Taking Chances in the Garden

When I first started gardening, I bought any and all perennials that looked pretty at the nursery and plopped them in my new gardens. I learned the hard way about the pitfalls and shortcomings of different plants and I’ve grown pretty choosy through the years. Perennials that reseed like crazy, are prone to mildew, grow leggy, or otherwise need need constant care generally don’t make the cut. Experience with some naughty perennials while gardening in Zone 7b cause them to be forever banned from my gardens:  ajuga (just try to contain it!), creeping jenny (lives anywhere… even in water!), deadnettle (think kudzu!), phlox (think mildew!), and several more.

However, negative thoughts about some undesirable plants, perennials and annuals, were softened after caring for them at Rolling Green Nursery for two summers. And working there made me reach out and take a chance with some of those banned ones and a few others:

Here are a few plants I took a chance on:

Brass Buttons (Leptinella) A mat-like ground cover that grows about 2 inches high. It has a reputation of being a thug in the garden but that hasn’t happened to me….yet… but I don’t think I’d mind if it did step out-of-bounds. It could make a great grass substitute. Its fern-like foliage is so unusual and attractive that I fell in love with this tough little plant. I’m always questioned about this unique perennial that grows in a spot where grass struggles to grow. Thumbs up!

Brass Buttons

Calamint (Calamintha nepeta ‘Blue Cloud’): Never in a million years would I have wanted a mint in my garden until I cared for this one at the nursery. It forms plumes of miniature, tubular blue flowers on spikes. A pollinator magnet, it blooms continuously from June till frost. I see no signs of wilting or disease during our severe drought this summer. If blooms flag, it benefits from a good trim and will reward with a second flush of flowers. I would not call it invasive. Thumbs up!
Calamintha
Calimint
Red-veined Sorrel (Rumex sanguineus): Also called bloody dock, this European native can grow in the herb or vegetable garden, around the pond, or as an ornamental garden accent. I fell in love with the prominent red veins on the lance shaped leaves. Edible for some folks, but grown here as decorative accents. No flowers have emerged as of mid-August but they’ll be nipped as soon as they appear to prevent self-seeding. Thumbs up!
Red-veined Sorrel

Campanula carpatica ‘White Clips’: I cared for this little perennial for almost two summers at the nursery until I weakened and purchased one.  The showy bell-shaped white blooms face upward covering small compact clumps of foliage about 8 -10 inches high. I have it at the edge of a border in moist soil. We will cut it back hard very soon and will be rewarded with a flush of new growth and blooms.  Thumbs up!

campanula

Defiant Hybrid Tomato: I took a chance on this tomato plant that boasted blight resistance. It’s a determinate bush tomato plant that produces medium-size tomatoes. Jungseed.com writes, “This is the first tomato to crack the genetic code for late blight resistance. It has high resistance to late blight, intermediate resistance to early blight and great flavor, all in one.” Knock on wood that I don’t jinx it but it’s been almost PERFECT. The grandchildren picked two lovely tomatoes on their lunch visit to Nana’s yesterday… and there are 15 – 20 more ripening on the plant. Thumbs up!

Tomato 'Defiant'

 

 

The Midas Touch

Whether the day begins overcast or not, golden sunbeams have flooded our bedroom each morning for the past week. Two male ginkgo trees (Ginkgo biloba) dominate the small pond garden just feet from our window and their fan-shaped leaves take on an luminous golden glow, a fall color second to none. We have watched for weeks as the bright green leaves began their fall journey turning faintly yellow at the tips, green slowly fading, and being replaced by more and more yellow. Many leaf-peepers and shutterbugs are awed by lemony ginkgo tree in fall landscapes, remarking that the color is too short-lived, the leaves all dropping within 24 hours. But we have developed a relationship with our ginkgos, watching the fall arrive slowly, reaching a crescendo of color lasting almost a week before it paints the ground, deck and pond in melted butter within a couple of days. Click photos to enlarge.

Another name for the ginkgo, this living fossil unchanged for 150 million years, is the Maidenhair tree,  some believe a name given to describe the parallel veins that fan outward like a maiden’s hair, but the resemblance to the pinnae of the Adiantum capillus-veneris or Maidenhair fern in fact gives the tree this nickname.  The species name, biloba, describes the split in the middle of the leaf, hence two-lobed.

Our two males command this area of the landscape, giving us essential shade in the summer and glorious color in the fall… but we cannot forget our smaller female ginkgo that continues to produce her pungent fleshy seeds each fall in another area of the yard. We allow these abundant seeds to germinate and the small trees we dig and share with anyone who expresses a desire to grow a living fossil, sex undetermined for 20 – 30 years. Today, cultivars like ‘Autumn Gold’  are created through grafting, splicing the cuttings from males on rootstock grown from seed.  And sadly, the tree is red-listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) list of Threatened Species due to the preference for the male ginkgo trees in the landscape.

If you live near me in Gloucester VA, I’d love to save a baby for your garden. Plant it away from public areas, especially sidewalks, just in case in 30 years, ‘he’ turns out to be a ‘she.’

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester