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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.

Sunny New Annuals for 2024

The sunlit yellow Supertunia® Saffron Finch (forground) is a bright new offering from Proven Winners. (Image thanks to Proven Winners)

Many fine, new, sun-loving annuals will be available at garden centers or seed catalogs in 2024 (Article: Growing Homegrown Plants from Seed). My top picks have been selected for their bold color, good looks, and easy care. All are sure to bring bright season-long color to your summer garden.

Agastache

The new Agastache Guava Lava produces wands of guava-pink flowers all summer long. (Photo courtesy of Walters Gardens, Inc.)

Agastaches are some of the best flowers for the sun because they bloom nonstop and tolerate heat and moderate drought. The guava-pink spikes of Agastache Guava Lava, newly introduced by Darwin Perennials and Walters Gardens, Inc., will provide continuous color to sunny summer gardens. In some areas of the country, the plant may survive as a short-lived perennial, but in cooler areas, the high-performer will bloom for only one season.

Calibrachoa and Petunias

Superbells® Double Redstone™ has dark orange-red blooms edged in gold. (Image thanks to Proven Winners)

Proven Winners is offering some outstanding new petunias and calibrachoas sure to provide a cascade of summer color to containers and border edges. The intense yellow flowers of Supertunia® Saffron Finch bloom nonstop on compact, rounded plants and will fit almost anywhere in the garden. The petunia is a charming companion to the equally warm-colored Superbells® Double Redstone with its dark orange-red blooms edged in gold. The mounding calibrachoa appreciates slightly moist soil, while the petunia demands more water, so plant them in complementary side-by-side containers if you choose to pair them in pots.

For electric garden color, try the impressive Crazytunia Mayan Sunset. The hot pink and golden orange flowers are prolific and will sizzle in the summer garden. For a big burst of color, plant them along the edge of a large container on your porch or patio. (Article: Keep Petunias and Calibrachoa Shining All Season)

All of the above petunias are offered as plants. For those interested in growing gorgeous petunias from seed, try the frilly Superbissima Wine Red, offered by Park Seed at the cost of $5.95 for 10 seeds. The wine-red flowers have centers veined with dark purple, and the plants are praised as being robust and ever-blooming. To make planting easier, Park’s has pelleted the small seeds! (Article: Seed Starting on a Budget).

Coleus

The award-winning ‘Coral Candy’ coleus is both seed-grown and bred to thrive in full sun. (Image thanks to AAS Winners)

Most coleus are shade annuals, but more and more varieties, such as ‘Coral Candy’ premium Sun Coleus, have been bred to grow beautifully in the full sun. The 2023 All-America Selections winner has mottled coral-orange leaves with hints of purple and green edges–beautiful! And, because the variety is seed-grown you get more for your money. Fifteen seeds cost $7.95.

Annual Blanket Flower

The pure yellow blooms of Gaillardia ‘Golden Beauty’ are fully round and produced profusely on long, airy stems ideal for cutting. Pollinators cannot get enough of the long-blooming, drought-tolerant annuals. Burpee Seeds offers these drought-tolerant beauties for just $5.95 for 50 seeds! Plant them in a cutting, pollinator, or showy flower garden.

Sunflowers

The 2-2.5′ ‘Desire Red’ Sunflower from Burpee’s has a dark center and truly red petals. (Image thanks to Burpee Seeds)

I adore sunflowers (Helianthus annuus), and several new varieties are available. Johnny’s Selected Seeds offers the 6-7′ foot tall ‘Desert Sun’ a luminous bloomer with 5-7” dark red, gold-edged flowers. The pollenless blooms don’t shed when cut and have long, strong stems. Not to be outdone, Burpee’s dwarf ‘Desire Red’ is a fully red, dark-centered sunflower, with plants reaching only 2-2.5 feet tall.

Sunflowers are a desirable choice for large flower borders, cutting gardens, and the margins of vegetable patches. They thrive in the full, hot sun, attract most pollinators (Article: Sunflowers for Bees), and are easy annuals to grow from seed. Blooming starts ~50-75 days after planting from seed, depending on the variety. After spring frosts, sow seeds outdoors in well-drained soil amended with Black Gold Garden Soil to a depth of 1-2″ or indoors on a sunny windowsill in pots of Black Gold Seedling Mix. Their blooms are long-lasting in a vase, and the seeds feed goldfinches, if you allow the heads to ripen in the warm summer sun.

Growing Sunny Annuals

All of these annuals need full sun and appreciate warm weather and average to fertile soil with good drainage. Amending the soil with Black Gold Garden Soil or Black Gold Garden Compost Blend will help facilitate deep root growth and vigor of most garden-grown annuals. Those planted in containers will thrive in bountiful pots filled with Black Gold All Purpose Planting Mix. Follow all planting and care instructions for the best results.

Fragrant Garden Plants

 

Tall garden phlox are reliably fragrant summer perennials.

For the past couple of years, cold stormy springs blitzed our lilacs, of which we have many.  That heady fragrance was sorely missed around the Keith household. We were spoiled for fragrance.  But we were able to hang on until our other flowers and shrubs bloomed and took up the slack. We did lose some lilacs during that period, but we have had other, more catastrophic losses (dairy cows in the Jerusalem artichokes, for instance or the family dogs making off with the guest of honor on Thanksgiving morning, but leaving the turnips).

When the first spring flowers appear in March, the soil is often too wet and cold to be planted, so like all good things we have to wait. But we can stock up on the wonderful new varieties offered by local and national nurseries.

Bearing the title of this piece in mind, what to buy for a fragrance garden?  See some suggestions below.

Fragrant Shrubs

‘Beauty of Moscow’ is a double-flowered lilac with pale pink and white flowers.
  • In general, lilacs (Syringa species and hybrids, USDA Hardiness Zones 3-8) can reach heights of 10-12 feet. Three especially fragrant varieties are ‘Beauty of Moscow’, ‘Bloomerang Purple’, and ‘Josee’. They are easy to grow so long as there is plenty of sun and the soil is alkaline and well-drained. The double-flowered ‘Beauty of Moscow’ has white blooms rising from pale pink buds. ‘Bloomerang’ lilacs (Zones 3-7) offer a richly fragrant purple lilac that blooms in spring and again in late summer or fall. The compact ‘Josee’ is a pink-flowered lilac that only reaches 4-6 feet.
  • Korean spice viburnum (Viburnum carlesii) is a compact shrub up to 6 feet in height. Flowers have an incredibly spicy aroma plus showy pink clusters of flower buds that develop into whiter flowers that attract hummingbirds and butterflies. The fruits are black berries and in fall, the leaves turn scarlet. Some sources consider them invasive, but most do not. Prune one time to remove dead branches or restrict growth, then leave it alone.
The flowers of Korean spice viburnum are some of the most sweetly scented of spring.
  • Roses (Rosa hybrids) epitomize garden fragrance, but there are so many varieties put out by so many growers, a list of the available cultivars would fill a small book. We have been purchasing roses from the David C. Austin Co. since we discovered them. Austin (now deceased) was a British rose breeder and writer. The company offers trademark English roses, and shrub and climbing roses for the garden. ’Rosa Boscobel’ is an English shrub rose of medium height with a heady, complex scent. It produces large, salmon-pink flowers throughout the growing season (Zones 5-9). ‘Rosa Munstead Wood’ is a crimson shrub rose with a rich, fruity aroma. It blooms for most of the growing season (Zones 5-9). They come in light purple, deep purple, and pink.  They are also disease-resistant. Prune this group right after they finish blooming.  Check local nurseries, or go to Proven Winners online.
David Austin roses are bred to flower beautifully and resist diseases.

Annual and Perennial Garden Flowers

Lavender is one of the best garden flowers for fragrance.
  • Lavender (Zones 5-10) These Old World natives are a natural addition to any fragrance garden. A summer bloomer (pink, blue, purple and white) that likes full sun and they are not too fussy about soil. Pollinators love them. (1-3 feet high)
  • Carnations (Dianthus hybrids, Zones 5-9) these well-known perennial flowers will add a welcome spice fragrance to your garden. They bloom in late spring, so you may want to plant another, summer-blooming species as well.  Flowers come in shades of red, pink, and white. They prefer full sun but can tolerate partial shade.  They like alkaline soil, so amend your garden with Black Gold® Natural & Organic Ultra Outdoor Planting Mix. Carnations are said to be toxic to humans, dogs, and cats. (18 inches high).
  • Woodland tobacco (Nicotiana sylvestris) is a re-seeding annual. Its moth-attracting flowers are white, long, tubular flowers, and most fragrant in the evening. The summer bloomer will self-seed if the flowers are allowed to go to seed. They like part to full sun and rich, well-drained soil. Bear in mind that this species is very toxic to humans and pets (3-5 feet high).
  • Garden phlox (Phlox paniculata, Zones 4-8) is a tall (2-4 feet), summer-blooming perennial that grows in neat clumps. The flowers come in shades of red, white, pink, and purple. The North American native grows in full to partial sunlight and needs good drainage and average moisture to thrive.
Woodland tobacco is a dramatic annual whose flowers emit enchanting night fragrance.

This is just a sample of the fragrant plants you might choose for your garden. You might also want to plant fragrant herbs as the border. Container plantings could also work well. Some tender species like lavender could be planted in containers and moved indoors when it gets cold.

Black Gold® offers the best in soil amendments and potting mixes for your garden, keep it in mind wherever and whenever you are planning all of your gardening projects.

Climbing Wonders

 

Climbing Wonders

In the heat of the summer, here in the Midwest, many of the most beautiful, flowering garden vines are blooming their hearts out.  When I go out on the back deck, the Morning Glories (Ipomoea) are about to start opening their large trumpet shaped flowers, which will last until frost.  Morning Glories are native to Mexico, and were thought to have spirits by Native Americans.  The first one to become popular in modern times is ‘Heavenly Blue’. Some years ago, I planted ‘Heavenly Blue’ in one of my gardens.  Morning Glories reseed, and after a few years, I had pink, dark blue, purple and magenta flowers, coming up every year. Now seeds are available in all these colors, plus red, white and yellow, some with stripes.

Morning Glories are annuals that flower from early summer to frost.  Plant them in full sun, in any well drained, soil and keep the soil moist.  Soak the seeds for 8 hours, in ½-inch water, before planting.   Find a trellis, a fence, or a pole, to give them something to climb.

Hummingbirds and bees will be happy if you plant Morning Glories, but deer will not.

Clematis have been popular since 1862, when Clematis jackmanii, a purple flowering vine, was discovered in the Orient.  Since then several hundred varieties have been developed, with colors including blue, pink, white and deep red.  Most of them are single star shaped flowers, but some have gorgeous puffs, such as ‘Taiga’, a winner at the famous Chelsea Garden Show in 2017, with bright purple blue flowers, and centers of, white tipped petals that curve in.  ‘Rouge Cardinal’, another beauty, has 4 to 6 inch wide flowers of red with small white centers, and I even have one with small, blue, bells, ‘Roguchi’. Clematis is a perennial, and will come back every year on its own.  They range from 3 to 20 feet long, and can be trained along a fence, or trellis.  Plant in full sun, well-drained soil, with the crown 2 inches, below the surface.  Clematis are deer resistant.

Honeysuckles (Lonicera) are an old-fashioned favorite.  They have a strong, sweet fragrance, as well as beautiful, tube shaped flowers.  There are two kinds of Honeysuckle plants, shrubs and vines.  One of the shrubs, Lonicera japonica, has become invasive, around the world.  Vines, however, are not a problem, and there are some gorgeous varieties. The Coral Honeysuckle varieties are native plants.  The flowers are fan shaped, and face down.  ‘Major Wheeler’ is covered with red and gold flowers all summer long.  It grows 6 to 8 feet tall and 5 to 10 feet wide.  ‘Goldflame’ has bright rose buds that open to yellow flowers, on 10 to 15 foot tall, and 5 to 6 foot vines and ‘Scentsation’s flowers, are yellow and white, and are extremely fragrant. It gets 10 feet tall, and 6 feet wide. Honeysuckles are one of the humming bird’s favorite flowers, and are deer resistant. Plant in full sun, in well-drained soil.

Last, but the best, are climbing roses.  You do not often hear about climbing roses here in the US, but they are common in Britain. You may have seen them, clambering up  English cottages, in British TV shows, like Midsomer Murders, or Downten Abbey, but these roses would only bloom in spring.  Seventy years ago, an English rose breeder, named David Austin, began cross breeding these roses with Chinese roses that bloom all season. The results are spectacular.  Most range from 6 feet, up to 12 feet, but some are even taller. They have a classic English rose shape, with an outside layer of flat petals, and a thick, bowl shaped, packed center, you will not see in the US.  They come in every color, white, pink, peach, rose, yellow and red.  Most have a strong fragrance as well.  These roses have been available in America for many years. Just go online, or order a catalog.  Some of my favorites include, ‘Gertrude Jekyll’, pink, ‘Lady of Shalott’, peach, ‘Zepherine’ deep rose, ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’, red. Plant with the crown at ground level, in a hole a little bit bigger then the plant.

For best results, with all garden plants, dig the hole, put a generous amount of Black Gold® Garden Soil in the bottom, then mix some more in the soil you are putting back into the hole.  Sprinkle with Osmocote on the top, and find a place to plant a climber.

 

About Teri Keith


Garden columnist, Teri Keith, has gardened for over 50 years in her home state of Indiana. She served as a longtime IGC nursery manager specializing in annuals and perennials in Bloomington, Indiana and still gardens with passion. Each year she plants and maintains over 50 flower containers, many gardens, and a large collection of lilacs.

Hydrangeas

Hydrangeas are a genus of woody perennial shrubs. The majority are small to medium-sized shrubs, and four species and their varieties have found their way into American gardens. Flower forms are variable: lacecap flowers are more or less flattened with small flowers in the center and larger flowers around the edge; mophead flowers are arranged in a dome shape; ball hydrangea flowers are arranges in large, showy balls, and panicle hydrangea flowers are arranged in closely packed pyramidal clusters. Hydrangeas are native to western Asia, South America and eastern and southeastern North America. Hydrangeas can tolerate all sorts of shade or sun conditions, but cannot withstand dry soil conditions.

Hydrangea paniculata (Panicle Hydrangea)

Panicle hydrangeas are virtually indestructible, always a plus in a family with small children or pets.  They are native to southern and eastern Asia. They can grow up to 8 feet, but are usually shorter.  Paniculata does well in full sun to partial shade and is hardy in zones 3-8.  The flowers are on cone-shaped panicles, up to 16 inches long, and they attract pollinators.  Prune the stems back to 6 inches tall in late winter or early spring. Here are some excellent varieties:

‘Moonrock®’ This gorgeous 5-6 foot tall shrub features creamy white flowers with lime green centers. Flowers in late summer but lasts through fall.

‘Firelight®’ This new, cold-hardy 6-foot hydrangea sports creamy white flowers on large panicles that bloom in summer then gradually turn pink in fall.

 

Hydrangea quercifolia (Oakleaf Hydrangea)

Oakleaf hydrangeas are hardy in Zone 5-8. They are an easy to grow shrub and are native to the southeastern United States. Their leaves resemble large oak leaves 4-12 inches long, hence the name.  Height varies from 3 feet to 8 feet.  They don’t need pruning other than removal of dead branches and blooms.  The large panicle flowers appear in May to July and stay on the plant until frost. They grow in full sun to part shade, tolerate heat and like moist, well drained soils.  They attract pollinators, but are not deer resistant. Some of the best varieties are:

‘Gatsby Pink’  has large pink blooms.  It is 6 feet to 8 feet tall and wide, so give it some room.

‘Ruby Slippers’ is a dwarf variety only 3 feet tall and 3 to 4 feet wide ‘Ruby Slippers’ made itself into our garden a few years ago.  It has 9 inch flowers that turn deep red, and is a fast growing quick blooming shrub.

Hydrangea arborescens (Smooth Hydrangea)

Smooth hydrangeas are native to the eastern United States.  They will grow in all soils including clay. Smooth hydrangeas like sun to part shade, have few pests and are hardy in zones 3-9.  They have a ball type flower form.  Prune to the ground in late winter. Here are a couple of outstanding varieties:

‘Incrediball’ has white balls up to 12 inches in diameter.  They are 5 feet tall and wide, are long bloomers and will grow rapidly, blooming the first year.

‘Invincibelle’ is a Proven Winner. it has hot pink flowers that fade to soft pink and is a rebloomer from early to late summer.  It is only 3 to 4 feet tall and wide.

 

Hydrangea macropylla (Bigleaf Hydrangea)

This is a native of Japan. Flowers are either mopheads or lacecaps (not both). Mopheads will remain attractive longer. Other than that, they have the same growth and care characteristics. Flower colors depend on soil pH. Soil pH below 6.0 yields bluish blooms; soil pH above 7.0 yields reds; soil pH between 6 and 7 yields blooms of bluish-pink. Hardy in Zones 6-9 and may grow up to 7 feet tall. Prune late fall to early spring by cutting branches back to the first large new bud. They do best in full sun to partial shade  and need moist but well drained soil. They do not attract pollinators, but most information sources consider them to be deer resistant. Here are some excellent varieties:

‘Big Daddy’ prefers full to partial shade. Enormous ball-shaped flowers up to 14 inches in diameter. Shrubs have a rounded appearance and grow 5-6 feet tall.

‘Masja” is a dwarf mophead hydrangea with flowers up to 6 inches in diameter. It blooms in mid to late summer. The flowers maintain their color for a long time, then turn a metallic hue. Leaves may turn reddish in fall. Perfect in containers too.

 

About Teri Keith


Garden columnist, Teri Keith, has gardened for over 50 years in her home state of Indiana. She served as a longtime IGC nursery manager specializing in annuals and perennials in Bloomington, Indiana and still gardens with passion. Each year she plants and maintains over 50 flower containers, many gardens, and a large collection of lilacs.

 

The Best Reblooming Clematis

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’ can bloom 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)

Outstanding Cannas

Every summer I plant my favorite Canna standby, ‘Striata’. It is the perfect floral backdrop for other bright garden flowers. (Image by Jessie Keith)

Cannas are summer-garden workhorses. They grow lushly in the hottest months, only requiring regular water, partial sun, and maybe a hit of slow-release fertilizer at the beginning of the season. Their leaves are bold and lovely, their tropical flowers come in lots of warm pretty colors, and hummingbirds are prized pollinators. The plants also spread and are easily divided and shared. My garden will never be without one.

Canna Origins

Hummingbirds love visiting all canna blooms!

Cannas (Canna hybrids, Zones 8-11) are subtropical to tropical and American. There are 12-21 accepted species, depending on who you reference. These are found in Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, and tropical South America. The common garden type is Canna × generalis, a hybrid of several species. They were cultivated by native Americans, presumably for both their attractive flowers and fleshy, edible roots. In the late 1900s, cannas were popularized in European and then North American gardens. Since this time, many attractive hybrids have been developed, with new varieties appearing now and then.

Ten Favorite Cannas

Red-flowered cannas, like ‘Kreta’, are sure to attract hummingbirds.

Alaska‘ (3-4 feet): Large cream-colored blooms are the great beauty of this compact canna, and its blue-green foliage is also respectably pretty. It gets all-around rave reviews.

Australia‘(4-5 feet): Large red flowers and big bronzy-purple leaves make this impressive canna a standout. If you are looking to fill a large space with lots of reliable color, this is your canna. It contrasts well with orange- and yellow-flowered plants.

‘Alaska’ is a compact, cream-colored canna.

Cleopatra‘ (4-5 feet): Expect explosive fireworks of color with ‘Cleopatra’. Its impressive green leaves have irregular blocks of dark purple. These are in stark contrast to its flowers, which are half red and half yellow with red spots. Expect it to receive many compliments.

Kreta‘ (3-4 feet): Here is a great canna for nonstop flowers. Its numerous red blooms are prolific and attract lots of hummingbirds and rise above large green leaves.

Musifolia‘ (6-8 feet): This old canna variety is grown for its tall stature and impressive large leaves with hints of red and purple. In the height of summer, it will also offer spikes of small red flowers.

Phasion‘ (syn. ‘Durban’ and ‘Tropicanna’, 3-4 feet): Most regard this as the most electrifying of all cannas. Few garden plants can challenge its impressive tropical palette of colors. Its striped leaves alone are a masterpiece, and its brilliant tangerine-orange flowers add the winning touch.

Striata‘ (syn. ‘Praetoria’, ‘Bengal Tiger’, and ‘Aureostriata’, 5-6 feet): My garden is never without a ‘Striata’ for summer color. Its pale-yellow striped leaves provide a more neutral backdrop for the light orange flowers it produces from midsummer to frost in my area.

Toucan® Coral is a beautiful compact canna from Proven Winners®. (Image thanks to Proven Winners®)

Tenerife‘ (3-4 feet ): Big golden flowers speckled with deep orange-red make this an extra lovely compact canna. Its leaves are medium green.

Wyoming‘ (3-4 feet): I always confuse ‘Wyoming’ and ‘Australia’ because they are comparable in every way except flower color. This one has beautiful orange flowers to offset its purplish-bronze foliage.

Toucan® Series (Scarlet, Yellow, Dark Orange, Coral, 2.5-4 feet): Toucan cannas are big bloomers on short-statured plants. They come highly recommended for containers. Expect them to perform beautifully all summer long.

Canna Care

Canna rhizomes are easy to plant, dig, and divide.

Cannas are lush, tropical to subtropical perennials that grow best in the full to partial sun. They thrive in rich moist to average soils–the addition of organic matter at planting time is recommended. Black Gold Garden Soil is a great choice. Provide a boost of continuous-release fertilizer formulated to encourage good growth and flowering. They originate in warm, humid, rainy areas and appreciate regular water. Many even grow well along pond margins or boggy spots. When conditions are warm, they will flower. If they are not hardy where you live, dig their dense, fleshy rhizomes in the fall and store them in a cool, dark place through winter. Plant them again outdoors when the soil has warmed and frosts are gone.

Canna Yellow Streak Virus

Several viral diseases will put a damper on canna growth and flowering. The two most common are the canna yellow streak virus (CaYSV) and the canna yellow mottle virus (CaYMV). Infected plants show abnormal leaves with browning or yellowing streaks or mottled patterns. If your canna leaves exhibit these, dig and dispose of them immediately. When replacing them, buy only certified virus-free stock (specialty growers are usually the most reliable source). Be sure not to reuse the potting soil, if your diseased plants were in containers.

Native Spring Flowering Trees For Bees

When flowering trees bloom, they are a boon for pollinators, particularly bees of all sorts. They bloom en masse for a week or more, offering a lot of essential food with little forage. There are no better plants to boost these essential pollinators in the garden, and the native trees here feed for both our honeybee friends as well as native bees.

Spring Flowering Trees For Bees

The trees in this collection vary in size from small to large. All are beautiful in their own right, and most grow and flower best when grown in the full sun. Soil and moisture requirements vary. If any of these trees interest you, I recommend reading this article about how to site and plant a new tree, by Russell Stafford.

Red maple flowers give the trees a reddish caste in the spring. (Image by Famartin)

Most do not realize that the early spring flowers of red maple (Acer rubra, Zones 3-9, 40-70 feet) are essential early food for honeybees and native bees (Red Maple (Acer rubrum L.), an Important Early Spring Food Resource for Honey Bees and Other Insects, 1985). Their small masses of red flowers appear before the leaves emerge in late winter or early spring and provide winter-weary bees needed pollen and nectar. The lovely eastern-native shade trees cool and beautify large landscapes all summer long, and their leaves turn shades of red, orange, and yellow in the fall. They grow well in open, sunny areas in dry uplands as well as moist lowlands.

The new leaves of downy serviceberry are covered with down and emerge after the white flowers that attract bees. (Image by Dcrjsr)

The delicate white flower clusters of the eastern North American downy serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea, Zones 4-9, 15-30 feet) also provide early-spring food for lots of bees, especially small native bees (mostly mining bees and sweat bees). Its new leaves emerge after the flowers and have downy hairs on them, which explains the common name. In summer, the edible summer fruits are a favorite of many fruit-eating birds, and the fall leaves turn brilliant shades of orange, red, and yellow. Some gardeners like to collect the ripe serviceberries for fresh eating, jam making, or pies. Though the multi-stemmed tree grows well in forests, it develops its finest habit, fruits, and flowers when grown in the full sun.

Redbuds are extra lovely trees for bees.

Eastern redbuds (Cercis canadensis, Zones 4-8, 20-30 feet) bloom for one to two weeks in the mid-spring with bare branches laden with lots of tiny, purplish-pink, pea-like blooms that glisten in the sun. Bees can’t get enough of them. Once the flowers of these eastern North American natives cease, the large, heart-shaped leaves unfurl. Sometimes they are reddish or purple as they emerge. Lots of small, thin pods follow the flowers, which turn from green to papery brown before they split open and release their seeds. The fall leaves turn humdrum shades of yellow. The fast-growing trees tolerate partial shade but perform best in the full sun and fertile to average soil. There are lots of great specialty redbud varieties from which to choose with variously colored leaves and flowers.

The fragrant, white flowers of fringetree draw many bees.

A native of the southeastern United States, white fringetree (Chionanthus virginicus, Zones 3-9, 12-20 feet) has fine, fringed, white flowers that are fragrant and almost exclusively bee-pollinated. They bloom for several weeks in May and June. Fleshy fruits that turn from green to blue-black follow, which feed many bird species. The small trees develop a pleasing rounded canopy and have green lance-shaped leaves. Expect the leaves to turn yellow in the fall.

Newer green hawthorn varieties lack the thorns of the wild trees. (Image by David Stang)

Green hawthorn (Crataegus viridis, Zones 4-8, 20-35 feet) is a handsome small tree from the eastern United States whose copious clusters of white mid-spring flowers attract lots of bees. In the fall, the glossy green, toothed leaves turn attractive red and purple hues, which look striking against the bright red fruits that cover the branches and are retained into winter for birds to eat. The branches of wild specimens have thorns, but some varieties, such as the popular ‘Winter King‘ have few thorns, while also offering more flowers and brilliant-red fall fruits. The newer variety Crusader® is equally beautiful and totally thorn-free.

The attractive nectar guides of catalpa flowers are like beacons to bees.

The large, lush, copious flower clusters of the northern catalpa (Catalpa bignonioides, Zones 4-8, 40-60 feet) bloom in the late spring. The fragrant flowers have maroon and yellow nectar guides designed just for bee pollination, so the insects know where to land and gather nectar and pollen. Large, elongated pods follow the flowers. Its large, elongated/oval leaves turn yellow shades in the fall. The only downside of these easy-to-cultivated trees is that their fruits are messy, and the trees live for only around 60 years. Still, they have high wildlife value and beauty. If you have a spacious yard, plant them where they can be enjoyed but won’t be a bother. These trees naturally exist across the southeastern United States and tolerate average to moist soils.

The large, flattened flower clusters of nannyberry attract many insect pollinators. (Image thanks to USDA-NRCS)

It’s always nice to add a real pollinator generalist and Nannyberry (Viburnum lentago, Zones 2-8, 18-25 feet) is a very good one. It is a small tree, unlike most other viburnum species, which are shrubs.  Its flattened clusters of ivory flowers appear in mid to late spring, and they are pollinated by bees as well as other insects. The caterpillars of the spring azure butterfly feed on the summer leaves. Edible black fruits and bright red or orange leaves comprise its fall show. Birds eat the nannyberries and disperse the seeds, but the sweet fruits are also edible to humans as well as other wildlife. Nannyberry tolerates moist soils or those with average drainage.

Favorite Flowering Ground Covers

‘Shell’Pink’ and ‘Orchid Frost’ lamiums look lovely side-by-side.

If you have a garden area that needs filling in, whether along a slope, between plants, or beside stone steps or rocky retaining walls, there are many beautiful perennial groundcovers for the job. They range from ones that do well in hot, dry areas to others that like moist shade.  I have chosen groundcovers that have beautiful leaves as well as flowers, which do not overwhelm surrounding plants and are easy to grow.

Flowering Groundcovers for Full to Partial Shade

‘Orchid Frost’ is one of many pretty deadnettles for shady gardens.

Spotted Deadnettle (Lamium maculatum, Zones 3-8): One of my favorites for shade is named spotted deadnettle, or simply deadnettle, even though it has no prickly nettles.  I have had several varieties in my shade garden for years. The early summer flower stalks are about 7 inches tall, rising over 4-inch-tall plants that spread several feet across. There are lots of varieties with variously spotted leaves and blooms of purple, pink, or white that are visited by bees. My favorite varieties include ‘Orchid Frost’ with lavender flowers and beautiful silver leaves, ‘Aureum‘ with bright pink flowers and white-striped gold leaves, Shell Pink‘ with palest pink blooms, and ‘White Nancy’, which has white flowers and silvery leaves. Lamium is deer-resistant, spreads gently, and is easily divided and transplanted. Plant it along shaded bed edges or allow it to cascade from the side of a shaded container garden. Lamium likes full to partial shade, and moist, well-drained soil.

Fragrant sweet woodruff flowers and plants look attractive in shaded gardens.

Sweet Woodruff (Galium odoratum, Zones 4-8): Another partial- to full-shade groundcover is European sweet woodruff, which also has the benefit of being an herbal plant used to flavor May wine in Europe. It has clusters of starry white flowers in the spring and whorled, star-shaped leaves; both are fragrant, but it’s the flowers that are used to flavor the wine. (Click here for a May wine recipe.) Sweet woodruff is about 8 inches tall and gently spreads around trees and shrubs.  It likes moist, well-drained soil and is deer resistant!

Wild ginger creates mats of attractive foliage through the growing season.

Wild Gingers (Asarum spp., Zones vary): There are many wild gingers with lovely ground-covering foliage and interesting beetle-pollinated spring flowers. The popular native species is Canadian wild ginger (Asarum canadensis, Zones 2-8). Its medium-green, heart-shaped leaves look very pretty on bed edges or to hold shaded garden banks. Chinese wild ginger (Asarum splendens, Zones 6-8) is more ornamental with its pointed, green leaves that have spectacular silver markings.  ‘Quick Silver‘ is the best variety. Small, three-petaled, purple flowers appear around the base of the plants in spring. It also does well in full to part shade.  Most Asarum reach 6 to 8 inches, like average well-drained soil, and are deer resistant.

‘Cutting Edge’ Tiarella has attractive spring flowers and lovely leaves. (Image thanks to Proven Winners)

Foamflower (Tiarella spp.): These pretty native perennials have attractive, lobed foliage and spires of foamy flowers that appear in late spring. The flowers may be ivory or pink and attract both bees and butterflies. The pretty clumps of ornate leaves spread over time. Try the new Proven Winners variety ‘Cutting Edge’, which has spectacular green, maple-shaped leaves with red venation. Provide foamflower with full to part shade, and moist, well-drained soil amended with fertile organic matter, such as Black Gold Natural & Organic Garden Compost Blend. In fact, this amendment will create a good soil foundation for all of the shade-loving groundcovers mentioned.

Flowering Groundcovers for Full to Partial Sun

Creeping thyme doubles as an herb and groundcover.

Creeping Speedwell (Veronica prostata, Zones 4-8): Grow this creeping groundcover along a border edge or in a rock garden. The stunning variety, ‘Aztec Gold’, has gold leaves with violet-blue flowers in the early summer.  It reaches 6 inches tall, is heat tolerant, and needs moderate moisture. Deer don’t like it but bees and butterflies do.

Creeping Thyme (Thymus serpyllum, Zones 4-8): This easy garden herb is one of my favorites. It does well between paving stones or cascading down rock walls. The fragrant leaves are tiny plants reach 2-inches-high. The spreading mats have little summer flowers of purple, bright pink, or lavender, depending on the variety you buy. Bees love the blooms! Check out ‘Elfin’ with purple flowers, ‘Annie Hall’ with pink flowers, and ‘Silver Posie’, which has white-edged leaves and lavender flowers. The fragrant leaves can be used in cooking. Thyme needs full sun, very well-drained soil, and is drought-tolerant once established. Like most plants in the mint family, it is also deer resistant.

Creeping phlox is perfect for garden edges and slopes (‘Emerald Blue’ is at the far left, and ‘Candy Stripe’ is at the far right)

Stonecrop (Sedum spp., Zones vary): For hot, dry, sunny, areas nothing can beat, low-spreading stonecrops.  Many have beautiful, succulent leaves, as well as starry flowers that attract bees and butterflies. It is very easy to pull up a piece and replant it to help fill in an area quickly. Some good varieties are the 2-3 inches tall ‘John Creech’ (Sedum spurium ‘John Creech, Zones 3-9) with pink, summer flowers, SunSparkler® Wildfire (Zones 4-9) that has red leaves edged in rose as well as pink flowers in the late-summer, and ‘White Diamond’ (Sedum pachyclados ‘White Diamond’, Zones 5-9) with blue-green rose-shaped leaves and white summer flowers.  The broad-spreading ‘Angelina’ (Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’, Zones 5-9) is a popular variety with gold spiky foliage and yellow summer blooms.  Sedums are drought-tolerant once established.

Creeping Phlox (Phlox subulata, Zones 3-9): This has some of the most beautiful flowers of all the groundcovers and blooms for up to 4 weeks in the spring.  It averages 5 inches tall and spreads quickly. Plant creeping phlox in open, sunny areas along slopes or retaining walls, in front of shrubs, or in rock gardens where they will get full sun and well-drained soil.  Look for the colorful varieties ‘Scarlet Flame’ with red-eyed rose-pink flowers, ‘Emerald Blue’ with pale lilac-blue flowers, and ‘Candy Stripe’, which has pink flowers edged in white.  Creeping phlox is deer resistant.

Snow-in-Summer can take heat and drought!

Snow-in-Summer (Cerastium tomentosum, Zones 3-7): gardeners with hot, dry, sunny spots that need a flowering groundcover should grow snow-in-summer. It creates a broad, spreading mat of silver leaves that erupt with cascades of white flowers in the summer. Try the more compact variety, ‘Yo Yo‘. It is beautiful! Site it as you would creeping phlox. Bees and butterflies love the flowers!

These easy groundcovers will help to provide needed in sweeps across your garden. Buy a few to fill in bare areas, and you will be glad you did.

Groundcovers to Avoid

It is important to note that there are some popular groundcovers to avoid because they are invasive and have become an ecological problem in wild areas. These include groundcover periwinkle (Vinca minor and Vinca major), wintercreeper (Euonymus fortunei), Bugleweed (Ajuga reptans), Japanese spurge (Pachysandra procumbens), and worst of all, English Ivy (Hedera helix). English ivy is a tree-killer in zone 7 or warmer (click here to learn more). The evergreen types are truly the worst because they smother native spring ephemerals and other natives along the forest floor. Avoid planting them, if you can.

Native Violets For The Garden

Halberd-leaf yellow violet (top right), Canadian violet (bottom right), Labrador violet (bottom left), and bird’s foot violet (top left)

Last spring I visited the Smokey Mountain National Park during high wildflower season, and I was struck by all of the unusual, beautiful native violets there.  All had a delicate beauty suited to woodland and shade gardens. I started looking for garden center availability and was struck by the many North American violets available to native gardeners. Most are perennial, but a few survive as spring annuals.

Violets and Wildlife

‘Freckles’ is an uncommonly beautiful common violet. (Image thanks to Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds)

Overall, our native violets are easy, pretty, and have a place in the garden. In fact, they support wildlife more than most might think. Even the native common blue violet (Viola sororia, Zones 3-9), which gardeners often weed from their beds and lawns, are beautiful and feed the larvae of many species of fritillary butterflies, which are close relatives of monarchs. According to the Xerces Society, a whopping 14 species of greater fritillaries (Speyeria spp.) and 16 species of lesser fritillaries (Bolloria spp.) lay eggs on common violet leaves for their caterpillars to feed upon, develop, and grow.  The fragrant flowers, which have bee nectar guides and are largely pollinated by native bees, are also visited by butterflies. Some native bees are even specialized for Viola flower pollination, such as the violet miner bee (Andrena violae).

Most fritillaries are orange and black. Different species have different pattern markings and ranges.

For these reasons, they are worth leaving alone in lawn areas or other places in the yard. Let them sow and spread freely where they do not compete with other garden plants. If you don’t have common violets in your yard, a good garden variety to try is the beautifully speckled ‘Freckles‘. My mother started it from seed over 25 years ago, and they are still beautiful in the garden! The flowers look very pretty clustered in small bud vases.

Six Beautiful Native Violets for the Garden

Most native violets grow best in fertile, moist soil and partial sun to shade. They also tend to spread, some slowly and others more quickly. They make fine garden perennials, especially for more naturalistic beds. Any exceptions to these rules are noted.

My favorite native violet is the bird’s foot violet, which has large 1.5-inch flowers and fine foliage.

When researching these native violets, I quickly found that all native American violets feed numerous native bees and play larval host to many fritillary species–too many to be mentioned by name. Lots of American fritillaries are threatened or endangered, so maintaining a few native violets in your yard is important! It is also important to source nursery-grown stock or seeds rather than plants collected from the wild. (Click here to learn more about avoiding poached, rare plants.) All seed and plant sources provided here are legitimate.

Labrador violet is often evergreen to semi-evergreen and has purplish-bronze foliage.

Canadian violet (Viola canadensis, Zones 2-8): These hardy perennial violets can reach up to 12 inches and produce lots of white or pale-violet spring flowers that stand tall above the large, heart-shaped leaves. It makes a pleasing native groundcover for moist woodland or shade gardens and is native across much of central and northern North America, extending far into Canada. Expect Canadian violet to self-sow and spread naturally to create a seasonal native groundcover for the shade.

Halberd-leaf yellow violet (Viola hastata, Zones 5-8): Though rarely sold in commerce, at all but the most select native plants sales hosted by native plant societies, Halberd-leaf yellow violet is one of the prettiest of all native woodland violets. Its attractive leaves have silvery markings and sunny yellow flowers are produced in the spring. The woodland native is found in old woods across the eastern coastal United States. If you can find it, grow the 4-8-inch plants in a moist, shaded garden spot.

American dog violet (Viola labradorica, Zones 2-8): Just look at that hardiness zone! This little 3-6-inch violet has native populations that extend into the farthest north reaches of eastern Canada, and it is so lovely. Its low-growing bunches have purplish-bronze, heart-shaped leaves as well as royal-violet-purple flowers in the spring and summer. It is evergreen to semi-evergreen, making it an excellent small-scale groundcover violet for the full sun to partial shade.

Smooth yellow violet is a sweet little yellow-flowered species for shaded gardens.

Bird’s foot violet (Viola pedata, Zones 4-8): I love this unique violet for its fine foliage, which resembles little green bird’s feet, and wide, violet-blue flowers punctuated by orange eyes. They are found in old, established sandy woodlands across eastern North America. Expect the 1.5-inch flowers to appear from spring to midsummer. They will tolerate full to partial sun. Well-drained soil and regular moisture are required. The 3-10-inch plants do not tend to spread.

Prairie violet (Viola pedatifida, Zones 3-7): The sun-loving little prairie violet is native across the prairie lands of Central North America and spreads less aggressively than average violets. Its bright violet-purple flowers look pretty against the delicate, cut-leaf foliage. Unlike most violets, prairie violet will tolerate drier soils. Flowering occurs from mid-spring to early summer. Sometimes it will rebloom later in the season. Plant the 6-inch violets along garden edges where they can slowly self-sow.

Smooth yellow violet (Viola pubescens var. eriocarpa, Zones 3-7): Here is a pretty yellow-flowered violet that grows best in shaded, moist, eastern North American woodlands and gently spreads. Expect it to produce little yellow blooms from mid-spring to summer. Standard Viola pubescens has downy rather than smooth leaves.

Starting Native Violets From Seed

Violet seeds are easily collected or available for sale.

These perennial violets are most often sold from seed, so they are not expensive to grow. Most take a year before flowering from seed. We recommend sowing the seeds in flats of quality potting mix, such as Black Gold Natural & Organic Potting Mix, outdoors in the fall. This method, called moist outdoor seed stratification (click here for stratification guidelines), lets them experience the winter moisture and cold, which many violet seeds need to germinate. When grown by this method, they often sprout in the late winter or spring.

Other Violet Uses

Violets serve other useful purposes in the garden. The flowers are edible, and their fragrant blooms have been used to make perfume over the ages. One common old-fashioned use for the flowers was to candy them. The sugar-crusted violets hold their color, are tasty, and look beautiful for decorating cakes and cookies. (Click here for a good candied-violet recipe.) The flowers can also be used to make a delectable, violet-blue simple syrup that can be added to mixed drinks and lemonade. (Click here for a good violet simple syrup recipe.)

If you have lots of common violets in the yard, try making candied violets.