Reading between the lines of plant catalogs

What Plant Catalogs Are Really Trying to Tell You

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All plants have their pros and cons. Writers of plant and seed catalogs try to paint each plant in the best light.  Just as when a house listed as “cozy” usually translates to “small,” certain terms in plant catalogs raise flags in the minds of savvy consumers.  Here are some phrases to be aware of when flipping through those decadent,… Read more →


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All Hail the Toad Lily:  Prince of Fall Perennials

All Hail the Toad Lily: Prince of Fall Perennials

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It’s nice to know that not all late summer- and fall-blooming perennials are DYC’s (Damn Yellow Composites). Their brassy gold faces are cheering at first, but become monotonous.  In shady gardens at that time of year, the lily family is offering up some splendidly eccentric blooms in the form of toad lilies. ‘Miyazaki’ toad lily (Tricyrtis hirta ‘Miyazaki’) opens its fantastically speckled… Read more →


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ginkgo biloba yellow in fall

Ginkgo biloba, You Don’t Look a Day Over 56 Million

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Is there anything more satisfying than golden ginkgo leaves backed by blue autumn skies? Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) delivers taxi-cab-yellow foliage to the Lower Midwest from the week of October 11 until mid-November, with most trees reaching peak color during the latter half of that period.  The margins of the fan-shaped leaves turn first, so that early in the show the green leaves are… Read more →


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dragonfly

The Bizarre, Sordid Secrets of Dragonflies You Will Wish You Had Never Learned

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I’ve always enjoyed it when dragonflies visited the garden, but I realized I didn’t know much about them. I knew that dragonflies had finely tuned, 360-degree vision, because I knew how hard it was to get close enough to them for a photo.  I knew they were territorial, because one of them took ownership of the tip of our car antenna for about… Read more →


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Hamamelis virginiana common witchhazel

Neither Snow Nor Rain Nor Gloom of Night Keeps This Witchhazel Down

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I must say a few words of kindness for our native common witchhazel (Hamamelis virginiana), the last woody plant of the year to venture forth with new flowers. Like katsura,  common witchhazel might be first detected with a whiff—in this case a sweet tea fragrance—and then tracked down.  Sure enough, there are the flowers, like wee basil chiffonades in yellow.  The blooms… Read more →


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What Does Katsura Smell Like to You?

What Does Katsura Smell Like to You?

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Katsura (Cercidophyllum japonicum) makes a grand entrance in fall, turning yellow from head to toe between October 4 and November 7 in the Ohio Valley.  In some parts of the world, the tree turns apricot-yellow or even a ruddy orange, but in the Lower Midwest, yellow is nearly always the uniform, and that’s just fine, because it is a luminous yellow—clear and strong. … Read more →


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The Six Best Japanese Maples for Fall Color

The Six Best Japanese Maples for Fall Color

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When it comes to Japanese maples (Acer palmatum) for fall color, there’s hardly a bad one in the bunch, but some are simply stunning, while others are take-your-breath-away gorgeous. Over the 16 years I worked at Ammon Nursery in Northern Kentucky, we grew more than 60 varieties of Japanese maples.  Mostly we sold the popular red-foliaged types–either weeping, dissected-leaf selections like ‘Crimson Queen’,… Read more →


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Chrysanthemum 'Sheffield Pink'--A Truly Hardy, Perennial Mum

Chrysanthemum ‘Sheffield Pink’–A Truly Hardy, Perennial Mum

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I am a sucker for peach-colored flowers, and I think those of ‘Sheffield Pink’ mum (Chrysanthemum ‘Sheffield Pink’), bursting forth from October 11 to November 7, are the most spellbinding blooms of the entire fall season. Not only are the blooms pretty, but the plant itself is durable and will return year after year.  This is not your typical disposable… Read more →


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Sedum ellacombianum Serves Up Gummi-Bear-Colored Fall Foliage

Sedum ellacombianum Serves Up Gummi-Bear-Colored Fall Foliage

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Trees and shrubs are not the only plants infused with fiery foliage in fall.  Perennials like stonecrops undergo some color shifts as the weather turns nippy, too.  October daphne’s (Hylotelephium sieboldii) glaucous, aqua-blue foliage becomes imbued with pink, as does that of Sedum reflexum ‘Blue Spruce’, and Sedum ruprestre ‘Angelina’s fluorescent yellow foliage becomes tipped in fluorescent orange. The stonecrop I… Read more →


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Baldcypress Taxodium distichum fall color
Baldcypress (Taxodium distichum) turns a smoky-orange color in October.

Baldcypress (Taxodium distichum), a deciduous conifer, makes the color calendar during the week of October 11 with duckling-soft foliage that turns a smoked-salmon color.  In contrast to most broadleaf trees which color from the outside-in, deciduous conifers develop fall tints from the inside-out, glowing more each day until the entire tree is saturated with color.  Baldcypress offers fall color through November 7th as it changes from pastel green, to coppery orange, to a warm, rusty brown.

A native of Southern swamps, baldcypress rises from alligator-populated waters there like a prehistoric sentinel.  Related to the giant redwoods of the West, it is one of the longest-lived trees found in the Eastern United States and can live to the unfathomably old age of 1,800 years.  Plants don’t typically get taller than 100 feet, so they don’t compare to redwoods on that level, but they do build outrageously wide buttressing trunks; the largest living ones have a DBH (Diameter Breast-Height) of 17 feet.

Despite its Southern pedigree, baldcypress is hardy to Zone 4 and adapts to a wide variety of growing conditions (preferring those that are acidic).  When grown in boggy sites, the species’ quirky, characteristic “knees” rise from the water, though these don’t develop in well-drained soil.

‘Peve Minaret’ is a compressed version of the species much in vogue among plant connoisseurs.  It is compact, but not miniature—a 10-inch start planted at the JC Raulston Arboretum in 2003 was 20 feet tall after 10 years.  A weeping variety, ‘Cascade Falls’, must be grafted to keep it from snaking along the ground, and thus treated becomes a 20-foot wooly mammoth in green.  A landscaper friend once told me that after planting a weeping white pine in his own front yard, a helpful neighbor assured him that if he watered it, the tree would “perk right up.”  I can only imagine what a lost cause the neighbor would have thought a weeping baldcypress to be had it turned orange, and then brown, and dropped all of its needles in a heap at its feet!