Tiarella comprises a small genus of very useful shade plants that are grown both for their arresting flowers and pleasing foliage. Foamflower’s tall, slender stems rise rapidly in spring and are soon covered with puffs of tiny, white flowers, which from a distance (or up close if you’ve misplaced your glasses) resemble sea foam. In bloom, plants range in height from 10-15” depending on varieties.
Their basal mounds of lobed, maple-like green leaves remain interesting all season; foliage on some varieties turns bronze in fall. ‘Butterfly Wings’ (light pink bloom, maroon central vein), ‘Iron Butterfly’ (white flowers), ‘Jeepers Creepers’ (cream flowers, dark coloring around central vein), ‘Pink Bouquet’ (pink flowers) and ‘Spring Symphony’ (dark pink flowers, black blotching around veins) are noteworthy varieties.
Care and Use
If a portion of your property contains woods, foamflowers are great planted along the edge of the woods to ease the transition from yard to trees. Zones 3-8.
The Perennial Plant Association, (PPA) a non-profit organization comprising growers, nursery owners, and other horticulture professionals, has named their 2004 Perennial Plant of the Year, and whereas I often ignore this kind of marketing-driven hoopla, this time around they’ve picked a beauty.
Their choice was Athyrium niponicum ‘Pictum’ (Japanese Painted Fern), a truly exceptional garden perennial. As trees in our neighborhoods have matured and created shady areas where once there was full sun, the varieties of shade-loving ferns available to homeowners have positively skyrocketed. The Japanese Painted Fern is my favorite of all.
You can’t grow a more striking fern. The twelve- to eighteen-inch tall fronds are colored a metallic, silver-gray with hints of red and blue. The soft, intricate shape and texture of the fronds provide wonderful contrast to their brazen color. Best of all – and this is one area in which the gurus of the PPA sometimes let us northern rubes down – the plant is hardy to Zone 3.
Care and Use
God bless a spruce. So many varieties are “no muss, no fuss.” I gave this beautiful little flattop a burlap shade wall for the winter, but that’s just me being compulsive. They have little to no problem with winter burn when left to their own devises, and even heavy snow cover fails to crack a branch. This is an exceptional dwarf for use in foundation plantings. In case you are wondering, no, I haven’t done any pruning, and won’t until four or five years down the road when I want to keep one side clear of the stone path that will curve past it, if it ever stops raining. Mature size will be 3’ tall by 5’ wide. Full to partial sun. Zone 3.
pisifera ‘King’s Gold’ (kamma-SIP-eris
Looking pretty swell here, too. I love this plant. What else is going give you a low, spreading mop-top of golden yellow dreadlocks? Give it at least five hours of direct sun and it will shine. Plant it next to anything with green or blue or purple foliage, evergreen or deciduous, and you look like a genius. Use three to six (or more) zigzagged around the landscape where the eye picks up one there, there, and over there. I gave this plant no winter protection, snow covered it from late December to early March. Mature size 18-24” tall by 3’ wide. Zone 4. Also buy and plant Chamaecyparis thyoides ‘Heather Bun,’ featuring soft, feathery, plum-colored spring foliage that turns blue-green by midsummer, before reverting to intense plum in winter. Matures to 3’ by 3’. Full (5 hours) sun. Zone 3.
pungens ‘Globosa’ (Pie-SEE-uh pun-jens)
God bless a spruce. When it comes to true blue needles, no other evergreen quite matches the intensity of the blue spruce. I suppose the dwarf globe is becoming borderline common, but I never tire of seeing how I, and others, fit them into the landscape. They’re gorgeous as youngsters, and riveting after 15 to 20 years. They develop a marvelously irregular shape, often growing a bit wider than they grow tall. I gave this plant no winter protection, it disappeared into a snow drift for the month of January but the tips of most branches were exposed to full sun February through April with zero winter burn. In fact, this plant has not lost a needle since planting last spring. Matures to 5’ tall by 6’ wide. Full sun. Zone 2, for cryin’ out loud. Hello, Doug and Neets in Edmonton!
cuspidata ‘Nana Aurescens’ (TAX-us
Am I doing anything yet for you newcomers to the site who haven’t snooped around long enough to read all my rants on how perennials and annuals are lovely, thrilling, essential, wonderful, blah blah blah, but the big secret to creating a magical landscape around your home and extending out into your yard is to explore and become familiar with the amazing world of shrubs? Take this little number right here. It’s a yew, for god’s sake, except yellow as cornbread. What will they think of next? This plant loves being pruned and shaped, and would be a good choice were you desirous of a topiary in the shape of a prostrate Donald Duck. You’ll have a hard time finding one at local nurseries – I buy them all. Prefers partial shade. I gave this plant a burlap wall on the south side during winter. Next winter it’s on its own and all reports confirm it should handle the morning winter sun it will receive with at most minor winterburn. Can you see this plant in your mind’s eye when it’s 5 to 6’ tall, and a rolling, billowy, blousy 5’ wide, looking like some giant, screaming yellow, exploding bombshell careening off the southeast corner of my humble abode? Can you? Can you?
banksiana ‘Uncle Fogey’ (PI-nus bank-see-ay-nuh)
Virtually all weeping evergreens are freak seedlings discovered in the wild by astute plantspeople. From their cuttings, and, in some cases, cell transplants, nurseries propagate replicas of the original freak, and the plant enters the nursery trade (seeds from the plant almost always revert back to standard form). This is one of my favorite freaks, and it would take a freak of nature to turn a jack pine – the scurvy dog of the evergreen world – into a show-stopping centerpiece. Bear in mind that placement of an ‘Uncle Fogey,’ to quote my favorite witch, must be handled delicately. Too often I see them planted pretty much alone, the designer or homeowner confused by the garish, nearly grotesque appearance. It’s a tree, and an expensive one at that, not some cheap, stamped sheet metal sculpture of an angel. Go easy on the old boy. Plant him in the foundation border amid other shrubs (there will be more microbiota across his front, if it ever stops, well, you know) so that he can poke and creak out at and startle the viewer. I moved this tree twice in three years before I got him in the right spot, and he didn’t care. Full (five hours) sun. Hardy to Zone 2 (jack pines grow just shy of the Arctic Circle).
decussata ‘Northern Pride’ (micro-bi-O-ta
Here is the shade-loving evergreen for the new millennium, my new, favorite, ground-hugging shrub. Microbiota grows only 12” tall but spreads 6’ across over time. Foliage resembles that of an arborvitae, but adds the neat trick of turning bronze in fall and winter, before greening up – seemingly overnight – when it clicks back to life in spring. It like it cool, making it a wonderful understory plant in the mixed evergreen/deciduous shrub border. Soil must be well-drained, or the plant may suffer root-rot. Morning sun/afternoon shade, dappled shade, really any kind of shade except full shade serves this plant well. As it matures you can prune it into any number of contorted shapes, so that it curves and twists exactly where you want it to spread and cover. Let the snow cover it in winter, but fear not if snow cover is sparse – winterburn is not in this plant’s vocabulary. Hardy to Zone 2.
strobes ‘Blue Shag’ (PI-nus stro-bees)
This dwarf, light blue/green form of white pine is one of the great wonders of the plant world. It grows quite quickly to a mature size of 4-6’ tall by 6-8’ wide. There’s a mature specimen near the front door to Bachmans Wholesale down in Farmington that will knock your socks off. It resembles a waterfall. I gave this one a burlap wall this first winter, just because I’m paranoid, but now that it’s establishing a solid root system, with proper fall care and watering winterburn will be of no concern. Don’t buy too big a specimen at the nursery, go with a good, full, rounded plant in a #7 container, or smaller. Zone 3.
omorika ‘Pimoko’ (Pie-SEE-uh oh-more-ick-uh)
God bless a spruce? Let it be known, the Renegade Gardener is not above killing a plant. Though this annihilation surprised me – I gave it a burlap wall, proper fall care, it was green and lovely all winter, as the snow cover came and went, and it was a healthy green in April. Then one morning I looked out and it had died as if shot by a gun. Yanking it from the ground and placing it on a concrete apron to shoot this photo, I noted there was no root development whatsoever. It had been planted in loose, terrific soil, so perhaps there was some problem back at the factory. I planted it in the spring and that act did reward me with a fair amount of summer needle drop, perhaps some form of warning that something as amiss. This plant, had it lived, would have matured to an irregular, dense, 5’ by 5’with bicolor foliage.
Oh yes, I plant stuff only to have it die. If you need a little refresher on dealing with death in the garden, may I refer you to the column Lesson in Humility.
Big, bold, and brassy, Hollyhocks seem to revel in being the life of the party, and there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, there’s little to nothing wrong with the plant, that I can think of. I’ve seen them erupting from a wide crack in a city sidewalk, tall, stout, and in glorious bloom, so there’s no great trick to growing them. They do, however, naturally tend to be short-lived, so the secret to keeping blooming specimens in the garden is to give each plant ample space and allow plants to go to seed, in addition to removing and replanting daughter plants, as described below.
Many Hollyhock cultivars will self-seed, or you can collect the seeds yourself for planting. To propagate cultivars that don’t come true to type from self-sown seed (or to propagate any Hollyhock you enjoy), carefully detach the small daughter plants that develop around the base of the plant and replant them where you want them. With one or both of these techniques, you should be able to keep strong, healthy Hollyhock plants coming back year after year in your garden.
Promptly remove leaves peppered with tiny orange dots of rust to help keep the disease under control. In fall, leave healthy basal growth intact but remove and burn any tatty leaves.
Hollyhock plants become shorter and bushier if the main stem is pinched out early in the season, when it is about 6–12" tall. The flowers are smaller, but the plant is less likely to be broken by the wind and can therefore be left unstaked.
Old-fashioned Hollyhock varieties commonly have single flowers and grow very tall. One advantage to using older varieties is their higher resistance to disease. As nearly always with perennials, I prefer the look of the older varieties to the hopped-up, laboratory-improved, new-fangled double varieties.
The above is reprinted with permission of publisher from Don’s book, PERENNIALS FOR MINNESOTA AND WISCONSIN. To order this book, or any of Don’s other books, CLICK HERE.
Northern gardeners on the lookout for highly unusual perennials will want very much to track down this marvelous lysimachia. It has been causing quite a stir in my ‘hood since I introduced it to the garden last year. 3’ tall stems support fairly widely spaced branches from which generate the most bewitching, chocolate-red foliage you’ve ever seen. Flowers are stellar as well, clusters of rich yellow bells that combine with the foliage to make the plant an unequalled standout in the garden. The denser the shade, the darker the foliage; move the plant around to find an area of lightest shade, so you get the red thing going.
Care and Use
‘Purpurea’ performs best in part shade; morning sun and afternoon shade and vice-versa, or dappled shade throughout the day, is ideal. Too much hot, midday sun and the plant will burn. This is a loosestrife, remember, so you need to prepare a good, well-drained soil rich in organic matter, then don’t allow it to completely dry out. Plant it with other moisture lovers such as astilbe, aconitum, and rodgersia, and other perennials you find yourself watering twice a week. The plant will perform well in bog gardens.
Though ‘Purpurea’ is not as invasive as other varieties, it will gallop out several feet each year. I purchased the plant last season at Ambergate Gardens in Victoria, Minn., and was lucky to be shopping that day accompanied by Iowa garden writer and former Better Homes and Gardens editor Craig Black; I toddled toward the sales desk clutching three pots. Luckily, Craig intercepted me en route and whispered, “Buy only one.” This spring that one pot of three stems came up as seven lush new plants, filling an area around four square feet.
Divide in spring or early fall. Hardy to Zone 3. Comrades living outside the Twin Cities can purchase the plant bare-root by visiting ambergategardens.com, and requesting their bare-root catalogue.
Feverfew grows best in full sun. Any well-drained soil is suitable. Very fertile soil may encourage invasive growth. Plants bloom from mid-summer to fall. Deadheading will prolong the blooming period—one can expect bloom well into September. Divide in spring as needed to control spread and maintain plant vigor.
Use feverfew in borders, rock gardens, wildflower gardens, cottage gardens and meadow gardens. Most of these species are quite civilized, but T.vulgare can become invasive. To control invasiveness, grow the non-invasive ‘Crispum’ or grow the species in planters—they’re a dandy container perennial.
T. coccineum (Painted Daisy, Pyrethrum) is an erect, bushy plant, growing 18–36" tall and spreading 12–18". The main flush of white, pink, purple or red, yellow-centered flowers occurs in early summer, but some flowering will continue until fall. ‘Brenda’ has red or magenta flowers. ‘JamesKelway’ bears scarlet red flowers. (Zones 3–8.)
T. parthenium (Feverfew) is a bushy plant with fern-like, aromatic foliage. It grows 12–36" tall, spreads 12–24" and bears clusters of small daisy-like flowers. ‘GoldBall’ forms a compact mound 9" tall and wide and bears yellow double flowers. ‘Snowball’ bears white double flowers. (Zones 3–8.)
T. vulgare (Tansy, Golden Buttons) forms a large, erect, wide-spreading mound. It grows 24"–4' tall, spreads 18–36" and bears clusters of bright yellow, button-like flowers from mid-summer to fall. ‘Crispum’ (Curly Tansy) is a compact plant with crinkled, lacy foliage. It is less invasive than the species. (Zones 3–8.)
Problems & Pests
These plants are generally pest free, but keep an eye open for aphids.
The above is reprinted from Don’s book, PERENNIALS FOR MINNESOTA AND WISCONSIN
Plant Spotlight Archive