Monthly Archives: June 2017

Giant Fleeceflower and Yellow Wax Candle

When a garden needs a big, bold shrub, call on giant fleeceflower (Persicaria polymorpha) with its large white sprays of flowers and dark green, deeply veined foliage. This massive herbaceous shrub is also known as Polygonum polymorphum, but whatever you call it, this is one specimen that will make a statement in the landscape. The showy flowers and seed heads attract both birds and butterflies, but will not appeal to deer. The dark green coarse foliage is an excellent backdrop for more delicate medium size plants, and the nodding flowers give movement to a garden space.

Giant fleeceflower grows well in clay soil, is hardy in zones 1 through 11, and thrives in full sun; however, mature plants will tolerate a little shade and some drought. The flowers look like astilbe, only on a much larger scale, nodding in the breeze atop 6 foot stems; they have no fragrance. The shrub will spread from 6 to 10 feet in a clumping habit, and reach 4 to 7 feet in height. Be aware that this is a fast-growing species, so make provisions to keep it corralled where you want it to stay by sinking metal or plastic boundaries in the soil as far out as you are willing to let the plant spread. Bloom time is June and the flowers continue through summer. At the end of the season, the flowers turn reddish-brown just like astilbe. This provides a nice textural addition to the fall garden landscape.

Persicaria grows from rhizomes or stolons and, therefore, can be invasive if not controlled; it dies back in the winter. The plant prefers moist soil, but will still grow in dry conditions, though not as profusely. Propagation is by division in spring or fall, or by seed started in a cold frame in early spring. Japanese beetles, slugs, snails, and aphids are fond of this shrub and will need control.

TOXICITY NOTE: All parts of the plant can cause skin irritation in sensitive people. If ingested, all plant parts will cause stomach upset.


Yellow wax bells (Kirengeshoma palmata) is another little used perennial for shady situations. This lovely plant is native to Japan and Korea in the mountains; it does well in zones 5 to 8, with hardiness to -20F. It must have shade to grow, and is a wonderful addition to woodland gardens and shady beds and borders.

Kirengeshoma is a late blooming perennial, coming into flower in late August and early September, a nice addition to a garden that may already be fading. Though slow-growing, the plant can grow quite tall – 3 to 6 feet, and the clumps spread up to 3 feet. Glossy maple-leaf shaped leaves reach 4 to 8 inches long and provide a beautiful background for the drooping yellow waxy blossoms that are shaped like badminton shuttlecocks.

Plant in rich, moist soil that is acidic, and shelter the plants from wind. Water regularly and do not allow the soil to dry out. When new growth begins in spring, propagate by division. Be careful not to damage any of the new shoots. Slugs and snails will feast on the tender new growth of yellow wax bells, but deer will not.

Photos from Wikimedia Commons (GDCL) on Wikipedia.

The image of the butterfly

It represents the beauty of nature, the oncoming of spring, metamorphosis and a change for the better. They can also bring forth the memories of endless, lazy summer days of childhood. Invite these colorful and ethereal spirits of the air into your garden by providing them an environment that is suitable for them.

The fist thing to consider is the location of a butterfly garden. Most butterflies like sunny areas that are edged by wood or stream which is protected from heavy winds. In the mornings they like to sun themselves on flat rocks, spreading out their wings to warm their bodies with the suns rays.

The second most important thing to know is that of course butterflies are insects, as well as their larval form the caterpillar. If you ever hope to establish a friendly place for butterflies to flourish chemical pesticide use is out of the question. Whether it be insecticides or herbicides, they both can harm caterpillars and butterflies and shouldn’t be used in a garden built for them. Try to use organic means if a pest problem should arise and even then only spray the plants affected. Even organic sprays can be harmful.

Thirdly, we must consider the whole life cycle of the butterfly. The garden should not only provide flowers for nectar but host plants for the caterpillars. You should also learn to recognize the larval form of your favorite butterflies so you allow them to feed. An alternative is to create a small garden of host plants close to the butterfly garden but out of the way. That way you won’t necessarily have to look at all those chewed up plants but you will have fat, happy caterpillars.

Butterflies also need a source of minerals. Butterflies are often observed drinking from mud puddles. This behavior is actually termed puddling . They are actually getting essential minerals out of the mud. You can create an area for your butterflies to puddle with a simple tin pie plant filled with moistened sand. Mix ½ to ¾ cups of salt mixed with a gallon the sand, then keep it moist.

While the common idea is that butterflies get most of their sustenance from flower nectar there are other sources of food that they enjoy. Many like rotting fruit, sap from various trees and even manure! Rotting fruits such as bananas and watermelon can be placed in the garden, but be warned that they might also attract wasps.

Butterflies also appreciate some shelter for those days that are not so nice. Protect your butterflies from rain and wind by including shrubs or tall grasses in the garden plan. You can also create a shelter that maybe used for hibernation during the winter. Build a log pile with alternating perpendicular logs so there are spaces in between for the butterflies. They particularly like logs that have chunks of bark pealing away. The ideal size is 5 feet tall by 6 feet wide. Place this in the shade near host plants.

Creating a butterfly garden can be fun, educational, rewarding and result in a beautiful, colorful and dynamic garden. There is also the added bonus that you will be creating an environment for many other beneficial animals and insects in the garden such as garter spiders, toads, birds, gardener snakes (don’t be afraid they eat snails!) beneficial wasps, lady bugs, ground beetles, fireflies (whose larvae attack slugs!), lacewings, hover flies (important pollinators), praying mantis and so many more. In a pesticide free environment like this you may find that any insect problems you may have encountered in the past may not be so prevalent. Get yourself a butterfly guide book and an couple of insect guide books and hunt for butterflies and beneficial insect in the garden. It’s great fun for kids and adults!

This is a beautiful little cherry

This is a beautiful little cherry tree with semi-double blossom that starts as pink buds opening to white flowers with pink eyes. The flowers come out before the leaves but don’t open up all at the same time so they remain effective for a 10 to 20 day period in late April to early May.

This cherry is the result of a cross between Prunus subhirtella and Prunus x yedoensis then backcrossed to Prunus subhirtella, both are native to Japan. Prunus subhirtella, commonly known as Higan Cherry, is a long lived cherry and the most cold, heat and stress tolerant of all the cherries. It’s also a fast grower. They have been known to grow in brick hard clay, which of course we have a lot of in Rochester.

As for ‘Hally Jolivette’ other parent, Prunus x yedoensis, it has been described as one of the most beautiful and graceful of the cherries. These can be found flowering in early spring in the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C. and there’s even a Cherry Festival in Macon, Georgia to celebrate these trees planted along the streets. With parents like these ‘Hally Jolivette’ stands out in the landscape as a profuse bloomer, a fast grower (almost 3 feet a year!!) and adaptable to harsher environments such as hot summers, cold winters and dry clay.

You can expect these trees to reach a height of 20 feet with a rounded head and a dense branching habit. They would prefer to be planted in full sun but can tolerate light shade.

Gardening and landscaping at homes where there is clay soil can be a challenge

 There are two easy ways to have a healthy, beautiful and successful landscape. Number one is to consider raised beds, especially for foundation planting, perennial beds and vegetable gardens. By creating raised beds that are just one to one and a half feet above the natural grade of the land you will lift your plants roots out of that standing wet in the spring. Go at least two feet for large shrubs. This will expand the types and varieties of perennials, annuals and shrubs that you will be able to use in the landscape to beautify your home with. Otherwise the second way is to simply plant material that can tolerate the wet clay soil and to prepare the beds properly before planting anything. It’s hard to amend soils and improve their drainage and condition after you have already installed your landscape, doing it before hand will save you time and labor later. The absolute number one best thing you can do for clay soils before planting is to simply amend it with organic matter such as compost. Gypsum can also be added to help with texture and drainage. This will work for small trees, shrub borders, annual beds and perennial gardens. For large trees it’s best just to stick with those that don’t mind living in the clay since because the root system spread out to great distances and you should plant them with at least 75% native soil backfill. The following is a list of plants and trees that do well in moist, clay soils and can tolerate that slow draining wet in the spring.

Personal note: I’ve been gardening in clay ever since I could hold a nasturtium seed and poke it into the ground myself. In general I find that it can take about two years more for perennials, shrubs and trees to really start going when planted in clay. Also, my garden is at least two weeks later then those around us since we are lower lying and collect a lot of puddles all spring and have part shade so the ground doesn’t warm up as quickly. Here I’m mostly talking about my ground level perennial border in shade, my raised beds in full sun warm up quicker and don’t hold puddles. My gardening style has often been trial and error with the clay, though over the years I have found truth in the list below which has been gleaned from several text.

Here’s some more planting ideas that have worked for me: Privet hedge, Quince, Lilac, White Fringe Tree, Peony, Wisteria, Trumpet Vine, Vinca, Crocosmia, Ageratum ‘Blue Horizon’, Dragon Wing Begonia, Impatiens, Biennial Sweet William, Coreopsis ‘Moonbeam’ and ‘Rosea’, Spurge, Mockorange, Perennial Hibiscus, Thrift, Heliopsis, Thyme.

Here is a sad list of those that have languished for about one to two years then refused to come up anymore or I moved them out of the wet clay out of compassion for the poor things: Oriental Poppy, Liriope, Yarrow, Hyacinth, Astrantia, Chrysanthemum, Variegated upright Sedum.

Here are some of my faithful plants that return every spring and are sooooo happy I actually have to beat them back and give portions away to anyone who will take them: Black-Eyed Susan, Daylily, Purple Obedient Plant, Lily-of-Valley, Ajuga, Ferns, Snowdrops, Anaphalis (Dry clay spot), Goose-neck Loosestrife, Siberian Iris.