Great Plants

Eric’s Pet Plant: ‘Hally Jolivette’ Cherry (Prunus x ‘Hally Jolivette’)

hally jolivette cherry blossoms

‘Hally Jolivette’ flowering cherry. The deep pink buds open pure white in some flowers, pink throated in others, making it especially striking up close. The bloom can go on for two weeks or a bit more, if the weather is right.

As you may have noticed, we’re deep in the season  for going on about the Lovliest of Trees, even though these days most flowering cherries appear to be hung with something that looks more like cotton candy than the snow that so moved Housman.  Our friend Eric is not immune, and not surprisingly, he has a favorite.

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You CAN grow fragrant jasmine in the North!

In spite of what some people say. I’ve done it before and am about (with luck) to do it again, even though I keep swearing up and down I’ve had it with plants that have to be brought in for the winter.

carolina jessamine flower (gelsimium sempervirens)

Carolina jessamine, Gelsemium sempervirens. Not really a jasmine at all. But it IS the Southern fragrance that inspired my current bout of jasmine lust.


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Breeding Peonies the Easy Way

single red peony - from seedling

One of the peonies I bred myself (sorta)

Breeding peonies the way the pros do isn’t hugely difficult, but it takes a lot more care and attention than what might be called the

Go With The Flow Method of Breeding Peonies

Step one: Don’t get around to deadheading everything.

Step two: Don’t get so enthusiastic about weeding you inadvertently pull up the self-sown babies.

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Fragrant Violets

I heard a new term the other day: songworm, the tune you can’t get out of your head. Happened just in time; ever since Valentines Day I’ve been hearing Frank Sinatra singing I Bought You Violets For Your Furs.

purple fragrant violets, Viola odorata

A classic bouquet of violets, tightly bound stems, galax leaf frame (no doily, however)

If that sounds more than a little old fashioned, that’s because it is. The song is only in my head because my father used to croon it to my mother and whether he ever bought her any I do not know. They did court in New York City in the late ‘30s, when nosegays of fragrant violets were still a staple of winter romance. But by the time I grew up the whole tradition – along with the violets – was long gone.

Or make that almost gone.

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Larkspur planting time

This started out to be about blue, and how plants that are far apart in most ways may be mighty similar in the color department.

blue flowers

That’s a sweet pea (legume family) on the left and a larkspur (buttercup family) on the right. The seeds are coriander and will be a new crop of cilantro by fall.

But then the larkspurs took over, because – at least in the north – they’re a real low fuss delight (unlike some flowers we could name). Larkspurs are so closely related to delphiniums they used to be in the same species, but this airy member of the family almost never needs staking.* Also unlike delphiniums, larkspurs are seldom bothered by slugs and snails. Plus they don’t dwindle and die out on you after a couple of  years. Plant just once and have them forever.

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Ordering Seeds

It’s that time of year again: every morning I look at the mirror, sternly, and say “ Leslie, you cannot grow everything.” Everything meaning vegetables and annual flowers. Even I know I can’t do much about my fantasies in the tree and shrub department.

Sitting cuddled up with a big pile of catalogs and a ballpoint (felt tips bleed through) is one of the best cheap thrills going, and buying way too many seeds isn’t all that much more expensive, at least compared to the trouble you can get into at an outfit like forestfarm. But this is not about that, it’s about remembering to leave room for the seeds that plant themselves.

shirley poppies and alyssum

Although all colors of alyssum self-sow, white is not only the most prolific but also the most fragrant. The poppies are not fragrant, just about their only flaw.

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New Year, New Garden and My Perennial Resolution (Bearded Iris Division)

Resolved (year after year, but this year I’m really going to do it): make the garden smarter – not necessarily smaller, but easier to care for – and more stylishly built around shrubs and grasses instead of herbaceous perennials.

For starters, I’m cutting way back on the bearded iris. Not ripping it out root and branch

blue iris blue hosta

The fragrant, impervious-to-snails-so-their-leaves-look-lovely-all-summer blue ones in the blue border are staying, but

 bearded iris and hesperis

the not-fragrant purple ones, whose moment of glory is even briefer than that of the hesperis in the background, after which their snail ravaged leaves look worse and worse until put out of their misery, are destined for removal.

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The Last Rose of Summer (Mr. Lincoln maybe)

As usual, it’s on the bush beside the barn, a bush that was here (and already venerable) when we arrived 20 years ago.

red hybrid tea rose. Mr lincoln???

Mr. Lincoln, I presume?

I think it may be Mr. Lincoln, but then again not being a rose person I tend to think all fragrant deep red/black long stemmed hybrid teas are Mr. Lincoln, aka Mister Lincoln, which again not being a rose person I usually call Abraham Lincoln, even though – thank you Rogers Roses – there is no rose by that name.

Whatever it is, I offer it as evidence that plants can sometimes thrive where they have no business living at all, something to keep in mind when attending end-of-year plant sales.

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Cimicifuga, Actaea, Snakeroot, Bugbane – No matter what you call it, I love it

Yesterday afternoon’s garden work was all in tight focus: harvesting the endless beans, sorting as I went; thinning and transplanting young beets and greens; deadheading hardy annuals. Yet hour after hour scarcely looking up, I could still hear  the size of the garden, soft  buzzing nearby, bright chirping around the feeder,  territorial shouts all over – hummingbirds have really big lungs.

I could smell it, too. No matter where I was, no matter what was under my nose, there was the perfume of late summer’s fragrance factory, Cimicifuga racemosa (or Actaea racemosa, if you want to be au courant), aka black snakeroot, bugbane, black cohosh and fairy candles.

actaea (cimicifuga) racemosa

The clump of black snakeroot is down beyond the lower garden, nestled against the apple tree hedge/edge, but the fragrance is so intense it floats a very long way.

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Peony ‘Sweet Marjorie’

peony 'sweet marjorie'

Sweet Marjorie, an impulse justified

The thermometer hit 100 (not a misprint, one hundred) degrees on the porch yesterday. The peonies are in overdrive and ‘Sweet Marjorie’ is already fading, just days after the first bud opened.  But while she lasted she was lovely – proof that irrational impulses can sometimes be worth following.

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