May 26, 2009

Mugshots: 9 Heucheras

I am excited to post what will hopefully be the first of many 'Mugshots' postings. When a plant in a catalog catches my eye, I often turn to the internet to find more information about it. How does the plant perform for other gardeners? What color is it really? How does it stack up to the other similar cultivars available? I can't offer much wisdom about growth habits, as all of my heucheras are less than two years old. But today I'll share pictures and information on the 9 heucheras (coral bells) I have growing in my yard. All of these are best grown in moist but well-drained soil with morning sun and afternoon shade.

1. June Bride
This plant is quite similar to the standard coral bells growing in your grandmother's garden, except the flowers are white. The name may not be completely accurate, as plants in warmer climates would probably begin blooming in May or even April. Mine has plenty of buds that will open near the first of June and would be lovely in a bridal bouquet. My plant is growing in mostly shade, so a plant growing in full sun would be more compact.

2. Patricia Louise
Here is another cultivar with plain green leaves, though this plant sports mid-toned coral-pink blossoms. The picture above shows three of the various heuchera bloom stalks from my garden. At the top is white Lime Rickey, burgandy-cream Prince of Silver is in the middle, and Patricia Louise is on the bottom. Don't you hate it when blogger rotates your picture and you can't figure out how to fix it?

3. Autumn Bride
And here the bells toll for my second bride of the year. Autumn Bride is a H. villosa cultivar, which makes it more drought tolerant and especially good for shady areas where tree roots suck up most of the water. As it is a new arrival this spring, I haven't seen the creamy flowers yet. But they're supposed to arrive in the fall and should make nice fillers for floral arrangements during a season when cut flowers can be hard to find in the garden.

4. Lime Rickey
Now we come to a heuchera grown for its foliage instead of flowers, though the flowers are dainty and white. The leaves start out a lemon yellow and become lime green in summer. I love the way this plant glows in the shade and plan to use it amongst various gold-patterned hostas in the shade beds that will eventually grace my garden.

5. Green Spice
This heuchera also sports white flowers, but its leaves definitely steal the show. As the season progresses, the burgandy color becomes less noticeable until the leaves appear just silvery-green. This is definitely another great choice to light up the shade.

6. Prince of Silver
Here we have another case of rotating-picture-angst. Please imagine that the stems are growing upward on this gorgeous plant. It's currently my favorite heuchera, which is why I included another leaf shot at the top of this post. The rich burgandy undersides of the leaves contrast beautifully with the silvery tops when the leaves dance in the breeze. This and all my other purple-leafed heucheras develop cream flowers on burgandy stems.

7. Plum Pudding
This baby plant is quite similar to Prince of Silver except the leaves have even more burgandy in them. The new leaf pictured will become more silvery with age. Last week I cut leaves from both Prince of Silver and Plum Pudding to wrap around tiny bouquets, and they were lovely. I'm excited to use them around white roses in nosegays this summer. Very striking!

8. Palace Purple
Here is the grande dame of all the purple-leaved heucheras. It doesn't have the fancy ruffles or silver overlays of newer cultivars but is still useful. My plants have a greenish tinge but will soon become deep plum purple. I believe this plant was purchased in a 4" pot for $3 at Home Depot last year.

9. Chocolate Ruffles
This plant was a no-namer brought home from Lowe's last week, but it looks like the picture of Chocolate Ruffles on Terra Nova's website. Aren't the ruffles fun? No post on heucheras would be complete without mentioning Terra Nova Nursery, as they are responsible for many of the new and exciting heuchera cultivars available today. You can see that I'm not growing any of the orangey cultivars, as they don't appeal to me. And I'm sticking mostly with white or cream flowers. The vivid pink and red flowers that I've seen on other heucheras aren't a good fit with my garden's color scheme. As new cultivars continue to be introduced, no doubt a few more heucheras will join my garden gang.

May 21, 2009

Spring 2009 Mail Order Experiences: Part II

I always enjoy the instant gratification of coming home from my local nursery with a large, healthy plant in tow. But the pleasure of anticipating a coming order of plants by mail is also delicious. Most nurseries ship early in the week so the plants can arrive for weekend planting. That makes Thursdays and Fridays exciting. What will show up this week? When will the UPS man finally ring the doorbell? The excitement is tempered by the realization that the plants will probably be dormant or smaller than at the nursery. But when my nursery doesn't have just the cultivar I'm after, I consider mail order plants a worthwhile investment and well worth the required patience.
In this post I will continue reviewing the last five mail order nurseries from whom I have ordered this spring. Click on the bold nursery name to get to their website. See my earlier post for reviews of David Austin Roses, Regan Nursery, Park Seed, Garden Crossings and Heronswood.

1. Bloomin Designs
Ordered: Sagae, June, Great Expectations and Earth Angel hostas
I had to wait to write this post until my hosta order arrived from Bloomin Designs this week. Getting a few hosta divisions from a friend this month picqued my interest in the fantastic hosta cultivars available now, and hubby really likes hostas. That was enough encouragement for a trip to the local nursery to buy a few (High Society, Francee Williams, Orange Marmalade) and to place an order to Bloomin Designs for others that my local nursery didn't carry. The order, pictured above, arrived in good condition with moderately sized plant divisions (see 'Sagae' pictured at the top of the post). This is my third order from Bloomin Designs. I'm drawn by their large selection of daylilies and hostas and reasonable prices, and I've also been pleased with the service I received.

2. White Oak Nursery
Ordered: Smoky Mountain Autumn and Autumn Wood daylilies.
White Oak Nursery specializes in perennials, including a large selection of daylilies and hostas. I turned to this nursery because they carried 'Smoky Mountain Autumn', a daylily that I was convinced I needed thanks to the glowing description in the Oakes Daylily catalog. I wasn't ready to spent $40 for it, though, so I was pleased to find that White Oak carried the plant for just $8 each (I ordered two). I also ordered two Autumn Wood daylilies, also for $8 each. The plants that arrived for SMA were half the size (2-3 fans each) of the AW plants (5-7 fans). I wonder if SMA is a slow grower. Anyway, I planted my two SMA's together and made three decently-sized clumps out of the AW's. Hopefully I'll post pictures of the blooms later in the season. I have no complaints about my experience with White Oak, and I'm pleased that the $16 I paid for two SMA plants brought me a similar number of fans to what one $40 SMA from Oakes would have brought.

3. High Country Gardens
Ordered: Kingston Blue Strain agapantus, Cold Hardy white agapanthus, Penstemon tubaeflorus, Annie hardy verbena, Miss Manners obedient plant
I made two orders from High Country Gardens this spring. I was a little disappointed when the first order arrived. The white agapanthus and penstemon were moderately-sized for mail-order, but the blue agapanthus was puny. This was especially disappointing since I featured these two agapanthus in an earlier post. When I removed the blue agapanthus from its pot to plant, most of the soil fell away because the roots only occupied the top quarter (or less) of the 5" deep pot. I think all three plants were stunned by the transition from New Mexico temperatures to Spokane spring - probably a difference of 30 to 40 degrees. The white agapanthus and penstemon are finally putting on new growth, but the blue agapanthus has died back to the ground. I'm hoping it will resprout, but I'll contact the company to request a replacement if it doesn't. I don't often kill plants, and I think a larger version would have withstood the stress of transplanting better. My second order from HCG included two hardy (!) 'Annie' verbenas and a well-behaved 'Miss Manners' physostegia. All three plants (pictured above) were small on top but had great roots in their narrow but deep pots. They're doing well out in the garden now. Other than the blue agapanthus issue, I continue to think good things about High Country Gardens. They carry many unique plants that are especially suited to gardens in the western USA. Their packaging was great. I like their focus on sustainability and will probably order from them again (I'll post an update on the blue agapanthus later).
4. White Flower Farm
Ordered: Rosea Lavender and Snowdrift fern-leaf bleeding heart
I was hesitant to order from WFF after reading some complaints about them at But I received a $25 off coupon for WFF after subscribing to Fine Gardening Magazine, so I went ahead and ordered the pink lavender and white bleeding heart that were calling to me from the catalog. I would have ordered a Bonanza clematis, but they were sold out (so I ordered it from Garden Crossings). My order arrived very quickly, as they were having a ships-the-day-after-ordering special. The 4" pot of lavender was moderately sized for mail order, and the bareroot clump of bleeding heart was large - probably four times as large as the bareroot plants I received from Park Seed. So I have no complaints, especially since my $25 coupon meant that I only had to pay for shipping.

5. Forest Farm
Ordered: Autumn Bride heuchera
Forest Farm is great, and their new website is beautiful. I've had Autumn Bride on my wish list for a while, and reading about it's charms in May's Fine Gardening magazine pushed me into ordering it. I couldn't find a nursery that carried AB and shipped to Washington state, other than Forestfarm. The one-gallon pot was reasonably priced at $9, but shipping was $12 for the heavy pot. The plant that arrived (pictured above) was nicely sized and healthy and is growing well out in the garden. I have to thank owner Ray for his quick response to my email after I couldn't find Autumn Bride on the website (though it was listed in the paper catalog). Forest Farm's GIGANTIC selection places it into a class of its own for mail order nurseries. Their plants are large for the price, though the drawback to large pots is more expensive shipping. I've learned a lot by poring over their paper catalog for hours on end and can highly recommend both the catalog and the plants.

Here ends my spring 2009 mail order reviews. I hope my words will encourage you to experience the delight of anticipating a mail delivery of that perfect, hard-to-find plant for your garden!

May 15, 2009

GBBD: May Flowers in Spokane Valley

I've been meaning to join the Garden Bloggers Bloom Day fun over at Carol's blog but haven't had many flowers in recent months. I do have a few blooms right now, though I'm cheating a bit since several were purchased in bloom from the garden center this spring. Here are a few shots taken at sunset today.

My 'Spring Snow' crabapples are perfectly sweet as they bloom for the first time in my garden- and they have a pleasant fragrance, unlike the stinky flowering pears in nearby yards.

My friend Robyne gave me bunches of these dwarf purple iris last year. Their early blooms have been much appreciated this spring.

The flowers on my dark pink (red?) dogwood are almost fully grown, and so lovely. Blooms on my light pink and white dogwoods are starting to appear, but they get less sun so the show is delayed.

And here the cheating begins - this 'Mrs C' clematis was purchased from WalMart last week.

'The President' clematis also came home from WalMart. I now have five types of clematis: one white (Candida), two light periwinkle (Will Goodwin and Mrs. C), and two deep blue-violet (The President and Bonanza). All are babies but should put on quite a show in coming years.

This white thrift (Armeria) is a recent purchase but would be close to blooming even if planted last year, as my pink varieties are nearly there.

I'm unsure what type of muscari this is, but the blue color is very interesting. This is the second year of bloom for them, and they have multiplied into little clumps.

This 'Caradonna' salvia came home from Lowe's last month. I'm excited to use the flowers in arrangements.

It's hard to get the colors just right on the computer screen. This salvia is 'May Night', and the flowers are a very similar color to 'Caradonna', though without the dark stems. This one is a recent purchase from Home Depot. The three others I planted last year are just showing buds.

A number of candytufts - started from seed two years ago - are blooming their heads off in the front yard. I'll probably give them away eventually, though, as I find that I'm craving color in the spring.

All of my snowdrop anemones had to be dug up and moved into pots, as their roots were extremely aggressive in my sandy flowerbed soil. The flowers ripen into puffy seedheads that look like cotton swabs.

Ivy geraniums like this one have to be treated as annuals here. I hadn't ever seen a double-flowered plant until I noticed this one at my local nursery (Gibson's). Don't the flowers remind you of spray roses? They're a favorite cut flower of mine as well.

That ends the bloom day tour of my yard. Carol named her blog after her favorite month in the garden. I'd have to say that June is the very best month for my garden, so I'll definitely try to participate next month as well.

May 12, 2009

Spring 2009 Mail-Order Experiences: Part I

This spring I have ordered plants from 10 mail-order nurseries. My pickiness about cultivars ensures that I can never find everything I want locally, so I have to branch out to find the perfect plants from various mail-order sources. Hopefully such selectivity will pay off with a beautiful garden in a few years. Ordering plants by mail involves a trade-off between economical shipping costs and the size of the plant. Good customer service is an important factor as well. In this post, I’ll share my experiences with 5 of the nurseries. I’ll review the other 5 later this month. Hopefully my reviews will give you more insight about what you can expect from these nurseries. Click on the nursery name to get to their website.

David Austin Roses
Ordered: Claire Austin, William Shakespeare 2000, LD Braithwaite, Francine Austin, and Queen of Sweden roses
My 5 roses arrived from DA roses at the beginning of April. All of them qualified as grade #1 (at least 3 sturdy canes), and several were much larger than the standard. They were shipped bareroot inside a plastic bag tucked into a large box and arrived in great shape. I immediately opened them to make sure they were moist, then wrapped them up for a day or two until I was ready to give them an overnight soak in a bucket (see above picture) before planting. It actually snowed a couple of inches on the roses after they were planted, but they weren’t fazed at all since they were still mostly dormant. Last year my order included 4 ‘Eglantyne’ roses, and one of them turned out to be an oddball, with blooms the same color but a very different shape than the others. After I emailed a picture of the offending blooms, DA Roses cheerfully agreed to send me a replacement this spring. Gotta love that great service. This is my third order from DA Roses and I continue to be pleased. There are other mail-order nurseries that offer lower prices on English roses, but I love the wide selection and large plants available from DA Roses.

Regan Nursery
Ordered: Yves Piaget and Sister Elizabeth roses
I broke my vow of never growing hybrid tea roses to add Yves Piaget to my garden. I fell in love with Yves in a friend’s yard. Maybe I’ll hate it in my landscape, but I’m willing to take a chance for that fragrance . . . yummy. Regan Nursery was one of the few sources I could find for this rose, and I’d heard good things about the nursery when I lived in California. Regan’s price for the English rose ‘Sister Elizabeth’ was several dollars lower than David Austin’s price, and the shipping also worked out to be a few bucks less when ordered this way. Both roses were grade #1 and shipped in a similar manner to David Austin’s. I originally ordered a William Shakespeare 2000 from Regan, then cancelled that part of the order and received a credit on my card. They mistakenly sent WS 2000 anyway, so I stuck it in the hole with the other WS 2000 from DA roses. Since the roses from Regan were healthy and their prices and service were good, I’d definitely order from them again.

Park Seed
Ordered: Clemantine Blue columbine, Victoria salvia, Rose Double Click Bonbon cosmo, Verbena bonariensis, Melting Fire heuchera, Felix & Blue Carpet nepeta, and Nestor veronica seeds
August Emperor and Eden’s Charm Japanese iris, Double Queen hellebore, and Will Goodwin clematis plants
I haven’t planted all of the seeds from Park yet, but here’s the update on the ones I have tried. Just 2 columbines came up from indoor sowing, so I finally gave up on the rest and scattered the seeded soil around the garden. Maybe more will come up outside. The Victoria salvia have germinated well. I just scattered the verbena and cosmo seeds last week, so none have germinated yet. Maybe I’ll have to come back and add an update on the rest of the seeds later.
The plants from Park arrived last week in good condition. As with a previous order from Park, the plants were on the smallish side but healthy. The iris, hellebore and clematis were all shipped bareroot, and though the tops were small the roots were large. I soaked them for a few hours before planting (see above picture), and hopefully they’ll take off and grow well now that they’re in the ground. Overall I’m satisfied about my experience with Park Seed because I’m willing to be patient while my baby plants grow. If you want instant impact from large plants though, you won’t be happy with Park.

Garden Crossings
Ordered: Bonanza clematis
Here is a case of giving in to plant lust. After reading about this fabulously floriferous new clematis and envisioning how nice the 3-4 inch flowers would look in arrangements with roses, I decided to place an order with the highly-reviewed Garden Crossings for the vine. Paying shipping for one plant is NOT a thrifty way of buying plants. But the plant that arrived was generously sized and very healthy. Their prices aren’t the lowest, but other reviewers at Garden Watchdog agree that plants from Garden Crossings are a good value because of their larger size. This is another mail-order nursery worthy of recommendation.

Ordered: Velvet Lips, Pink Tea Cup and Kingston Cardinal hellebores
After reading on other blogs about how well hellebores reseed, I held my breath and cringed and shelled out $20 a pop for 3 gorgeous hellebores from Heronswood. I have no problems with paying $20 for a rosebush, but somehow it seems steep for a little perennial. Hopefully these mamas will give me many plants from seed in years to come. The plants that came in 4-inch pots were a nice size for mail-order and in great condition. A week and a half before my plants were due to ship, I called Heronswood to ask if I could add another hellebore (Velvet Lips) to my order. Even though my order was already being processed down in the nursery, the friendly customer service rep said she’d try to add the plant. The cost of the plant showed up on my credit card the next week, so I assumed she was successful. Since they didn’t charge me any extra shipping, I was surprised when the 3rd plant arrived in its own box, which must have cost them extra. Wow! Thanks Heronswood for going above and beyond to impress this customer! Their interesting selection of plants and my good experience ensure that I will be ordering from them in the future.

The other mail-order nurseries from which I ordered this spring are Forestfarm, White Flower Farm, White Oak Nursery, High Country Gardens and Bloomin Designs. Watch for my reviews of them in an upcoming post. Happy plant shopping!

May 6, 2009

Random Acts of Gardening

A Recent Drive-By Mulching Victim.

Earlier this week, I drove by a friend's house on the way home from the store. Last month we transplanted a rosebush from my yard to hers (a mislabeled pink one was sent by David Austin Roses last spring, after I emailed a picture of the offending blooms they politely agreed to send the correct shrub to replace it this spring). Her rose looked a little dry, and she hadn't had time to get mulch spread around it as I had suggested. Since I happened to have a few bags of composted manure in my car, I pulled one out, dumped it around the rose, and watered it with what was left in my water bottle. Hubby laughed when I told him the story about the 'drive-by mulching.' What, he asked, are you practicing random acts of gardening?
Maybe so, I thought! My family loves taking walks around our neighborhood, and I have been known to water plants with my water bottle when we pass by a poor wilting thing in a neighbor's yard. Definitely a random thing to do, though I suspect many fellow gardeners have done the same sort of thing.
I also love to give away small bouquets of flowers from my yard. Pick a handful of flowers, wrap with a ruffle of leaves, tie with raffia and you've got a sweet little posy to hand to someone special. Here's one that my son gave to his school teacher.

This week our family carried out a widow weeding, which also falls into the random acts of gardening category. A friend down the street lost her husband a few years ago. I can only imagine how difficult it must be to keep up with her house and yard without her hubby to help. Last year we weeded, pruned and divided some of her plants to fill in bare spots. It was a great way to help her while teaching our kiddos about service. This spring we noticed the weeds taking over again, so we made a return trip to pull them and spread some composted manure mulch as well.
So what random acts of gardening have you given? Gardeners are a generous bunch. Whether giving away plant divisions or seeds, sharing fresh produce from the veggie garden (though handing out zucchini might qualify more as a random act of desperation than of kindness), inspiring friends with new landscaping ideas or other random acts of gardening, I love hearing about the many different ways gardeners give service. I'm happy to be a part of the gardening community and do my part to make the world a happier, more beautiful place.