Favorite Summer Garden Herbs

The flowers of English lavender and sage complement each other in the early summer garden.

Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme is one of the most popular songs by Simon and Garfunkel, and both the herbs and song are favorites. But, what about basil? Shouldn’t basil be a part of the song lyrics? Truly, the addition of basil would create a wordier line in the song, but the addition of the herb would complete my list of top herbs to grow in summer. (We will leave parsley out because most gardeners start the plant as a spring herb.)


‘Dark Purple Opal’ basil is attractive when in bloom, but the flowers detract from leaf development. I pluck the buds off to keep the basil leafy and tasty.

Basil (Ocimum basilicum) is one of the most important culinary summer herbs, and the plant is steeped in history and folklore. It is probably the most well-known and widely grown of all the summer herbs. Although ubiquitous to southern European cuisine, basil is a native of Africa, Asia, and parts of the Middle East. The word itself, basil, is believed to be derived from the Greek Basilikon phuton which means “kingly herb.”

In my summer garden, I would never be without a container or two of basil. There are many different cultivars–too many to list. Basil flavors range from sweet basil, such as ‘Genova’ or ‘Lettuce Leaf’, to the anise-scented leaves of Thai basil (Ocimum basilicum var. thyrsiflora, Siam Queen‘ is a beautiful flowering form), or the lemony leaves of ‘Mrs. Burns’ ‘Lemon basil (Ocimum basilicum var. citriodora ‘Mrs. Burns). There are also colorful purple and red basils, such as ‘Dark Purple Opal‘ or the maroon ‘Osmin‘, etc.

While I always try a new variety each year. Last summer, I grew ‘Emerald Towers’ for the first time. It grew, as the name implies, in more of a pyramid shape, and, as advertised, the plant produced no flowers. The leaves had the same flavor as sweet basil. It was so effortless, I plan to grow one in a pot near the kitchen door for summer!

Basil plants will bloom with spikes of white or lavender flowers, but I recommend gardeners pinch the flowers off, so the plant will continue to produce new leaves rather than seeds. Sometimes, in the fall I leave a few flower spikes when plants are tired because they seem to be a magnet for honeybees.


The felty leaves of traditional sage are attractive on their own and evergreen through the winter.

Sage (Salvia officinalis) is another easy-to-grow summer herb originating from the Mediterranean. In our Pacific Northwest climate, the shrubby, evergreen will overwinter as a perennial (USDA Hardiness Zones 5-11). The attractive plants look good either in ornamental gardens or herb gardens.

There are quite a few garden-worthy culinary sage varieties with variations in leaf color from standard green to purple to variegated forms, which usually have leaves with purple tones and white margins. The large-leaved ‘Berggarten‘ sage has big, rounded, felty-green leaves, and the purple, ivory, and green-leaved ‘Tricolor‘ sage is both good-looking and savory. In the spring or early summer, the sage plants produce spikes of lavender-blue flowers visited by bees.

Any sage can be grown as an attractive potted plant, if given full sun a large pot filled with quality, well-drained soil and regular water.


Rosemary plants are shrubby where hardy.

Another shrubby perennial herb is rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis, USDA Hardiness Zones 7-11). While many plants did not survive our January ice storm last winter, rosemary plants usually live through our winters. Fortunately, some cultivated varieties are hardier than others. ‘Arp‘ is a selection that tends to be more winter-hardy than others and can survive winters up to Zone 6.

Rosemary grows to be a large, attractive plant in the garden. Specimens can reach 3-feet or more. In fact, they are often grown as shrubs in the Mediterranean. For their best chance of survival, choose a full-sun location with sharply-drained soil. The roots will not tolerate wet feet in the winter.

Small spikes of flowers appear along the stems in various shades of lavender-blue, sometimes white, in the late spring or early summer. There are trailing forms that are ideal for planting along a retaining wall or in a large container. ‘Prostratus‘ (Zones 8-11), which can reach a foot or so and spread to 3 feet or more, is the most common creeping form available.


‘Vera’ is a compact, extra aromatic lavender with dense wands of lavender-blue flowers.

Few herbs are as strongly identified with fragrance and color as lavender (Lavandula spp.). There are many beautiful species and varieties to try, including the classic, compact ‘Munstead’ English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia ‘Munstead’), and lovely ‘Lady’ lavender (Lavandula ‘Lady’), which blooms in the first year from seed. ‘Vera‘ (Lavandula angustifolia ‘Vera’) is another compact form known for its strong, aromatic fragrance and dense wands of lavender-blue flowers.

Lavender is a short-lived shrubby perennial, which varies in hardiness depending on the species. English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), the hardiest form, will survive in Zone 5 or 6. All grow best when given full sun and soil with good drainage. Like rosemary, they do not appreciate wet feet in the winter. With good care, plants will survive for four to five years before they begin to decline and require replacement.

Growing Summer Herbs

Potted basil is useful to have near or in the kitchen.

All of the herbs listed need warm temperatures, and a rule of thumb should planted outdoors after the threat of frost has passed. A full-sun location is required. For plants in containers, all will thrive in Black Gold Natural & Organic Potting Mix. The addition of perlite and pumice to increase drainage is recommended. Add three parts mix to one part pumice/Black Gold Perlite, and make sure the container is large and has drainage holes at the base.

There are so many different herbs that are readily available to the home gardener. If you have a favorite, check out the herb section at your local garden center for the best plants in your area. While many may not be winter hardy, they can provide great satisfaction during the summer months.

Glorious Hydrangeas for the Summer Garden

Blue lacecap hydrangeas are garden favorites, especially ‘Nachtigall’ (singer of the night). (Image by Mike Darcy)

The name Hydrangea denotes water and comes from the Greek words, hydor (water) and aggos (a jar). Together the words mean ‘water vessel’ because of the cup-like form Hydrangea seed capsules. I have looked at the seed capsule, and perhaps my imagination is not quite enough to describe them as water vessels, but hydrangeas do require regular soil moisture to look their best. Give them basic care, and they are some of the easiest summer-flowering shrubs you can grow.

As with many groups of plants, Hydrangeas are very diverse in flower color, leaf color texture, and growth habit. Their flowers can be different shapes and colors will vary from solid colors of white, pink, blue, purple, and cream to some that are bicolor in shades of pink and white. Leaf color is also variable and while most are solid green, some are variegated and some have burgundy foliage. They thrive throughout much of the Pacific Northwest and in many other parts of the country, except for areas with extreme summer heat or winter cold, and some species are not adapted to the deep South.

Hydrangea Selection

Tuff Stuff is a compact lacecap known to prosper in more difficult growing areas. (Image by Jessie Keith)

Selecting a hydrangea for the garden can be difficult because there are so many choices. It is difficult to only select one! Space is limited, and I cannot name all of my other favorites, but here is a selection of favorites from my garden.

Oakleaf Hydrangea

‘Snow Queen’ is my favorite oakleaf hydrangea. (Image by Mike Darcy)

If I had to pick just one hydrangea to grow, my choice would be Snow Queen oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Snow Queen’). It is named because of the oak-like shape of the leaves and snowy summer flower clusters. This hydrangea is a sturdy grower with white upright panicles of single blooms that cover the plant in early to midsummer. It has deep green leaves all summer and in the fall, they turn a superb shade of red. Another plus is that oakleaf hydrangeas tend to take more sun than many other species.

Lacecap and Mophead Hydrangeas

‘Nachtigall’ has some of the best blue lacecaps. (Image by Mike Darcy)

Common bigleaf hydrangeas (Hydrangea macrophylla, USDA Hardiness Zones 6-11 (a few cultivars are bred to survive to Zone 5)) and mountain hydrangeas (Hydrangea serrata, Zones 5-9) have either mophead (with a puffy head of showy flowers) or lacecap (with a head showy flowers along the margins) blooms. Mopheads are more common, but I prefer lacecaps for their stately appearance. Their flowers are in shades of blue, pink, white, red, or purple. The blue/purple or pink/red types have flower colors that can change depending on the pH of the soil. Pinkish/reddish colors denote more alkaline soil, and purplish/blueish colors indicate more acidic soil.

One of the deepest blues of the lacecap types, and a spectacular specimen in my garden, is Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Nachtigall’ (5 feet x 5 feet). I first saw one in a garden last summer, and I kept walking back to it because it was such an impressive large shrub in full bloom. Some of the flowers looked as though they were almost double. Another I have had my eye on is a compact, pink-flowered lacecap called Tuff Stuff (3 feet x 3 feet) from Proven Winners. It is supposed to be exemplary and has a neat, rounded habit.

Three more favorite hydrangeas are known for both their foliage and flowers. They are the lacecap ‘Lemon Wave’, which has leaves with patches of white and yellow, the bigleaf lacecap called ‘Purple Leaf Form’, with its truly burgundy foliage, and a dark-purple-leaved mophead called Eclipse® with showy red and white flowers. All are striking in the garden and cause my visitors to comment.

Smooth Hydrangea

‘Annabelle’ is one of the prettiest smooth hydrangeas. (Image by Mike Darcy)

For large blooms, the native Annabelle smooth hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’, 3-8) is hard to beat. It is sometimes referred to as an old-fashioned snowball plant. The buds begin as pale white or light green and open to white. The blooms are very large, and the plant has a long blooming period in the summer.

Climbing Hydrangea

Schizophragma hydrangeoides ‘Moonlight’ is a lovely woody vine for shade. (Image by Mike Darcy)

While technically not a Hydrangea, climbing hydrangea (Schizophragma hydrangeoides ‘Moonlight’, Zones 5-8) is a close relative. The climbing lianna tolerates shade. In my garden, it only receives about an hour of morning sun and looks beautiful. Its heart-shaped leaves are almost silver and the lacy summer flowers are ivory.  Climbing hydrangea stems are stout and develop rootlets that attach to buildings, walls, or pergolas, so plant yours on a structure with strength and permanence.

Hydrangea Care

Hydrangeas like moist, not soggy, soil. Select a site that is protected from the hot afternoon sun. Morning sun or filtered sunlight is ideal. Water thoroughly, especially during the first year, and don’t let the soil become dry. At planting time, add a liberal amount of Black Gold® Natural & Organic Garden Compost Blend to the soil beforehand to increase organic matter. When planting hydrangeas in large pots, use Black Gold® All Purpose Potting Mix. Then add Black Gold® Perlite for increased drainage and aeration.

Eclipse® has both showy leaves and flowers. (Photography by Tracy Walsh, care of First Editions® Shrubs & Trees)

Hydrangeas species and varieties have different pruning needs. Some of the older cultivars bloom on second-year growth, and if heavily pruned in the fall, the plants will skip a year of bloom. Some bloom on new growth, so the time of pruning is not so critical. Those that bloom on new growth include the panicle hydrangea, which is not mentioned above (Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’ is a good variety to try), and smooth hydrangea. Check the plant tag for pruning requirements. (Click here for more pruning guidelines from Proven Winners®.)

There are so many hydrangeas to choose from, and given the right planting conditions they can provide beauty in the garden for many years. A good rule of thumb as to how particular plants will perform in your garden is to talk with friends or neighbors who have them. If their plants are thriving, yours should, too. The month of May is an excellent time to plant. For more Hydrangea information, contact the American Hydrangea Society.

The Best Reblooming Clematis

Clematis alpina ‘Pamela Jackman’ first blooms in April and again later in the season.

When visiting older established gardens, if there is a border garden, it will probably contain at least one of these three plants: peony, bearded iris, and clematis. These are often considered old-fashioned plants because they have been regularly planted in gardens for so many years. All three of these plants are generally considered reliable spring bloomers and once blooming. The bloom period can be over several weeks, and there are usually early and late-season varieties, but their flowering time is usually spring and early summer with additional flowers not expected until the next spring. There are, however, exceptions.

Over the past several years, there has been a resurgence of interest to select those that will rebloom. This is especially true with clematis, and with a little effort, a gardener can have plants that will rebloom once and sometimes even twice. I recently discussed reblooming clematis with Linda Beutler, curator of the Rogerson Clematis Collection in Lake Oswego, Oregon, and here are some of her thoughts.

The fully double ‘Duchess of Edinburgh’ blooms as many as three times in a season. (Image from the Friends of Rogerson Clematis Collection archive)

Reblooming Clematis Care

Most clematis grow best in the full to partial sun and like to have their roots shaded and their tops in the sun. After a clematis has flowered, deadhead it, (remove old flowers) and do some light pruning if necessary. Deadheading prevents the plant from setting seed and light pruning removes any dead stems and opens the plant up to more sunlight. Fertilize the plant at this time. Linda said a rose & flower fertilizer is generally good. At the Rogerson Clematis Collection, they use a fertilizer with an NPK, (Nitrogen- Phosphorus-Potassium nutrient numbers on the bag or box) ratio with numbers under 10. Currently, they use a 5-7-2. Often, 30-45 days after fertilization, the plant will re-bloom. For a full list of care tips, visit the Rogerson Clematis Collection page on clematis care (click here).

Five Recommended Reblooming Clematis

‘Blue Ravine’ is a large-flowered rebloomer. (Image from the Friends of Rogerson Clematis Collection archive)

Naturally, some plants will consistently rebloom easier, and for that consistent rebloom the following are five clematis varieties that Linda recommends.

  1. Clematis alpina ‘Pamela Jackman’ (Zones 3-9) flowers first in April and reblooms well, often in late summer. It requires trellising and can also be grown well in a container. With this clematis, you can have April in August.
  2. Clematis ‘Elegant Rhythm’ (Zones 5-9) is a handsome herbaceous perennial clematis named and introduced by Joy Creek Nursery. If you do not allow it to set seed, it will rebloom through late spring and summer, just like annual Scabiosa or perennial Astrantia.
  3. Clematis ‘Duchess of Edinburgh’ (Zones 4-9) is a double that can bloom as many as three times in a long growing season. Deadhead the spent blooms and fertilize with most any fertilizer for roses. The fully-double flowering clematis will often produce flowers that are less doubled when they rebloom.
  4. Clematis ‘Blue Ravine’ (Zones 4-9) is an excellent large-flowered variety and has the added advantage of flowering well—if paler—in partial shade. The photo above was taken in September 2020 and looks as though it were in spring.
  5. Clematis ‘Niobe’ (Zones 4-9) is a deep-red variety (pictured below reblooming in the autumn). Look closely at the image and you can see this clematis is growing through and is supported by another plant. This particular support plant is Osmanthus heterophyllus ‘Goshiki’.
The deepest-red-flowered ‘Niobe’ is growing up an Osmanthus shrub. (Image from the Friends of Rogerson Clematis Collection archive)

Clematis are often grown in this way using another plant for support. Often some of the old garden roses are used because they not only offer a good support system, but the clematis will flower again when the once-blooming roses are finished.

If you are visiting the Pacific Northwest, and have any interest in clematis, be sure to visit the Rogerson Clematis Garden, which is part of the Lake Oswego, Oregon, Parks & Recreation system. With over 900 taxa represented, it is the most comprehensive collection of clematis within a public garden in North America. Admission is free.

The handsome clematis ‘Elegant Rhythm’ has pendulous flowers. (Image from the Friends of Rogerson Clematis Collection archive)

Celebrating Colorful Coleus

Coleus ‘Henna’ is a real color-filled beauty with shades of green, orange, and purple.

Long ago, Coleus had been considered a house plant. I can remember, my grandmother always had coleus growing in her house. It was a popular winter houseplant because the colorful leaves provided bright spots of color during the long Midwest winter months. Only occasionally were plants planted outdoors during the summer. My, how the times have changed!

Today, coleus varieties have been developed to be sun tolerant and the leaf colors, shapes, and plant habits are widely diverse. While coleus is technically a tender perennial down south, for most of us they are grown as summer annuals and provide wonderful leaf color throughout the season. The plants need warm weather to thrive and cannot withstand frost, but from late spring until the first frost of fall, they look lovely.

Selecting Coleus

The Proven Winner’s Coleus El Brighto glows in a porch garden filled with cannas, sunflowers, colocasias, and lantanas. The coleus flowers were pinched off after the photo was taken! (Image thanks to Mike Darcy)

When selecting garden coleus, a good rule is to set them out at the same time tomatoes are planted. Both coleus and tomatoes need warm weather, and cold weather can stunt or kill plants if set out too early. Even though some new coleus selections have been developed as sun-loving coleus, I have found most perform better in my garden with some afternoon shade.

Coleus are ideal in both the garden and containers. More compact varieties make superb container plants with their colorful foliage throughout the summer season, such as the new compact, red, purple, and green Coleus ‘Spitfire’. Another I have grown both in a container and the garden is Proven Winner’s showy, ColorBlaze® El Brighto, with its brilliant fringed leaves of red, purple, and gold. (Click here to admire more of Proven Winner’s Colorblaze Coleus.)

Whatever coleus I choose, my potting mix of choice is Black Gold Natural & Organic Potting Mix. It holds moisture well and also provides for good drainage. I add an organic fertilizer at the time of planting and mix it well into the potting mix.

Planting Coleus

Coleus ‘Spitefire’ has a unique layering growth habit suited to containers and hanging baskets. (Image thanks to Mike Darcy)

When setting out and growing coleus plants, it is a good idea to pinch the tips of the stems often to encourage a compact growth habit and encourage branching. Sometimes plants will send up spikes of white or lavender flowers. Even though bees like them, coleus foliage looks best if you pinch off the buds before they bloom. Pinching will stop flowering and encourage the plant to produce new colorful growth rather than flowers and seeds.

Sometimes one color plant can create a nice ‘pop’ of color. Last year I planted Coleus ‘Campfire’ with its amber-orange foliage, and it stood out nicely against a background of green (image below). Another bold coleus with only one color is Proven Winner’s Lime Time, which provides a beautiful display of chartreuse leaf color and is especially nice in a shady area. It mixes well with ferns in a woodland setting,

El Brighto is equally suited to container plantings. The container shown has three plants planted in early June and the photo was taken in mid-August. One plant would have been enough. (Image thanks to Mike Darcy)

Last summer, I saw a pot of Coleus Spitfire in a garden and was impressed. The variety has a unique layering growth habit as well as brightly colored leaves. It looked beautiful in the container and would work equally well in a hanging basket or a garden edge.

Caring For Coleus at Season’s End

The warm, glowing leaves of ‘Campfire’ look attractive against bright greens and golds. (Image thanks to Mike Darcy)

As the summer season ends consider overwintering a coleus. You can either take a cutting to pot up or transplant the larger specimen. They root easily in water and once rooted, can be planted in a small pot and kept by a window for necessary light. (Click here for video details on how to take cuttings.) The plants will probably have to be pinched often as they reach for light, but they are easy to keep over and then planted outside in the spring.

The selection of color combinations is vast and every year there are new forms on the market. Some dwarf types have small leaves and only grow up to about 12 inches. Then there is the Kong series with leaves reaching up to 8 inches in length! If you have not checked out the coleus section at your local garden center, you will be surprised at the diversity of leaf colors and shapes that are available.

Lime Time will brighten up any bed or potted planting. (Image thanks to Mike Darcy)

Spring Garden Tasks for a Happy Garden

Spring is here! Officially it was March 20th, but I knew it was spring as soon as I saw the daffodils emerge. The hellebores have been glorious this year, but as their late-winter flowers slowly fade, new colors appear in the garden. The red stems of the peonies have started to peek out after being dormant all winter, the early magnolias are blooming, and the sweet fragrance of daphne lets my family know that spring has begun.

This is a wonderful time of year in the garden, with lots to do but so much to be thankful for. Yes, there are many tasks required, but most of those tasks are not burdensome. Instead, they are rather enjoyable because as gardeners, we are getting ready for a new growing season with lots of promises in store.

Refreshing Garden Containers

By refreshing the potting soil in your spring and summer containers, you will find that they perform much better!

One of my early tasks is to freshen up my many containers, of which I have 100+ scattered throughout the garden. It is a chore, no question about that, but I always like to add new potting mix to containers as needed. In some of the large pots, instead of removing all of the older potting mix, I take out about half and add new and mix the two together. In most of the smaller pots, if the mix has not been changed for a couple of years, I empty the old and add new. With the old mix, I use it around established trees and shrubs in the garden as a mulch.

My planting mix of choice is Black Gold Natural & Organic Potting Mix. Last year, we had some extremely hot days, and it was difficult to keep pots adequately watered. This year, I am going to add some Black Gold Just Coir to the mix because it should help with moisture retention when temperatures are high.

Click here for more spring-container reading:

Prune Early Spring-Blooming Shrubs

Prune spring-flowering shrubs, like this Viburnum, just after they flower to keep from removing next year’s flower buds.

As some of the early-blooming flowering shrubs, such as Forsythia, finish their blooming period, it is a good time to do some pruning if necessary. Remove any branches that tend to be older and weaker because this pruning will encourage new growth that will then bloom next year.

This has been a superb spring for Camellias, and I cannot remember a time when I have seen so many plants with so many flowers. As the flowers fade, they should be removed. Often plants grow much larger than we had intended when they were planted, and I think Camellias are a good example. After they bloom, it is an excellent time to do any necessary pruning.

Click here for more information about spring-bloomers:

Get Spring and Summer Vegetables Started

Now’s the time to plant spring herbs and vegetables, such as this dill, lettuce, and cilantro.

While it is too early to set out tomato plants and other summer vegetables, there are many cool-season vegetables that can be planted now. Vegetables, like lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower can be planted now, and garden centers should have a good selection available. Tomato seeds can be started indoors, and the plants will then be ready to set outside in late May or early June. Peas can be sown outdoors, both edible peas and flowering sweet peas. Sweet pea seeds have a very hard coating, and I have found that soaking the seeds overnight in a bowl of water prior to planting, will speed up germination. (Click here to discover more seeds that appreciate soaking.)

Here are some more resources about planting vegetables in the spring:

Prune Roses

If you failed to prune your roses earlier in the season, there is still time.

Roses should have been pruned in late winter or earliest spring, but if not, it is better to do it now rather than not at all. Your flowers will probably appear later, but the bushes will be more compact, and the flowers will be within reach.

Click here for more rose pruning and selecting resources:

Don’t let the many tasks of the spring garden overwhelm you. A garden is meant to be enjoyed and to be a place of peace and tranquility. Take the time to enjoy it, most plants are resilient and can stand some neglect. The garden never has to be perfect. It is a growing entity that is constantly changing. Enjoy the changes with it.

Click here to see my Spring Garden Tasks for a Happy Garden from previous years. Happy spring!!!

My Favorite Garden Lilies

Pink martagon lilies are a garden delight.

In honor of the National Garden Bureau’s Year of the Lily, I decided to write about my garden favorites. Big, bold, and gorgeous, garden lilies can make a stunning statement in the garden. Lilies are such a diverse and varied group of plants that it can be difficult to adequately describe them. Some types are extremely fragrant, and others have little or no fragrance. Some lilies bloom early in the spring and some wait until summer. There are tall lilies reaching 7-8 feet and those growing to only 12-18 inches in height. The color and shape of the flowers are equally diverse.

Growing Lilies

Asiatic lilies are easy-to-grow early summer bloomers.

Lilies are bulbous perennials. They poke through the ground in the spring, bloom at their appropriate time, and then the stems die to the ground while the bulb goes dormant and waits until the following year to reappear. Most like to be planted in rich garden soil that drains well and is rich in organic material. Before planting, I work Black Gold Natural & Organic Garden Compost Blend into the soil, and to help with drainage, I add Black Gold Perlite around the bulb. Some lilies grow best in full sun and others like partial or dappled sunlight, but most like to be planted in an area with protection from the hot afternoon sun. A sunnier woodland location is suitable or an area with morning sun. The flowers last longer if they are in the afternoon shade.

My Favorite Lilies

Lily martagon ‘Claude Shride’

Most lilies are hybrids, and many hybrid groups, such as oriental lilies and Asiatic lilies, have been bred for centuries. Other lilies are wildflowers and natives.

A favorite is the Martagon lily (Lilium martagon), or Turk’s-Cap lily, a name derived from a Turkish word denoting a type of turban. The species is native from Europe to Mongolia, and it is adaptable to gardens when given the right growing conditions. They grow best in full to partial sun and need well-drained soil that is rich with organic matter. The flowers appear in mid-summer and can be on stalks from 3-5 feet tall. If martagon lilies are left undisturbed in the garden, they will form clumps that continue to grow each year. There are quite a few cultivated varieties, including the rich purple-red ‘Claude Shride’.

A grouping of mixed Martagon lilies in my garden.

Blooming from mid to late summer with a strong fragrance, oriental lilies can make a spectacular display in the garden. Usually, the flowers face upward or outward so it is easy to see their colors. ‘Casablanca’ is a pure white form, and the popular and well-known ‘Stargazer’ is rose-red with white margins.

Trumpet lilies have long been a popular lily for home gardens. Names like ‘Copper King’ and ‘Golden Splendor’ are well-known selections. As the name indicates, the flowers have a trumpet shape, and stems can be 3-6 feet tall. A hybrid lily called Orienpet is a cross between an oriental lily and a trumpet. With flower stems that are 3-5 feet tall, most have a light fragrance. The butter-yellow blooms of ‘Conca d’or’ are a favorite in my garden.

the Giant Lily (Cardiocrinum giganteum) is hard to beat for its impressive height and beauty.

Probably the easiest lily to grow is the Asiatic. These are the earliest to bloom and the flowers are often unscented. If you are new to growing lilies, this type would be a good introduction. Most are in shades of orange, yellow, and red.

For the most spectacular blooms, the Giant Lily (Cardiocrinum giganteum) is hard to beat. The bulbs may be difficult to find but they are well worth the search. When in bloom, the plants are magnificent. With stems 8-10 feet tall and an abundance of white fragrant flowers, this is a showstopper in the garden.

If lilies are new to you, give some a try. They rarely disappoint. If you give them the right growing conditions, they will multiply and provide color in gardens for many years.

Most compact lilies perform well in containers and can be part of a grouping for a deck or patio. There is not much to dislike about lilies in the garden. and I would not consider my garden complete without some.

Orienpet lily ‘Conca d’or’ has large, butter yellow blooms.

Lovely Winter Jewels®Hellebores

Many new double-flowered Lenten roses have been developed by Northwest Garden Nursery in Eugene, OR.

In mid-January, the Portland, Oregon metro area endured a horrid wind, ice, and snowstorm. Temperatures dipped below 15 degrees F and stayed below freezing for 4-5 days. The high winds caused many large Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) trees to come crashing down, sometimes on homes and cars, power lines snapped, and because of the ice, people could not leave their homes. Fortunately, within a week the weather changed, and temperatures went up into the 60’s. And with the milder weather, the cheerful hellebores (Helleborus x hybridus) have begun to defrost and bloom profusely.

Helleborus Withstand Winter!

Here is a hellebore photo taken in my yard on February 2, 2024 showing one of many flowers that have opened after the ice storm.

When I walked out into my garden during the cold snap, the ground was frozen and plants were covered in ice. The new growth and flower buds on the hellebores were frozen. I knew the plants would survive, but probably not the flowers. I was wrong, and I am glad I was! Just one week later, the Lenten roses looked as though nothing had happened. The new growth was emerging and flower buds are continuing to grow. Below photo taken on February 2, showing one of many flowers that have opened since the storm. Some of the foliage was damaged but new growth is emerging that looks just fine.

My Favorite Winter Jewels®

Sparkling Diamond has white double petals and a chartreuse center. (Photo courtesy of Northwest Garden Nursery)

At one time, most hellebores in home gardens had single purple flowers, and the flowers themselves tended to nod downward. Newer selections are now available in lots of fun colors and the flowers are more upright and showy.

Northwest Garden Nursery in Eugene, Oregon has been one of the leading breeders of hellebores and has even introduced the popular Winter Jewels® Series, which are widely available in northwest garden centers. Many of their new introductions are double-flowered and look nothing like an old-fashioned hellebore, and some of the singles are available in spectacular new colors. Here are some of the prettier new offerings.

The following photos are courtesy of Northwest Garden Nursery.

Black Diamond has a true black flower. Apricot Blush is a lovely new variety for gardens.
Picotee Pearl is a favorite! Amethyst Gem has upward-facing double blooms.
Double Painted has spectacular markings. Fire and Ice is clear white with a red edge.

Helleborus Care

Hellebores like well-drained soil amended with plenty of organic matter. Black Gold Natural & Organic Garden Compost Blend is an ideal soil amendment. The plants like some shade, especially in the summer. An area with morning sun would be ideal. They tend to naturalize and are often planted under shade trees. I think that they look their best when planted in large groupings. For comprehensive Helleborus care instructions, click here.

For those gardeners with limited space, try growing hellebores in containers using Black Gold Natural & Organic Potting Mix. Growing hellebores in containers allows gardeners to move the container to an entryway during peak blooming season. Their flowers can provide a very cheery welcome on a winter day.

The photo below shows the wide range of colors that are now available in garden centers. Check out your local garden center now for blooming plants. This is an excellent time to plan, and selecting plants in flower can ensure your choice is the color and style of flower that you want.

Here is a selection of Winter Jewels in the Northwest Garden Nursery test gardens. (Photo courtesy of Northwest Garden Nursery)

I can think of few plants that give gardeners such a variety of early spring colors that hellebores do. They are so easy to grow with minimal care. February is a good month to remove the old leaves, being very careful not to cut any new growth or flower buds. Flowering begins in February, sometimes earlier, and often continues through April.

Winter 2024 In My Pacific Northwest Garden

If you are like me in January, your e-mail inbox looks like mine with winter warning messages from the city, county, and state. The headings read: “Emergency Alert!” or “Storm Update!” The cold and snow are here, and many homes in the Portland, Oregon metro (where I live) have gone without power for four days or more and temperatures have been in the teens. It seems like a long time since we’ve had warm sunny fall days, and the garden is showing signs of stress.

Many tree branches are scattered throughout the yard, and the leaves of evergreen shrubs are shriveled. It will probably not be until spring before I will know just how much damage has been done. Many of my new specialty plants introduced to my garden recently may have suffered, but here, and there I see signs of life.

Specialty Trees with Winter Interest

My Daphniphyllum has shown some winter stress, but plants are quite resilient and often ‘spring’ back to life. Time will tell. (Image courtesy of Mike Darcy)

One of the specimen trees that I bought from a specialty nursery several years ago is a Daphniphyllum macropodum (USDA Hardiness Zones 7-9). The East Asian native is not commonly planted in the United States, but the tree has proven to be hardy here. The vulnerable leaves are large and look somewhat like those of a rhododendron. I think the harshness of the 2024 winter will be a good test. The photo below is how my tree looks now.

Another plant for winter color that should be mentioned is Acer palmatum ‘Sango Kaku’, also known as Coral Bark Maple. With cold temperatures, the stems turn red and can provide some outstanding color. This tree is winter hardy, it has never had any insect or disease issues, and I do not expect it to be damaged by the current weather.

Lenten and Christmas Roses

Christmas roses are blooming in Mike’s garden through the cold winter weather. (Image care of Mike Darcy)

I always look for something positive in the garden, and the Christmas roses (Helleborus niger) are sending up new growth and buds. Thus far, they are doing alright. The photo above was taken by a gardening friend several days before our worst winter weather. The plant has quite a few flower buds showing through the leaf mulch. I hope they survive the winter blast. Christmas roses are tough, hardy plants, and I’ve had groupings of them in the garden for many years. I have never lost any, even in very cold temperatures, so they should survive.

Seed Catalogs

Seed catalogs are one of the greatest gardening joys of winter, and most companies offer them for free.

A January gardening tradition for many gardeners, including myself, is looking at seed catalogs. Not just seed catalogs but any garden catalog. A delightful way to spend an evening on a cold night is to look through garden catalogs and dream of spring! Many companies have their catalogs on the internet and this can be an ideal way to find new companies. Most seed companies continue to print a paper version and one of my favorites for vegetables is High Mowing Organic Seeds in Vermont. It is like a garden book! Another is Baker Creek Rare Seeds. Their catalogs are beautiful and laden with impressive plants and photography.

Flower aficionados should look to Select Seeds, with their fine selection of heirloom garden flowers, or mainstay seed catalogs, such as Burpee’s, Park Seed, and Jung Seed. These are just a handful of the better seed catalogs available.

With the start of this new year, I wish you all success in your garden. May your flowers be beautiful and your vegetable harvest bountiful. I look at my garden as a place to go for calmness in this busy, hectic world we live in. May you find peace and calmness in your garden.

Winter Garden Tasks for a Happy Garden

January is a good time to remove old Helleborus leaves, just be sure not to accidentally snip flower stems.

December was a month of trying to get my winter garden tasks all done before the end of the year. Here it is January, and I have not completed all my December tasks. Getting everything done is something that I have never been able to do because a garden is constantly changing and evolving. With the unpredictability of weather, it seems as though there is always a new task, and I often get distracted on starting on another before completing what I am working on. So, the tasks get moved deeper into winter.

Winter Garden Tasks

Move Hardy Perennials: I have heard some gardeners say that they can relax in January, but that is not the case with me. I consider January a good month to do some final ‘editing’ in the garden because there are always some very hardy plants that need to be moved or, in some cases, removed. This can be done in January as long as the soil can be worked and I only move very hardy perennials.

Move hardy perennials if the soil can be worked.

Divert Water: During this winter season, and this is just early January, we have had strong winds, some snow, freezing temperatures, and rain, lots and lots of rain. The rain was much needed, and so there are no complaints from me about it. Walking through the garden after a rain, there are some areas that have accumulated pools of water, and there are very few plants in my garden that have roots that will thrive in standing water. This is a perfect opportunity to create some diversion paths for the water and also an ideal time to add Black Gold Soil Conditioner (only available in the West) or Black Gold Natural & Organic Garden Compost Blend to help improve the drainage in low garden areas. By doing this now, I can observe what is working and what is not because we will soon have more rain, and I can see if there is still a collection of water.

Trim Back Helleborus Foliage: I spent several hours one morning cutting off the old leaves of the Hellebores. I was surprised to see new growth and flower stems beginning to break through the soil. A word of caution here, be very careful when cutting off the stems of the old leaves because it is very easy to snip off a new leaf or flower stem. Beware of early slug damage on newly emerging bulbs and on the new growth on Hellebores and treat accordingly.

Check Outdoor Garden Pots: My garden has many pots, and I have looked at every one to make sure that the water drains through and there is no standing water. Several of my pots did have standing water, and I was able to turn the pots on their sides and poke a metal rod into the drainage holes to un-plug them. This helps heavy, ceramic pots resist cracking in the winter.

Check outdoor pots to see if they are still draining.

Treat Moss: Moss in the lawn can be treated now, unless you love the look of natural moss. It is a good idea to check if it is a re-occurring issue. Usually, it can mean there is too much shade, poor drainage, or both. There are lawn moss control products available at garden centers, and this is a good time to apply them. Many of moss control products contain ferrous sulfate monohydrate, (iron), and iron will stain shoes, cement, decks, etc., so use it with caution and follow all of the manufacturer’s warnings. These products will turn the moss black in a couple of days, and then it can be raked out. If there are large areas that have dead moss, re-seeding might be necessary but wait until spring for that.

Enjoy what still looks beautiful and do any early pruning as needed.

Do Early Pruning: Winter garden tasks always seem to involve some pruning and on deciduous shrubs, it is often easier to prune and shape the plant before new leaves appear. While the major pruning on roses is usually mid-February, I like to do some pruning now and cut the hybrid teas and grandifloras to 3-4 feet.

Enjoy What Looks Nice: I find that the garden is enjoyable in the winter, although the expectations are different than they are in the spring and summer. My dogwood Midwinter Fire is a bright spot with its stems of red, orange, and yellow. The twigs are also a nice addition to indoor winter arrangements. My variegated evergreen shrubs also provide winter color to dark areas in the garden and are a welcome addition to what otherwise are bare garden stems.

Even though I enjoy the winter garden, I am eagerly awaiting spring!

Winter Garden Tasks for a Happy Garden – 2021

Winter Garden Tasks for a Happy Garden – 2020

My Midwinter Fire dogwood is adding lovely color to my winter garden.

Mulching Frost Tender Plants


It seems as though many gardeners, including myself, are always on the lookout for a new and/or unusual plant. Even plants that might be known as not being winter-hardy are often worth a try. Gardeners living in the Pacific Northwest, and probably elsewhere as well, often use the phrase, ‘zonal denial’. This simply means that a gardener does not always have to strictly adhere to the hardiness zone on a plant label. It can be very satisfying to be able to grow a plant that is “not supposed to grow here.” For example, on the label below, the plant hardiness zone is between 8 and 11. But what if I lived in zone 7. Would the plant survive? It might survive quite well with some mulching and a little extra care.

Mulching Tips for Tender Plants

Will a plant on the edge of hardiness in your zone survive the winter?

Most gardens have micro-climates which indicates that winter temperatures around plants can vary depending on the surroundings. Perhaps being up against a house would provide some protection, or a garden mulch around the base of the plant might protect the roots during the winter. Black Gold Natural & Organic Compost Blend can be used as a mulch.

The following photo shows Salvia darcyi in my garden. This is not always winter hardy and I like to give it some protection. While it bloomed most of the summer and into the fall, I knew that it needed some protection. In late November, I cut the stems to the ground and added Black Gold Perlite into the soil around the base to improve the drainage, and then added several inches of Black Gold Natural & Organic Garden Compost Blend. Hopefully, this will allow it to survive the winter.

I have mulched this Salvia for the past two years, and despite some temperatures dipping into the mid-20s, the roots have survived and new growth appears from the base each spring.

Salvia darcyi in my garden. (Image by Mike Darcy)

Leave the Leaves for Winter Mulch

There is a popular garden campaign to “Leave the Leaves”. We have many deciduous trees and each autumn; many homeowners hire a landscape firm to come and take the leaves away. Research has long shown that leaves can provide a huge benefit to the soil and the plants growing in it. Leaves also provide a winter home for many native insects which in the spring can provide many benefits not only to our gardens but to the environment as well. Many native bees and other insects have had difficulty surviving in barren landscapes and by leaving the leaves, we can all help to reduce this trend. In my garden, I do rake the leaves from garden pathways but have been leaving them around trees and shrubs.

It is usually wise to remove leaves from a lawn and run a lawn mower over them, it will speed up the process of them decomposing.

My neighbor has a large dahlia bed and he did not want to dig all the tubers and decided that he would leave them in the ground and mulch the bed with maple leaves. Maple leaves can be large and their leaf drop can be huge. Rather than having the leaves removed, he gathered the leaves in small piles and ran his lawn mower over them twice. Then, after cutting the dahlias back to the ground level, he mulched the entire bed with leaves. This should provide adequate winter protection for the dahlia tubers and also provide a winter home for many native insects. I told him that he took the “leave the leaves’ campaign to a higher level!

Musa basjoo is a hardy banana that will grow in our climate. It is not leaf hardy, but rather is root hardy. With a frost, the leaves will die, but the roots survive and will begin sending up new growth when warm weather returns in the spring. When the banana plant sends up new leaves, they come from the top of the stem. By wrapping the stems before a frost, the stems will be protected and, in the spring, the new growth will appear at the top of the stems and the plant will begin growing at that height. Some gardeners like to have the plants start from a 6-7 ft height and by wrapping stems, this can easily be done. This gardener used bubble wrap and then covered the bubble wrap with burlap. Some kind of wrap needs to be put over the bubble wrap because the winter sun can burn the stems through the bubble wrap, It is also important to cover the top of the stem so water cannot penetrate. The leaves will be used as a winter mulch.

There are many ways we can give our tender plants some winter protection. If plants are in pots, they can be brought indoors on nights when a freeze is anticipated. It is fun trying new plants and having some ‘zonal denial’.