I was browsing through our catalog, as I sometimes do when I can't think of anything else to write about. I just find a pretty plant and then talk about how pretty it is. I know it's boring, and I apologize, but they really are very pretty.
This time was different. It wasn't the picture that caught my attention, but the description. Epimedium Osigui was "named for Mikinori Ogisu, the famed Japanese plant hunter…In the native it is found among limestone deposits near waterfalls." It was discovered in the mountains of Sichuan, China.
Plant Hunter! Browsing the InterWebs, I found Mr. Mikinori was connected with the discoveries of many popular plants. One blogger called him the "most important man in Epimediums." He has trekked though thick forest, up high mountains, and deep into dense river gorges to find some of the rarest and most exciting new plant varieties. One of the most interesting articles was from the Historic Roses Group written by another famed botanist and plant hunter, Martyn Rix. He described Mr. Mikinori's discoveries of exotic Chinese Roses. He spent ten years combing the Chinese wilderness, and has provided us with cultivated varieties of plants that, before him, very few people had even seen.
I guess it was naive of me, but I just had never thought of botanists as adventurers. I guess somebody had to go out and discover all of these things. As gardeners, we often fill our gardens with exotic plants from all over the world, provided either by our local nursery or ordered from a catalog like Wayside Gardens. Rarely, if ever, do we think about how that plant came to be cultivated. Who took the first sample of seeds or the first cutting. Some of the species that Mikinori Ogisu discovered only grow natively at very high altitudes or in deep gorges where there are no trails. The man is a modern pioneer, forging paths for knowledge and future discovery.
Looking for some great foliage interest in your shade or filtered sun that isn't hostas or painted ferns? How about Lamium 'Purple Dragon?' It's a real survivor, thriving across six zones (3-8), and it produces big, beautiful clusters of purple flowers for many weeks. The eye-catching silvery-white leaves shade quickly to dark green around the interesting toothed edges. This groundcover perennial is drought-resistant and evergreen, too, so you'll have this beautiful foliage year-round.
For a different look, try Kolkwitzia amabilis Dream Catcher (yes, I spelled that right). This Beauty Bush does well in filtered sun or part shade in zones 4-9 and is deer-resistant, so it's a great choice for many different gardens. It's rich coppery color seasons to bright yellow in Spring and Summer, and by fall it turns a rich golden-orange with interesting dark tips. It's amazing as a specimen, but even better in mass plantings for a really eye-drawing effect unlike any other.
The popularity of most plants comes and goes and comes again as time goes on. Some, though, are always in demand. Hostas are one type of plant that we're always on the lookout for. A great Hosta can make as much difference to the look and feel of your garden as any other plant, especially in the shade, where suitable plants are harder to find. They add a lush texture that few, if any, other plant can bring. Hostas are available in a variety of sizes and colors, from the deepest green to bright white variegation. Some, like Hosta 'Venus,' even feature brilliant blooms. But then, I probably don't have to tell you any of that.
What you might not know about is our new Hostas for Fall 2008. This year we have 'Blue Ivory,' a compact Hosta with a dark blue center to its leaves.
It's quilted, giving it great tolerance to slugs and snails, and it does well in shade. We've also got Hosta 'Great Escape,' a sport of 'Halcyon' with amazing white margins contrasting with a deep iron-blue center. This vigorous grower is one of those rare Hostas whose flowers will be eagerly awaited, with bell-shaped lilac blooms that stand high above the plant on slender, elegant stems. Perhaps the most exciting of our new Hostas, though, is the Hosta 'Dark Shadows,' an intense, deep blue hosta that turns toward green in summer, maintaining a lovely aquamarine tone all season. The depth of its color is especially impressive from a Hosta that thrives in light shade. It's one of the lower-growing Hostas I've seen, spreading wide to make for great mass plantings or ground cover.
Shade plants are often come in a very limited color range because there is not enough sunlight to bring out most of those beautiful bright floral colors, and deep color is usually too dark to stand out. When designing a shade garden, one must rely heavily on textures and light-colored shade plants that will stand out in the low light.
This situation forces the gardener to be creative and shapes the subtle feel of the shade garden. Thankfully, there are some plants out there that have very interesting textures and the light eye-catching colors that are perfect for you shade garden. There are some new colors of fern, brilliant variegated hostas, and my favorite, new hues of heuchera.
Heuchera comes in a wide variety of colors and has a ruffled texture that will add interest to your shade garden. My favorite variety of heuchera is Wayside Gardens’ Heuchera ‘Ginger Ale’ which has a rich amber color that will stand out against any deep green or purple foliage in your shade garden.
While probing for ideas that might add a little intrigue to the pitifully uninspiring flora of my backyard, I was told by a friend to check out bog gardens. My first thought was of a marsh or swamp, something more appropriate for a wildlife preserve or ghost story than my simple little yard. However, trusting my source, I dove, head-first into that murky swamp of information, the all-knowing internet.
Apparently, if you have a low spot in your yard that never completely dries and you plant some elephant ears there, you have not created a bog garden as some of the sources I found would lead you to believe. It is a clever way to turn a problem into an asset, but not a bog garden. A bog is actually a type of wetland formed from a deposit of dead plant matter, most commonly some type of moss or lichen. Its moisture comes almost completely from precipitation and tends to be slightly acidic. An exotic environment for exotic plants- It’s exactly what I was looking for.
I also found that recreating this environment on the small scale is not very difficult; some people even create indoor bog gardens in terrariums, which would be a perfect way to display those bog-loving carnivorous plants and make an excellent conversation piece. I just needed a place that will hold moisture and that I could fill with peat. I had the perfect place, that gross little pond insert that I installed two seasons ago, or as I like to call it, my “mosquito nursery”. I just cleaned that out and poked a few holes in the bottom for drainage- lined the bottom with coarse sand and filled it with moistened peat. The moss maintains the acidity and I use a soaker hose to keep my bog damp. I planted an Iris, this very interesting Juncus Effusus Unicorn, and two Pine Hibiscuses. Situated in the center of my garden, accented with two lawn gnomes and a pink flamingo, my bog has definitely added spice to my back yard.
Earlier this month, a friend asked me to help her design a few plantings along a pathway through a wooded part of her land here in Greenwood. Wooded areas are often difficult to plant in, as you need low-maintenance, deer-resistant, full-shade plants. Hopefully she’ll be pleased when I show up in a few weekends with a truck-bed full of medium-sized stones and a mix of unique ferns, including Japanese painted ferns and my favorite fern, the Athyrium ‘Okanum.’
As most gardeners well know, not many plants do well in full shade. Ferns are a great exception to this, though, and as shade gardening is becoming more and more popular with each passing season, ferns are gaining in popularity by leaps and bounds. Part of the appeal of hardy ferns is the simple fact that they do so well in shade, but another huge point in their favor is the amazing diversity they present. There is a fern for almost any shade area in your garden, from drought-resistant ferns to some moisture-loving examples that will thrive in constantly damp areas that will destroy almost any other plant. They range broadly in color from the traditional green to the stunning Japanese painted ferns, which can be red, purple, silver, green, or any combination thereof.
Hardy ferns are also a great choice because they’re so easy to care for. If you are careful to consider soil type when choosing your ferns, often they’ll do just fine with very little work out of you, which is great for those difficult-to-fill border plantings, or even for planting areas along pathways through wooded areas. Most ferns are also deer-resistant, so that won’t be a problem in planting areas that get less traffic, like my friend’s pathway, though I hope that, once I’ve planted those beds, it will get a lot more visits this year.