Summer is here!
Perennial lupine plant has the strangest flower shape of almost any plant. "Why does it have this shape," I ask myself when it flowers. water beads up on the leaves like sparkling diamonds in the sunlight on a plant that likes good soil, full to part sun on a 15" plant. Lupine is a reliable perennial, coming back every year to delight.
Tree peonies differ from perennial peony plants in a few ways. Perennial peonies die to the ground in the fall, Tree peonies do not. Tree peonies have an above ground stem structure that persists all year long, with new growth in the spring popping out of these stems. Tree peonies also do not seem to get the blackish leaf fungus that perennial peonies get, with their soft green leaves making it through the summer unmolested. Mature tree peonies are a show stopper, and can be cherished by family members throughout the generations.
Trollius is one of my favorite perennials not just because of the unique flower color, but also because of the symbiosis it has with a fly that it evolved with in the steppes of Russia. Years ago, as I watched a bumblebee vibrate it's way up inside a foxglove flower, I realized that the bumble bee was uniquely suited for the foxglove flower. The bee fit snugly in the flower, and the hair on the bee's back aligned itself with the pollen structures inside the flower. In order for the bee to get the prize at the end of the flower, it had to pollinate the floret- effortlessly. I also realized that the flower's shape kinda prevented most other insects from entering, and I wondered why. I walked away, thinking about the thousands of other plants we had, all evolving through the millennia in symbiosis with insects so that everyone wins. When I looked at trollius (^), I understood the function of all of the flower parts except the vertical cage-like bars. They looked like jail cell bars. I looked it up online, and found a russian study that showed that these bars exclude all but one species of fly from entering the flower to pollinate. The jail cell bars allow this one fly inside the flower to pollinate and lay it's eggs on the seeds of the flower, with the larvae taking 40-60% of the seeds for the baby flies to eat. In return for this donation, the plant gets pollinated and gets 40-60% of the seeds to distribute. I still don't understand why the plant allows the fly to have any of the seeds, but there must be a reason that mother nature knows about and isn't sharing her secret.
So it is with a botanical and evolutionary interest as well as an aesthetic and low maintenance reasons that I adore Trollius, and I hope that you will too. We usually have them in the spring only, Full to part sun, seems deer proof, no insect or disease pests, Nice geranium-like leaves. Returns reliably every spring.
I've been selling this unique plant for decades. Daylily-like foliage on a 12' tall plant pushes up these strange flowers almost all summer long. See the tiny flower petals at the very bottom of the picture on the right? THAT'S the flower, pollinated by the smallest bees I have ever seen, about as big as a grain of sand. Until I saw these bees, I wasn't aware that there are thousands of bees that live in Connecticut, and most people are only aware of the two or three most well-known ones. Anyway... the deer-proof red hot poker plant is deer proof, fungus-free, disease-free for full sun and good soil. It will live for you for decades, toiling away for you effortlessly without any help at all. Not available in great quantity this year. Goes really well with violet blue colors.
A note about growing hydrangeas for you to consider before you buy them- Old fashioned hydrangeas flower on stems the fall prior. People like to cut them back because they don't like the brown stems all winter but what they do not know is that they are cutting off the flower buds for the following year, and when this happens, they have to wait 18 months for that plant to flower again. If that homeowner cuts back that hydrangea every year, that plant will never flower. Ever.
New hydrangea plants have been hybridized to flower on "new wood," so even if you mow the plant down in March, it will still flower that same summer. I tell people to NEVER prune hydrangea plants- there really is no need to. If the plant is too tall, move it. If you don't like the brown stems in the winter, choose another plant for that spot, or get used to it.
Hydrangeas push out flowers all summer if they are happy. Making them happy includes good soil, commercial grade fertilizer, adequate sunlight, and of course, water when its hot out. Flowering for a plant is like giving birth for a human- it takes a lot of energy from the parent, so plant hydrangeas in either full to part sun. I consider full sun to mean 5 hours a day of full sun, or three hours a day of full sun then filtered light all day. In full shade you might get good flowering if all other needs of the plant are met.
Hydrangeas are grown in really lightweight soil at the nursery, so you really need to pay close attention to the plants for the first year after you plant them to assure the plant grabs hold of it's new home asap.
If the plant gets dessicated, they usually rebound with closer attention with water, and an apology. When they begin to dry the first year, they "candycane," drooping their flexible stems downward, Almost as soon as you water them, they perk right back up. Spraying them with water from the hose cools them off and buys time for the roots to start to drink up the water you just offered them. Drape a light sheet over them to shade them if the wilting is severe. Best thing is not letting them dry out in the first place.
New varieties are shorter than the old ones, ranging in size from 2-3-4-5' tall which makes them great for foundation plantings, decks and patios. If you want them in an above ground container, plant it in the ground for winter because the roots will not survive the cold temps. Bringing the pot into an unheated garage solves the problem.
Some new varieties have foliar characteristics that extends their attractiveness way beyond the flowering weeks. Red foliage and stem color are two traits that are lush and unique. Some have red stems, some are black. Some of the new white ones have the very whitest flowers on the very darkest green leaves, the contrast between the two being a stunning attribute. Some of the newest cultivars have double or triple petals on each flower, or two-toned blossoms.
There's one thing that can be said about the horticultural industry- research and development is a continual focus, with new varieties coming into the marketplace yearly for discerning gardeners and people who just want something different in their yard.