• Reflecting on the Season: A Thriving Crowd

    Each year I reflect on the season past, usually for most of the winter.  (That’s a period of cold, gray, dismal nothingness for you southerly sorts.)  When I think about the season, I think about my plants.  My favorites.  The stars and divas.  The sulkers and misbehavers.  For ridiculous fun, I’ve decided to reduce my 1,000 + taxa plant collection to my top 15 plants for 2009.  This class of plants is mostly certainly a thriving crowd of plants–hardworking perennials and shrubs that don’t give in to the whims of Mother Nature.  (This is not a ranked listing, simply a sorted alphabetical list.)

    1. Aconitum umbrosum
    This recent acquisition from my friends Steve and Caroline Bertrand at The Perennial Flower Farm really took me for a spin.  I’m an Aconitum fan, albeit a casual one.  But this green and cream-flowered species from northeastern China and the Korean peninsula (unfortunately quite rare in commerce) really has me raving.  Maybe the coolest feature is the emerging foliage in spring–dark jade speckled with silvery spots, much like a Pulmonaria.  Choice and all too unavailable.

    2. xAlcalthaea ‘Park Allee’
    You may know this plant by the incorrect genus name Malva.  Around since the early 70s, this hollyhock-look-alike actually arose from crosses of Alcea (hollyhock) and Althaea (mallow) in a Hungarian garden.  Four cultivars were introduced, of which two remain relatively extant.  I was turned on to these bigeneric hybrids several years ago when doing research for my own Alcea breeding program.  Though sterile, ‘Park Allee’ is everything a gardener wants in a hollyhock.  It’s resistant (or highly tolerant) of hollyhock rust, suffers no herbivory from beetles or other insects that keenly nibble away at the foliage of neighboring hollyhocks, and blooms virtually non-stop from the end of June through and after frost.  I KNOW!?  The swarm of plants in our west perennial border was the subject of many conversations with visiting gardens, usually in disbelief at its utterly brilliant performance.

    3. Clematis heracleifolia
    I was so enchanted with this species this year that I wrote an entire post about them.

    4. Gentiana septemfida var. lagodechiana
    I promised my mom that I’d include this plant this year, and for good reason.  Gentians are one of those “blue” flowered plants that make you reeavaluate your definition of blue.  They really know how to pull it off!  This ground-hugging, sprite, and perky rock garden doyenne thrives with good drainage and scoffs in the face of Midwestern humidity.

    5. Helianthus maximiliani
    I’ve loved this native for years.  I shared a brief profile with y’all back in 2007.  It’s grown up even more and has earned a midsummer haircut next season to keep it manageable and enjoyable.

    6. Heucherella ‘Sweet Tea’
    I’m so getting brownie points for plugging this.  Dan Heims gave this to me back in April.  Now typically I don’t rush my evaluations of first year plants because it’s just not good science or logic.  But ‘Sweet Tea’ is an exception.  From a 72-cell plug (SMALL), this sumptuously colored, bigeneric hybrid between Heuchera (coral bells) and Tiarella (foamy bells) grew vigorously all summer long.  Since I’m also practically an adopted child of the south, I couldn’t pass up mentioning one of my favorite southernisms….sweet tea!  ‘Sweet Tea’ should be widely available in 2010.  Look for it!

    7. Iris ‘Gene’s Lora Lavelle’
    Here’s some shameless self promotion for quite possibly the worst named plant ever….and it’s mine!  Regardless of its lack of nomenclatural catchiness, my 2009 introduction deserves a spot in your garden.  Visitors love it.  We love it.  Just forget to tag it, for its sake.

    8. Iris x norrisii
    Though I like to take credit for the specific epithet, this newly reclassified irid was named for Sam Norris (maybe a relative?) who developed this horticultural species from repeated crosses of (then) Pardanthopsis dichotoma (now Iris dichotoma) and Belamcanda chinensis (now Iris domestica).  These so-called candy lilies (or xPardancanda, if you’re stuck in your ways) razzle dazzle the garden at a time when few other perennials (let alone irises) look their grandest.  A focus of our breeding and development work, we can’t wait to share the fruits of our labors with you in a few years (hopefully).  Take a look at some of this year’s seedlings derived from Harlan Hamernick’s Dazzler series and seed-grown I. domestica ‘Hello Yellow’ (sometimes erroneously named Belamcanda flava).  Oh and did I mention they are drought-tolerant, heat-loving, and capable of growing in clay?

    9. Kolkwitzia amabilis ‘Maradco’ Dream Catcher™
    I know I’ve babbled about this thing all summer too.  But really, it looked stunning all summer.  The stuff of my dreams…

    10. Lespedeza thunbergii ‘Samindare’
    I can’t wait for the day I can build a seven or eight foot tall wall and have it planted with Lespedeza cascading over the edge.  Correction…that’s the stuff of my dreams!  But in the meantime I’m more than satisfied with ‘Samindare’, the posh-looking, free-wheeling babe of the pea family that delightfully graces the east border of my family’s home.  Bloom time- SEPTEMBER.  Mark it down, mark it down…

    11. Penstemon richardsonii var. richardsonii
    I couldn’t compile a list without a Penstemon.  Such would be an act of heresy!  I once had a shirt that said “Penstomaniac” but I don’t think it fits anymore (I think the American Penstemon Society still sells them).  I picked up this pent on one of my trips to Portland.  Native to colder valleys in the Cascade Mountain range of Oregon and Washington, Richardson’s penstemon has no trouble surviving the brutality of Midwestern winters.  Given good drainage it seems thoroughly content.  The flowers are almost indescribable and difficult to photograph since they glow in neon blue tones.  If you think ‘Husker Red’ when you hear Penstemon, displace that idea for a minute.  This mountain girl rambles at ground level, a subshrub of sorts that meanders in and between its associates.  Not widely available or even grown much outside of its native range.  I found plants for sale recently at Laporte Avenue Nursery, a fine rock garden plant specialist.

    12. Phlox paniculata ‘Peppermint Twist’
    I know, I need an intervention with this plant.  But how can you not fall in love with this dwarf, everblooming, and disease-tolerant cultivar?  A diva of necessitous consequence.

    13. Rudbeckia subtomentosa ‘Henry Eilers’
    If Henry Eilers ran for office, I’d donate to his campaign fund.  I can’t think of a more sensational perennial black-eyed susan on the market.  Here’s a shout-out to Dan H. for bringing it to the wholesale market.  If you don’t own it, buy it.  Sales pitch:  Long-blooming, durable, rugged, and non-flopping black-eyed susan that’ll have you swooning and singing Sinatra.  I’ve got about 600 photos of the same plant in my garden from the last several years.  I can’t get enough.

    14. Silene ‘Rockin’ Robin’
    Another Dan Heims introduction of considerable worth that failed to hit it big.  Sometimes the market doesn’t always know best!  Such is the case with this phenomenal catchfly bred by Thurman Maness.  Sporting all the standard markers of hybrid vigor (vigorous, larger flowers, etc.), ‘Rockin’ Robin’ politely screams at garden visitors in the most audacious visual flavor of salmon pink humanly imaginable.  And it doesn’t stop!  After nearly a month of bloom in early summer, I hedge back the sticky remnants and watch it slowly tank up for a repeat show in late summer and early fall.  Wouldn’t garden without it.  Still available from the niche suppliers who recognize good plants.

    15. Symphytum x uplandicum ‘Axminster Gold’
    Sexy?  Comfrey?  Same sentence?  YES!  These plants of rhyme and lore typically don’t call up images of vixens.  Yet take a look below at this well-regarded variegated cultivar called ‘Axminster Gold’.  Bawdy, right?  When planted in the middle of groundcovers or in the depths of shade, it’s like a light bulb in a dark closet.  Suddenly color floods in and that once dreary corner of the garden changes forever.  I deliberately planted it with this very purpose in mind and it has grown into the job perfectly.  Can’t wait for it to just keep getting bigger (and now I just have to have more).  Please note other species and variegated cultivars do exist.  I think I’ll buy them all.

    Now…what were some of YOUR favorite plants for 2009?  Rules:  you have to grow them yourself (ie-can’t be something you saw somewhere and loved…that’s another list!)

3 Responsesso far.

  1. Deena says:

    What a wonderful list! I too am a Northern gardener and am always looking for the most hardy and tolerant of plants. I was particularly interested in the xAlcalthaea ‘Park Allee’. I’ve grown a pink variety (can’t remember the name!), but now have another to try that I know will do well…thanks to you! I’m bookmarking this list for sure!

  2. kdnblog says:

    ‘Park Rondell’ is pink and quite lovely too. ‘Park Allee’ tints after frost to rosy tones. Glad you enjoyed the list Deena! Thanks for reading and do share with other Northern gardeners….so many of our fellow gardeners here forget that we can grow way cool plants even here in the cold north!

  3. Troy says:

    Thrilled to see Symphytum uplandicum ‘Axminster Gold’ on your list! And for your southern readers, it does very well down here. It is extremely resistant to powdery mildew and does not melt in the heat and humidity like some of the other comfreys do.

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