cover, seen at Carolyn’s Shade Gardens

Usually less than 6 inches high, miniature hostas should be placed carefully in a garden bed so you don’t lose sight of them when other plants encroach. That is why I like to use them in trough gardens. You are placing this little gem in a highly visible location for maximum impact in a container. But try planting a rainbow of them in a garden bed for a great little ground cover in the shade. Recently I made a trip to Carolyn’s Shade Gardens in Media, Pennsylvania and was impressed with the variety available.

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A trough with ‘Frosted Mouse Ears’ backed by potted miniature hostas at  Carolyn’s Shade Garden

And the names!! Mini Skirt, Lemon Lime, Blue Mouse Ears, Neutrino, Cracker Crumbs, Dew Drop, Shiny Penny, Appletini, Baby Blue Eyes, Little Red Rooster, Tears of Joy, Sunlight Child, Curley, Sun Mouse, Church Mouse, Kiwi Golden Thimble- the list goes on and on. Marketing a plant is all about finding that perfect name and these minis take the prize for catchy names.

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Irresistible with sculptural leaves and charming textures make it difficult to stop at one, and you’ll be tempted to fill a garden with them. Taking up less space in a space challenged property, and ideally suited to container growing, these little minis are perfect on their own or as a companion plant.

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‘Blue Mouse Ears’ tucked into a boulder crevice

Easily grown like all the larger widely known large hostas, they are pretty indestructible. For the best care of hostas, plant them in rich organic soil with a slightly acidic pH.

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Flowering like champs, the minis perform like their larger relatives

Drainage, like with so many plants, is most important. Dormant season crown rot is one of the few diseases that attack these plants.  With this in mind, when newly planted, keep the roots moist, not wet. Once established, hosta plants aren’t fussy and are very tolerant of summer drought and last for years.

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Perfect for fairy gardens, this one is ‘Blue Mouse Ears’

One of deer’s favorite food, plant hostas in containers if you have a property overrun with these pests.

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Planted next to a ‘Jack Frost’ Brunnera, adds some contrast to this mini

For my post on a hosta nursery, go to Happy Hollow-Hosta Mecca to see more varieties or Carolyn’s Shade Gardens.

Black Goes With Everything

Black Iris
Iris ‘Black Suited’

Black is Beautiful

There has been an explosion of black flowers and foliage in the past couple of years in the gardening world.  It started out as a trickle and now is a tsunami of everything black! When I go to the nursery and look at new cultivars of annuals, perennials, and shrubs – all shades of black are represented.

A black foliaged smoke tree sets off the white Alliums

Bat Orchid

The Bat OrchidTacca chantieri  is one of my favorites but needs to be grown in a greenhouse. An exotic plant with flowers that mimic a bat in flight, deep purple to black, with ruffled wings and long, hanging filaments, the flowers last for weeks. Large, attractive leaves surround the bloom.

Bat Orchid has dangling whiskers
Bat Orchid has dangling whiskers

‘Black Magic’ Hollyhocks

These blue-black, tall, stately plants look good in any garden. They should be planted at the back of borders to give a beautiful classic garden look. They flower mid to late summer.

Hollyhocks display nicely against stone walls
Hollyhocks display nicely against stone walls

 

Black Magic Hollyhock
Black Magic Hollyhock

You have to know how to use black for the best effect. I like to place black flowers or foliage next to very bright intense colors, such as hot pink or lime green to get the biggest impact. The black color gives the eye a rest when you pair it with bright vibrant colors. If you place black plants next to darker hued plants, it just doesn’t work and the black color fades in the background. So use black carefully and site it with some thought.

Anvil of Darkness Iris

'Anvil of Darkness' Iris
‘Anvil of Darkness’ Iris

The bearded black Iris’s are particularly showy with the velvety falls of  black draped against the foliage.

Black and White Iris
Iris ‘Full Figure’

How to Use Black Well

Black plants can also echo other plants that have black stems, black venation or black undertones. I find that if you have a boring or blah border/container, black instantaneously ramps up the visual interest. It can become a focal point if you have a particularly beautiful black plant and enhances nearby plants.

Black in a container makes it stand out
The black foliage of ‘Purple Knight’ Alternanthera picks up the black venation of the petunias

There are all different hues and variations on black and sometimes the amount of sunlight a plant receives will affect the coloration. Also, juvenile foliage will generally be a darker, more intense, shade. In the plant trade describing many of the black plants, you hear adjectives such as chocolate, deep burgundy, midnight, dark purple, or coffee.

The black foliage of the Canna makes it stand out
The black foliage of the Canna makes it stand out and picks up the venation of the larger leaf

Jack in the Pulpits

Arisaema sikokanum with chocolate coloration

The Japanese Cobra Lily, Arisaema sikokanum, is an elegant cousin to our native Jack In The Pulpit. The spadix is a pure marshmallow white which gives the flower such great contrast.  It looks like a flower all decked out in black tie ready for a party. And the scarlet berries make this expensive plant worth the money for their multi-season interest.

An unfurling Jack in the Pulpit
An unfurling Jack in the Pulpit

Petunias

Black petunias don’t seem natural. But I really like their velvety texture and tones and the Black Phantom one is a stunner and has real ‘wow’ impact .  Many black flowers are black wannabees because they are more a dark purple, but the black petunias are closest to the true black color.

‘Black Phantom’ petunia

black Petunias
Black Petunia playing off of the black Phormium

Black Elephant Ears
Black Elephant Ears

 

Chocolate Ajuga used in a container

Black Sempervivum ‘Dark Beauty’
Black Parrot Tulip
Black Parrot Tulip
Black Hellebore
Black Hellebore
There are even black tomatoes
There are even black tomatoes