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Darren's Hortus: Tips & Comments

(updated April 25, 2012) Copyright D&S Productions 

Note: Darren's Hortus describes his experience in an urban residential environment in St. Paul, Minnesota, in sandy-loam & clay soil on fairly high ground.   Your mileage and aesthetic opinions may vary, especially if you have a higher clay content, or more water.  This, like the rest of this website, is a work in progress.  

All of the plants listed here have existed at one time or another in our garden.  Plants that did not survive or that we intentionally eliminated are included and noted.  The majority of the plants listed are currently found in our garden unless otherwise noted.  Planting dates are indicated, so you can tell how many years it has survived under the conditions we have provided it.  At last tally in 2006, I count 225 distinct species of plants mentioned on this list (including the bulbs and annuals).  They are found, or once were found in our garden. 41 plants mentioned here are not currently in the garden.  Notations have been made as to the reasons for their demise or removal.   

Click here for general tips on soil, fertilizers, etc.

Click here to read about our new Circumpolar Rock Garden


Achillea spp. -- Yarrow [Compositae]  This easy plant is available in white, yellow, ochre, pink and pinkish red.  It likes full sun and well-drained infertile soil.  It does not seem to need much water either.  It's a great plant to put in where you don't want to put a lot of work into the soil--like a boulevard on a busy street, a back alley.  Most of the species tend spread through the roots and flopping stems.  Control and division are relatively easy if you keep up with it on a two to five year schedule.  I'm sure it propagates easily by layering or tip cuttings in spring or early summer.  Bend a stem down so it touches the ground, and bury it partially with dirt.  Hold it down with a wire loop or a rock.  The stem will root by the following season, and can be severed from the mother plant and divided.  For winter treatment, cut it back in Fall or Spring and remove dead stems from clump.  They can form choking masses of leaves.  These masses of leaves make effective mulching for fragile bulbs if you plant them at just the right distance from the achillea and divide it regularly so that it doesn't overtake the bulbs.

All Achillea make excellent and easy dried flowers that last as long as you can tolerate the collection of dust on it.  The 'Coronation Gold' is outstanding for this purpose.  White and yellow cultivars seem to produce the best results after drying. More information on assorted Achillea click here.

  • Achillea X 'Paprika'-- Yarrow [Compositae] Leitner's 1994. 2-3'  When it gets too much water and fertilizer it doesn't flower well.  It needs division to flower well also.  2004 it seems to be fading, and in 2008, it seems to have migrated outward toward the very edge of the alley garden where it grows only a few inches tall.
  • Achillea X 'Salmon' 1994 2' Actually, this appears to have been an assorted hybrids that contained a dusty rose colored variety and an ochre colored variety that is interesting and grows quite well with neglect.  2004 it has been vanquished by vigorous monarda incursion thanks to the installation of the soaker hose to our back alley garden.  
  • Achillea X 'Coronation Gold' 1995. It would appear that rabbits like it for nibbling. This one seems to be the least trouble in terms of division and doesn't form dense masses of ferny leaves that smother everything nearby. It is my most recommended of the Achilleas.  After seeing the results of the rabbits nibbling it off, we determined that the plant looks nicer it has been sheared off to about 2" when it's about 3" tall.  It produces more flowers.  Excellent dried flowers that hold their yellow color.  For the botanically correct, this hybrid hasn't produced a single seedling in fifteen years, and has maintained a stable, very formal appearance in fairly sandy, poor, hot soil in our back alley facing south.  It does get water from the soaker hose system, but it doesn't appear to be that critical given normal rainfall here.  The size of the clump reached a peak about five years ago and hasn't increased much since then.  In 2008 (13 years later) it's beginning to show signs of needing to be divided, but I haven't gotten around to it.  2010, this rather ignored beauty is looking fabulous.  

Acontium spp.: The aconitum family are the darkly ominous cousins of the ranunculaceae family. This has two explanations: appearance and chemistry. Bearing a strong family resemblance to its close relative the Delphinium, whose phallic spurs correspond to the vaginal form of the Aconitum, it has a distinctly mysterious or ominous aspect that permeates its beauty. The leaves too are similar, but the Delphiniums tend to be slightly fuzzy and pale in color, while the Aconitum are more delicately incised and usually a bit glossy--especially in bright sun. 

Also, unlike the Delphinium, the Aconites have a large tuberous root that looks like a turnip.  This is probably the greatest danger of the plant--that someone might confuse the root for an edible tuber like a turnip.  The aconitum tuber is one of the most toxic vegetables on the planet.  Other parts of the plant are not nearly so toxic, especially in normal garden interactions.  The number of cases of accidental poisoning from garden aconite are extremely low.  Some people have dermatological reactions to the foliage, but I do not.

More numerous cases of aconite toxicity occur in Asia where herbalists still prescribe it for a variety of ailments.  The Chinese have long used aconite as a yang tonic (it is the most powerful Yang herb) in small doses, but I doubt that this is worthwhile. It is also a common ingredient in homeopathic cold remedies, where it is used in miniscule quantities.  Tinctures made of the root are extremely dangerous--the sort of thing one might use in a murder mystery to assure an agonizing death for Colonel Mustard in the study.  

Beyond these trifling details, the reputation is highly exaggerated.  For many years paranoid Americans feared it.  Aconite is finally making a big comeback in the garden shops.  They are not very dangerous to touch, though they are supposed to be highest in venom right before flowering.  If you get the juice from the stem on your hand, I would imagine that quick rinsing to avoid getting it in your mouth would be in order.  I have not experienced any ill-effects from the sap of the stems and leaves touching my hands, though I do rinse them if I get juice on me.  I even rip up small seedlings with my bare hands.  However, I would not recommend ripping a large juicy plant out of the ground without gloves.  I generally wear gloves or wash my hands quickly after handling. Apparently it is possible to be poisoned by contact with the plant, and there is no known antidote for aconite poisoning. Animals don't have any interest in it.  It's highly unlikely that eating a flower would do more than give you mild stomach cramps.  

Drying or curing decreases the potency considerably, so that dried aconite flowers are not so dangerous.  Nevertheless, aconite poisoning is extremely unpleasant, involving intense pain, convulsions and the like.    The vast majority of aconite poisoning cases occur as a result of herbal Chinese medicine, where it is known as Chaun Wu, Cao Wu, Rhizome Carmichaelii.   From what I can tell, aconite is not a useful herbal drug, in spite of the fact that it is still common in Chinese medicine and homeopathy.  

Don't fear the Aconite! (he says, as a crack of thunder splits the silence, and hideous laughter rings from a distant hilltop.)  In normal perennial garden interactions, it's just not dangerous.  Keep it away from your vegetable garden, where I suppose a  person could confuse the tubers for an edible vegetable.  In spring, the shoots are finely divided so that an unperceptive person might think they are an edible tuber of some other genus.  Rabbits will not bother it.  Alas...

Aconite is lovely, and a must for the Gothic Garden.  With colorful names like "Monkshood,"  "Wolfsbane" and "Venus' Chariot" you know it had to be in many witches brews as a narcotic.   It was used to make a poison for killing wolves, and the Indian species A. ferox produces a substance that has been used for poisoning wells to exterminate entire villages.   If you have a kid who is likely to pull one up by the roots and munch on it, then you should probably have the kid examined for mental disturbances and not worry about gardening for now.  There are a lot of poisonous house plants too.  The Gloriosa Lily and the Castor Bean (source of castor oil) are radically poisonous plants too.  It's funny how the aconite got such a bad rap.  I think it's really because up close the flowers are as erotic as anything Georgia O'Keefe could dream up.  

Give aconitums rich, acidic soil, medium sun, good water, and don't let other perennials crowd them out.  They like shade from trees, but dislike other plants close to them.  I think it's a ventilation issue.  Some varieties will need staking, others are quite stout.  All of them benefit greatly by having some space around them.  Companion plants should definitely be under 12 inches high, or at least 1 1/2 feet away.  

All of them are outstanding as cut and dried flowers.  The dropping petals could be a risk, but as far as I know, nobody has been killed accidentally by monkshood.  I suppose if you have a cat or dog that's dumb enough to eat flower petals, you might want to avoid bringing them into the house (either the animal or the flower--take your pick).  The petals are certainly not one of the more toxic parts of the plant, especially after they dry up and fall off.  I notice that they are again fairly common in flower arrangements now, so florists must not be too afraid of them.  They also dry very well.  Dry them the same way you would use for larkspur and delphiniums.  We have cats, and we do this.  If you are fairly clean about picking up fallen petals, it's just not going to be a problem.  But, if you're one of the less adventurous types, you probably shouldn't have aconite.   I have five different species and cultivars now.  Ba-hah-hah!

Thin the number stalks if they become too crowded.  Provide acidic soil.  Since they like acidic soil and shade, you can grow them below oaks and conifers if they get sufficient water--a tamarack bog would be a very good place for aconite.  Taller aconites seem to be good candidates for tomato cages (tall and narrow).  I am currently experimenting with a couple of plants  under blue spruce along with heathers in our rock garden.   I have had much better luck with Aconites than I have with Delphiniums, which seem to be much more prone to aphid attack, as are the Consolida (Larkspur).  Aconites are very pest-resistant, and they like a bit of shade.

  • Aconitum carmichaeli 'Arendsii' -- Monkshood or Wolfsbane [Ranunculace Leitner's 2001 This is (I feel) the most desirable of the Monkshoods I have seen in the gardening books.  It is new to our garden in 2001, so I'll give updates as it grows.  The flowers are larger, more numerous and close together, and the color is more azure than the others below.  Winter 2002-2003 update: The buds didn't start to appear until September.  I think that the reason was excess shade caused by an overgrown silver maple.  We had the tree severely pruned (limbed up from the bottom), so the garden will get a much larger amount of sun in Spring 2003.  The stalks were about 36" high, which was taller than I expected, but very sturdy for a tall ranunculaceae.  The foliage is also very attractive and sturdy--much more so than a delphinium.  The buds didn't start blooming until right around frost time in October.  The first real frost wilted it a bit, but it kept blooming until about Halloween.  It really was very attractive.  The key issue is growing season length.  The deep blue flowers were also darker than I had expected, but really nice.  Tough, waxy, dark green leaves stayed healthy all the way to frost.   Fall 2004 update: They bloomed a bit earlier this year, giving a nice show from late September until Halloween.  Now that I have seen the 'Arendsii' and the 'Jupiter's Casque' bloom fully, I think I can better describe the form.  The Aconitum napellus has the longest and densest racemes, making it most like a showy, prolific delphinium.  The A. carmichaeli/fischeri have the largest flowers, but the racemes are much shorter and less branched.  I'd say they are about 10" racemes, compared to the 2-3' of the A. napellus.  But, the flowers of the latter are only about 1" long, while those of the former about 2-3".  The shades of blue are definitely remarkable.  Since they bloom so late in the fall with big purple, satin frills, they attract some attention.  You may have to cover them to protect them from freezing rain or early frost.  However, I must say that the A. carmichaeli and fischeri would clearly be happier with another month of autumn warmth because they flower in October.  Minnesota is not the ideal spot for these unless the obviously warming climate here continues.  I wonder if "hothousing" these with a glass cloche starting around March 1st would accelerate things.  
  • Aconitum fischeri 'Jupiter's Casque".  I got in 2003 at the Society of Friends School plant sale. Apparently A. carmichaeli and A. fischeri are the same.  It is a late bloomer also.  In the autumn of 2004 they bloomed for the first time right after the Autumnal Equinox, and have been staying pretty fresh looking through Halloween.  They can tolerate some cold, but I recommend covering them on frosty nights until they finish blooming.  The color of this plant is absolutely stunning.  It is a cultivar of the previous, so read the above entry.  It died during 2004 while we were in Spain.  Lack of water was the culprit.  I haven't seen it since in the nurseries.
  • Aconitum henryi 'Spark's Variety' -- Monkshood or Wolfsbane [Ranunculaceae] Bachman's 1995 The flowers are larger and more beautifully dark blue-purple than A. napellus, (see below), but I suspect it's actually a cultivar of it.  The flowers are suspended out up to 6" from the main stem on wavy horizontal stems, which makes it much more airy than the densely packed A. napellus. 4 to 8 foot stems tend to be almost vine-like.  Ours are in a pretty shady location and they reach 6 feet or more. They must be staked or placed in a tomato cage early in the season, or tied into an adjacent shrub as I do.  I moved them to the front yard to accompany the boreal garden on the North of our house.  This is the third season that I will be playing a prank on unwitting gardeners who pass by.  I placed a nice clump of this about 2 feet to the side and a bit back from a rhododendron bush so that the tall, lanky and flexible stalks can be bent and threaded through the branches and tied inconspicuously with jute twine.  The effect is stunning, as the bush provides a canvas for the blue violet flowers, and the casual look would give the impression that something that looks like a rhododendron is blooming in July with the most unusual color--deep blue-purple!  2010 I need to dig it up and move it out because of the increased size of the rhododendron.  
  • Aconitum napellus -- Leitner's 1994 Much more stout and full-flowered--similar in size and form to a delphinium. Much better as a cut and/or dried flower, but the color is not so pretty as the 'Sparks'. 3-4 feet high. Support with a stake and string is probably advisable, but not so much as the 'Spark's Variety'.  There are also white and bi-color (white and blue) varieties.  I notice that this one and the bicolor version thereof are the most commonly available in the stores.  It is difficult to find other species.
  • Acontintum septentrinale "Ivorine" Linder's 2000. White flowers, shorter in size--about 10-24".  It's leaves are very much like the A. napellus, but the flowers are very different in shape--taller and skinnier.  Very nice, but reseeds itself vigorously.  Cut the dead flower heads off after blooming.  The stems are sturdier than the others, and don't seem to need staking.  That's a plus.  I don't think they form the characteristic turnip tuber either.  I have this in a sunny location among vigorous growth of larkspur and poppies.  It does well there and seems to reseed a bit.  After dividing it, I placed clump of these right up against the sidewalk in the circumpolar garden.  These are really nice plants.  The white flowers are usually gone by July, but it looks great in June, and the foliage is tough for a ranunculaceae. 

Actea rubra -- red baneberry [ranunculaceae] Spring 2004 Friends School plant sale, I think.  Located in boreal garden now in three locations in the circumpolar garden.  A short version of the cimicifuga ramosa with leaves that are a bit more raspberry like.  It is the only member of the ranunculaceae family that produces berries, though the cimicifuga come close.  The berries of actea are poisonous.  I have seen them in the wild in both lime and acidic conditions.  All three of ours are in the boreal/acidic garden.  In 2005, they all survived and expanded a bit.  They also bloomed for the first time.  Of the three I put in different spots, the one that gets the most sun has expanded the most and flowered the best.  They are identified as shade lovers, but I recommend making sure that they do get a bit of direct sun, or bright shade to get the most beautiful plants possible.  I would describe their current best location as getting about 3 hours of direct southern sun until the leaves of my maple come out, but otherwise, it's pretty much bright shade.  My general impression at this point is that they are pretty tough, bug resistant and fairly tolerant of variable water conditions. (mild drought to overwatering)   It is also long-lasting with its beauty.  It does not collapse or get scraggly after blooming, so it would make an excellent alternative to or accompaniment for astilbe.  As of 2008 I have only noted one seedling, and slow growth from the roots.  I expect that without bark mulch they would reseed more.  However, I would say that the clump that was the most pampered for water, but least exposed to light looked rather diminished this season.  [More info and image]

Adiantum pedatum -- Maidenhair Fern 1994, another in 1996. Very light, airy and only about 12-15" high.  They are trouble free here in Minnesota and spread steadily to form beautiful masses. It makes a great companion to early spring bulbs like Crocus and hyacinth because they don't really cover them until early May. Not good for tulips, though, since they bloom later, unless you have taller species that can shoot up through a canopy of airy fern leaves.  This is a highly recommended native to Minnesota, and very tolerant of lime/alkaline as ferns go.  In the wild it seems to prefer limestone soil in moist conditions, and are often found in the presence of early meadow rue (T. dioecum).  I have them with hepatica and thalictrum rochebrunianum.  Our maidenhair ferns reached a size where they needed division after 5-6 years.  They increase much more rapidly after that division, so the clumps need division every 3 years.  In 2008 they continue to expand and look marvelous. The only weakness of this plant is probably its major strength--it spreads too slowly.

Agastache anisata 'Red', aka Stachys foeniculum-- Anise Hyssop-- [Labiatae] (not related to either anise or hyssop, though it does belong to the Labiatae family) Leitner's 1995   This plant is native to most of the Northern half of the North American continent. It's flowers are favored by bees, and its anise flavor makes it a favorite of beekeepers as well, because it makes good honey. I'm puzzled as to why this cultivar is named 'Red', considering that the only color I see on it other than green is lavender. As with other mints, the only trick is to pinch off tops in early summer to encourage branching. Unlike other mints, this one has woody stems and does not appear to spread outward much at all, but I'm sure it could easily be root pruned or divided given a strong, sharp cutting device. Self-seeding is the primary issue with this plant. The growth dies back completely to the crown in WinterNew growth comes from the base, but the old woody stems from last season do not serve any purpose.  Removing flower heads after blooming is strongly advised.  It isn’t difficult to control if you are willing to pull up the plants before they flower again. The maintenance technique we use is this: select a zone for a parent plant, or large plants.  Try to keep the seedlings within a limited perimeter of that plant.  Kill all other plants that appear to be in their third season.  Deadhead as many as possible, and make sure those that drift into new territory are controlled.  Weed by hoe or hand the thousands of tiny ones.  Leave a few in their second season to bloom.  They can make pleasant, skinny surprises amidst other plantings.  Rip them up after blooming.  Above all, limit the number of full grown plants, which can reach six feet in height with multiple flowering branches.  Although these produce the most seed, they rarely live more than 3 seasons.  Difficult to kill by accident, so it will work well for lazy gardeners.

Ajuga reptans -- Bugleweed [Labiatae]  Mom donated a long clump about 15" x 4" in 1994 Sun or shade.  Give it average to rich, well-drained soil. Aggressive 4-10" tall masses look like a cross between catmint and sedum. It spreads horizontally with creepers like Monarda.  You can propagate it by cuttings or divide it anytime. It is somewhat vulnerable to crown rot. Destroy affected plants and dust everything around it with sulfur. Although it does spread, it seems to be easy to train it around other specimens and use it for ground cover as long as you keep an eye on it. Its flowers are beautiful in mid to late spring.  If you are one of those who actually likes to have creeping charlie in your lawn because of the pretty flowers and foliage, Ajuga reptans is also able to compete with lawn grass and handle mowing, and it's considerably denser than creeping charlie.  It has been blending with our lawn for 16 years and I'm only disappointed that it hasn't spread further.  It seems to grow very slowly in competition with grass. 

Akebia quinata -- Chocolate Vine [Lardizabalaceae, distant cousin of ranculaceaePlanted in Summer of 2003, nursery name forgotten, but it's a small shop on South Lyndale where it cuts over and turns into one way briefly before crossing 494.  oooh! is this one ever cool.  It survived the winter of 2003-2004 with no die-back on the woody runner, which grew to 4 feet in length the first year.  It's the end of April, and the shoots are leafing out, giving signs that it will grow very rapidly this year.  It was slow getting going after planting, and it blooms earlier than when I planted it, so I haven't seen it bloom yet, but it looks very hardy.  The leaves are pretty--like waxy versions of a chleome, and the flowers are absolutely bizarre in a cute way.  In warmer climates it's supposed to produce a delicious fruit.  In warmer climates it can also be invasive.  It's a big problem along the Atlantic seaboard.  I'm going to keep a close eye on it as it covers an ugly chain link fence.  By keeping a single plant, it's supposed to be very difficult to get it to set any fruit.  Spring 2005: somebody accidentally snipped off last year's growth while doing spring garden cleaning.   Not to worry.  New runners were shooting up the fence within two weeks.  Spring 2006: it is flowering for the first time.  There are a lot of flowers, but unfortunately the weather has been wet and cold so we haven't been able to enjoy the fragrance.  The clusters of flowers are really interesting--male and female flowers are together like planets around a sun.  The female flowers are the more interesting.  Intelligent pruning will allow the flowers to show if you take advantage of its talent.  I have mine trained horizontally on a chain link fence across the top bar, which allows the flowers to dangle below the line of the leaves in a cute lavender chain.  Because the new shoots tend to grow quickly upward, it requires a lot of vigilant pruning to prevent it from grasping and smothering nearby lilies, bushes, etc.  In order to sustain its vertical aspirations the zealous akebia shoots will collaborate in twisted clusters to provide themselves support.  Beginning in Spring 2007 I have taken to more vigorous pruning beginning in May.  So far I see no ill effects, and it looks excellent.  This season it was absolutely covered with flowers.  Since it is evident that this plant is a rampant invader in warmer climates, caution is advised, but here in Minnesota it appears incapable of producing fruit, and I have had no difficulty keeping it from rooting stems or suckers.  The main advice I have for using it in garden conditions is to be prepared to prune it a lot.  Spring 2008 I see three seedlings in the garden that would have to have come from new growth extensions from the woody base that defines its limits.  At the beginning of June 08 and 10, the old wood is rather slow to send out new growth.  The winter of 08 was moderately cold, but long, and the Spring was quite cold.  The winter of 10 was fairly mild, decent snow cover and an early spring with many plants triggered early.  It could be the climate.  I thought it might be pruning, but I have really cut back on pruning it--especially since it is so diminished now in 2010.  New shoots are coming out all over, but the old wood is just not vigorous.  I didn't see any blooms in 2010, and the plant seems to be recovering, but I'm just not impressed with it. [click here for info and pictures]

Alchemilla mollis -- Lady's Mantle [Rosaceae] 1995 Give it sun or shade. Protecting it from the sun in hotter zones. It prefers a rich, moist soil. Divide in spring or fall. Plants supposedly reseed, but I have seen only a few.  The spreading appears to occur along rhizomes.  It's really easy to grow and has very attractive foliage.  The flowers are not especially interesting.  It would be ideal around spring bulbs in deciduous shade that can be smothered after blooming.  Spring maintenance involves trimming back the dead leaves to tidy it up in April.   It grows more horizontally than vertically.  It's probably about 5-10" high.  After ten years, they are each about two feet in diameter at the base, and they spread to form masses of leaves about 40" in diameter.  I have not done anything to them since I planted them.  It looks like I could cut out some smaller satellite clumps it has formed, but I'm going to leave them there this year.  One of the special gifts of this plant is the way it holds drops of water on its leaves.  It is enchanting after a heavy dew on a bright morning.  This is a wonderful, anchoring plant, and it only takes about 3-4 years to get a sizable specimen.  I also think that this would be a good plant around which to plant small spring bulbs (snow crocus, chionodoxa, small fritillarias).  The leaves will provide a nice mulch.  In 2007, an amazing 12 years later, this original pair of plants has produced a small number of additional plants, and expanded in a very reasonable fashion.  I think that this plant deserves high marks for low maintenance.  

Amorpha canescens  Leadplant [Fabaceae] Spring 2004.  The foliage of this plant is really quite pretty--they are small and divided like many Fabaceaes, and they are furry, wrinkly and faintly lavender.  It is supposed to grow in really sandy, infertile soil.  We put one in our "boulevard bed" next to the street, and the other in the Circumpolar garden.  I now (May 2008) have four years to think about it.  Spring 2005: I read more about the plant and got the idea that it was too large and assertive for the area in which it was placed, so I moved it out to the boulevard bed with the other.   I dug it up and got a look at the roots.  It has fleshy roots that grow downwards.  It is allegedly "deep-rooted" which in my book means that you better make sure that you want it.  I like what I hear about it and the images are impressive, but it needs to be in the controlled conditions of the boulevard. In its fourth Spring, the Leadplant is obviously putting its energy into growth underground, which is fitting of its Saturnian appellation.   The young woody stem is quite small--looking rather like a year-old seedling from a tree that you ought to pull out before it becomes a nuisance.  Spring shoots aren't really apparent until well into May.  If you want to keep from killing it in the Spring, you'll probably want to mark it well.  In Spring 2008 the woody stems are only about 10"-12" long.  It looks implausibly small.  By mid-May, the growth of the beautiful leguminous leaves impressively accelerates in such a way that it seems impossible for such a flimsy stem.  Apparently, it grows back primarily from the crown and not much from the old stems, and this is in spite of being pretty much buried beneath a layer of snow-plow wake and shoveled, packed snow.  Unfortunately, it's a pretty floppy plant at this point, but after four years, I sense that it is still young.  I am experimenting now with light gauge aluminum bonsai wire to keep the stems from lying on the ground.  Using an 18" length of bonsai wire I created a custom splint-support anchored in the soil.  This works, but the branches are also drooping, so I will need a second wire for each plant. However, it is evident that this helps the plants get more light.  So, the most significant features to keep in mind are that it is very slow to grow, and in need of support.   [more info and image]

Andromeda polifolia 'Blue Ice'   [Ericaceae or Empetraceae]  Bog Rosemary. Fall 2002 Rice Creek Gardens.  Placed in the rock garden.  Pink, bell shaped flowers on a plant that does look a bit like rosemary.  It gets about 12" high and 15" around and has steely blue foliage for winter.    The blooms are subtle and cute, yet very visible.   This plant has recently been adopted into the English Heather Society.   Nice description and images , and here too.   Now that we've seen it bloom in May of 2003, this one gets high marks.  It's very short, which is what we want, and the flowers are really cute.  May 2006 starting last year just before blooming a quick and virulent blight attacked about 2/3 of the shoots--perhaps the effects of dog urine, because this is near a sidewalk.  The remainder bloomed nicely, and the plant seemed to recover.   Later, both plants looked fine, but the new one finally died. In retrospect, I suspect one of these causes for this failure: excessive sun, garden sulfur, animal urine (probably cat), fungus.  That's a few too many variables, and the attractive appearance I described above is only possible with happy plants, and this one is way too expensive to treat as an annual.  In a last ditch effort, I moved it to the Northeast corner of the garden where it will get only morning sun during spring and summer.  After a week, it looked better than it did.  In May 2008 it looks great.  So far, no signs of fungus or dog pee.

Anemone spp. [Ranunculaceae] This large family of attractive and varied flowers includes some of the most beautiful members of the Ranunculaceae family.  Most of them are easy to grow given the right soil and water conditions.  There is quite a bit of variability among them in this regard.  As far as I can tell, they are easy to divide and transplant.  Some of them reseed easily, while others depend more on spreading through the roots.  The smallest species are best in rock gardens, and the larger ones can thrive even among vigorous meadow plants.  

  • Anemone coronaria 'De Caen hybrids' -- Poppy flowered Anemone Linder's 1996 Sun or light shade. Rich, evenly moist, well-drained soil. Plant tubers after soaking overnight. The colors on these are unmatched in the entire flower kingdom. Although they are like Papaver Rhoeas or P. Somniferum, the deep, vivid, opalescent colors of the Anemone make the poppy colors look like muted pastels.  We have some difficulty with these tuberous anemones.  They definitely need well-drained soil, so avoid using plastic pots.  They don't appear to like to be crowded by other plants.  They seem happier when stuck directly into the ground.  Given the warm winters we have had, these garish zone 5 show-offs might actually survive several seasons.  Extensive growth instructions available here.  
  • Anemone X hupehensis 'Honorine Jobert' -- Japanese Anemone Linder's 2002 in rock garden.  Sun or light shade. Rich, evenly moist, well-drained soil. Spreads by underground stems to form clumps. New species with white irregular flowers that bloom in September.  When in bloom, it is covered with flowers in airy masses about 30-40" above the ground. See next entry for more info the cultivar we know better.  
  • Anemone X hupehensis 'September Charm' -- Japanese Anemone Leitner's 1995 Sun or light shade. Rich, evenly moist, well-drained soil. Spreads by underground stems to form clumps.  It took six years for ours to get to the point that we noticed it was spreading like that. The plant in our main bed, with alkaline-neutral soil lived for eight years but vanished in the cold, dry winter of 2003.  The two in our boreal garden also succumbed to the nasty weather. It benefits from some mulch for winter. Once it takes hold, it is fairly aggressive, spreading 3-5 feet away from the main plant.  You will need to dig out those underground runners.  Use them to propagate by root cuttings.  Divide it after flowering in late fall.  Supposedly it grows from seed too, though only a few seedlings are evident in my garden. It emerges fairly early in spring (tulip time) with little leaves that look like grape leaves.  This is an absolute must for September-October flowers in Minnesota, the pink flowers have irregular, large petals that give it a whimsical look.  When in bloom, it is covered with flowers in airy masses about 30-40" above the ground, and it does so right up to the first frost.  Click here to see a picture.
  • Anemone lesseri -- Grecian Windflower Rice Creek 1995. Cute, brightly colored pink anemone. It's about 6" tall.  The birds pick leaves off of it and just leave them. Do they dislike it? Seems quite easy to please if the birds would leave it be. Tiny, red and delicate, with interesting seed heads. Texture and form are similar to pasque flowers, though quite a bit smaller, and blooming about four weeks later. In 1999 it was finally vanquished by a vigorous growth of echinacea and rudbeckia. It would grow well in a rock garden or small specimen garden.  I have also observed avian attacks on my Anemone pulsatilla.
  • Anemone pulsatilla -- Pasque Flower  No longer considered a member of the genus, it's now known as Pulsatilla vulgaris, which is where you should look too.
  • Anemone sylvestris -- Snowdrop Anemone  1995, 2002 Grow in partial shade in rich, loose, evenly moist acidic soil for best results. Some sun is clearly beneficial. Moist, humus-rich soil. Spreads by creeping rhizomes, which need to be dug out periodically to prevent it from taking over. It is a beautiful, lambent white flower that blooms in late spring and repeatedly throughout the summer if it's happy.  Ours started on the East side of the raised bed--along with a Max Frei Geranium. Neither did well, although they were clearly alive and not diseased. I moved the anemone to the south, sunny end of the raised bed. It reciprocated with a profuse display of beautiful white flowers. It too looks somewhat like the pasque flower, blooming about three weeks later.  Two years after moving it to this raised bed, it mysteriously disappeared.  I guess that it was overcome by columbines that dominate the area.   A few years later, I put one in the boreal garden where it gets acidic soil.  Within a year it was clear that it was very happy.  In its third spring, my opinion is changing.  The rhizomes are about 4-6" underground and spread two feet from the original location, sprouting new plants every 6" or so.  To maintain this plant in its current situation require a buried pot to control the spread.  That and meticulous deadheading.  However, if you want an attractive plant about 1 foot tall that will fill in a large area of rich, acidic soil in part shade, then this one is a good choice.  Clay will, according to some sources, slow down its spread.  In terms of aggressiveness, this plant rates above such thugs as daylilies, snow-on-the-mountain, etc.  click for image and info.  In Summer of 2005 I decided that it was doing too well for its location, and would compete with the Wintergreen that is thriving in the same area.  I killed it because nobody wanted it.  Still, this is a marvelous plant if you have the space for it, or at least the diligence to control and deadhead.
  • Anemonella thalictroides -- 1998. Partial shade, woodland plant. See above.  You have to love the name, which means something like: "anemone-like pseudothalictrum."  Clearly, they weren't sure what to call this most lovely of the smaller anemones and thalictrums.  It self-seeds, and is positively adorable. Purple or white flowers. Ours is purple.  It tripled in size in one year. Long blooming too! (looks like hepatica flowers, but tiny thalictrum like leaves.)  Very highly recommended.  I can't see any special needs or problems yet.  I predict that it will start to spread by seed eventually.  It's native to this area, so you don't have to feel un-pc about growing it.
  • Anemonella thalictroides ' double-flower' white cultivar from Rice Creek Gardens 2003.  This small shade lover is absolutely gorgeous.  The heavily-petaled flowers are white, about 3/4" across and last for a long time--mostly because it continues to produce more.  Highly, highly recommended.  in 2006 it has increased at least 4x its original size.  Absolutely wonderful. 
  • Anemonella thalictroides 'double flower purple' cultivar.  Friends Plant Sale 2005.  This is an expensive exotic.  It was so small and fragile looking when I bought it--I'd guess that it was a second season seedling when I got it.  In 2006 it increased in size, but not really any increase in the number of shoots, however, it is in a fairly shady spot that gets bright shade without ever having direct sun during winter.  This one seems rather delicate compared to the others. In May 2008 it has five beautiful flowers on its delicate stems.  I recommend placing protection around it to prevent hose damage.

Anthemis tinctoria ‘Kelwayi’ (dark yellow)-- Yellow Chamomile [asteraceae] This plant is much prettier than German chamomile, but no good for tea. Leitner's 1995. I planted a dense one gallon pot clump. It spread nicely--about like an achillea. Blooms midsummer to early fall. Good cut flower. Likes hot, dry, sandy spots. May need staking or caging. Divide frequently and remove dead centers. Dead heading is beneficial, prevents reseeding. It has a nicely aromatic foliage. The all-yellow flowers have handsome short petals and pillow-like centers. Ours was exceedingly floriferous for a couple years. It tends to spread, die out in its old center of growth, and demand that you dig up its satellites, and place them back in the old central core. After 3 years, ours appears to have nearly disappeared.  (Ten years later there isn't a single stalk of it anymore). Apparently, a very temporary plant, or one that demands frequent division.   I lost interest in it at about the same time I realized that I just don't give a shit for daisies, even if they are bright yellow.

Aquilegia spp. -- Columbines [Ranunculacea] Give them sun or shade, but they prefer half shade. According to most sources, they also relish chalky, alkaline to neutral soil.  That makes them perfect for Minneapolis metro area gardens.  My observation is that they do nicely in acidic conditions too.  Taller varieties need support and shelter from wind.  Sow seed in May and transplant in September or the following spring.  

Common knowledge says that because of their taproots they don't like to be divided or moved.  Because of the rather unpredictable and prolific nature of the genus, following this rule can result in severe horticultural dilemmas.  Because they are such nice plants, I can't bear to kill them--though I have been killing some.  Because they tend to reseed in all the wrong places, it's inevitable that you will want to move some.  My field observations indicate that with deep digging and just a little care, they can be moved, but definitely not divided.   For transplanting a columbine out of the ground, best results are obtained with plants that are in their second season or earlier, though young seedlings in spring are best left to mature until Autumn.  Mature plants, which can often be quite large, can be moved, but they should be placed in a shady, moist intensive care regimen until they stabilize before planting in a sunny location. I have seen A. canadensis that reach almost four feet and spread out three foot diameter.   The taproots on these kinds of plants should definitely not be disturbed.  Don't move a big one unless you are willing to lose it.  Don't even think about dividing one.  It won't work.  

If you are moving one, here is my routine: after digging, it should be placed in a pot deep enough to accommodate the taproot in a fairly vertical position, and watered heavily until it recovers.  What usually happens is that the central blooming stalk will collapse, especially if they are in bright sunlight or lacking water.  If you can put it directly into the ground, make sure that you can provide some sun protection for a week, and water it pretty freely.  My preferred trick is to move them into shadier locations, until they seem to recover.  Shadier locations are actually nice places for planting columbines because they are less dense and reseed less.   During a transplant, if the central stalk withers away, but it looks like the lower leaves are still alive, don't give up hope.  It will probably survive unless it is already an elderly plant, which leads us to the major flaw of the columbine: they tend to live about five years, and then come back smaller and smaller for a couple of years, and then they disappear.  I have not had any trouble re-planting columbines that were potted up for a couple of weeks to see which ones survived.  If they survive those first two weeks, they will almost certainly survive replanting, given they are watered.

Hybrids are the shortest lived.  Don't be surprised if an exotic hybrid only lives one or two seasons.  But, this interesting phenomenon is quite possible to create and view for yourself by taking advantage of the columbine's penchant for promiscuous cross-pollination.  If you have several species near to each other, you are bound to get some interesting combinations.  As my gardening tastes have matured, this particular trait has endeared me to these even more.  For better or worse, they are also vigorous reseeders that benefit greatly from deadheading.  

Rabbits and mice eat the seedlings and young shoots in spite of being poison to humans.  Many people think these are called "honeysuckle bushes" and claim that they drink the sweet nectar from the interesting flowers.  Since the seeds are indeed poisonous, I think this isn't very advisable.  They are not honeysuckle, and they are not bushes, but rather a herbaceous relative of the thalictrum and monkshood.  Plants in the Ranunculaceae family are nearly all poisonous (except for Goldenseal and the miracle herb Nigella/Charnuska).   

Most species require constant maintenance to control leaf miners.  Simply pull off affected leaves and dispose of them in your trash.  They are also susceptible to crown rot.  The stems are most prone to rot as they near the end of their bloom period.  You can cut these stems clear down to the ground, completely stripping the plant after blooming.  It will not harm them at all, and encourages new growth, prevents fungal rot, makes room for other flowers, etc. This reminds me--in the case of really large plants, I recommend hacking off a good number of leaves to allow light in and facilitate weed removal.  Controlling the horizontal spread does not seem to harm the plants, especially if you use the opportunity to weed around them.

Deadheading spent flowers during the bloom will extend the bloom period.  Flowers that come after the initial flush of blooms will be smaller.  As you deadhead, keep in mind whether you want a plant to reseed and how many you want.  Leave a few seed pods to ripen.  To keep them tidy after they start going to seed, remove the flowers, then start shortening the stems.  Watch for tiny new buds extending from growth nodes, and cut the stems above that point.  These final blooms will occur closer and closer to the ground as you cut the lanky stems back along with them.  When all the blooms are gone, you can take the entire stalk all the way down to the ground, leaving the ring of leaves extending like parsley from the core.  I used to have a really nice red McKana hybrid that lived for about nine years, and that thing would produce blooms in a seemingly endless sequence from May through July.  The problem was that it just couldn't stand up without stakes.  

It is normal for most species to decline after blooming.  In most cases, they will return the following year without difficulty, so it is best to cut away anything that looks bad.  If you like the foliage effect of the columbine, I suggest using Thalictrum aquilegiafolium instead.  Their leaves are vastly more durable and beautiful.  The Semiquilegia is quite a bit smaller, but it appears to be a lot more rugged.  Among the various species and hybrids, the easiest to grow and the most sturdy is the 'Nora Barlow.'  The A. canadensis is also easy, but can become a real mess of leaf miner tunnels.  

They are easy to grow, but require vigilance to keep them looking nice, and prevent them from taking over the garden.  They bloom from late May through June.  Try a variety of species and cultivars to see which does best in your conditions.  They vary quite a lot, and the same plant can vary considerably from one year to the next.  

  • Aquilegia alpina aka Aquilegia montana -- alpine columbine seeds brought back from New Hampshire and planted in Spring of 2003.  They flowered in Spring 2004.  They are very pretty, and so far seem to be very pest resistant.  We thought these were going to be A. caerulea, but the lack of white color and the short curved spurs told me it was the alpine variety.  They are very nice, and they stay well below 2 feet, which is a big plus in this genus.  In 2006 the seeds I spread in 2005 have matured and the dense bed on our boulevard was full of them.  During the bloom, this beautiful, deep blue-purple flower was absolutely arresting.  In 2008, the number of these was greatly reduced.  I had deadheaded pretty heavily in 2007.  I will not deadhead them at all this year.
  • Aquilegia canadensis -- "" (came with house--extricated from a mass of grass in the West raised bed with about 4" of soil. It survived and did marvelously the following year.) It reseeds easily. Deadheading is effective at prolonging the bloom for about 5 weeks! These seem to be long-lived and vigorous growers. I have seen specimens 30" around and well over 36" high. Care as described above. They flower in mid-May, and with deadheading, can have flowers well into June.  I am especially pleased with the specific genetics of our plant.  They seem to last about five years. Spring 2005: These columbines are doing a bit too well.  A few years ago I went about sprinkling seeds around, and now they're full size and crowding things out.  I still like them, but I'm having second thoughts about letting them get around too much so I have pulled out about a dozen or so to give room for other plants.  Click here to see an image.
  • Aquilegia X 'Dragonfly Similar to McKana below but the colors are assorted. I suspected it would be a short-lived plant, and I was very right.  This is not a very stalwart species.  They are showy for the season.
  • (Semi)aquilegia Ecalcarata [Ranunculaceae] Rice Creek Gardens Fall 2002.  This incredible little rock garden gem has rose-wine colored spurless flowers, otherwise, it's just like an alpine columbine.  Look at this lovely picture.  There is some debate as to whether or not it's actually just an aquilegia. This seems an odd argument.  It's obviously a very close relative.  As near as I can tell after six growing seasons, the Semiquilegia is immune to most of the problems that plague the larger leaved Aquilegias.  It is only about 3" high in its leaves, but a mature plant sends up the lovely flowers about 10" high.  The sellers on the 'net list it as hardy to zone 6, but one can safely assume that if Rice Creek sells it, it's going to be hardy in Zone 4.  I have both specimens in a fairly sunny north exposure in fertile, acidic soil.  They both thrived for a season, and then succumbed to crown rot, or something like that, vanishing almost without a trace.  I expect to see some seedlings, though.  However, unlike other columbines, known for their interspecies promiscuity, this one will not hybridize with other columbines.  It is native to central China and Tibet, which fits nicely into my design requirements.  Spring 2006 the seeds I sprinkles about are evident now, and doing quite well.  However, there are no plants more than 2 years old.  Therefore, my advice is to be certain to plant some of the seeds in situ to assure their survival.  In spite of the short lifespan, I still recommend them strongly.  They are tough for those two years, and that counts for a lot.
  • Aquilegia Flabelata 'Mini-Star'--Columbine (White and Blue)  Leitner's 1994. Reseeds easily, compact, well behaved, beautiful in may, then the foliage is a pleasant ground cover. It seems to be more resistant to leaf miners and has a glaucus color and texture similar to Thalictrum Glaucum. Only 6"-12" high with short, chubby white flowers held barely above the foliage. The spurs are short and curled inward. Long lived, but sensitive to crowding. Flowers in early May.  The white ones are really showy and lush.  In a good year they can grow to be about two feet tall.  They are a lot tidier and more formal in appearance than the A. canadensis or even the McKana hybrids.  Twelve years later, I noticed that only one of the blue and one of the white have survived in the yard.  In other words, they have faded over time.
  • Aquilegia X 'McKana' (Red & Yellow)  Care as above. Tall, vigorous plant. Our specimen was planted in May of 1992 and appears to be strong as of May 2000.  Vanished in 2001, but it reappeared in several new places in the garden.  Considering that it lasted 9 years with an extremely long bloom period for a columbine, this one gets my highest rating of the spurred hybrids.
  • Aquilegia X 'Nora Barlow'  Another tall, vigorous plant.  We planted it in 1996 in a sunny spot and it did very well. In fact, it has reseeded all over the yard, and provides a nice show in late May. The bloom period is short.  The flowers on these are porcupine or hedgehog pointed doubles that are colored almost like a candy cane. They also lack the trailing spines so common to columbines, making these highly unusual members of the family. It is an excellent cutting flower and foliage. Other columbines have not been effective cutting flowers. Very pretty when in bloom. The flowers grow in tighter clusters on very erect, close, long stems, giving them a very different appearance from the others in the genus, which tend to produce a more chaotic cloud of flowers.  Nora Barlow has a tendency to look like a display of pinwheel peppermint lollypops in a candy store.  
  • Aquilegia viridiflora 'Chocolate Soldier'  2005 Friends School Plant Sale.  The foliage is nice, and the plants are much more compact than the A. canadensis, and even shorter than the small species like A. flabelata.  May 2008, it's blooming nicely, but it is quite petite as columbines go, at less than a foot high.  I was hoping for a bit more height, but given three really solid seasons, I am pleased.  It's really tough--even takes road salt.  Further, the bloom time is long, starting earlier than most columbines, and extending into the peak columbine season.  Ideal for rock gardens.  If you can find a place where this low grower can be seen, then I highly recommend it.  [click for info and image]
  • Aquilegia vulgaris 'Granny's Bonnet' ? 1995 Care as above. Vigorous grower. In form it has the vigorous growth of the A. Canadense and the short flower stems of the flabellata. The flowers are a curious dusty rose double similar to the flabellata as well. Some flowers seem to hide in the foliage though. Nice, but not as sturdy as others.  Spring 2005 currently there are none of these in the garden.  

Arctostaphylos uva-ursi 'Massachusetts'-- Bearberry, Uva Ursi [ericaceae or empetraceae] Fall 2002.  This low growing shrub will spread across dry, sandy or gravel soil on hillsides, even with some salt spray, so long as it has acidic conditions.  It likes sun, but will take some shade, which makes it an excellent candidate around evergreens and oak trees where growing grass is out of the question.  The berries are edible and medicinal, though not especially nutritious or tasty.  The berries endure to Spring, making them important for late winter forage for birds and some mammals.  Lots of information available at US Forestry Service.  One plant in a gallon pot exploded with runners in two years so that it now covers about 6-8 square feet.  Its seeds need fire to open, then cold stratification, so it's not likely to reseed in the average yard.  The USFS recommends it for erosion control, and notes that it is an important plant for recovery after fire.  Being a member of the family of ericaceae, it has the attractive, pale, bell-shaped flowers similar to those of blueberry, but smaller and less showy although they are a bit more colorful.  In structure, it's vaguely similar to the vaccinium, but much more prostrate, with darker, waxier leaves on long, running stems.  I really like it, and have seen no problems other than the speed at which it grows.  Maintenance obviously involves assiduous pruning of the fast growing runners.  In Spring 2006 it has a significant show of flowers for the first time.  Apparently it flowers only on older stems--perhaps even three seasons old.  I estimate that it has some runners that are about 7 feet long.   Spring 2007 we had a tough early Spring for ericaceous plants.  Early warmth teased them into bloom and new growth, but a hard freeze of several weeks had a harsh effect on this and other similar plants.  There was a lot of singed brown foliage, and then some die-back.  I think it's going to be okay, but it is evidently not happy.  The winter of 2007-2008 was similar.  Clearly, this plant should have some light winter cover through the months of March and April.

Arisaema triphyllum -- wild Jack-in-the-Pulpit [Araceae--Arum family] (about 5 of them were given to me by a friend '94) Easy to grow. Plant the ripe seeds in the fall. When these pop out of the ground in mid-may, they have a radically reptilian appearance. I have a large one that grows right out of the leaves of a Thalictrum aquilegiafolium.  The neatest thing about these peculiar beauties is that they occupy relatively little ground area, and their horizontal spread takes place largely above 20" over the soil.  That means you can interplant them with shorter woodland specimens like anemonella thalictroides or any of the small species of thalictrum.  Sweet Woodruff, Vinca Vine, Hostas, Canadian Ginger, European Ginger, Epimedium are just a few amicable companions that come to my mind. The second coolest thing about them is that the seed clusters that follow the flowers are almost as lovely as the flowers, and they're a nice scarlet color, and look a bit like a giant raspberry pointing upward. The third coolest thing about the Jack-in-the-Pulpit is that when you put them side-by-side with such tropical specimens as Peace Lily or Calla Lilies (to which the flowers bear some resemblance), you realize that Arisaema Triphyllum is more stunning.  The palate of greens and reddish browns that adorn them like strange lizards places them at the top of my list for the Gothic Garden.  

This hardy shade plant prefers moist, rich, humus-rich soil--peat and leaf mold.  However, I am pretty sure that it's harder to kill them than it is to keep them.  Propagate by seed--collect red berries in fall, remove pulp, and sow outdoors right away. They will easily and freely self-seed, so it's best to take control of this.  Seedlings have one leaf set the first year and take 2-4 years to mature to flowering size.  They grow into rather large bulbs or corms like a gladiola.  In my experience, they are very easy to transplant.  Even if something happens to them during the season, they will be fine the following year.  Plant them nice and deep--like 4-6" because the only enemy they seem to have is frost heaving.  Since they like to be deep, you are avoiding problems by getting them down that far.  Even after heaving, and being quite exposed to the Minnesota elements, I've seen them survive winter if you plant them before they thaw and rot.   The corm, which looks like a gladiola, grows with the roots coming out of the top. Plants normally die back before summer ends and emerge in mid to late May.  This seems to be most common with younger plants and those that succumb to bugs. Age seems to lend durability to the plants along with size.    You'll want to look at them up close, so plant them in raised beds, next to paths, etc.  

Highly recommended for woodland gardens.  Click here to see a series of four images of the plant.

Aronia arbutifolia 'Brilliant' aka 'Brillantissima -- Red Chokeberry [Rosaceae] Spring 2006 from the Friends School Plant Sale.  This attractive shrub turns quite red in the fall, and the berries, like a Highbush Cranberry (Viburnum) stay on through the winter.  The specimen I bought had a few berries still on it in mid-May, and is sporting a prodigious quantity of buds.  The leaves are still quite small.  It is about 3 feet tall now, and has a nice shape at the base.  It's destined for the West side of the garage.  Spring 2007 it is very dead.  I am pretty sure that the cold winter got it before the nasty spring would have burned it.  I replaced it with Sambucus nigra 'Black Lace', which is thriving there now in 2008.  Nevertheless, this is a beautiful bush, especially for its Autumn colors.  Grow it if you can because it's too cold here.

Aruncus sylvester -- Goatsbeard [Rosaceae] 1995  Partial shade, moist, humus-rich soil. Stout roots can be cut with a sharp knife for control or propagation--leave one eye or bud per division.  Do not move them after planting. One source recommended cutting it back hard in fall at the slightest sign of withering.  I have never done that.  I just leave them up for the winter because a male plant will not bear seeds.  Spider mites may take advantage of a dry plant, so keep it moist.  Given adequate (not a lot) of moisture, this one is very easy.  It is an excellent architectural plant that creates nice height.  Be sure to give it some support, like a high peony cage.  Although it is herbaceous (it dies back to the ground every year), its size is comparable to a medium size bush, so give it plenty of room.  I estimate that this one takes up about 12 square feet of ground area in full growth, and only about 1-2 square feet at the ground.  So, you can plant it with fritilaria, crocus, hepatica, haquetia epipactis, or other plants that won't mind being somewhat covered up by June.  I have a variegated hosta and some primrose along with Hacquetia epipactis and a clump of Thalictrum aquiliegiafolium and a clump of Thalictrum rochebrunianum in a railroad tie raised bed, with Lady's Mantle across the front at the ground level to hide the ties.   The Hacquetia is spilling out and into my yard, where I plan to let it become a ground cover.  This arrangement is located on the south side of our house, shaded on the west by our deck, and about 10 feet north by northwest of a 40' silver maple.  Overall, this spot is shady.  It gets a pretty good amount of early spring sun before noon.  Once the leaves are out, it gets only filtered light.  It took the plant three seasons to settle in to its home.  Seven years later, it's gorgeous, and thirteen years later, it is still getting slowly larger.  It reaches about six feet.  Since it's a male plant, it doesn't reseed.  It has spread outward less than it has grown upward and more full.  If you have a similar tricky spot in tree shade, but you can make sure that it doesn't dry out, give this one a try if you're brave enough to forgo the dull and unimaginative arborvitae.  

Asclepias syriaca -- Milkweed (the common, wild variety of the Midwest). [Asclepiadacea] This came to the yard on an airborne seed. It was new, and I was curious and naive. I let it grow, and in its second year it seduced me with its lovely, intensely fragrant flowers. By the third year I realized it was taking over the garden, so I started taking some out. The following year it seemed to seek revenge by spreading more distantly and aggressively. This is a truly nasty plant for the urban garden. It's fine for a large meadow, but if you want less vigorous plants to survive near these stout, towering beastly beauties, you better put it in a tight pot in the ground. It spreads underground on rhyzomes or stolons--not sure, because they are so large and thick. The problem is that the travel fast and deep, both horizontally, and vertically if allowed to settle in. After three seasons of vigorous eradication efforts, I have still not succeeded in ridding this bed of the plant. Beware.

Asclepias tuberosa -- Butterfly Weed or Milkweed (not the Swamp Milkweed eaten by Monarch caterpillars) [Asclepiadaceae] Full sun in sandy, loamy, average soil. Remove unwanted shoots as they appear, as the plant can be invasive. Very late to emerge in the spring. You will think it didn't make it, and you'll probably not notice it until it's almost a foot tall, and then you can easily mistake it for a weed.  Be sure to mark it and get to know what its foliage looks like.  Somehow it manages to survive and then surprise me with its candy orange flowers.  The foliage isn't much to shout about, but it is de rigeur for northern prairie and meadows.  This native plant is one that Minnesotans (and I) ought to be more proud of.  For creating an urban cottage garden like ours, plant a couple in widely separated parts of your garden, and let them do their thing amidst other plants.   Because this plant has a deep taproot, you cannot move it after it establishes.  However, that makes controlling it easier.  Interestingly, this rather stunning and exotic native Minnesotan beauty is a relative of the Hoya plant.  One look at the flowers of each will prove the case.  However, no Hoya ever produced such an intensely orange flower.  On the other hand, no Butterfly Weed ever produced flowers that smell exactly like Hostess Ho-Ho's.  Click here to see an image.

Asperula odorata or Galium odoratum -- Sweet Woodruff, Bedstraw [Rubiaceae] (also apparently genus Galium) Leitner's 1995 Shade, even moisture, average soil. Propagate by stem cuttings in early summer (remove flower heads first). Pleasingly aggressive grower and spreader that appears to be fairly easy to control. So far I can’t say enough good about it. Thin it in early spring and fall. This evergreen plant spreads even under snow. It did not survive in the raised woodland bed (neither did Brunera macrophyla) It is fairly sensitive to cold and freezing rain in early spring. Leave the evergreen plants covered until about April. If they are killed back to the ground, they will return, but if it is sheltered, its evergreen leaves will survive even a Minnesota winter. I recommend uncovering it in very early March so that it CAN be killed back to the ground, and not hide small flowers of spring bulbs. Or, sheer it back aggressively (by mowing) in the late fall. They make an ideal groundcover around spring bulbs because the roots are very shallow.  If you pull back the creeping stems and roots around other plants, it can be planted with other less vigorous companion plants if you pull back the runners from around those plants.  It looks great with all of them.  It responds well to mowing, and is a great substitute for grass in tough, shady locations.  Click here to see an image.

Aster ericoides Heath Aster, Goodbye-to-Summer [asteraceae] Spring 2004 initially placed in our circumpolar garden.  This white aster grows 2-3 feet tall, and looks weedy like most native asters.  It was tall and lanky last year when I planted it.  In 2005, I pinched it off in mid-May to see if that helps make it bushier.  That didn't seem to have any effect, so I nipped it off again in mid-June, and that definitely made it bush out, but it's still too lanky.  I bet the soil is too rich and damp for it. Spring 2006 I demoted it from its location to a more secluded spot where I can tie it up easier.  It's just too lanky for anything but a thick woodland unless you are okay with having it flop over.  Bottom line--it's pretty much an attractive weed.

Aster novae angliae 'Purple Dome'  [asteracieae]  date and source long forgotten, but I'm going to hazard a guess that it was 1995 and it probably came from Leitners.  The principle interest of the asters is that they bloom quite late.  This one blooms right up to the frost, and perhaps a little longer.  Pinch the shoots off in June before the Solstice to encourage branching and more flowers.  Cut off the flower heads in late fall to prevent reseeding.   Divide early in spring or late in fall.  Very, very nice, trouble free plant.  It spreads most by rhizomes, and not a lot from seeds.  Click here to see an image

Astilbe chinensis (white and rose)-- False Spirea [Saxifragaceae] These plants came with the house, so I'm guessing they were planted around 1990. They will take sun or shade. Increase moisture with more sun. Otherwise, they are extremely easy to grow--divide it, move it, ignore it. Even moisture demands seem less serious than the books imply unless they are in very sunny spots. Seed heads can be left on the plant for a nice decorative effect. These are as easy, reliable and architectural as the hostas and at least as visually interesting.  Click here to see an image of a typical pink variety.

Astilbe thunbergii 'Ostrich Plume. False Spirea [Saxifragaceae] Linder's 1995. Same as the others but the rose colored flowers droop. Later to arise than the others by as much as three weeks. Much less vigorous and more fragile than the others.  Ours got crowded out by Iris.  It's also possible that it didn't like the raised bed situation.  It was pretty close to the edge.  They are nice, but I haven't been too interested in expanding my astilbe collection.  If I ever decide to rip out my white one or pink one, I might put this one in instead.  

Athyrium nipponicum 'Metallicum' -- Japanese Painted Fern [Dryopteridaceae] 1995 Small, shade loving plant. Sturdy and easy to grow. Late to emerge in spring. It looks oddly brown and artificial in May, reaching its normal coloration and height by the beginning of June. The multicolored leaves make it the closest thing to a coleus in the fern family.  Excellent idea for subtle color and texture in a shady spot where you can cultivate such a small plant.  It's about 6-8" tall.  Highly recommended, this is my favorite fern.  Period.  After six years, ours grew to a size where it was ready to be divided.  I did that in late Spring, and watered it regularly.  No problem.  Eleven years later I have divided and moved them about 4 or 5 times and never had the slightest problem.  The only thing to keep in mind is that they are slow to get settled in, and they are late emerge in about mid-May.

Athyrium X 'Ghost' (Athyrium niponicum var. pictum x Athyrium filix-femina) -- Ghost Fern [Dryopteridaceae] 2003  I forget where I got this one.  It's very pretty, and easy to grow.  Refer to the entry on the Japanese Painted Fern above because the only significant difference seems to be the color of the foliage--which is an unusual pale green, almost white, with pinkish veins and stems.  It's located in a pretty shady location in the boreal garden.  One thing I've noticed is that it seems to attract an inordinate amount of attention from passersby.  I tend to keep the original plastic spike with the label on it near my plants until I get them memorized, and they have enough gravitas to make their location obvious in Spring.  This particular plant's spike is almost always pulled out of the ground and lying next to the plant, indicating that somebody went to significant trouble to stand on a boulder and lean across to pull it out and read it. 

Betula glandulosa (unknown if var. hallii) (Bog birch, resin birch, arctic dwarf birch)  Linder's Fall 2002 in rock garden. This birch gives you all the beauty of young birch branches (that reddish brown, textured surface) on a very shapeable, tree-like shrub that runs about six foot high.  It's not supposed to get white, but from the looks of my plant (which may be a garden cultivar--it was poorly labeled) it could transform with age as birches do.  After six years, the stems are pretzel colored with fine white hash marks around the stem.  Old specimens can reach ten feet, but pruning should make it easy to prevent this.  It is hardy to zone one, which means that it's perfectly happy in Alaskan Yukon tundra.  Although it's home is in land considerably colder than metropolitan Minnesota, it appears to be quite happy here.  It sits atop a small man-made hill--a little berm that I put in to create a slope for drainage.  I have watered it, but not to excess.  It looks to be very happy.  The bog birch catkins are a food source for chickadees and other birds.  Internet searches revealed that it likes well-drained acidic soil (which it has).  The forest service has excellent information.   It's on the north side of the house, but it's a sunny location in summer, and fairly sunny in winter.   Being that it's at the top of the 20" berm, I thought that it would be a very good idea to build a volcano crater around it, building a water-retaining lip.  It apparently does not transplant easily.   But, at this point, there are no diseases, no bugs, nice leaves.  In 2005 I noticed that it's getting kind of shaggy--the branches get long and they are very flexible, so the whole bush gets blown about pretty dramatically by the wind.  As of 2006, I see the same thing beginning to happen.  In July I shortened them so that the whole thing is about 5-6 feet tall.  That should make for a stouter infrastructure.  After four years and one pretty vigorous pruning last summer, I very much like this tree.  If you keep the suckers and side shoots off from the lower portion, it makes a beautiful mini-tree.  At first I was wishing that I had gotten something a bit showier, or a full sized birch.  The leaves are really cute.  For pruning, I recommend using the same techniques as those used for lilacs.  I recommend it highly.

Calamagrostis arumdinacea 'Karl Foerster'--Feathered Reed Grass [Poaceae/Gramineae (grass family)]. Leitner's 1996.   It is a clumping grass that grows to about 4 feet high.  After five years, the single one gallon plant spread to a mass two feet across.  I divided it, and replanted another one-gallon sized clump inside a 3 gallon pot to restrain the outward growth.  At first I thought that it didn't reseed, but in 2003 I started to notice lots of small clumps of seedlings in a radius of 4 feet from the plant.  Interestingly, almost all of them were to the north of the plant.  They are fairly easy to spot because they start with very fine spidery clumps with short blades in spring.  They can be pulled easily when young.  There are more colorful and exotic grasses, but this one is very natural looking, yet charming.   Highly recommended.  

Calluna vulgaris spp. -- Scotch Heather  [Heaths and Heathers, Ericaceae or EmpetraceaeNote: Heathers are not really hardy in zone 4b where we live.  They require some extra attention, like showy roses.  In climates of zone 6 (possibly 5?) they are very good on slopes with moist, sandy and acidic soil.   They will only reseed if they are burned by fire.  I tried toasting some seeds on the bbq, but they didn't seem to germinate in the open garden.  Maybe they would in pots.  I have layered several plants now.  (That means I buried a couple of branches so the tips stuck out, held it down with a rock, and then I will cut and dig the clump up.)  This technique seems to be working well, but I haven't yet severed the connection to the mother plant.  

If it's flowers you seek, then go for the Erica species.  The Callunas are beautiful enough in their foliage.  I have all three planted fairly close together, and I'm going to have to move them apart this fall.  They are starting to grow into each other.  

There are some simple rules to follow to keep Heathers and Heaths in zone 4b (slight urban heat zone factor?).  

  1. Cover it in leaves or snow for the winter.  I anchor this coverage down with bird netting used to protect blueberries.  I make metal wire tent stakes and push them through the netting, form a loop, and then push the end into the ground.  It works very well to hold the leaves in place, and assure some support during their interment under deep snow.  Anything that is actually exposed to air at zero degrees or below will die back or at least permanently loose leaves.  I uncover it around the first part of April, but I re-cover it with leaves if I hear that an ice storm or extra cold weather is coming.  Spring snow fall won't hurt it at all.  Dry, super cold air will desiccate the leaves.  They also seem to dislike freezing rain.  You might want to cover the mulched plant with a burlap bag anchored to the ground to keep the leaves in place.  I always scoop snow onto them when I shovel in the winter.  I think that it is best to uncover them in early April to prevent fungus, but to cover them again less densely until you pass the frost date.
  2. Avoid watering it with tap water.  I capture rain water or use peat moss to condition water.  I regularly use vinegar (2 cups per 5 gallon bucket of water). Heathers are acid lovers.  I have used garden sulphur, but now after 5 years of applications, I no longer do.  I occasional coffee grounds, and one application of iron sulfate.  I also have my soaker hose system set up so it misses the heathers.  I hand water them.  Over time, I have been applying more tap water, and no problems are seen.
  3. They hate nitrogen.  Do not give them things like blood meal, fish emulsion or other high nitrogen foods.  I have given them low doses of balanced chemical fertilizers recommended by a local gardener who cultivated many heathers I have.  During the past few years, I have been relying on organic mixes for acid soil like "Holly-tone" from Espoma, and applications of dilute vinegar.
  4. After blooming, it improves their appearance to cut off the entire length of bare stem at the tip. 

The Callunas aren't terribly difficult, but not recommended for lazy gardeners.  Don't let anyone tell you that they can't be grown in Minnesota.  Click here to visit the Heather Society web page in the UK.  They have a very nice Handy Guide to Heathers and HeathsHeaths and Heathers--a great commercial site in Washington.  This looks like a great place to order heathers by mail.  There is an excellent article on growing heather in Canada.  My experience reflects his quite well, though I have not yet run into a species that isn't able to survive the winter with the treatment I give to them.  I currently have 5 cultivars and an erica, so this next few years will tell me a lot.  This article discusses the different species and their hardiness in cold climates.

  • Calluna vulgaris 'Drum Ra'--Scotch Heather. Rice Creek Gardens in Fall 2002.  Has white flowers on vigorous deep green foliage.  
  • Calluna vulgaris 'Green Cardinal'--Scotch Heather. Garden City 1996. 15"h x 18". Bright green foliage that turns reddish purple in late season.  It will be dark when you uncover it in spring, and then it greens up.  Trim off any dead ends of branches that were singed by cold.  It's more stiff and upright than the sprawling, curly 'Sir John Carrington' or Erica.  This one is the more vigorous of the two Callunas we have.  It is also more sensitive to Winter cold air--losing more leaves if it gets too cold.  Bury it completely in leaves as soon as the temperatures start dipping below 10 degrees F.  The flowers are lilac pink, and are quite nice.  This appears to be the easiest one for cold climates.  You have to keep it (and all the others) from being exposed to the elements during winter, but given that kind of care, you'll have little or no trouble keeping it in zone 4b (or at least in urban zone 4b). 
  • Calluna vulgaris 'Kinlochruel'--Scotch Heather. Rice Creek Gardens in Fall 2002.  Double flowered white--amazing pendulous flowers that look like a Thalictrum 'Hewitt's Double' flower crossed with a lilly of the valley.  Medium green foliage, and compact form.  As of Spring 2006 I'm going to declare this one too fragile for Minnesota.
  • Calluna vulgaris 'Little Orchid'--Scotch Heather. This one looks really good four years later, but not as vigorous in the rate of growth as the Green Cardinal.  
  • Calluna vulgaris 'Robert Chapman'. This one is doing extremely well, but not as vigorous in the rate of growth as the Green Cardinal.  Very pretty pale green. Has survived three winters, and looks great.
  • Calluna vulgaris 'Sir John Carrington'. Garden City 1996. 12" h x 18". Chartreuse to yellow foliage changes to red in fall. Dark maroon-purple flowers from Aug-Sept.  This one is tough, but it doesn't grow as fast as the others.  This one has colorful foliage and deep lilac pink flowers.   Click for image.  
  • Calluna vulgaris 'Tiny Trails'--Scotch Heather. Rice Creek Gardens in Fall 2002.  Interesting two-tone color with a mute chartreuse and deep green color, and pink flowers.  It has a trailing structure, and the plant we got is wonderfully shaped.  However, by 2006, there aren't any surviving.

Campanula spp.   Harebell, Bellflower, Bluebells [Campanulaceae]  This is a very popular and attractive genus with a two basic forms--one is a long raceme of bell-like flowers, the other is a short ground cover with bell-shaped flowers.  They are generally pretty easy to grow.   Campanulaceae include the Lobelia cardinalis.  

  • Campanula americana  Tall Bellflower.   Native to this area, it was an indigenous weed in our yard, prevalent in the shady area between my house and the neighbor to the East.  It's a pretty plant, but it is a weed.  You have to control it through digging and deadheading.  Reaching 3 to 6 feet in height, the racemes can spread the numerous seeds a good distance.  Deadhead it rigorously or you'll have it all over.   A mature clump has brittle, fleshy roots extending down to a single taproot-like structure, similar to a common violet.  You probably already have some of this in your yard, but you mow it over.  It's extremely common here.
  • Campanula carpatica 'White Clips' -- Carpathian Harebell  Leitner's 1994 Full sun to light shade. Average to rich, well-drained soil. Propagate by tip cuttings. May self-sow, so deadheading is recommended. After 3 seasons, it does not appear to have increased significantly in size, nor has it shrunk. Healthy and well-behaved clump plant. 1999 it needs replacing--it increased every year until this year.  This is clearly a nice rock garden plant.
  • Campanula poscharskyana -- Serbian Bellflower soil, full sun. Root prune and deadhead to prevent invasion. Ours got too much water and almost faded away in a sweltering August. Spring 1996, it is there but very much smaller. I moved it back to the alley area and put a heather where it was. It was destroyed by a careless child. I think it was bad luck. The plant should be quite vigorous, and the intense electric blue flowers are very attractive.

Candy Lily (genus hybrid X paracanda or something like that). 1994 Seems very similar to the species Belamcanda (Blackberry Lily) of the Iridaceae family. I think they must have crossed it with a lily. Full sun to light shade. In heat, shade prolongs bloom. Plants self-sow easily. Seems prone to yellowing leaves and such, but blooms well. I call it "autumn lily" because it blooms starting in late August, and continues into September. Easy to grow, and highly recommended.  All of them disappeared in about 2000, so it's probably necessary to replace them periodically.

Celastrus scandens (American Bittersweet Vine, aka Zombie Vine) [Celastraceae] Summer 1999  It is a native to the Upper Midwest, and was once common in the woods. Its reputation as an aggressive vine inspired us to plant it on the West side of our garage. I made a trellis out of birch branches that I wove together in an 8 foot high design like a snow shoe.  It's a very pretty trellis.  Later we learned that it grows rapidly to 20' and will smother anything it its path, including full grown trees. We saw a LARGE arbor draped with old bittersweet vines at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, and we realized that we might have made a mistake.  It's clear that this is a large and powerful vine like Virginia Creeper. In the Spring of 2001 it appeared to be dead.  In July when I was doing some weeding, I discovered that there were runners shooting out 3 feet from the original plant, sending up new shoots, though nothing was happening anywhere near the trellis.  I immediately began surgery to remove the thick runners before it destroyed my whole garden.  Worse still, the uninteresting flowers were eaten off by insects so that no berries formed the one year of 2000 that it grew normally.  Two years after attempting to rip this sinister bastard out of my garden, two more large rhizomes and shoots were found 3 feet away from the original planting spot.  I hope that I have it all out now.  I definitely do not recommend this thug.  I renamed the plant Zombie Vine in reference to its ability to die and resurrect from its roots back to the dead main stem.  Spring 2006 no signs of the evil plant.  I think it's okay to put up the "Mission Accomplished" banner now.

Chrysanthemum coccineum 'Doubles Mixed' -- Painted Daisy [Compositae] Bachman's 1995. For all mums, average to rich, moist, well-drained soil in full sun. Neutral to alkaline soil. Waterlogging is bad especially in winter. Pinching and disbudding is effective for increasing flower size, etc. Divide to remove and replace dying centers of dense clumps. Aphids and spider mites may plague them.  I'm not impressed with this one.  It's not very attractive.  By 2002 it faded away and died.  I'm trying to feel bad about it, but in general, I'm frustrated with mums.  They aren't very long-lived here and just don't seem to thrive in our garden.  I prefer asters.

Chrysantemum leucanthemum 'May Queen'--Oxeye Daisy. 1-3' Leitner's 1996.  Easy to grow white daisy.  No problems observed.  Ho-hum.

Chrysanthemum X superbum --Shasta Daisy. 1-3' high. Short-lived species. Leitner's 1996  I've decided that I don't care much for the hardy daisies.  

Cimicifuga spp.--[Ranunculaceae] This attractive genus is easy to grow in bright shade with rich soil and good moisture.  They reseed themselves, and can be propagated by seed sown directly where you want them (the seeds must be stratified to germinate.)  Division is quite easy.  I have literally pulled a stem out of the ground with a root eyelet, stuck it in a new spot, and presto.  Given moisture and the right balance of light, they are very tough. They do not like hot sun, but they must have some light to thrive.  Increased sunlight requires more water.  This species is rumored to keep away bugs (hence its name) but the bees just love it. The roots can be used to induce abortion, but it is a bit risky at that dosage. It is a common ingredient in herbal menopause treatments.  Click to see an image.   Click here for an essay on the medicinal usage of the plant.

  • Cimicifuga racemosa -- Black Cohosh, Bugbane or Fairy Candles. Leitner's 1994 Partial shade, common garden soil but need leaf mould. Emerge along with the Dicentra spectabilis. Flowers bloom in midsummer. They spread slowly under ground from eyelets kind of like bleeding hearts, but the snaky rhizomes creep around, giving the impression that they are moving about in your garden.   I have tried them in numerous locations in the yard, but the place they seem to be happiest is on the north side of our garage, where a layer of snow and ice remains until the Equinox.  Cold and constantly wet soil might seem inhospitable, but I can only tell you that these plants receive a lot of neglect, and they are thriving.  The flowers are beautiful and the foliage is healthy.  This is one of my favorite plants based on its foliage, architectural effect, ease of cultivation and appeal to pollinators.   The flowers aren't outstanding, but they are interesting.  During and after blooming they may require staking, or cutting back.  Seeds will form and surely weigh down the stalks.  If you let them drape over your yard, they will easily reseed in your lawn.  Uncontrolled, this plant could easily take over my back yard, at least in the shady areas.  New seedlings will take about 3 years to bloom, and transplants may require a year to recover before blooming.  They will grow anywhere from 3 feet to 8 feet tall depending on age and conditions.  The foliage is only about 2-3 feet high, and the remaining 1-5 feet is a long stalk with a 10-15" raceme of white flowers.  
  • Cimicifuga racemosa 'Atropurpurea'  Linder's 1995. Same growing conditions as above. Will not grow as tall as the species above--more like 3 feet. Much prettier flowers bloom in August-September.  This is a beautiful plant, though not really suited to the Minnesota growing season.  It's a bit slow in growth.  
  • Cimicifuga ramosa  Leitner's in 1994.  Native to Minnesota.  It has short flower racemes, making it look almost like Actea.  Three feet high total.  It's a very attractive companion for ferns and hostas in a shade garden.

Clematis spp. [Ranunculaceae]  The clematis genus has some of the most beautiful and desirable vines for the home garden.  There is a wide variety of forms, colors and bloom times.  There are wide variations in cultivation instructions, but the majority of them need very rich soil.  They also like to have cool, sheltered roots, but the upper vine needs bright sun.  Most species will grow back from last year's wood.  They will also send up shoots from the ground.  Pruning in early Spring is important to avoid having a messy mass of dead vine twigs on your trellis.  

  • Clematis jackmanii--Clematis . Rice Creek late 1995. A beautiful vine that needs human help to attach to smooth walls. It blooms twice in the season, and leaves attractive seed heads like a pasque flower. Fertilize it heavily, shield the base of the plant with rocks (hot, sunny vine, cool, wet roots) Plant it in a deeply dug hole with lots of organic matter, bone meal, etc. Prefers lime over acid.  It grows back on old vines, but it is advisable to prune it back in February so that there are only about two to three feet of old vine stems standing up.  It's aggressive.  We have it climbing over climbing roses, which makes a spectacular display in June.  Since I am trying to get it to produce more stems and flowers on the opposite side of this wall, I let a large portion of the old stems remain so as to get more shoots there.  In Spring 2002 (after the warmest winter in my 42 year life) she has growing shoots popping out of dry stems from last year as far out as six feet from the base.  It's going to be a good year for Clematis, I think.  ;)  Spring 2005 it nearly vanished, and barely performed.  In Spring 2006 it seems to be recovering.  I gave it a thorough feeding.  I think it was hungry.  In 2007 it was barely alive, and in 2008 it was gone.  I suspect a disease.
  • Clematis tangutica--[Ranunculaceae]  Rice Creek late 2000.  A rare, yellow clematis.  It has wonderful yellow, pendulous flowers that hang without opening wide, so they look like oriental paper lanterns.  The plant is a really vigorous grower, suitable for climbing trees.  Trim back in the Fall or early Spring to about 15" to 36", leaving the straw like stems to winter.  New growth will appear from the nodes of the remaining stems in the spring, so don't rip up the dead straw.  Its growth starts a bit late, so you will think it's dead, then suddenly it explodes, almost flying up it trellis. After four years, the straw developed into a more woody structure, and the new shoots started as far as ten feet above the ground.  Therefore, it is extremely important to cut and remove last year's growth down to a controllable height.  I take mine down to 3 feet.  Awesome vine.  We planted this one beside our Honeysuckle, and the two twine together.  The location is not super sunny, so it does bloom kind of late--in 2002, it bloomed at the end of August, and in mid-September it's completely covered with flowers.  By 2006, I have noted that it does reseed, but surprisingly little.  I transplanted one, and the results were very good.  The plant I have growing together with a honeysuckle appears to have been seriously stunted eight years later.  The other one that is in a sunnier location is doing much better.  Click to see an image.
  • Clematis "Nelly Moser"--[Ranunculaceae]  Rice Creek late 2001.  Planted where the Bittersweet vine used to be.  It has had a slow start, but four years later, it's beginning to look substantial.

Commelina communis -- Mouseflower, Asiatic Dayflower [Commelinaceae] "native" to our yard when we bought the house.  It was apparently imported as an ornamental annual flower around the turn of the century.  I decided to cultivate it and see how it does.  On the East Coast it is an invasive species.  The little blue flowers are really cute.  The downside is that once you cultivate it, and let it go to seed, it is a vigorous reseeder, and you'll have thousands the next year (as I do now.)  They are really easy to pull in mulched soil, so I'm not especially concerned.  Further, it doesn't do well without a lot of water, so it won't likely get far from my yard. I'm not sure that ours is identical to this species.  Ours has two deep blue petals, and one small petal.  The one I found on the net is lavender with three petals.   It sprawls across the ground, making a decent groundcover, but they are so weedy that you might not want to try it.  However, they are annuals, and the roots are shallow, so you can surely mix them with taller, deeper rooted plants.  Why fight it when it's already here, and it's not ugly? [pictures]

Coreopsis lanceolata -- Lanceleaved Coreopsis [Asteraceae-Compositae] Leitner's 1995 Evergreen like a Digitalis. It takes it some time to revive in spring. It did not appear to spread unpleasantly. I suspect a cage would be beneficial for them, because the whole plant has a tendency to collapse and flop about.  Oh great, yet another yellow daisy-like plant that flops around and reseeds.  It definitely benefits from deadheading, which also prevents reseeding. They produce hundreds of flowers over an extended period, so they do make up for the demands of deadheading. Great flower if you are dedicated to deadheading.

Coreopsis verticallata 'Moonbeam' --Threadleaf Coreopsis. Leitner's 1995

Coreopsis verticallata 'Zagreb' -- "" Leitner's 1995.  Most books recommend poor to average soil, sandy soil to avoid overgrowth and flopping. Both benefit from deadheading. I prefer 'Moonbeam', but the two mixed together are fabulous. They seem to form clumps of vertical stems connected by a rhizome.  After thirteen years, it seems to have stabilized its population in one patch beside the Echinacea and Rudbeckia meadow.  Easy to grow and control.

Cornus canadensis - Bunchberry [Cornaceae (dogwoods)] Spring 2004 Nothing could possibly be bad about getting this plant to spread throughout your yard and garden.  It's probably the most characteristic plant of Northern Minnesota acidic soil vegetation.  This cute little shrublet spreads by rhizomes and is only 3-7" tall.  The berries are edible, used for jellies.  It can tolerate acidic conditions ranging from pH 3-7.9, but can't tolerate soil temperatures warmer than 65 degrees in Summer.  This may be difficult to provide, but I gave it some bright shade under the spruce.  We'll keep our fingers crossed that it survives in the acidic garden.  In mid-May 2005 it appears to be alive, but very slow in sending up new shoots.  On May 24th, the shoots are plainly visible, but the plant is slow yet to unfurl.  But, it means that it did survive a Twin Cities summer.  The following season, it was strikingly diminished.  It clung tenuously to life during the summer and gave up the ghost by autumn.  My "autopsy" suggests that the area was too dry and sunny during summer.  I would put it in a different spot if I find another one (which I have not).   [more info and image, better image ].

Corydalis sempervirens, Rock Harlequin (Superior Nat. Forest by seed) annual or biennial-- Rock Harlequin. Date uncertain, but probably about 1992 or 1993.  They are very unpredictable in their reseeding. One year you might have many, the next year, you won't see any, then the following there are a couple, and the next year you'll have dozens. Easy to grow. Keep in mind that a full-grown flowering plant will die off. Plant the seeds by sprinkling them in desirable locations. They are very prodigal, attractive little surprise plants.  I would describe them as a combination of bleeding heart (to which they are related) and the columbine, with leaves that look a lot like herb rue.  The color of the foliage is almost blue and the pink with yellow tipped flowers are really cheery.  The small size of the flowers and the blue foliage keep them from being too garish.  Spring 2005 we have the biggest crop of them I have seen.  There are about 30 plants scattered around the yard.  Spring 2006 there is only one visible, and a few young seedlings in my lawn that dropped from last year's seeds.  For 2007 there were a few flowering plants, but at the end of May 2008 none are yet visible. As of 2012 they have disappeared, but I've considered looking for seeds again this summer.

Cypripedium acaule - Pink Lady Slipper orchid - [Orchidaceae] Spring 2004 [click for image ] I tried one of these in Spring 2003, placing it in a fairly shady and wet spot in newly acidified soil.  I incorporated a pine bark/manure compost combo that might have been too nitrogen rich.  This time I tried it with a newly prepared, but more established section of spruce impacted soil.  I added no compost, but instead added a lot of ground up long strand sphagnum moss.  That's the light tan stuff that is used for potting orchids, and bromeliads.  To that I also added a larger amount of professional potting mix (standard brown peat, perlite and wetting agent), lots of garden sulfur pellets, iron sulfate, rock phosphate and green sand.  I then added about 30% of that volume in native soil, to which I added spruce needles from the ground.  That was mixed, and then mixed into the soil of the area before planting. After placing it, I poured about my diluted coffee dregs mixture around the plant, but not directly on its roots.  Spring 2005:  THREE HEALTHY SHOOTS erupting from the ground! May 24th the buds of all three are visible, and should open by Memorial Day.  Spring 2006: There were two shoots, and they looked good at first.  But, after a few months it became clear they would not bloom and that they were diminishing.  By the end of the season it looked dead, and there was no sign of it the following Spring.  It's difficult to determine what was wrong, but I think that the earlier two seasons of vigorous growth suggest that the problem was not light.  Water is a possibility, but I can't be sure if it was too much or too little.  A stronger possibility,  I believe, is the applications of sulfur, which may have been too harsh.    I'm going to let the area stabilize for a few years and then try again.

Cypripedium calceolus - Yellow Ladyslipper [Orchidaceae] lime loving orchid. Very hardy, and very native to our area. Two "rescued plants" were put in the back garden in 2003 from the Soc. of Friends School plant sale.  It survived its first winter, and looks good.  It bloomed beautifully it's second season, but something seemed to attack it in its third season.  Fourth season (2006) there's no trace of it.  

Dahlias -- [ go to Bulbs Page, Dahlia section ]

Daphne x 'Lawrence Crocker' [Thymelaeaceae] Spring 2006 this hybrid daphne is absolutely beautiful, and is very fragrant.  However, it is such a short plant--just about 4" after three seasons--that it is necessary to stoop down to catch its perfume.  The smell is similar to hyacinth, but even more pleasant.  It blooms in May, and seems to bloom again later in the summer, but not as profusely as the first Spring bloom.  This Thymelaeaceae Juss. family of plants is new to me.  Although there are a number of species, it looks to me like the daphnes are the only genus in the family.  They are toxic, and temperamental.  In appearance, the structure is rather similar to Andromeda, but the flowers aren't as unusual, and the semi-succulent leaves are darker green.  Although they prefer a more neutral soil, I am going to put it in the circumpolar garden, where I think it will look right at home if I can keep it alive.  A site I linked below states that an expert said of these miniature glories that they can die suddenly and inexplicably.  That sounds rather like the andromedas. I had no experience of these, and have never heard of anyone growing them here.  In May 2007 it looks great, and in May 2008 it continues to expand and look beautiful.  It has increased in size slowly, but steadily and has very healthy leaves.  It does not seem to have any insect pests at all, not even aphids.  I have been giving it pretty much the same treatment as the heather (see calluna), which means keeping it covered through winter, and then making sure in Spring that it doesn't get exposed to freezing rains, or sudden dips below 20 degrees. [more garden info, extensive botanical info, extensive history and tipsnice image at Dave's Garden.]   

Day Lilies (Hemerocallis)   [go to the lilies section of my Bulb Page ]

Delphinium ? probably a X Belladonna or Pacific Giants [Ranunculaceae] Leitner's 1994 Fertilize Mucho! Cut to ground after flowering for a fall rebloom. Sun, rich, well-drained soil. The hollow stalks provide shelter for undesirable insects, so cut and remove them in late fall. These tall plants require stakes to keep them from pitching over or growing irregularly.  Apparently all lend themselves well to cloning. There is probably no better plant for producing shades of true blue.

All delphiniums are susceptible to bugs and slugs. We have found the hot pepper wax to be effective protection, but they are really aphid magnets.  But, if we're lazy in applying it, the delphiniums are quickly destroyed.  We don't have very good luck with them here.  Aconitum spp. are similar and better suited to our garden.  Both of them produce luscious racemes of blue flowers in interesting shapes.  Currently we have none in the garden simply because my past experiences weren't very good, and these garish, tall dandies require more sun and insecticide than I am willing to provide them.  

Delphinium chinense grandiflorum  'Blue Butterfly'-- Dwarf Delphinium [Ranunculaceae] A short lived perennial that needs to be treated as a reseeding annual or biennial, it will produce flowers in the first year.  I planted it for the first time at the 2004 Vernal Equinox, and it started blooming at the end of August.  They are incredible!!!  The plants are short and broadly branched rather than tall and spiky like the showy delphiniums of the garden centers.  The huge, single flowers are a rich, deep blue.  Dead heading encourages more blooms, but this first year, I lust only for more seeds.  More!  More!  More!  Click for image at the wonderful Dave's Garden.  Not only has it been easy to grow, they are actually thriving in our boulevard in some pretty crappy soil.  I can't say enough good about this plant.  Bear in mind that it's more akin to a columbine in form.  Unlike the popular hybrid delphiniums, the Delphinium chinense does not create racemes.  The structure is more similar to the larger columbines, but denser.  After seeing these airy delphiniums in bloom, the others will seem garish and tawdry.  

Dianthus simulans -- [Rice Creek 1997] Tiny, mounding, rock garden "pink." Very attractive. Well-drained soil.  We lost our plant in two years.  They probably need rock garden conditions.

Dicentra exemia (one pink and one white) -- Fringed Bleeding Heart [Fumaraciae] 1995 Needs some sun, rich soil. Flowers all summer. The pink one is an impressive grower. It reached the size of a mature hosta in its first season from a 6" pot! The white one was only 30% its size. The red also bloomed more and longer.  On its seventh season, neither has expanded undesirably.   It is obvious that the pink/red cultivar is much more sturdy than the white.

Dicentra spectabilis -- Old Fashioned or Common Bleeding Heart [Fumaraciae] 1994 Partial or bright shade. Little or no full sun. Soil is unimportant. Dies down before summer ends, especially in sunny locations. Good cut flower. Give it a peony cage pushed down as far as it will go just before its shoots really climb suddenly at the late spring flush of bloom. We have it on the north side of our garage and it seems very happy. It retains its foliage until frost. This is a vigorous grower, increasing in size each year, but self-seeding only very lightly.  As of 2008, it has produced maybe a dozen seedlings, which means about 1 per year.

Dictamnus alba 'Purpurea' -- Gas Plant [Rutaceae] 1994 Sun to part shade. Rich soil. Left undisturbed, this is a very easy and long-lived plant. The flowers are spectacular and short-lived, but the star-shaped seed pods are attractive to leave on all season. Unfortunately, it is a slow grower. These plants have a distinctive and unusual appearance. I recommend them as a surprise specimen among others or as a foundation plant on the south side of a home. The dense sphere of foliage rises 1-2' above the ground and the 3' racemes of flowers look something like a gladiola or orchid. After four years, it is finally starting to offer a notable presence. The star-shaped seed pods are very interesting, and make attractive design elements for dried flower projects, but you must spray the plant with hot pepper wax after blooming in order to keep bugs from snipping off the cool seed pods. These are very easy to grow.  Because they are slow to mature to a showy size, plant them early in the development of your garden, and then build around them.  I would describe their height and form as medium in size, so they aren't a background plant, and they are too tall for foreground.  They are quite tight and formal in appearance, so a row of mature ones would make an excellent formal garden element.  12 years later, it seems to have reached its peak size, and remains fairly constant.

Digitalis purpurea 'Excelsior' -- Foxglove [Scrophulariaceae (Figwort Family)] mixed colors 1995 Biennial--divide annually or replant from seedlings. Mark and even date the markers. Plant them in partial shade. Remove central stalk to encourage secondary stalks. It's a fantastic cut flower. These are obviously prone to crown rot from early mulching, or leaving mulch on too late. They also dislike freezing rain and exposure to cold air. In spite of being a hated farm weed, they seem very vulnerable in the garden. Moody and fragile, they are extremely easy to start from seed. Although the foliage is not very attractive, one look at the lovely flowers will convince anyone of their value. I would describe them as a rewarding pain in the ass. Consider yourself luckier than me if you get more than 1/3 of the plants to survive the winter and bloom. Grow from seed sown in situ or purchase plants ready to bloom in larger pots (the best way, in my opinion is to treat them as annuals). It takes them two seasons to reach blooming size in Minnesota, hence they are biennials.  Another option for those with greenhouses is to start them by seed indoors in about October.  I think that will give them enough time to bloom in the first season.  I haven't tried it yet myself. The winter of 2001-2002 was very warm and somewhat dry, followed by a cold period after the Equinox.  All but one of my Digitalis were killed by this weather.  I suspect that during the warm months of January and February that it succumbed to some fungi, and the freeze-thaw-freeze thaw resulted in some frost heaving.  All of them were under some amount of leaf mulch.  It appears that these are rather difficult to grow here.  The Digitalis produces a powerful cardiac stimulant that is still used medicinally.  However, eating the leaves of the plant could easily kill you. It's probably more dangerous than the Aconitum, but it's much more common and popularBecause I really like them, what I do is buy a couple as annuals each year, and then put them in 10" decorative clay pots in a bare patch in the garden.  They do really well in pots, and the extra elevation is helpful.

Digitalis grandiflora Perennial species. 1999 from a neighbor and 2003 from unknown garden store.  EASY to grow, long blooming, considerably shorter at about 10 to 12 inches, buttery yellow/cream flowers.  Really nice looking.  I wish it spread more quickly.  Kind of looks like a large yellow flowered Penstemon.  Recommended.

Dodecatheon meadia--Shooting-Star [Primulaceae, along with cyclamens] Leitner's 1996. Moist, humus-rich soil in sun or shade. It is adapted to woodlands and prairies but only reaches about 1 foot. They go dormant after blooming in spring and then can be covered by other larger plants. Neutral to acidic soil. Divide fleshy roots or take root cuttings after flowering. Seeds germinate quickly and mature slowly, only blooming in their 3rd year. The flowers look rather like darts, or even Jarts (remember that game?)  Our plant was in a bad spot.  It was crowded out by larger plants, so it faded away.  I might put in a new one eventually, but haven't gotten around to it.  

Dryopteris erythrosora  'Brilliance' -- Japanese Shield Fern, Autumn Fern [Dryopteridaceae] Spring 2006 from Linders. This fern caught my eye right away.  It is unusual for its fall coloration.  Also, it's relatively compact and non-invasive--both of which are highly valuable traits in the fern family.  Although it's native to the southern USA, it's supposed to be able to take our cold winters, given that it doesn't get much or any direct sun.  I gave it a location in the circumpolar garden that gets absolutely no direct sun during winter.  It did not survive its first winter.  According to Dave's Garden, it's a zone 5 plant.  Shame on Linders for offering this one.  However, if you have the money to spare, this is definitely one worth considering for a fancy annual.

Dryopteris felix 'Femina Nana' aka Athyrium filix femina "nana" ?-- Miniature Ladyfern. [Dryopteridaceae] Rice Creek 1996. This 3-5" ultra dwarf fern started out in our raised bed.  It was pretty happy there, but was apparently stunted by the excess sun it was getting.  I moved about half of the clump to the front circumpolar garden to a spot that only gets a bit of morning sun in the Spring.  It's a star attraction in our fern collection amidst another small fern: Athyrium nipponicum 'Metallicum' (which spreads horizontally more than vertically--about 4-5" tall.)  They are both simply stunning.  Ferns require acidic soil and some shade.  I have not done a thing with this fern other than water it and give it acidic conditions.  It spreads very slowly.  This is an awesome specimen if you have a place for such a tiny fern.  I have not been able to find any information about this particular species anywhere.  All of the other cultivars are pretty large.  This is probably the smallest fern I've seen.

Echeveria unknown species/cultivar--Hens and Chicks [Crassulaceaethese came with our house, and have been here for about 25 years.  Easy to grow.  Not my favorite, but no talent is required.  The Echeveria spp. are best used as ground cover.  They seem to tolerate a wide range of water conditions, but they work best in rock gardens, away from water and tall plants.  They have a nice texture, and can probably be used around some spring bulbs to fill in after bloom.  They are only 3" tall at the most, but a mature plant will flower with an odd, stout stalk that will reach up about a foot, and then flop over to spread the colony.  When I started gardening, I had a fairly strong disinclination toward the Crassulaceae.  They include plants like Sedum, Jade Plants, Kalanchoe.  The Echeveria remind me of the succulent rosettes of Agave plants and Yucca, but much, much smaller.  I suppose that the abundance of water and lush growth in Minnesota made them seem unappealing.  I have since grown to appreciate them because they are so hardy and so easy.   They are also easy to control.  According to internet comments at Dave Gardens, the larger plants will grow even larger if you remove the babies that form around its perimeter, hence the common name "Hens and Chicks."  I pretty much ignore them.

Echinacea purpurea -- Purple Coneflower [Asteraceae-Compositae] long tap roots that can be dug if you get down deeply.  Don't remove flowers in their first season. Leave the stalks till February for bird seed and self-seeding. Late to emerge in Spring--mark them, or simply be careful when digging near plants until you know where they are.  Aster yellows can be a serious problem for these.  If you take care to eliminate infected plants on a regular basis, Echinacea will be the star of your summer garden, and the butterflies will love it.  Aster yellows has very obvious symptoms in this plant.  The flowers will be radically distorted, or have tumor-like growths of freakish flower heads right out of the center of a larger flower head.  Sick plants show no purple petals in most cases, though sometimes a plant will show some petal growth before the disease sets in. If you see plants like this, kill the ENTIRE PLANT and dispose of it someplace other than your compost pile or edge of your garden. Leafhoppers spread the disease.  Highly recommended with that caveat. 

Empetrum nigrum 'Compass Harbor' -- Crowberry from Maine [Ericaceae or Empetraceae]  Fall 2002 from Rice Creek Gardens.  This beautiful, low, sprawling plant looks something like an Erica, but slightly more vertical.  This is a real boreal trooper--found in tundra areas and boreal bogs around the entire globe.  According to the owner of Rice Creek, it's quite durable.  Considering that a substantial plant in a half-gallon pot only cost $8.50, this plant must be fairly vigorous too.  She said that it doesn't require a lot of moisture, though it does appreciate it.  It is apparently both a bog plant and dry forest floor alpine.  It produces delicious blueberry-like fruit that can be harvested during the winter and early spring--frozen.  Hikers can use them for emergency water.  Links to sites with more info and images: Ethnobotany and Boreal Forest and Ascentia and USDA Forest Service.  Apparently it grows well in highly polluted boreal areas, where it seems to love heavy metals.  May 2006 it has little green berries all over the stems for the first time.  Apparently the wild life gets them before I do.  That's ok.  In May 2008 it has a lot more berries.  What I especially like about it is the fine, herringbone texture, and the range of shades of deep green to yellow-green to red that are often visible.  Reddish colors result from dying foliage.  It does tend to lose some stems in the spring, but it doesn't slow it down much. This is an excellent plant for a part sun location on a slope, rock outcropping or spilling over a retaining wall.  This is a very easy member of the Ericaceae family.  The winter of 2012 was very dry and warm. Thanks to a nice layer of mulch and every available bit of snow from my sidewalk, she is blooming like crazy this spring, and will probably have the first round of berries worth noting. We have been upgraded to zone 5, and I suspect that this plant will survive with protection to zone 4, but will not bloom well below zone 5. Go here and click the picture

Epimedium spp. beginning in 2006 we started to expand our collection beyond the two common species we have had for years. These are outstanding and easy plants that are surprisingly underappreciated.  They are a remarkable substitute for the common hosta, though they take longer to establish and spread.  After about ten years, the E. rubra has grown the most, and has been divided and moved, and moved again.  It is tough as nails in spite of its delicate and exotic appearance. The exotic species are obviously smaller and less vigorous, but that's okay.  

  • Epimedium rubra -- Barrenwort [Berberidaceae (Barberry Family)] I forget the exact date, but I think that it was 1995.  Shade. Avoid waterlogged soil, but otherwise they grow anywhere in shade. Divide in late summer, but they can be abused like astilbes (anytime, anyway). I really love the flowers on these. They have an unusually angular, four-lobed form that dangles daintily above the airy leaves. Close examination gives me the impression of futuristic space ship. This is a distinctly "mercurial" plant. The flowers of the yellow cultivar look more like tiny daffodils.  The leaves of the rubra are probably more attractive with their reddish tinge. Epimediums start out as dainty and airy plants, but after three to four years, they begin to form serious masses. Give them room to spread. Obviously they make excellent architectural, border and foundation plants, doing the same jobs as Hostas, but with a completely distinct appearance. A cute plant will become large enough to divide within three years. They are nicest when smaller, unless planted in a large, continuous mass.  Once they take off, you'll probably be dividing it frequently.  Since mine is in a small assorted specimen area, I divide it every year.  I use what I call surgical division.  This plant is very vigorous and easy to grow.
  • Epimedium unknown species 'Chen Yi #4'  Barrenwort [Berberidaceae (Barberry Family)] 2006 Friends School Plant sale. This rare species was "rescued" from development in Southeast Asia by a Chinese woman named Chen Yi, who sells a vast array of botanical treasures from Asia.  I didn't research that before I bought it at the Quaker "Friends School of Minnesota Plant Sale."  I was surprised to learn that the Quakers had chosen to buy from such an unpopular source.  I did some research on Dave's Garden for reviews or critiques of the nursery and found this.  It is fairly typical in appearance, except for the fact that the leaves are elongated and more pointed, the edges have stronger "spines" and the fuzziness of the leaves is more pronounced.  Overall, it gives the impression that it will be about 1/2 the height of the normal garden varieties.  It has white flowers, tinged with violet, and they're about twice the size of typical epimedium flowers.  In its third season it has spread, but is a bit less vigorous in appearance.  No flower this year.  Even if it doesn't flower, the leaves are striking.  Very nice.  [Image of flower]
  • Epimedium x 'Youngianum' -- Young's Epimedium, Barrenwort [Berberidaceae (Barberry Family)] Spring 2006 Linders.  Shade.  Young's epimedium looks pretty much like all epimediums except for the all-white flowers. One source says that they are slow growing.  In May 2007 it is quite dead.  Apparently it's not hardy enough for Minnesota.  [Image from Dave's Garden
  • Epimedium ? probably x veriscolor 'sulphureum'  purchased in 1995, I think.  It has the typical leaves of an epimedium with yellow flowers.  It is very healthy, but not nearly as fast growing as the E. rubra.  It has beautiful foliage, but the flowers aren't as spectacular as the E. rubra.

Erica carnea 'Springfield White' --African Heather [Heaths and Heathers,  Ericaceae or Empetraceae] Rice Creek 1995. Sandy, acidic soil with consistent moisture. Prune to stimulate side shoots and prevent sprawling appearance. Cover with leaf mulch and bury in snow. Pink (not white) flowers are ready bloom as soon as the snow melts and you uncover it. The appearance of the Erica is quite different from the Callunas.  The leaves are a bit more substantial and needle-like, and the flowers of the Erica are much larger and attract the first bees to awaken after the winter.  For a quick jolt of spring, spend a half-hour on a sunny April day watching the sleepy, slow-moving bumble bees greedily ransack your Erica.  It's comical to see such big bees trying to stick their heads into such small flowers. The flowers are mostly gone by mid-may, but the new shoots are rocketing out of the plant.

See also Calluna above. All instructions seem to apply to both species, except that Erica spp. are more sensitive to low temperatures, and require careful covering.  However, the fragile, woody stems make this difficult.  A heavy pile of snow on top of some leaf mulch or straw easily breaks off major branches.  Hence, it must also be carefully weeded around. Leaf removal in spring should not be performed with a rake anywhere near this plant--I knocked off three nice branches in one light sweep. It didn't even phase the plant and it is sending out new growth even before the last of its flowers have faded. A beautiful evergreen plant! Protect from freezing rain and very cold air. After seven years it was fairly large--about 3 feet in diameter, and about 10" high.  Very cool.  After a particularly dry winter, it was reduced to a mere shadow of its former self.  By Spring 2006 it does not appear to be recovering.  It's barely alive.   The post-mortem implicates dryness and perhaps insufficient winter protection.  It looked pretty good for seven years.  I would plant another one if I saw one in the shops, but I have not seen one ever since we lost the quirky and exotic Rice Creek Gardens nursery.  That was a very sad and unfortunate loss for the Twin Cities.

Erythronium X 'Pagoda' (Tuolumnense) -- Dog Toothed violet [Liliaceae]  Fall 2002 in rock garden, bulbs from Linder's.  3 bulbs planted.  This is a very lovely small yellow flower.  Spring 2003, the bulbs did not come up.   See next entry for more thoughts on this difficult native wildflower.

Erythronium americanum -Dog Toothed Violet, Adder's Tongue, Trout Lily  [Liliaceae] We first planted a couple when we set up the garden in the first place.  They never came up.  I tried them before in the back yard.  No luck.  However, I know they are fairly easy to grow, so I assumed something else was wrong.  Spring 2004, we bought four new ones potted and growing.  They aren't supposed to be difficult, but the bulbs are very perishable.  So, if I'm right, these will have a much better chance of survival.  Another strange thing--the bulb dies each fall with a new one below it so that they dig themselves deeper each year, eventually vanishing.  One list serve I read suggested placing a flat stone 2" beneath the bulb to give a stopping point.  I'd think that this might be impractical.  Perhaps a layer of coarse stone.  It grows wild in this area.  Stay tuned for updates.  Spring 2005: As of May 24th, there is no sign of any of them, and we put in about 6!  Hmmm.  Not promising.  Spring 2006 there is definitely nothing there.  Spring 2012 I am still thinking about making another attempt, but have not done so.

Euonymus fortuneii 'minus' variegatta. [Celastraceae] (Wintercreeper) Fall 2002 in rock garden.  From Rice Creek Gardens.  A replacement in 2003 from Leitners.  Stay tuned for updates.  In the Euonymus species is a more bushy and large plant commonly known as the burning bush.  Others are large creepers or ground covers.  This is apparently a dwarf version of the creeping variety.  The flowers are not notable, but the green and white foliage is very beautiful.  The tough winter killed it.  We bought another one, much larger from Leitner's in 2003.  In 2008 it is really doing well.  It survived the winter quite nicely and once the growth started, there were no dead branches, although it does lose a lot leaves on branches that stick vertically up above a foot.  The variegated foliage is very nice, and it appears to be a quick grower.  In Spring 2006 it looks extremely good.  I love this thing, but it is a fast runner.  The creeping shoots are well over eight feet now.  I had to remove 4 runners that weren't variegated this year.  I am starting to sculpt it more to fill in like a background between the other more showy plants in the circumpolar garden. It takes some maintenance, but I recommend this plant for a bright ground cover in a bright-shade condition.

Eupatorium maculatum, Joe Pye Weed-- [asteraceae] Bachmans? 1996 Very late to arise in spring. It is quite large (5' to 8') and reseeds. Give it fertile, moist soil. This is a very attractive and very tall plant. It is very easy to grow here, since it is a native.  Its typical habitat in the wild is lowlands near rivers where it can get lots of moisture and some shade. I recommend it for a background. The flower tops make excellent dried flowers if cut while still attractive. Once the flowers drop, they turn to gruesome dandelion-like puffs that will spread these deep rooted giants all over your garden. I strongly encourage you to grow it, but for an urban garden be aware that it will require serious and timely deadheading.  The plants are basically 7 foot tall dandelions. I would not worry about this if you have a very large area of moist soil you would like a towering plant to fill.  The plant is easy to control if the newer plants are removed before they turn into established colonies. Given lots of peat in the soil, they don't seem to require a lot of supplemental water. They like water, but don't seem as thirsty as I would have expected.  Another plus is that the canes can be cut and stored for drying to provide beautiful and fairly sturdy garden stakes for holding up other plants (not as hard as bamboo).  The mature plants form tough crowns that come up out of the ground.  I have never divided ours, but ten years later I'm starting to think about it, as it's now starting to crowd the other plants.  It looks like it would be difficult to do without a really sharp spade, or perhaps some dynamite.  The crown structure of the plant is very hard, so lifting and dividing a mature clump looks like a tough task--which I haven't tried. Twelve years after planting, the clump is about 36" in diameter at the base.  Actually, it is fairly stable--increasing more slowly now.   Click for image.

Euphorbias:  We have four different species.  Tropical and subtropical euphorbias make impressive, unusual and easy house plants.  The hardy euphorbias are as easy as Sedum.  Our favorites are the Crown of Thorns and the E. platyclada.  The outdoor species we have is one of the few that escaped having its name recorded.  The Succulent Euphorbias page in Denmark has useful information.  I just started looking through it to identify ours.   The variety of plants in this family is amazing.  The genus ranges from cactus-like structures the size of large trees to small, soft Snow on the Mountain and Poinsettias.  


Festuca glauca -- Blue Fescue Grass [Poaceae/Gramineae (grass family)]  Tolerant of dryness. Easy. Trim and shape the clumps into tidy hemispheres, or it will drape its 12"-15" blades all over your garden. Cut the seed heads off before they ripen and fall. Receptive to shaping, division, transplanting.  As our garden grew, this was crowded out.  I rescued it, and plan to cultivate it in several new locations.

Filipendula rubra --Queen of the Prairie [Rosaceae] Bachman's late 1994  Give it full sun, and plenty of water, but well-drained, rich soil. Dead heading will lengthen flowering from early July through August.  If the leaves become unsightly, cut it down anytime--it regrows. It spreads quickly underground from large, shallow rhizomes that can be easily divided and transplanted.  It begins to bloom in June.  The rapid vertical growth seems to be variable, depending on light, water and fertilizer.  Given plenty of sun and water, they sometimes get 7 feet high, but generally are 4 to 6 feet high.  I have seen stalks limited to 3 feet in less favorable conditions.  Given its height and the top-heavy structure of the blooming plants, you will need to provide a cage or something like that to hold them upright.  It smells like roses and looks like a glorious pink floral cotton candy. It is a marvelous background plant.  Great with Thalictrum rochebrunianum, Ligularia, and Angelica.)  We have a patch of this flanked by a clump of Eupatorium, forming a towering back wall to our garden.  In front of this is a large clump of Ligularia stenocephala flanked by another clump of Siberian Iris.  Filipendula is Native to Minnesota, and looks swell next to Eupatorium, which also is native to this area.  Click for image.

Fritillaria [ go to Fritillaria section of my Bulbs Page ]

Galium odoratum--see Asperula odorata

Gaillardia X grandiflora 'Goblin'--Blanket flower [Asteraceae] floriferous and hardy but sometimes short-lived. Average, well-drained soil. They do not like rich moist soil, which they will probably get in our garden. We thought that the Aster yellows had claimed it too, but it had reseeded, and new ones are thriving in 1998.  As of 2002, none remain.  Being that I'm not an enthusiastic fan of the Asteraceae, I haven't bothered to replant them.

Galax aphylla aka Galax urceolata -- Beetleweed, Wandflower [Diapensiaceae] Rice Creek Gardens, Spring 2003.  Appalachian native with ability to adapt to a wide range of temperatures provided that it has moisture, shade and acidic soil.  Spreading by creeping rhizomes it makes a great groundcover.  Spring shoots are late to emerge, so mark its location.  In Minnesota, it just started to become visible at the end of May.  The leaves are highly prized by flower arrangers and crafty folks.  The flowers are pretty white racemes.   [click for image, more info ]  Spring 2005 update: Last year, the plant didn't do so well.  It hung in there, but something seems to be screwy in the soil in the area that it is.  A small evergreen died, a rhododendron nearly perished, and my bog rosemary was reduced dramatically by something--cat or dog piss, perhaps?  But, as of late May 2005, it looks pretty good.  I hope it at least blooms this year.  In 2006 it disappeared.  I think that it needs more water than it got.

Gaultheria procumbens (Wintergreen, Box Berry, Ground Holly, Mountain Tea, Ground Tea, Partridge Berry, Petite the du bois, Teaberry, Spice Berry or Checkerberry) [Ericaceae] Rice Creek Gardens Fall 2002  Another larger specimen from Highland Nursery in Spring 2004 in rock garden.   Spring 2006: added a Monrovia brand 'Red Barron'.  That means we have three slightly different cultivars. It's a 6" high ground cover with waxy leaves and red berries.  The leaves contain the aromatic oil that provides wintergreen flavoring for candy.  The berries are edible, said to be much loved by birds, but they don't seem to recognize it around here.    It's a circumpolar plant found in the Minnesota Boundary Waters area.  It does very, very well in our yard.  I give this one my highest endorsement for shady acid soil.  It spreads nicely from the roots.  Spring 2012 update: all three plants are spreading steadily and controllably.  Wow.  I only love it more every year.  Click for picture and info, close-up

Gentiana dahurica 'nikita' - [Gentianaceae]  Friends School Plant Sale 2005.  This Asian native is hardy to zone 4.  As of Spring 2006 it looks very good.  It's obviously winter hardy.  The past winter was not an easy one.  In Spring 2008 I saw that other, taller plants were beginning to crowd it out.  It is very short at about 6".  So, I dug it up and moved it a bit.  It didn't look like it enjoyed being moved, but three weeks later it's still alive.  Make sure that it has an open space where it gets light and you can see it, because it is such a small plant. [click for more info and image ]

Geranium X 'Johnson's Blue -- Hardy Geranium or Cranesbill [Geraniaceae] 1993 from Leitner's.  Cut back after flowering for rebloom, and dead-head regularly!  In four years, a cute little plant will be a thug covering 4 - 5 square feet with its sprawling leaves. It's really easy and nice, but keep it away from less vigorous plants. Nature gave the seed capsules an amazing catapult that launches seeds about fifteen feet.  They also have an efficient system for spreading underground.  These popular plants are a lot more aggressive than most people are aware.   I like them, but encourage you to be careful with these deep rooted spreaders with the flying seeds. For the botanically correct, this is a hybrid and they reseed a lot if you don't deadhead them.

In order to divide or control, dig deeply.  Religious deadheading is essential, unless you don't care about them taking over in a 30 foot circle around the plant.  Hardy Geraniums are definitely a bad idea for lazy gardeners, unless you really do want an invasive, tough plant. The blue flowers are very pretty, and the foliage turns red in the fall.  They will need to be dug out every 2-3 years.  

I don't recommend them in assorted perennial beds, except for a cover around spring bulbs. They make an excellent fill in for daffodils and crocus. They are ideal for more formal plantings with a few species and for erosion control.  They can be mowed.  Here in Minnesota, the native species of geranium is the first thing to appear after clear cutting or forest fires.  It's nature's way of keeping the soil from washing or blowing away, and it's quite effective.  The native species is pink and fairly tall.  The Johnson's Blue is shorter and more spectacular in the garden.

For division, I have found that the only thing you can do wrong is to plant the rhizomes too deeply, or let them dry out before you plant them.  Dig it up.  Tear it apart.  Plant the growing ends upright.  It's fairly self-explanatory once you've dug the mother plant up.  I put gobs of them into 8" pots that sit around for a month or more waiting for a hapless victim to come take them.  They actually do nicely in pots, and look fairly attractive.  I would suggest that the lazy gardener plant them in bottomless plastic pots submerged in the ground  to retain the roots.  These pots will need to be divided at least every two years.  They grow very quickly.

For spring division I use a technique that I call surgical division.  I have a very sharp knife about 12" long.  Without lifting the whole clump, I determine which part of it I want to get rid of and which part I want to stay.  I plunge the knife into the soil and cut across that line, and then cut around the sides--leaving more clearance on the outside of the plant so as to capture as many roots as possible that are not along the main line of cutting from the main plant.  Geraniums send rhizomes out 6-8"  I recommend doing just a single cut across the main clump, then create pockets on the sides where you can sink your hands in around it, and then rip the clump out of the ground slowly while feeling around it for the rhizomes.  Lift the small clump away, fill the whole with new soil, and deal with the divided piece as needed.  It can usually be broken down into smaller pieces.   What I like about surgical division is that it's easier than lifting the whole clump and it doesn't disturb anything to the other side of the cut.  In other words, it's less destructive to the garden.  Geraniums respond very well to this technique.

Geranium X 'Max Frei' [Geraniaceae]Leitner's 1995 A smaller and shade tolerant species. Slow grower. Disproportionately large and deep taproot.  So far it isn't very impressive.  I think that ours isn't getting enough sun.  It eventually succumbed to overcrowding.  We no longer have it.  However, given a good location, this is a very cute plant with nice leaves.  It's not a good choice for a wild cottage garden like ours.

Geum ? [Rosaceae] Leitner's 1997 Red flowers. Frequent division to maintain vigor. Intensely colored flowers. This entire family, like the Anemone pulsatilla seems to attract the contempt of birds, who seem to enjoy tearing parts off of the plants, and leaving them to rot. It didn't make it.  I'm interested in trying it again in a different spot, but I haven't seen it in the shops.

Geum triflorum -- Prairie Smoke [Rosaceae]. Landscape Alternatives 1995. Slow growing Minnesota Prairie native.  This is a very attractive small plant. Beautiful seed heads similar to pasque flower, but waved to look like a wisp of smoke.  They leaves are only about 3-8" high and the flowers stand at about 6-12", so it's best in a front row position.  Ten years later, and three changes of location, it is finally doing very well.  They divide easily.  Cut a chunk out with a knife and scoop it out.  Stick it in the ground.  Water it.  They are very tough and well-behaved.  It has formed a rather large and attractive clump.  A large mass of seed heads will demonstrate where they got their name.  Interestingly, I have never seen evidence of reseeding, though I bet that they are like pasque flowers in that regard.  I really like this plant.  Unlike other geums and similar plants the birds only abuse it occasionally.

Goodyera pubescens -- Downy Rattlesnake Plantain [Orchidaceae] Spring 2003 and 2004.  This plant has beautiful leaves that lie flat on the ground or mulch, like a plantain.  The flowers are sent up on long racemes, like a plantain.  But it's an orchid.  Further, given a dry, somewhat shady spot near a spruce tree, it's very undemanding--suitable even for dry conditions.  Our first pair survived vigorously--one of them is even sporting an offshoot.  At $5.00 each, they're not nearly as expensive as other orchids.  They appeared to be easy the first and second season.  Perhaps it got too much water, but I tried not to water much in that area.  They disappeared by Spring 2005. I have decided that I am going to try again with this and other acid loving orchids, but only after I actually succeed in getting the pH down to 4.5.  [click for excellent pictures]

Gypsophila paniculata 'Snowflake Double White' -- [Caryophyllaceae] " Leitner's 1994.  The regal beauty of Thalictrum D. 'Hewitt's Double' makes this plant seem like "white trash." However, if you must have one, this is better than other species. Unfortunately, the flowers smell like parmesan cheese or dirty socks.   Not an especially attractive plant.  I have grown to love mine by placing it in a small clearing in the middle of my Echinacea and Black-Eyed Susan meadow patch.  They hide its uncomely infrastructure and even provide a sort of natural support for the unwieldy clouds of flowers.  Whatever you do, don't put it where you're likely to smell it.  Depending on conditions, it tends to fluctuate in size, but this year, ten years after planting, it promises to be really showy.  At first I didn't care much for it, but I've come to appreciate it more.  It makes an excellent companion to native compositae/asteraceae and sundrop primulas. 

Gypsophila repens -- Creeping Baby's Breath Bachman's 1996 Not very attractive--condemned to the back fence alley garden.   After about 2 years, it seems to have disappeared, or merged imperceptibly with the indigenous alley flora.  

Hacquetia epipactis [Apiaceae] We got this gem from Rice Creek Gardens in 1995.  The following year, I didn't see it in their catalog, and have not seen any since.  I call it "Hellebore anemone" because it seems like a cross between the two plants, though it is actually more closely related to the Eryngium (Sea holly) a rather thistle-like alpine plant native to Europe, and more distantly related to parsley and fennel.  The flowers are 5 petaled bracts colored like a euphorbia--brilliant chartreuse.  Click here to see a picture of my oldest colony of hacquetia epipactis from 2005.  The flowers shoot up first, then come the leaves--somewhat similar to a hellebore in terms of its seasonal development cycle.  Anemones do this too, but not with the sturdy, waxy and jagged edges.  Once the flowers fade, the seeds are nearly ripe, and they drop off as the bracts turn into leaves and flop over.  True leaves come up behind them, looking something like a hellebore.  The flowers stand about 3" high and about 1" across.  After blooming, the heavy, waxy leaves stand about 5" high, and form a dense clump.  The bract flowers turn darker green, the stems lengthen and droop over, perfectly designed to deposit seeds right at the perimeter of the colony.  Ours is spreading steadily, but not rapidly from its roots and reseeding modestly just beyond its perimeter. After I saw how readily its seeds take simply by dropping them in desirable locations right after they ripened, I started gathering the seeds for more careful planting.  I'm not sure if the seeds need stratification or not.  Now we have starts all around the garden, making a cheery display that attracts more attention than anything else in the early spring garden.  It seems to draw people like a magnet.  I gave one to my mother, and some jealous neighbor stole it out of her front yard.  

Once they set their seeds, they loose the vivid color, turning a deep green like the leaves.  They make a very nice ground cover for a rock garden or bouldered area.  They grow nicely in pretty deep deciduous shade, but they need early spring sun.  I have only just started some in full sun, and a clump in deep shade is doing well, but spreading less quickly.

In order to pull off a successful harvest of the precious seeds, you really need to keep an eye on them.  They ripen quickly and drop to the ground.  Cup your hand under a flower and very gently stroke the seeds in the center of the flower--they're fairly obvious.  When they are ripe, they will fall out of the flower at the slightest touch or flick.  The problem is that you you have to catch them before a breeze knocks them out.  If you have good eyes, it's not impossible to see fallen seeds on the ground and pick them up.  They are usually pale green when they are ripe, so you can't tell by looking.  Once they drop, they turn dark quickly.  I put them into an open container to dry for a few weeks, then I just plant them about 1/8" deep in loose soil.  This is a very easy plant, and a prize possession in our garden.  The seedlings will bloom in their second season.  This plant is extremely highly recommended.  Click here to see a nice picture, and this is a shot of my oldest plant, published at Dave's Garden.  Apparently it is occasionally a companion of Hellebores in the wild.  

Helleborus niger 'Winter Dreams' -- Christmas Rose [Ranunculaceae]. Leitner's Spring 2006.  This Hellebore appears to tolerate a more acidic soil, but I have placed my first one in slightly alkaline conditions among my H. orientalis.  It could be a bad idea, but after 3 weeks, it still looks very pretty.  What I like about this one is that the flowers and leaves have a strong maroon tone to them.  It's a very dark and somber plant that would look beautiful amidst fritillarias.  They are in their third season now in 2008, and they are great.  Except for dry winter, this is a very tough plant for cold climates. I almost lost mine in the nearly snowless winter of 2012, so I will remember to water it, and mulch it better.  The H. orientalis is taller, but not nearly as tough.  I am able to make both do well here, but the H. niger is clearly a lot hardier.  Here is a list of the features in comparison to the other species:

H. orientalis features: very pretty, and many named cultivars exist with showy blooms.  It's fairly tall at around 15-18" for a mature colony.  The lighter green foliage will brighten up a shady corner.  The main weakness is that it is more fragile--susceptible to fungus, and more sensitive to cold.  The flowers should be carefully covered if you get a freezing rain during its bloom.  Spring is the most dangerous time for them. Also, the flowers hang downwards, so the real beauty isn't visible unless you cut them like tulips--plunging them quickly into water.

H. niger pros: even prettier, with much more colorful blooms, and rich, deep green leaves. The blooms stand facing nicely outward, nearly parallel with the ground.  It's extremely tough.  The only weakness I see is that it's short, with the tallest bloom stalks reaching about 8", and the leaves lying fairly flat on the ground.  

Helleborus orientalis -- Lenten Rose, Hellebore [Ranunculaceae]. Leitner's 1995 Prone to black fungus especially in early spring and late fall. Warm sun seems to straighten it all out.  It's happy beneath trees that do not leaf out until it has bloomed. We have it under the north side of a silver maple. Lime added to the soil is said to improve coloration and vigor. The simple, petalless flowers last for several months after the the seeds form. This is another plant that I would place high on my recommended list, and well worth the high price tag. A bit finicky--susceptible to bacterial and fungal infections. Not recommended for lazy gardeners.  Extremely highly recommended to serious gardeners.  Because they are very slow to grow, and you can't divide them, you should plant them as soon as you can so they will have time to develop.  We have one that is now nine years old.  It took about seven years to be "full grown."  The root structures are small, and fragile.  I had some initial luck in transplanting them, but after nine years, I can say only that it works best to buy them nursery grown, or let them grow wherever they reseed themselves.  In Fall of 2003 I planted a package of Thompson & Morgan assorted Helleborus Orientalis seeds.  As of May 2006 there is no sign of germination yet.  Come to think of it, I think that all of the attempts I have made to sow the seeds have failed, whereas they seem to self-sow nicely.  Go and figure.  One important warning that goes along with a plant that only does well if cultivated professionally is that nurseries obviously know that they have us where they want us.  The price for a 1 gallon pot is usually around $15-20  Click here for more info on Hellebores

Hemerocallis -- Day Lilies: see Lily section of bulbs page

Hepatica acutiloba -- Sharp leaved Hepatica [ranunculaceae] Spring 2004.  Aside from more elongated stems and the different shaped leaves, it appears to be basically the same as the more popular H. americana, so see the description below

Hepatica americana (blue or white) -- aka Anemone Hepatica (no common name known) [Ranunculaceae] Rice Creek 1996. Native Minnesotan beauty, supposedly the first wildflower to bloom here amidst its evergreen ground-covering leaves that resemble tiny Jack-in the pulpits or Trilliums seen from above. The previous season's leaves provide the energy necessary to revive the plant in spring and then die, like the Tiarella. This is probably the most diminutive of the Ranunculaceae with a height of about three inches. Apparently a lime-loving woodland shade to part-shade plant. The leaves are mottled with darker green to maroon veins or swirls.   This is probably my favorite Minnesota native.  They come in purple and white flowered forms.  

Heuchera X brizoides 'Mt. St. Helens' --Coral Bells [Saxifragaceae (like Astilbe)]. Remove dead or damaged evergreen foliage in spring. Tends to look unattractive in early spring.  However, it's an easy plant, and it looks quite nice now on the north facing slope of our front yard.  They have really attractive red flowers and they flower for a long time.  Low maintenance.  Inexpensive.  Bright flowers for a long time.  Check, check, check.  This is a nice plant.  

Horseradish Cochlearia armoracia  [cruciferaceae] EVIL! EVIL! EVIL! I suspect that the species name "armoracia" refers to its resistance to all forms of attack.  Don't plant this invasive, difficult to eradicate vermin in your yard.  It took me at least five years to kill my neighbor's plant.  The only way to get it is by deep excavation.  Commercial herbicides have no effect on it.  This $#&*@ plant is so sinister and aggressive that I broke my rule to never use herbicides.  It was a total waste.  Round-up and Ortho were both harmless to it.  I finally got rid of it by digging a 3 foot deep crater six feet around.  The roots are pretty easy to spot, but they can creep outwards from the source up to ten feet!  These creeping roots typically spread at about 10" below the surface of the soil, so pulling the plants up at the surface is an exercise in futility.  Invite over a bunch of burly friends with shovels and have a plant killing party.   Sort through every bit of soil to find all the pieces of root, otherwise, resign yourself to watching horseradish take over the whole neighborhood.  Besides being very aggressive and hard to control, the plant is quite large and unattractive.  The only redeeming quality it has is the flavorful root.  Better to let a professional grow it and sell you the stuff.  Anyone who plants horseradish in an uncontrolled situation should be arrested and flogged. If you must have it, put it in a large container, or prepare to be drawn and quartered by your neighbors. Expect to see me in the front row at your Auto de Fe.     

Hostas, hostas and more hostas--This large family of "plantain lillies" is commonly found around sidewalks, foundations, raised beds, everywhere not in full sun. They are hardy, easy, shade tolerant. The variety of colors, shapes and sizes is surprising, so seek out a nursery that supplies unique ones. They are large and expand enough to divide nearly every other year. This is good, since they are among the more expensive common garden plants. Plant them in deciduous tree shade, so they get spring sun. Surround them with small crocus and species daffodils, or grape hyacinths, anything that finishes its show before Memorial Day. Hostas are late to spread their large leaves, so they are valuable for filling up the spring bulb garden--provided that you divide them regularly to prevent them taking over the bulbs.  

There are a surprising variety of textures, sizes and shades of green.   Small species are about 6" high.  The larger ones stand about 3 feet high.  Some have very smooth leaves, others are crinkly.  Some are solid in color, others are variegated.  Some have leaves that droop or curl.  Others stand quite erect.  The leaves have shades ranging from parchment yellow to deep green to blue-gray.  Mixing species is an excellent idea. Serious gardeners will seek out unusual varieties at a specialty nursery.   Expect to pay about $7.50 per pot for common species at other nurseries, but they will have very little selection.  Fancy named varieties may cost up to $40.00.  There is a sad truth about them.  The more expensive plants don't spread fast enough for their owners to be offering me divisions.  Naturally, the hostas that most of us had on our lots when we bought our houses are probably the less expensive, and often less unique in structure.  There are still a handful of hostas on our lot, but I've only maintained one of the probably 4 varieties that were here when we moved in. The less interesting ones have been progressively losing their homes to hellebores and various ranunculaceae, and I've moved them to my neighbor's yards.  I only maintain two at this time, and would gladly sacrifice both for something more erect, bluish and large.  Alas, nobody has given me any and I find it hard to spend money on them when they seem so aggressive.  

The range of colors available in hostas is really kind of surprising.  There are bright amber and chartreuse as well as blue and a chilly gray--not to mention the typical deep green and pale green-beige.  As if that weren't enough, there are different textures and leaf shapes.  The worst part is that there are so many to choose from.  In my personal opinion, the strongest suit of the hostas is their unusual colors--golden, acid green, blue and gray.  There are so many other plants that can do green and variegated green and beige, so why not use hostas for the other shades of color? They are especially nice for the shades of blue.

Most species do not appreciate full southern exposure. They are pretty tolerant of most conditions, and they do like some light.  They will do well on the North, West and East sides of buildings.  On the south side, they seem less happy without water, but they do flower better in bright conditions.  These valuable plants are still the landscape architect's favorite ornamental. They really add structure to a garden, with an amazingly small amount of effort. They appreciate fertilizers, but will thrive on neglect. Water well after transplanting, then forget about them. Soooooo easy, and with a bit of effort and expense, they can be very stylish and eye-catching.  . 

Many novice gardeners think that the flower stalks that pop up in mid summer should be snipped off--as if there is something wrong with them flowering.   The flowers are not spectacular, but they are usually pretty, and almost always fragrant.  Don't cut them off unless you are bringing them indoors for a bouquet.  They make nice additions to cut flower arrangements.  Don't worry about them going to seed.  Getting the seeds to germinate appears to be nearly impossible.  They will spread quickly in tight clumps by expanding roots. 

Most species will cover an area much larger than the crown of shoots in the ground might indicate. A single leaf on an average sized species of hosta will reach out horizontally from 12 to 20 inches, hence a clump eight inches across of a typical hosta will spread in a radius of nearly 36 inches when the leaves fully emerge in June.  When creating large plantings of hosta, buy a few, spread them apart by at least three feet, and fill the space with annuals and early bulbs. Within three to four years, all will be full, and the annuals will not be needed. Don't be afraid to cut a new plant into smaller pieces to save money.  A gallon pot with a full root ball could easily be cut into four pieces.   As long as they get water, I don't think you can harm them much.  The main deal with hostas is that if you want a tight, formal planting you'll need to divide them frequently.  If not, then it's best to use them like day lilies--a low maintenance way to completely fill in  open space amidst foundation plantings of shrubs.   

All of our Hostas came with our house.  I have yet to take the initiative to replace them with more attractive selections.

  • Hosta crispula -- Curled Leaf Hosta [Liliaceae] What is there to say?  Easy. Valuable. Dividable. Hardy.  It does better with attention and dislikes lots of sun, but they can take quite a bit of abuse.
  • Hosta lancifolia -- Narrow-leaved Hosta.  Not very cool.  I don't recommend this one.  As of Spring 2006 I have given all of mine away to neighbors and friends.  Dark green, small leaves.  
  • Hosta montana 'Aurea-marginata' (two-tone green) Low, pretty and wide horizontal spread. This one is my favorite among the ones we own.  It's fairly bright colored through May into June, and then turns darker.
  • Hosta plantaginea -- August Lily. Wonderful white flowers, unremarkable foliage.  This one is the most vigorous grower, requiring frequent division.  Want some?  
  • I like the looks of the following selections, all available at Direct Source Hostas: American Halo, Blue Angel, Deja Blu, Dream Weaver, Earth Angel, First Frost, Frosted Dimples, Halcyon, Lakeside Cupcake, Liberty, Paradise Glory, Paradise Joyce, Queen Josephine, Rascal, Rich Uncle, Sagae, Striptease, Touch of Class (super-blue)

Humulus lupulus -- Hops Vine  [Urticaceae]  1999 This vine is well-known for its use in beer. It is relatively rare as a garden plant. It is a vigorous vine, growing up to thirty feet in one season, then dying back to the ground each year. The pine cone shaped flowers of the female plants (male plant is unnecessary) are attractive and make great fall dried flowers, and can be used for a high nitrogen mulch. (Apparently the nitrogen content is high enough to burn seedlings.) It's supposed to take 2-3 years for the plants to really take off. After discovering that ours included both a male and female, I dug it up and killed it immediately.  The decision was obviously a good one.  The roots were spreading quite far from the plant.  Another year, and we would have been taken over by hops.  If I did it again, I would have to make sure I had ONLY a female, and that I planted it inside a plastic container so as to control those amazing roots.  The overall appearance is very similar to a grape, but with completely herbaceous stems.  It dies back to the ground in winter.  It's really very attractive, but really aggressive.  Think twice before planting it, unless you have a large piece of land to play with.

Hydrophyllum virginianum -- Virginia Waterleaf [Hydrophyllaceae] (--1994 stolen from private property--this stuff grows wild and rampant around here.)  Put it in the ground and forget about it.  If you don't want it to spread, take the seed heads off quickly after blooms fade.  They grow in a manner similar to geraniums, and they are found here in the wild together.  (refer to the geranium) It's essential for creating authentic Minnesota woodlands.  In 2008, fourteen years after introducing it to the garden, it has gotten around a bit, and I've been increasingly aware of the fact that I have to kill a lot of them.  Yet, it does not appear to be difficult to eradicate them by digging.  I do not regret its presence, and recommend them to you too. 

Hypericum polyphyllum -- Rockery St. John's Wort [Clusiaceae] 2004 Friends School Plant Sale.  I like this plant.  It's a unique alternative to yellow daisy like flowers, and it has a more tidy, formal appearance than daisies.  The flowers are big, orange-yellow and eye-catching.  It is described as a rock garden/alpine plant.  I have not given it anything like that.  It's in fairly bad soil with some clay and it stays pretty wet all the time.  It survived a pretty dry winter in a location near my foundation.  Three years later this is a really nice plant.  It kind of straddles that ambiguous zone between herbaceous perennial and shrub.  The bright flowers are really attractive, and stimulated by vigorous dead-heading.  It will reseed, but not overly so.  The seedlings have appeared quite far from the the plant, though.  Spring 2010 I noticed that it is sending rhizomes out horizontally.  I thought the new plants were just seedlings, but when I started removing some that had advanced about 12 feet from the mother plant, I realized they were all connected together by several rhizome roots that were taking over the raised bed.  I quickly and carefully removed most of the plants I had, leaving only the original plant, which I also divided and reduced.  No wonder my honeysuckle vine looked like it was starving.  I still like this plant a lot, but recommend restricting its roots by planting in a pot or raised bed.  This plant could easily invade your lawn with bushes, and would easily send its roots underneath standard lawn/garden edging.  

Hyssop officinallis -- Hyssop [Labiatae].  1992--forgot the source.  Evergreen mint like lavender and rosemary, but it's hardy here.  One of the first plants we bought, it lived until the dry winter of 2003.  It was nearly destroyed by the winter of 1996 in our raised bed while a ground-planted cutting grew larger than its parent in one season. Moral? don’t plant them in raised beds and be sure to give them lots of sun. They require some serious pruning back of the woody stems and dead foliage in spring or the woody branches will sprawl unattractively and take up much garden space. Be sure to leave some growth nodes.  Bees love it, and it does make a wonderful bath herb.  It's not especially attractive, though.  Lavender is much nicer for fragrance purposes.  Since it died, I will not replace it.  

Iberis sempervirens -- White Candytuft [Cruciferae (Mustard Family)] We haven't had very good results with this one.  It always looks kind of scraggly and doesn't flower well.  It seems to be similar in form and care to the creeping phlox, though it is larger.  Like the creeping phlox, it does look great when it's in bloom, but that period is short, and the folliage just isn't that nice.  For low flowering ground covers I prefer Ajuga.  Both thumbs down on candytuft.

Impatiens pallida -- Jewel Weed [Balsamineaceae].  Native Minnesota plant.  It came with the house between two garages in a secluded spot where nettles had overgrown.  Most people would have wiped them all out, but I realized that the jewel weed has some value, so I only killed the nettles (though they seem to return surreptitiously in all sorts of mysterious places).  First of all, it is the aloe vera of the prairie and northwoods.  It is especially effective on nettle stings, insect bites, burns, and even poison ivy/poison oak.  Oddly, nature decided to pair this plant with the nettle, so when you get stung, look around for the jewel weed.  But, that's not enough to sell me on growing it.  It has some other properties:

1) it has a beautiful flower, and the foliage is similar to the tropical impatiens that people plant as annual bedding flowers.  However, this Minnesotan is about 3 feet tall and the flowers are almost orchid-like in their beauty.  Ours are orange-yellow with veining and details in darker orange.  In other words, it is actually attractive.

2) it is an annual, and it is extremely easy to spot them and uproot them.  The roots are very rudimentary, and the plant is very fleshy.  If you're out weeding anyway, this one is super easy to control.  It's at the opposite end of the weed difficulty spectrum from dandelions, though it does create a lot of seedlings.  I should stress this.  After giving it tolerated status, it has definitely gotten itself all around the yard.  I bet that every spring we kill about 2,000 of them.  But, remember, it's not at all difficult to kill them by simple pulling.

3) it is tall enough that it makes wonderful little surprises amongst tall perennials.  I always let a few go in my main flower bed, and I keep one dense little patch.  I try not to let more than two or three of them grow in my more intensely cultivated areas, and I try to rip the entire plant about the time that it looks like it's starting to set seeds. 

4) the spotted orange variety (as opposed to the yellow) is an excellent flower for hummingbirds.

The only drawback is that it really does cast its seed around.  If you don't control it, it will take over your garden.  Mowing and easy pulling will eradicate it.  I would guess that two to three years of consistent pulling could purify a garden.  In summary, this is a very desirable weed.  It's ideal for mixing into fairly dense perennial beds with lots of plants at around 3 to 6 feet high.  Excellent for that area behind the woodpile where you prefer not to mow or do anything at all.

Imperata cylindrica rubra --Japanese Bloodgrass.  Unknown date, but probably 1995.  About 10" high, and unable to flower or seed in our short season, but this red-leafed grass is marvelous. It's not supposed to be hardy here, but ours made it with little more than snow mulch through the winter of 1996, and the very dry winter of 2003-2004.  It is slow to restart in spring, and doesn’t look convincingly alive until the Pasque flowers are in full bloom. In 2001 it is spreading significantly, forming a beautiful ground cover around the many thalictrum rochebrunianum. Now there's a nice combination!  At the State Fair bonsai exhibit, we saw a beautiful indoor display made in a shallow tray with only this grass growing in it.  I told the woman that the plant is actually hardy in Minnesota, so we both learned something new about this lovely monocot.  It took about eight years before it grew enough that I wanted to divide it, so this is a very slow growing, well behaved grass.  In 2007 the whole thing seems to have vanished--probably light starved by the throngs of papaver and thalictrum around it.  It was doing well, then all of a sudden it was just gone.  

Iris ensata Japanese Iris--[Iridiaceae] 1995 This is the most impressive and rewarding member of the iris family. Well worth the extra water. It is usually thought of as a pond plant, but we keep them quite well in our main garden by watering them more.  I give them organic fertilizer too.  The three starter plants we got are all different colors, and they were very tiny root cuttings.  After six years they had formed the characteristic iris ring clumps, so I divided them and placed them in various places.  They are very attractive and appropriate companions for Thalictrum rochebrunianum and T. dipeterocarpum.  

Each bud produces 2-3 spectacular flowers in quick succession.  If you aren't in a hot, dry area, you want these.  Trust me.  Very highly recommended.  Click here for images.

Iris lacustris -- Dwarf Lake Iris [Iridaceae] 2003 Rice Creek Gardens.  From Lake Michigan's North Shore, this beautiful fall blooming acid lover.  Ours didn't survive.  The roots, which look like long, skinny bird toes, were exposed as some soil washed away.  I think it just desiccated.  I might try it again in a different spot.  The flowers are beautiful and it goes for quite a while.  No chance to get another plant yet, because Rice Creek is now gone.

Iris sibirica 'Caesar's Brother' -- Siberian Iris [Iridiceae] Dig and divide after flowering every year for best results. Replant the rhizome just under the surface.  Dull, common, but nice plants.  Everyone needs some.  They need feeding to get good blooms.

Isopyrum biternatum -- Spring Beauty (anemone) (wild import '94.  Yes, I confess that I dug it up from the wild, but it was private property, and I made it thrive, OK?) [Ranunculaceae]. Slow start, but once I cleared away all the hostas that shaded it, it has been impressive.  I have seen rounded clumps 15" by 12" and 12" high. Obviously, it appreciates some sun, but disappears after blooming (gone by July). Delicate and charming. Its many white blooms and airy foliage last from early April until the end of May. Reseeds nicely, and transplants quite easily.  One problem is that it is very difficult to catch the ripe seeds before it launches them like a geranium.  Since it has short-lived flowers that keep coming for well over a month, it's difficult to tell which seed pods are ready.   I think that it would work very well in the lawn since the best part of the flower show would be over before mowing time, and it just disappears after that.  It has light, airy foliage that wouldn't have a dramatic effect on the lawn.  Similar to Anemonella thalictroides, but more delicate and ephemeral.  Very highly recommended.

Jasminum polyanthum Franch. Synonym: Jasminum blinii, Jasminum delafieldii family: Oleaceae [click for "Desert Tropicals" site info on plant]  The Oleacea family includes such plants as the Lilac.  Not hardy in Minnesota, but it keeps very well indoors, and loves to be taken outside in warm weather.  It is not as thirsty as the J. sambac, but it has prettier leaves.  Unfortunately, our 8-year-old plant never bloomed.  It has had a total of about ten blooms.  It's a vigorous grower, and can be used to rapidly cover a wall on a patio in one growing season, and then can be cut back to take indoors for the winter.  In spite of the lack of flowers, I very much like this vine. It is a true clinging vine with no tendrils, similar to a clematis--long, straight snaky stems, and the leaves are used like tendrils.  It grows rapidly.  It appears to be non-toxic to cats.  My two cats chew on the leaves frequently, and seem to like the taste.  I gave up trying to stop them.  As to why it doesn't bloom, I can't figure it out.  It supposedly blooms in February.  Last year I thought it was related to blooming on "old wood".  I tried leaving large amounts of stem from summer growth during the winter, and nothing came of it.  I fertilized it all winter with dilute Miracle Grow.  I tried strong organics.  Nothing.  In the winter of 2005-6 I left it outside to freeze to death.  I now have a Peruvian Glory Vine to replace it.

Jasminum sambac [(L.) Aiton family: Oleaceae] [click for "Desert Tropicals site info on plant]  I'm unsure of the date, but I think that we first got it in 1994, from Linders, I think.  It's not hardy in cold weather, but we haul it out to our deck facing south during the summer, and place it in a south window during the winter.  It usually blooms 2-3 times from Spring to Fall, and generally blooms 2-3 times during the winter!  In fact, it practically blooms all year around with about 4 week periods without flowers.  Of these, there are approximately 3-4 heavy blooms per year.  The blossoms are intoxicatingly wonderful--this is the REAL jasmine used in perfumes and tea.  The only difficulty in growing it is its thirst.  We have an old plant--about 11 years old--in a 14" pot, and it consumes about 2 gallons of water per week in 2-3 doses per week during the winter.  Indoors, I give it a dilute solution of Miracle Grow once a week, and about one gallon of clear water in between.  Feeding it makes it bloom.  Outdoors, it must be watered almost daily.  Propagation is easy from young shoots, but it takes a long time for the new plant to start growing.   It's not a true vine, more like a sprawling shrub.  The woody stems have a tendency to grow in irregular, unattractive structures, so it's a good idea to train it on a regular basis.  Prune it, tie it, turn it, etc.  During its indoor winter period, it gets kind of rough looking, but it recovers quickly once it gets outdoors.  When it gets dry, it will drop leaves.  I recommend this plant highly.  Imagine plucking your own jasmine blossoms to toss into your teapot.  Imagine the smell of jasmine filling a room in December.  

Jeffersonia diphylla -- Twinleaf -- Ground Squirrel Pea -- [Berberidacea (like Epimedium)] Spring 2007 from Linders.  This underappreciated woodland wildflower is a native, endangered species.  I was pleased to find them at Linders because I feel pretty confident that they were cultivated rather than pilfered.  It's a bit early to comment on its viability, but the appearance is wonderful.  Imagine an epimedium with leaves that look like butterflies.  The flower is rather like Hepatica, but larger.  Mine hasn't flowered yet.  It's very enchanting because, like Epimedium, the wiry stems make the "butterflies" quiver in the breeze.  Six weeks after planting it in May 07, it was alive, but clearly starting to fade.  I wasn't sure if this was a normal late summer situation until the following May of 08 it was up, and looking absolutely beautiful.  We have had a cold, long winter in 08 and the location is in bright shade on a slope facing North.  Spring 2009 was the first season that it bloomed, and it was really pretty.      

Juniper horizontalis 'Blue Chip' -- Blue Chip Juniper [Cupressaceae] Linder's Fall 2002 in rock garden.  This is one of those sprawling, ground hugging junipers with the growth that tends to go off in points like a star (click for good image of the typical form, but this is a different variety that is more green in color).  They are fairly fast growing, making up to a five or six foot wide carpet of very blue foliage.  It is native to our area, and is known for its hardiness well into zone 2.   It is recommended for xeriscaping situations, but it is suggested that you water it during winter in warmer climates.  Click for image of plant growing in sand dunesClick for image. More information. The needles aren't as unpleasant to touch as some junipers, but you want to wear gloves when you work with it.  I am doing a semi-bonsai with it.  Starting with an 24" wide, angular plant in a gallon pot, I pruned out most of the vertical growth, and all of the growth from the center, thus exposing the branches there for bonsai wiring.  I cleaned up lots of dead growth, and generally made it look as "oriental" as I could.  I then washed as much soil out of it as I could, root pruned it, focusing on removing only larger roots, and leaving feeder roots.  Then I placed it into a broad shallow pot with stones in the bottom, and a layer of composted bark.  The pot I used is one of those plastic green pots used for hanging baskets that are ready made at the greenhouse.  I was pretty careful to bang the pot to knock the compost back down into the roots, and do the Japanese technique of chop-sticking the soil mix into the roots.  The idea is to stunt the growth, and get it accustomed to root pruning.  This pot was then buried in the soil so that the top part of the roots is slightly above the rim of the pot, and the rim of the pot is below the soil.  I mulched right up to the stem of the plant and out the full root radius with long strand sphagnum moss, and placed a water retaining crater around the whole affair, and placed bark mulch up to the sphagnum mulch.  I will water it well this fall until frost, then I will give let it grow for one year in the pot in the soil.  I will then dig it up, pot and all, root prune it again, but place it into a larger pot, and bury that pot the same way for two years.  I plan to put some bonsai copper wires on it once I see if it adapts to this first session of abuse.  At the end of that period, I will dig it up one more time, assuming that it is stunted and used to being root pruned, and then I will just let it grow in the soil.  Since it will be adapted to root pruning, I will be able to dig it up again if I think it's getting too vigorous.   My hope is to create an exotic juniper bush that will ripple up and down off the ground, and spill over some boulders near it.  I will focus on getting the wooden stems in the center to be visible.  Spring 2005 update: It has had a second root pruning last Spring, and it is doing fine.  It's definitely stunted.  It looks about the same as when I first put it in.   Maybe it needs a bigger pot.  Spring 2006: the results have been quite good.  The only complaint I'd have is that it really did stunt the growth quite a bit.  It has gotten bushier, so I am able to thin the growth some, but the overall diameter has not changed much at all. 

Lavandula angustifolia -- English Lavender [Labiatae]. Snow mulch is important as the evergreen growth is prone to frost damage. Prune back in fall.  Not very hardy in Minnesota

Lavandula dentata -- French Lavender not hardy here, but we replace it because the fragrance is much better and it grows much faster.  It's also prettier than English Lavender.  

Leontopodium alpinum --Edelweiss [Compositae].  It appears to be very easy to grow, but I don't actually like it. It certainly is unusual, but it's rather weedy in appearance. The foliage and flowers are fuzzy like sheep’s ears or dusty miller. A novelty specimen. They were demoted to a less prominent place in the garden.  In the end, it died off, but I hardly missed it.  Not recommended.  An ugly duckling.  Never mind that silly song in the Sound of Music.  The Germans think that sauerkraut and blood sausages are delicious too.  Click here for image.

Lewisia 'Pinkie' - A L. longipetala x L. cotyledon hybrid -- bitter root  [Portulacaceae, more on the family] Spring 2004 Rice Creek Garden.  Small and cute like an alpine saxifrage, with a bit of a "hens and chickens" look, and a bit of a sedum look.  It has cute, cute pink, waxy flowers.  They are alpines native to Western North America.  Spring 2005, they bloomed for the first time, and look just great.  Spring 2006 they look excellent.  They are on a west facing slope in the less acidic part of our circumpolar garden.   [click for image, more information about Lewisias]

Liatris spicata 'Kobold' -- Blazing Star or Gayfeather [Compositae] This variety is probably the most attractive and useful for cutting/drying. 2-3 feet. Tie a string around the entire clump in early July to hold them together--somewhat like a peony, they tend to sprawl out and fall if not held tightly with a peony cage or string around them.  They spread outward in dense clumps that are easily divided.  Excellent cut flower.  You must have these.  It puts out 2 foot racemes of purple flowers that bloom from the top down--which is unusual.  Unlike other members of the compositae family, this one makes an onion-like bulb.  It makes me wonder about those plant families--monocots and dicots.  Uprooted seedlings clearly show the onion-like bulb at the base, and can be transplanted easily.  

Liatris spicata 'Floristan White' -- "" taller and more prone to seeding. 5 feet.  Not very attractive for small gardens.  It is almost too big and sprawling to be appealing. It is a "presence" in the midsummer garden, then the spent racemes become rather unattractive.   Cut them off after blooming.  Eventually I got rid of them.

Liatris pycnostachya --Kansas Gayfeather. Very similar to Kobold but taller--5 feet.  Pretty darned nice compared to the previous one, and you just might want some really tall racemes for flower arranging.  

All Liatris seem to be vigorous growers, but the Floristan White is too vigorous. Cut them to prevent seeding, which they seem to do. 

Ligularia stenocephala 'The Rocket' [Compositae]. 1994 Leitner's.  Two words: WATER! and fertilizer. Really a bog/pond plant, but in shade it is much easier to keep. In sun, provide it with about ½ to 1 gallon every day through the hot periods. Although thirsty and hungry, this plant is very much worth the trouble. One of the most attractive members of the compositae family. Given these conditions, it seems trouble free if slugs are not present. Self-seeding is easy to prevent by cutting the spent racemes. We have had too few seedlings, and vegetative spreading is pleasantly slow. I have been unable to coax seeds to germinate artificially. If you have some partial shade and wet soil (or willing to water it a lot), this is an absolute must-have plant. Highly recommended if you can satisfy its thirst. I love them with Cimicifuga and Japanese Iris.  A sunny pond would be ideal.  Spring 2006, twelve years later, the first specimen I put in has increased to about 10x its original surface area, and I keep making more room for it because it's such a beautiful flower.  There are other species in the Ligularia family.  Click here form images and more info.

Lilies-- Tiger, Asiatic, Oriental & Trumpet  [go to the lilies section of my Bulb Page ]

Lilium superbum -- Turk's Cap Lily Spring 2003 It took a while to pop out of the ground in 2004, but in just a couple of weeks since, it has grown about 15".  A young secondary shoot is coming up alongside.  It had a total of about 5 blooms on 3 stems.  Spring 2005 it just disappeared without a trace.   Click for info and image

Lobelia cardinalis: Cardinal Flower  [campanulaceae] Spring 2003  Tall, sage-like flower found in wet areas.  It is very, very red and grows well here.  Although it is supposed to be Winter hardy zones 2-7, ours did not survive in the raised bed.  It's possible that it got too dry.  The new one is located in our rain garden, and it does well.  The main thing to note about it is that it is very late to start in the Spring.  You might not see real shoots coming up until June.  It attracts hummingbirds.  It contains nicotinoids, so it should be considered quite toxic--just like tobacco.  Click here to see an image.  It survived its first winter and increased about double.  In the area it is growing, its blue cousin, the Campanula americana pops up here and there.  Summer 2005 it disappeared.  Of two plants I put in for 2006, one has returned for 2007.   This plant continues to thrive into Spring 2010, so I think that it's going to survive.   

Lonicera sempervirens 'Magnifica' --Honeysuckle Vine [Caprifoliaceae] 1999 Linders. Very prone to aphids, but easy to control with pyrethrin.  We were surprised by how fast this one grows.  Nice vine that's easy to train.  Pruning is a must, and it really doesn't matter how or when you do it.  I trim mine up in the early spring, cutting away everything that looks messy, and arranging it so it will look nice on the trellis.  Don't be afraid to cut away lots of this fast grower.  I cut mine so that only main stems remain bonded to the trellis.  Anything that sticks out away from the trellis goes.  The blooms come on new growth.  It will become a nasty mess if you don't prune it heavily every spring.  After ten years, the old wood is fading, so it's time to cut it back low, and let new growth take over.

Lunaria annua (Honesty, Money Plant, Moonwort, Satin Flower)  2001  a biennial with pretty purple flowers and interesting seed pods that are popular in dried flower arrangements.  It reseeds, but like Foxglove, each plant takes two years to flower, and then it dies.  In order to have a constant display, plant nursery plants two years in a row (which should be ready to bloom) and let them reseed.  If you let a few reseed each year, you will have a constant display.   Click here to see an image.  This is our fourth year from one planting.  There are many seedlings that will flower next year.  I plan to eliminate the adults as soon as their seed pods are ready for harvest.  I will also remove some of the seedlings.  They are obviously invasive, so they are not recommended for lazy gardeners.  Nevertheless, they seem to be easy to control if you are willing to pull them.  Ours are in the back alley zone of the garden.  Within about 4 years, there were none left, so they clearly need replanting, but I wasn't that impressed with them, so I won't.

Luzula sylvatica 'auslese' [poaceae?]  Greater Woodrush  2005 Friends School Plant Sale  The descriptions sound wonderful.  The flowers are not showy--like most grasses--but the foliage is really interesting.  The hollow structure is strongly reminiscent of bromelaids, and they allegedly make nice ground cover in fairly moist shade.  Spring 2006 it is very late to emerge from the dead, brown matter from last season, which I cut back to about 1 1/2".  The first real evidence that it was alive wasn't visible until early May, and two weeks later it's just starting to go.  By the end of May, there is evidence of life, but it really decreased in size dramatically, and looks pretty bad.  I'm going to remove it and replace it with something else.  The problem is that this location has been very difficult for all plants I have put here, so I'm not sure that the problem is zone hardiness.  Perhaps it needs more sun than it got.  I moved it in Summer 2006 to a sunny but somewhat hot spot.  It survived to Fall, but in Spring 2007 I definitely don't see it any more.  Not recommended for Minnesota. 

Lysimachia nummularia -- Creeping Jenny, Moneywort -- [Primulaceae] Spring 2007.  Two 4" pots are in the circumpolar garden.  I am trying them in shadier locations where I am having difficulty getting other things to grow.  The foliage is quite nice, even if I don't get blooms.  The upside of not getting blooms is that they can't reseed.  The reviews I've read suggest that cold weather and shade slow it down.  One of the plants I put in a place that tends to get dried out from the Spruce roots.  If I can get it to run around under those trees without taking over the garden, I'll keep it.  So, I'm not ready to recommend this one.  A month later they both look very happy and healthy.  So, two years later, it's obvious that the plant I placed in a drier location under a spruce tree was not getting enough moisture.  It died...  The other, which gets more consistent water is doing well.  It has spread quite a distance.  It covers ground fast, but like creeping charlie, it looks rough after winter and takes until June to get back into shape.  It is a rampant spreader, like creeping charlie, so watch out. 

Mandragora officinalis  Mandrake [Solanaceae]  Thanks to Harry Potter, a local plant seller got a few of these, of which we purchased two in Spring 2003.  One appeared to die almost immediately.  The other clearly survived until late November, and then, judging from the results of digging them both up in Spring 2004, they rotted because of cold, or poorly drained soil.  The Friends School isn't carrying them this year.  If they are hardy here, I suggest trying a very well-drained soil with no clay.   Still, I thought they were worthy annual plants if only they had been larger.

Mitchella repens -- Partridgeberry [rubiaceae ]   Friends School Plant Sale.  Spring 2004.  This is a new plant.  It's located in a fairly shady spot in the Circumpolar garden.  Stay tuned for updates.  Spring 2005: It's still alive.  Too early to note new growth, but apparently it's evergreen.  It's kind of a meek looking plant so far.  June 8 2005 pronounced dead.  Likely cause: too much shade combined with a fairly meek looking starter plant.  If I could find a more stalwart specimen next time, I wouldn't be afraid to try it again.  One criticism of the Friends School sale is that among the exotic plants they carry, many are just not ready to be sold, and look scraggly.  This was a good example.  If it had been a less exotic plant I never would have bought it.  Live and learn.  [click for pictures, more info and more info

Moluccella laevis -- Bells of Ireland [Lamiaceae] Spring 2003 Hardy, reseeding annual.  Easy to maintain if you don't let it reseed.  The tall racemes can toss seeds up to ten feet away.  We put six large plants in our boulevard bed in Spring 2003, and in 2004, the seedlings were all over the place.  Easy to spot and pull, it wasn't a tragedy, but keep that in mind if you dare to grow this attractive green flower.  They make excellent cut and dried flowers, but the stems actually have pretty nasty thorns for a herbaceous plant.  Not recommended.  It took me until Spring of 2007 to assure myself that they had been eliminated. 

Monarda didyma 'Cambridge Scarlet' -- Beebalm [Labiatae]. Unknown garden center 1994.  It is supposedly very difficult to eradicate, but I don't believe it.  M. didyma is native to Minnesota.  The 'Cambridge Scarlet' cultivar is only subtly different from the "natural' species.  There is at least one other species that is more common around here.  I think it's the M. fistulosa.  That one is more of a lavender color and not so showy.   Actually, in Minnesota this plant doesn't seem to be much trouble, and it's more difficult to keep them from dying off.  I think they're pretty well-behaved, but they do migrate around.  This is a terrible plant for control freaks.  It took ours about six years to get a good hold on the garden.  We let them run wild to a certain extent, which goes along with the tall fantasy prairie feel of our garden.   In our back alley, we have a section of quasi native fantasy prairie where this thrives.  In the summer of 2001 added a soaker hose irrigation extension to the area where they grow.  They were too dry before, and now they are finally starting to escape from their desiccated isolation and mingle with the denizens of the meadow section of the garden.  Now in Spring 2002, the beebalm is lush and thick.  I've been killing it in many places because it creeps in and chokes out everything in its path.  It is fairly easy to control it by ripping up the creeping stolons.  Further, it doesn't easily leave the boundaries of our irrigation system, which makes it a very botanically correct plant, except for native-only garden nazis who turn their noses up even to cultivars.  The species is native to Minnesota, so I think you can safely and ethically ignore them.  So what if this plant escaped cultivation?  The flowers are beloved of insects in our garden.  The red color and structure makes them especially attractive to hummingbirds.   Click here to see an image.

They are very attractive and they make great cut flowers.  I like the deep red 'Cambridge Scarlet'. Thin them out in spring because dense clumps mildew easily after blooms fade. The early leaves make a wonderful addition to summer sun tea.  Once they flower, the leaves are no good for tea.

Myostis -- Forget-me-not [Boraginaceae] My neighbors have planted some with Thalictrum Rochebrunianum that I gave them.  The combination is very, very nice. I don't have any growing now because they got choked out.  In my opinion, they aren't pretty enough to justify dedicating an open area for them. 

Nepeta 'Blue Wonder' [Labiatae]. One of the most attractive, best-behaved and compact of the entire labiatae family. Easy and formal like a hosta. An excellent sidewalk edging plant because of its tidy, rounded appearance. Neighborhood cats come roll in it and chew on it.  After five years the neighborhood cats have finally killed it off.  It's not as hardy as real catnip, but it looks nicer.  Eventually, the neighbor's cat destroyed it by lying in it.

Oenothera fructicosa (from Mrs. Thomas '83, family heirloom)  [primulaceae]  Attractive, easy and slightly aggressive, though fairly easy to control. No requirements at all, tolerant of vicious abuse and drought. A real gem if you are willing to control their growth.  We grow it in our main prairie flower bed--mixed with echinacea and black-eyed susans.  It competes pretty well with those thugs, though you will have to create some open spaces for it to thrive if it's going to compete with taller plants like these.  Recommended for lazy gardeners.

Papaver orientalis 'Salmon' (3 foot high) Leitner's 1994  Beautiful and trouble free.  Be sure to cut the seed head stalks out after blooming.  They will reseed and make a mess.  I love the flowers, but the leaves are not exactly beautiful.  One small clump is all you need.  Oriental poppies do not transplant well because they have taproots.  It's best to leave them alone until you're ready to kill them.  Dig very deep if you want to try to divide it.  It's probably best to divide only a very old plant.  After eight years, it appears that this one has reached its full size, with about 30-40 showy blooms.  Two years later, it's down to almost nothing.  After I cultivated around it and worked in some organic matter and fertilizer, it's perking up again in 2006.  After 18 years with this same plant, I think everyone needs one nice oriental poppy, and it should be the most shocking color you can stand, but no more than one. The leaves are big and kind of gruesome, and the flowers aren't there long--kind of like a peony that way.

Papaver orientalis (dwarf red 1-2' high) Linder's 1995  Similar to the previous, but smaller and red.  I don't have any recommendations.  It took a while to settle in.  I had to move it in 1997, and only in 2001 did it flower and look nice.  Shortly afterward, it vanished...

Penstemon barbatus 'Elfin Pink' [Scrophulariaceae](1 1/2 to 2' high) Leitner's 1995. Good drainage is essential--sandy or loamy soil with good humus. Dense clumps should be divided every 3-6 years to keep them vigorous. They are supposed to reseed easily too. Vulnerable to very cold freezing rain. Leave covered until April. Beautiful and cute.  Ours have not reseeded in any noteworthy way.  I have not seen the development of dense clumps in ours.  However, they are competing with beebalm, agastache and annual grass.  May 2007 they have been overtaken by their neighbors, and no longer exist.

Penstemon digitalis 'Husker Pink' Beardtongue [Scrophulariaceae] Linder's 1996. Sandy or loamy, humus-rich, well-drained soil in full sun or light shade. This plant is a bit larger with more attractive red-purple foliage and less appealing flowers than the 'Elfin Pink.' It was the 1995 perennial of the year. Vigorous and easy. Highly recommended, but the spent flowers are ugly enough to demand removal. Crowded out by other plants, it eventually disappeared.

Perovskia atriplicifolia -- Russian Sage [Labiatae]. 1994 Cut back in fall to about 15". It takes quite a while before this plant recovers from winter. Don't count it dead until June. Even if the top sticks die, the plant can still regrow from its roots. This silver and purple plant is an exercise in dry, airy, subtle beauty. It makes a good addition to cut flowers, though a bit messy.  Extremely easy to grow.  Prune it in April so that you remove everything to about 18" above the ground.

Phlox divarciata ? -- Wild Blue Phlox (perhaps hybrid or cultivar) [Polemoniaceae (Phlox)] Leitner's 1994 Not very happy in our garden--too small to compete. 4 to 6 inches high, this one is a spreader almost like heaths.  After its May bloom, it's not very interesting, though it tends to choke out anything else.  I notice that most people who have it have nothing else around it.  Although it's wonderful in Spring, I'm not crazy about it..

Phlox paniculata 'Ice Cap' -- White garden phlox.  Fall 2002 in alley, because it's pretty aggressive.   It seems to have disappeared as of Spring 2005.

Physalis alkekengi -- Chinese Lantern, Ground Cherries. Exact species unknown, but the internet descriptions I see match it well. We started it from seed in perhaps 2008. It took a while to get going, but by 2011 it was obviously a problem. I started to remove it last summer, and this summer I did a second genocidal campaign on the bed where it was, and I now have three words to sum up my reaction: OH MY GODS. The stolons grow fast and deep. The horizontal velocity is frightening, and the reviews I have read on the internet make it clear that this plant is an aggressive, invasive species. I am approaching it with latex gloves and a garden surgeon's care. It is ugly, and the flowers are rarely visible. Standing two feet tall of scruffy solanaceae leaves, the cute dried flower pods and the ground cherry fruit are just not worth destroying the ecosystem of your whole block within 20 years. This plant should be illegal in urban areas. I have similar feelings about horseradish, also found in this Hortus. 

Picea abies "Little Gem"  [Pinaceae]  Rice Creek 1997 Incredibly cute ultra dwarf spruce tree with juvenile leaves. It's a favorite of ours.  We just moved it in Fall 2002 to the front yard.  It was being smothered and hidden by the Calluna plants in the small specimen garden.  Now it's out in the open.  After 5 years in our garden, it's only 11" wide, and 9" high.  After transplanting, it still looks good, but that was on August 26th.   Spring 2005: Something attacked the poor thing.  My guess is that a mammal has been using the spot for urination.  The tree completely died in the late winter of 2005.  It was a sad event.

Pinus mugo pumilio-- Dwarf Mugo Pine, Mountain Pine [Pinaceae] Fall 2002 Linder's in rock garden.  Click for image  Excellent container plant for bonsai, excellent for rock gardens and coexisting with perennials.  The tag says they get three to five feet tall, and six to ten feet wide.  Native to the Alps, it loves acidic soil, which it has.  It apparently is very tough, and can even tolerate fairly dry and sunny conditions, though it can take some shade.  It should be very happy on the northwest corner of the berm, about half-way down the side.  I am doing a semi-bonsai with it.  Starting with an 18" spherical plant in a gallon pot, I pruned it to clean it up in the center, and remove lots of small internal branches.  I then washed as much soil out of it as I could, root pruned it, focusing on removing only larger roots, and leaving feeder roots.  Then I placed it into a broad shallow pot with stones in the bottom, and a layer of composted bark.  The pot I used is one of those plastic green pots used for hanging baskets that are ready made at the greenhouse.  I was pretty careful to bang the pot to knock the compost back down into the roots, and do the Japanese technique of chop-sticking the soil mix into the roots.  The idea is to stunt the growth even more, and get it accustomed to root pruning.  This pot was then buried in the soil so that the top part of the roots is slightly above the rim of the pot, and the rim of the pot is below the soil.  This allows the shallow feeder roots to spread out horizontally, but they can be easily sheared when I lift the plant for root pruning.  I mulched right up to the stem of the plant and out the full root radius with long strand sphagnum moss, and placed a water retaining crater around the whole affair, and placed bark mulch up to the sphagnum mulch.  I will water it well this fall until frost, then I will give let it grow for one year in the pot in the soil.  I will then dig it up, pot and all, root prune it again, but place it into the same pot, and bury that pot the same way for two years.  I plan to put some bonsai copper wires on it once I see if it adapts to this first session of abuse.  At the end of that period, I will dig it up one more time, assuming that it is stunted and used to being root pruned, and then I will just let it grow in the soil.  Since it will be adapted to root pruning, I will be able to dig it up again if I think it's getting too vigorous.   My hope is to create a bush about three feet wide and two feet high.  Fall of 2005 I noticed that it was growing vigorously.  In Spring 2006 I observed that some thirsty roots had gotten over the rim of the pot and were gorging the thing.  I pruned it heavily in late April, and now it's looking great.  The stunting effect is very obvious very quickly.   More info on mugos

Platycodon grandiflorus -- Blue Balloon Flower [Campanulaceae]. Leitner's 1994 Very late to emerge in spring. Do not transplant mature plants because they are taprooted and fragile. Self-seeds easily. A must have!  No demands.  No problems except reseeding unless you dead head, which will also extend the blooming period.  I can keep mine blooming all the way to the first frost.  They grow on rather lanky plants about 2 1/2-3 feet high.  Great among vigorous, taller plants like meadows.  Let them pop up as surprises.  I have moved plants in their second and third seasons without any difficulty.  

Polemonium caeruleum -- Jacob's Ladder [Polemoniaceae] Leitner's 1994. Medium demand of water, reseeds itself very well in spite of religious deadheading. I really like its electric blue and pink next to the shocking yellow-orange of Trollius chinensis 'Lemon Queen' for an intense color effect in June.  Coool!  This is a wonderful plant, but expect a large plant to die off and be replaced by its seedlings.  These do well in scattered growth amidst meadow and prairie plants.   They seem to want to wander around, and won't pay much attention to your efforts to sculpt them into formal clumps.

Polemonium reptans 'Stairway to Heaven' -- Creeping Jacob's Ladder  [Polemoniaceae] Spring 2006 from Linders.  This pretty woodland denizen tolerates more shade than the more famous P. caeruleum.  May 2007 it looks really nice, and has not spread much.  I like this one a lot.

Polygonatum biflorum -- Solomon's Seal [Liliaceae].  Weedy and very large--full grown plants can be five feet tall.  You have to be willing to control their spread unless you have a large woodland.  Native to Minnesota, you really should have them in an evenly moist woodland here.  They reseed easily from their berries that appear after the flowers.  It's easy to grow ground covers like Virginia Waterleaf around them.

Polygonatum odoratum var. thunbergii 'Variegatum' -- Fragrant or Japanese Solomon's Seal  [Liliaceae]. (1993) For the first two seasons we had one plant, third season there were three, then there were eight. Then following year I divided the rapidly expanding mass into about six clumps, and now we have about 100 of them all over the shady part of the garden, and they are spreading quickly.  The neighbors are getting them as gifts now.  These are a must have for any garden and their beauty far outreaches the native species. Easy, easy, easy in shade. Stems are no more than 3 feet long, and the strong arch of the stems makes them only about 24" tall.  In the fall the foliage turns a lovely yellow. They grow on horizontal tubers that creep underground at about 1" depth.  You can dig and cut or break them and replant them at about an inch down.  Water them fairly regularly for a couple of months, then forget about them until you have to divide them again.  In Summer 2005 I gave away about 30 stalks with the complete rhizomes attached.  Like a hosta, it seems to love being dug up and divided.  Highly recommended.

Prenanthes alba -- Lion's Foot [asteraceae] Spring 2004 A native Minnesotan wildflower.  It's supposed to be 2-3' tall, and the flowers seem kind of interesting--combining the compositae with the columbine.  The leaves are also attractive and large.  Update Fall 2004: The flowers are really interesting.  I have one plant in the shade of a spruce and another about four feet away in a brighter spot.  The one in shade grew really tall and bloomed profusely.  It was so tall that it required support.  The other in sunnier conditions languished at ground level.  It never sent up a blooming stalk, but the plant looks very healthy.  Weird.  I'm going to wait another season to make a judgment, but it seems that the plant is a bit too tall for my garden.  Spring 2005 update: The one that bloomed last year in the shade did not make it through the winter.  It might have dried out.  The other in the sun was looking as if it had been putting every ounce of energy into growing beneath the ground.  I decided that it was not going to stay in the garden, and I dug it up, being careful to check to see if it had sent out rhizomes or some evil roots.  I'm sure glad I looked because it was startling to see how far the thing had gotten.  I took the time to do "oncological excavation."  The fleshy roots are similar to those of the campanula americana (a local weed/wildflower) but much larger, deeper and more structured for horizontal growth at about 6" depth.  Not recommended for small gardens.  [more info images of flowers]

Primula vulgaris -- English Primrose (red, violet, cream all with yellow ctrs) [Primulaceae]  1995, then at various times a few here and there since.  Wonderful, cheery spring colors.  They only live 3-4 seasons, and then must be replaced.

Porteranthus trifoliatus -- Bowman's Root, Indian Physic, Fawn's Breath [Rosaceae]  Friends School Plant Sale 2005.  This attractive plant looks a bit like a Goatsbeard, but with showy flowers.   All descriptions sound pleasant.  In Spring 2006, it looks very, very nice--somewhat like a small version of Meadowsweet (Filipendula) which is its cousin.  Spring 2007 it is beautiful, and has doubled in size each year, though it has not reseeded.  This is planted in one of the driest parts of the yard under a roof overhang.  I check the moisture with a probe occasionally, and it is usually bone dry there, but the plant looks great.  Staking may be necessary, especially if there is any significant wind. It blooms at the same time as Thalictrum aquilegiafolium, and is about the same height, so they work very well together.  

Pulsatilla Vulgaris spp. Pasque Flower  [Ranunculaceae] Purple. You absolutely must have lots of these. They will do best around cement or limestone. They are not demanding of anything, though mine get some fertilizer. They are the kings of the late April garden.  I haven't had any real experiences of note with them.  After winter they leave a mass of dead leaves that should be cut out in spring to allow other plants to grow.  I am going to start planting fritillarias around them because the spreading leaf masses cover the holes left when the bulbs disappear.  The seed heads are as nice as the flowers.  I experimented with planting some seeds in the garden last year, and they came up!  They are difficult to germinate indoors.

Pulsatilla vulgaris 'Papageno' --Pasque Flowers [Ranunculaceae]. Smaller than the species, but attractive nonetheless. 2 in 1995.  It is more maroon in color and has double flowers, so the petals are more daisy or windflower like than anemone like as in the common species (see above).  Eleven years later, it looks very good, but has not expanded much and has never reseeded.  It gets about 15 blooms on the cluster.  Twelve years later, the winter of 2006-2007 it vanished completely, though it looked wonderful that ast year.

Ranunculus X 'mixed' -- "buttercups" in highly decorative double flowers. Hardy only to zone 6 but I left them in the ground because I found them to be of marginal beauty--too garish--and one group survived the winter of 1996 with only snow mulch. This year I am planting those in a pot mixed with De Caen Anemones which I find far more attractive.  See Anemones, De Caen for more growing tips.

Rhododendrons  [Ericaceae or Empetraceae] at this point, we only have two specimens in this family, though we are beginning a collection of ericaceous plants.  There are almost 1,000 different species within the Rhododendron genus.  This page is a nice starting point for information on them:  Vireya Website's Rhododendron page.

  • Rhododendron 'Karen Seleger' [Ericaceae or Empetraceae] Fall of 2002 in rock garden from Rice Creek.  Stay tuned for updates.  This little beauty is only 15" tall with violet purple flowers.  It is supposedly quite hardy, and its compact form should make it very durable in its location.  This plant is extremely expensive for its size, so we only got one rather small one about 8" tall.  Spring 2006 it's looking much better after almost losing it last year.  It bloomed nicely, but is a bit sparse because it lost so much foliage, and it's an evergreen.  It has increased to about 10" in height.  The color of the blooms is nice--a deeper red tone than the usual PJM pink.  Spring 2007 it took a bit of a hit in the cold Spring, but it did bloom, and it's getting lots of new leaves.  The trick is to bury it in leaves and strap them down with bird netting for the winter.  The leaves desiccate easily in Minnesota winter air.
  • Rhododendron X 'P.J.M.' -- PJM Rhododendron [Ericaceae or Empetraceae] Fall 2002 in rock garden from Linder's.  As all of this genus, it needs acidic soil and more shade than sun, but good light.  Ours is on the east edge of the rock garden, up behind the blueberry.   It gets bright violet pink flowers, and grows 3-5 feet tall, and may spread much more than that.  Monrovia description  An observation I have made is that it is very thirsty planted near a spruce tree.  Make sure it doesn't dry out or it will lose leaves.

Rose --Canadian hardy climbing rose. [Rosaceae] Red Andrew McKenzie and pink William Baffin. You gotta have climbing roses. Really.  Feed them regularly, and don't let them get dry.  We use the fertilizer mulch described on our tips page.  Also, monitor them closely for insect damage.  They either need to be pruned or tied up to a trellis.  Even the laziest gardeners can handle hardy climbing roses.  Just get some good sturdy rose gloves to protect your hands when you train the canes.  

Rosmarinus officinalis 'White'-- Rosemary. [Labiatae]. A bit fussy, but well-worth the trouble for beauty and spice. They need large pots to accommodate their very large root systems. In fact, I suggest a pot that is about the size of the plant you want above the ground.  They do better in the ground, but you have to dig it up or replace it for a Minnesota winter.   Give them a compost dressing several times during the warm season. Don’t let them dry out, but be more careful of overwatering!  They are prone to root rot.  Outdoors in the ground, they need little or no maintenance.  Indoors, they are prone to powdery mildew, etiolation, and elongation.  Overwintering indoors is not easy without artificial lighting.  Because I am willing to set up lights, we have a very prolific source of rosemary year around. They are pest free.  I am currently applying some wire shaping to my plant, somewhat like bonsai, but the pot is huge--like about 4 gallons--so it doesn't look at all like a real bonsai.  By pulling the plant out horizontally, you can increase the yield of tasty, fragrant sprigs.  By stripping the lower leaves and branches, you can create a more tree-like and attractive plant that you'll be proud to have under a bright light during the winter.  It smells better than a Christmas tree too.  Under a strong light, the smell can be intense.  I keep mine in the basement, and then bring it up to a sunny window for the months of March and April while I start my annual seeds and tropical bulbs.  

Rubus chamaemorus -- Cloudberry [Rosaceae] Spring 2003.  This yellow raspberry grows rhizomes underground, which could make it a nasty pest except for one thing: it is very short and the stems die back to the ground every year.  I bet you can mow it.  It did very well in 2004, and obviously is of the underground spreading ilk.  It quadrupled in size.  Hmmm.  It's so small and cute.  Spring 2005: It is continuing to spread underground, reaching up to 3 feet from the original planting.  The flowers are visible for the first time this year.  They are a bright, strong pink/mauve.  I am completely seduced.  Spring 2006, the spreading is continuing, but not as quickly as I thought.  It's quite well-behaved, but the location is rather shady.  No blooms and some caterpillar must have stripped it.  Spring 2007 it is more vigorous looking this year.  It bloomed.  So far (four years later) I'm not greatly impressed, but I think that more sun would help.  The owner of Rice Creek gardens personally recommended it for shade, and I think it's cute, but not enough blooms and no berries yet.  The blooms are very pretty and quite large. Click for image and info. more images

Rubus leucodermis Raspberry, Black [Rosaceae] Unknown date. Came with the house, and before that apparently from across the alley where it has been probably since the 1960's, judging from the size of the thicket. I'm in zone 4b and have had good results with this plant. I love to eat raspberries, but they're kind of a pain to keep. The main positive feature of the black raspberry is that if you prevent the canes from touching the ground and the berries from just falling and reseeding, it's very easy to control this one. It does not spread underground like the red ones I had briefly. In an urban lot it's not a good idea to plant ones that spread by rhizomes. The black raspberry sends up new canes from the crown each summer that harden over the winter and bear fruit the next year, and then die. You can prune the fruiting canes out by the end of August and train the new canes upward. I don't usually prune the canes until the following season reveals how much of the length will bear fruit. Mine was planted by a previous owner at the base of a maple tree which I use for a sort of trellis. Canes on my mature plant often reach ten feet in length. I don't like to prune them to make them bushier because in April I lower, wrap and arrange them around the trunk. It has been there for at least 16 years and there is still only one plant. There is no spreading at the base, and it seems to maintain a fairly constant size now. It is a lot more thorny than a red raspberry, but less so than a climbing rose. You'll definitely need some rose gloves to work with it, and you definitely do need to keep an eye on the fast growing canes, but it's much easier than digging rhizomes out six to eight inches under the surface. In other words, it's much better behaved in tight garden conditions. With more land, you can let the red ones run rampant. The flavor of the black raspberry isn't quite as good, primarily because it has more seeds. They freeze nicely. We smash and strain them to make a tasty sauce. The flavor is recognizably raspberry, but a bit like blackberry with a hint of tartness like a blueberry.

Rubus idaeus Raspberry, Red [Rosaceae] A friend gave me a plant about five years ago, and I thought it was a dud.  It languished fruitlessly for several years, and then suddenly I noticed it had spread all over our raised bed.  Much to my horror, I discovered that this variety doesn't have dying canes, and spreads by rhizomes beneath the ground at a depth of about 8".  EVIL!!!  In Spring 2004 I mounted a serious eradication campaign.  I'm sure that I'll be pulling out rhizomes for years.  What a mistake.  If you a have a lot of land or you really want to dedicate the land you have to raspberries, then this is the one for you.  Spring 2006, I think that I have pretty much eliminated it, but it was not easy.  I was wrong, though. It took another 3-4 years. 

Rudbeckia columnifera -- Red Coneflower or "Mexican Hats" [Asteraceae--Compositae]  Very short-lived, whimsical and pretty red & yellow flowers.  Happy in desert conditions, in Minnesota they lasted one season.  I didn't buy them again.  Probably the thing to do is to get them to reseed.  I think they want a warmer climate.  Maybe there's a reason they look like yellow and red sombreros.  They are recommended for Arizona, Texas, Mexico...  Click for image and info

Rudbeckia fulgida var. sullivantii 'Goldstrum' -- Black-eyed Susan [Asteraceae--Compositae].  Masters of self-seeding, they are prone to aster yellows.  Kill infected plants immediately by digging, and dispose of the remains.  No other problems observed.  You should not leave seed heads up for the winter unless you want them all over your garden.    This is a true garden workhorse.  It is beautiful, elegant, and native to Minnesota, though this cultivar isn't botanically correct for the native-only nazis.  They require little maintenance as long as you don't let the seed heads stand for the winter.  They can appear quite a long way away from the parent plant--probably due to spring action of the stems in the wind.  In spite of the concerns, this is a highly recommended plant for late season blooms.

Rudbeckia nitida -- (Giant) Green Coneflower [Asteraceae--Compositae] (the books say it's only 5 ft, but mine consistently gets up to 8 or 9 ft.) Native to Minn. from Landscape Alternatives 1995. Yellow flowers that resemble a fragile black-eyed susan atop a vigorous, tall plant. It used to get spittle bugs, which are easy to control with pinching or pyrethrin. This was only a problem during early season.  Now that the clump is quite mature, it seems to be trouble free.  Maybe it's just so big that I can't see the bugs. It needs to be staked with a 5' stake to prevent wind damage. Because it reseeds freely, it is weedy, but it is native! In small numbers it is okay in our wild garden. In spring 1997, it had self-seeded as far as ten feet away, and was sending out root extensions with shoots as far as eighteen inches. Seedlings are large and very easy to spot and fairly easy to eradicate with a small hand shovel.  This plant is not recommended if you aren’t willing or able to control its spread, unless you have a large wooded lot.  I highly recommend it for large meadow and transitional zones. This is a very large and impressive plant through the month of August and into September.  When it finishes blooming, cut off all the flower head bearing stems and dispose of them.  Root prune it in fall or spring.  If you are trying to create an authentic Minnesota woodland, this plant is an absolute necessity.  With a bit of attention it can be a spectacular, huge plant.  The seedlings are spreading up and down our alley, but most of them are getting mowed down. After 10 years, I am now reducing the population to one vigorous clump.  It had spread along the side of the garage.  Basically, this plant requires vigorous control, though you can take care of one managed clump fairly easily.  Even though every Spring I throw away about 10 pound of roots and new shoots for over ten years, I still keep it.  I wouldn't do that much if I didn't like it.  Yet, I caution that for small gardens, only the most dedicated gardeners should plant it.  Another observation I have is that after 12 years it has worked its way across the alley and a garden-negative neighbor doesn't impede them.  Since he has a thicket mess there already, the Rudbeckia nitida is actually a scenic improvement for the alley. In the Summer of 2011 I decided to eliminate it from my yard and replace it with the Japanese Anemone from the front yard.

Sambucus nigra 'Black Lace' -- Elderberry, Black Elder, European Elder, Bourtree [Caprifoliaceae  a relative of Honeysuckle and Viburnum] Spring 2007 Leitners.  This replaced the chokeberry that we bought at the Friends' Sale last year.  The latter did not survive the winter.  This gorgeous shrub-perennial looks like an excellent substitute for the Japanese Maple.  I'm hearing really great things about it.  It survived the winter, and looks really great.  It was slow to send out new growth, and the old stem was actually slower than the crown in producing new growth.  The dry, warm winter of 2012 revealed that this plant is root hearty to zone 4, but will not bloom unless it's in zone 5 or warmer because the old wood dies to the ground, and it blooms on the old wood. So, the good news is that for Spring 2012, it's covered with blooms, and much larger than previous years. Even without flowers, it does make a nice, dark purple foliage. Here is a great picture at Dave's Garden.  

Sanguinaria canadensis -- Bloodroot [Papaveraceae]. Leitner's 1995. Foliage fades by midsummer, but the short-lived early spring flowers are a sight to behold. We put in a single flowered specimen in 95 and a double flowered, lotus-like one in 1996. These are larger and more fabulous. They grow from creeping rhizome that can be cut apart after flowering. They also self-sow.  The double-flowered one was eventually crowded out of existence.  I will definitely get more because they did very well when they had some breathing room. 

Saxifraga Crustata [saxifragaceae] 2002 Rice Creek Gardens.  Looks like a "hens and chicks", but much finer and smaller.  2006 it looks very nice, but the eunymous is crowding it out, so we'll have to move it.  It's still alive in 2007, but it is still very small, barely hanging on.

Saxifraga 'Peter Pan' Mossy Saxifrage [saxifragaceae] 2002 Rice Creek Gardens.  Four years later, this is doing extremely well in a pretty shady spot underneath the miniature birch tree.  It is ultra small at about 1" and cute pink-white flowers on 2" stems.  It's spreading like a bed of moss.  Spring 2007 it has spread a lot, though the original core has died, so it looks like one of those that probably likes division.  I really like it.

Scabiosa caucasica 'Fama' -- Pincushion Flower [Dipsaceae (Teasel Family)] Seed start from T&M 1995 Easy. Nice dried seed heads. Not good as a cut flower, because the stems are rarely straight, but rather gnarly and snaky.  They were eventually crowded out of the garden by vigorous companions.  They look a lot prettier on the seed package than real life.

Sedum spectabile (?X 'Autumn Joy')-- Stonecrop [Crassulaceae (Stonecrop Family)]  Fall blooming, about 24" tall.  Needs a cage or tie up.  It's a nice tall sedum, but I find it to be uninteresting.  It's a good structural plant, like a hosta, and it can tolerate dry, sunny locations. 

Sedum ? perhaps Sieboldi or Spurium

Sedum spurium 'Bronze Carpet'  Stonecrop [Crassulaceae (Stonecrop Family)] Linder's Fall 2002 in Rock Garden.  Summer flowering, prostrate bronzy red (or purplish with gold).  It's supposed to be good as a ground cover or rock garden plant.  It looks like it would be great with stone.  The location we put it is the sunniest spot in our rock garden zone, but for now there are no stones near it.  We are going to try to get it to cover the sunny corner of the berm.  It is not known for liking acidic soil, so it may not work.   Spring 2004--it's quite dead.  I think that the soil is too moist for it.   Spring 2007 I realize that I have given away all of this.  I'm just not much of a sedum fan, but the short alpines are far more attractive than the tall fall bloomers.  The main attraction would be the deep mauve flowers in September.

Sempervivum--The Sempervivophilia web site has way more information than you'll ever want to know about this incredibly easy-to-grow succulent.  It's excellent for dry, rocky locations with little soil.  If divided regularly, these make outstanding xeriscape groundcovers.  It's too bad that they don't work well for golf courses, because dry climates should not have bluegrass.  We have one larger species, with adult rosettes about 5" across, and we placed two Sempervivum Ar. 'minus', from Rice Creek in Fall 2002 for the rock garden.  This is the smallest of all Sempervivums, so wanted to use it in a narrow crack between the granite slabs and one of the basalt boulders.  Since this kind of an area is prone to washouts from rain, I thought that this tough plant would do well.  They didn't survive the first winter, and I rethought the idea of trying to grow things in those cracks anyway. 

Senna hebacarpa -- Wild Senna [Fabaceae, subfamily Caesalpinioideae] May 2007 source forgotten?  This is a big plant, and it's really attractive.  It will need some staking and restraing.  It makes a hell of a lot of papery pea pods , but I don't see any seedlings yet.  At around the first or second week of May I saw no sign of life, but noticed that the old stalks were very firmly anchored in the ground--generally, a dead plant will pull up easily if the winter killed it.  I finally saw the new shoots coming up at the very end of May. In 2012, the plant seems to be the same size for the last three years, consequently, I confer a highly recommended rating for this unusual, tall, cheery plant. Just be sure to cut the seed pods off before they open.

Smilacina racemosa--False Solomon's Seal, Solomon's Plume [Liliaceae]. From a friend 1994. Smaller and more fragile than the "real thing", but the plume-like flowers are far superior to the ephemeral flowers and berries of the Polygonatum. Moist, humus rich, neutral to acidic soil. Divide in spring or fall to propagate or control.  It is extremely difficult to eliminate completely.  I have been attacking them pretty vigorously for about 8 years, and I still get about 5 plants every Spring.  It's not that I dislike it, but it seems to me to be too invasive for the urban yard.  After 13 years of fighting it, I'm starting to leave some and let them scamper about.  

Smilacina stellata (L.) Desf. var. crassa Vict. -- False Solomon's Seal, Solomon's Plume [Liliaceae] Rice Creek Garden 2004.  Placed in sunny North exposure in our acid soil garden, these are incredibly short and cute.  This naturally ocurring cultivar from Rice Creek is a dwarf that only gets about 3-6" tall with all the leaves compressed vertically, as if the stem were a telescope.  Shortness makes it perfect for moist alpine and boreal woodland settings.  As the rhizomes run outward and develop, the roots disappear along the older lengths of rhizome.  Spring 2005, after mistakenly thinking that they died late last Summer, they spread.  Now there are about three plants for each of the two I put in, and they are clearly spreading underground.  All Smilacinas should be considered slow to start, but quickly turn into vigorous thugs.  Fortunately, like the Solomon's Seal, the rhizomes aren't terribly deep and they're easy to find. They are very happy in the sunnier side of the boreal garden. In Spring 2006 they are sprouting all over the place.  Like the other members of the family, they run about in the garden, covering a surprising distance, and never appearing in the same place twice.  The ultra compact size helps keep them from being considered total pests.  In Spring 2007 they are spreading widely about the garden now, and look great peeping up through low ground cover.  They are also known as Maianthemum stellatum and Convallaria stellata click for general information, more information and more information, information on uses and cultivation, closeup of flower

Spiranthes cernua odorata -- Lady's Tresses (fragrant Chadd's Ford) [Orchidaceae] Spring 2003, Spring 2004 and Spring 2005. Friends School Plant Sale and Rice Creek Gardens (which had much larger specimens).  This is an excellent plant.  It grows about 1 foot tall and has cute little fragrant white flowers and pretty strap foliage.  It blooms very late--September to frost.  It's a really unique addition to your autumn blooms.  Now, don't let this description mislead you into thinking this is a showy flower--the blooms are subtle, and only impressive when viewed very closely or in large masses of mature plants. [click here and scroll to bottom to see photo]  The main thing about them is the smell--jasmine-like.  Not all of ours have survived, but the majority of them are doing well.  I'd guess that at this point there are about seven or eight of them in the garden.  I am hoping that one day they will naturalize and create such dense masses of fragrant spires.  Apparently it is native to the East Coast and South, and many on-line venders suggest that it's for zone 6 or 5.  Perhaps that's why mine seem a bit small.  However, I'm not having much luck as of Spring 2006.  I still haven't given up, but the location is probably bad.  I think they belong in the main bed with the smaller plants.  In May 2007 no sign of the 3 I had.  I am giving up on them for now. [click for image and info, click here for nice close up of flowers. ]

Thalictrum sppI have appended a separate document describing this genus in general.  Click here.  Specific species and brief commentaries are below.

  • Thalictrum aquilegifolium 'New Hybrids Mixed' (white to mauve) [Ranunculaceae] 2-3' grown from seed 1995. This species is the most similar in form and size to a columbine, hence its name. After blooming, these are still very attractive clumps of leaves--nicer than columbines. I think that there are actually a couple of distinct species all classified under this name--there are two very different stem/leaf structures among the plants, and one of them is completely unlike that of the others in the genus.  Click here to see a photo of my favorite specimen.  These and other meadow rues are affected by temperature in the early growing period. Cold spring weather stunts the leaf growth, and causes smaller plants.  The only thing I have seen kill them is frost heaving.
  • Thalictrum aquilegifolium 'Purpureum' (pink) Rice Creek 1995 Probably the most beautiful and popular is the T. aquilegiifolium--native to North Asia and Europe. They range from 2-6' in height, depending on genetics, light, soil conditions and water. The foliage and stalks are almost indistinguishable from the rochebrunianum, but this one has a curious lobed structure at the juncture of the stems, unique to this Thalictrum species. The flowers are the pride of the genus, but not very long lived (15 days).. The deepest red and the white cultivars are the most striking while the pinkish are light and alluring. The flowers are clusters of stamens and pistils, giving the impression of a Dr. Seuss illustration. The sepals drop early, leaving the clusters of airy puffballs.

    These puffs are far less dense than the T. flavum, but stand more erect like a starburst of pink rays. Hybrids are available that produce the full range from white to deep mauve.  Seeds I purchased in about 1995 produced the hardiest Thalictrums in our garden.  Most of those plants are still around ten years later. It is the first one to bloom in the late spring. These plants are not believed to be quite hardy enough to survive our winters unprotected, but the five hybrids and two species ‘purpureum’ that I planted in 1995 survived the winter of 1996 with flying colors. T. aquilegiifolium is supposedly more heat resistant than others. The red-violet cultivar 'Thundercloud' is an awesome sight. I found the closest thing to it yet in pretty red cultivar from Leitner's in 1996. The pinkish-white 'purpureum' is available at Rice Creek Gardens for about $5.50 (1995). My observation is that these are the toughest non-native species for Minnesota.
  • Thalictrum aquilegifolium ‘Thundercloud’ (?)(red) Leitner's 1996  Click here for an excellent closeup of the flowers.  Click here for picture of whole plant.  
  • Thalictrum coreanum (pink) Rice Creek 1997 expensive, only 6" high.  A real beauty, T. coreanum is a pretty unusual member of the family.  The wiry stems attach to the underside of the leaves giving it some of the personality and structure of an epimedium.  The shape of the leaves is about halfway between T. aquilegifolium and a Nasturtium.  The flowering occurs from mid-May throughout the season.  The flowers are sparse puffs like the T. aquilegifolium.  Mine are white in color with a faint pink tint.  The leaves are mottled--green, chartreuse and russet, especially in Spring.  It likes neutral soil, and seems to tolerate some acid. It likes moist shade, but I find that they do quite well in more sunny locations, given the soil is good and watering is consistent. Extremely highly recommended.
  • Thalictrum dasycarpum (Tall Meadow Rue, native to Minnesota) Landscape Alternatives 1996. These have male and female separate plants. 3-4' This species grows tall without spreading far horizontally. As a specimen, it needs support. Best for background in wooded gardens where brush and small trees prevent growth of other light-hungry flowers. Not highly recommended. I use it for cross pollinating to create more hardy hybrids.  In Fall of 2002, I dug mine up and gave them to my neighbor so that I can still tinker with them, but not have them in my space. He likes wild, easy, weedy plants.  
  • Thalictrum delvayi 'Hewitt's Double' (tiny mauve flowers with yellow eye) 3-4' 1 from Linder's, one from Leitner's. Acidic soil, some sun, and not terribly water demanding. Very late to send up its first fragile, ghostly shoots. Undoubtedly one of the best cut flowers of the species. Unlikely to live long. Definitely needs support. Intricate untangling is often required to cut sprays of the delicate flowers that occur in airy conical clouds of mauve baby’s breath-like flowers. Spreading is not the problem. These tend to fade rather than increase unless conditions are ideal. Worth treating as an annual if you have difficulty keeping them. Very unusual, beautiful and great cut and/or dried. Highest recommendation, in spite of the fuss
  • Thalictrum dioicum Early Meadow Rue, Quicksilver WeedSpring 2004  This species is extremely common in Minnesota woods, but I have neglected to collect seeds and plant it.  You'll find these along the heavily trodden river bluffs of the Mississippi right through the River Road regions of the central Twin Cities, so it's not delicate.  I found this lovely little native gem in the parking lot of Whole Foods in St Paul.  Like the other American species, this has gendered plants, with the males being the most showy.  Unlike the T. diptercarpum below, this one is shorter, generally about two feet high and very airy.  For foliage, this one is outstanding.  It's obviously a pretty effective reseeder.  It is commonly found in moist hardwood forest near growths of ferns like Maidenhair.  The Maidenhair fern is lime loving, and I suspect that the T. dioicum is capable of withstanding a fairly wide range of conditions from slightly alkaline to fairly acidic.  You'll have best luck finding it at transition zones between forest and clearing, especially along railroad grades near rivers where limestone outcroppings occur. I have planted mine adjacent to a T. aquilegiafolium to see if I can get some cross pollination.   [more info, cultivation/seed germination tips, better pictures ]  
  • Thalictrum dipterocarpum (flowers nearly the same as Rochebrunianum below) 3-5' high. Late to start, but a rapid burst of secondary stalks makes its increase almost magical. Very much like the ‘Hewitt’s Double’ but with flowers like the Rochebrunianum. This one is probably the most beautiful and delicate for foliage and overall form. Dianne Kellaway fairly described it by saying that it awakens a child's belief in fairies. Delvayi--native to Western China, source of 'Hewitt's Double'. T. dipterocarpum often sold falsely as Dipterocarpum, (Yunnan Meadow Rue) also from W. China. The latter is, I have read, a less desirable plant for its smaller flowers, so it is probable that the deception is a product of ignorance rather than malice. Unfortunately, I do not know which I have, but I find it lovely. The flowers of both have lavender sepals surrounding yellow pistils and stamens. They are tiny, and form pleasant sprays that rise high above the delicate, low foliage. One important fact--these are quite late to emerge in the spring and produce very spindly stems with tiny leaves. Mark them carefully and do not disturb. They require staking, but the 'Hewitt's Double' is more compact and less likely to fall.
  • Thalictrum flavum glaucum (syn. speciocissimum) -- Meadow Rue " (yellow and white) 3-6'. Leitner's 1994 (our first Thalictrum) and then 3 more in 1995. Its foliage is not as pretty as some, so try to hide it with something appropriate like lilies, astilbes, geraniums, even prairie grasses. The foliage could be attractive in arrangements. T. Flavum--4-6', native to Europe. Flavum glaucum or speciossissium--native to Iberian peninsula and Northwest Africa--which is more desirable in the garden. Available at Rice Creek, Leitner's and maybe Bachman's. Linder's is convinced they aren't hardy. They are quite wrong. This is a tough plant. Most will recommend mulching.  I say don't worry about it.  Large clumps at least five years old thrive in the Chanhassen Arboretum. The flowers are similar to the aquilegifolium but are a soft sulphur yellow and white, with a somewhat more drooping form. They also drop their sepals early and leave the clusters of puffballs. Even for those that resent the garrish yellow of the compositaes, this is a soft, regal color truly reflecting the light of the sun. The stems have a somewhat twisted form in comparison to the purple, rigid stalks of T. aquilegiifolium and T. rochebrunianum. Although I find them all attractive, there is a coarseness and leathery texture to the foliage of the speciocissiumum that prevents it from having the airy, delicate loveliness of the other species in the family. Yet, I find it highly appealing in its own right and enjoy the way sunlight shows through the veins in the slate blue leaves at sunset. The first signs of spring growth are deep purple and otherworldly. It would look lovely at the wooded edge of a grassy meadow. The green stalks, striped with purple lines, twist and gnarl their way up to the sunny yellow flower clusters.  The lower stem is always straight, but the last 6" to a foot is usually rather gnarled. It is the second to bloom, along with the oriental poppies and extending to the blooming of the astilbes into early July. The twisting habit of the flower stems gives it a robust wildflower or meadow appearance while most of the other garden species seem fragile and needful of pampering.  These are bee magnets. I suspect that they actually have intoxicating effects on bees judging from their behavior when these are blooming.  The bees in your neighborhood will love you for planting these. 
  • Thalictrum isopyroides -- Zi jin ye tang song cao (Chinese) Rice Creek Gardens Spring 2006.  No flowers yet as of mid-May 2007, but it looks great.  This tiny Chinese alpine is probably the most delicate and beautiful for its foliage--perhaps even more so than the T. kiusianum.  However, I'm waiting to see the flowers and such before recommending it.  This Canadian garden supplier has some pictures of it, and you can even by it and some other very exotic beauties. It survived for three years, and it was quite pampered. 
  • Thalictrum kiusianum (pink) (Kyushy Meadow Rue) Outstanding small meadow rue.  Very expensive.  They seem to be trouble free and slow to spread.  They need some light, and because they are so small, they are easily shaded out by other plants.  Give them rich soil, even water, and apparently they can tolerate some acid in the soil.  I have not seen any reseeding.  Spreading is by rhizomes.  They look like tiny versions of the T. aquilegiafolium, but the leaves are more like the Anemonella thalictroides.  There is an image of the plant in a large mass, which indicates how floriferous it is, but it doesn't capture the essence of the plant because it is so small.  This picture is better, but too dark.  They range in color from faintly lavender-white to mauve.  In Spring 2002 I put in a couple in the circumpolar garden, and four years later, they are definitely starting to spread into a nice ground cover.  I really love these.
  • Thalictrum rochebrunianum (mauve sepals w/yellow stamens) 5-8' high. Tallest and most eye-catching of the species. Grows very vertically and spreads at the roots only if very happy. It should be planted in close clusters to form a clump or wall of at least 2 to 3 feet in width. Though not as floriferous as others, the buds and flowers are long-lasting and very beautiful. I can imagine a very large cluster of these.... Rochebrunianum 'Lavender Mist'--native to Japan. This is the most impressive of the family, although it does not like the extreme heat. Undoubtedly, Duluth would be a marvelous place to grow these in full sun. Its mauve sepals surround bright yellow pistils and they remain for quite some time. In foliage and form, it is scarcely distinguishable from the aquilegiifolium. It is definitely more desirable than the Delvayi or Dipterocarpum, since it is considerably more stout and has larger leaves. The flowers are larger and more impressive. The foliage is sturdier and the leaves are larger. The flowers do not rise so high above the plant, instead the plant itself rises from 5' to 8' with the beautiful display of flowers sitting just above the foliage, similar to the aquilegiafolium, but the flowers are more notable for the lavender sepals. This plant is a real show-off and could easily upstage any more diminutive, formal plant. They easily reach 7-8 feet in the right conditions, and spread like columbines from self-seeding.  I recommend seeds for propagation.  They are easy to grow from seed.  Plant them in the late fall, and they will sprout in the spring.  When transplanting, it is advisable to dig them and pot them for three days in the shade to recover from the shock.  They almost always wilt after digging.  However with plenty of moisture and some shade, they come right back and will transplant easily.  I move them without this precaution, but it is important to water them heavily for a week or so.  

    I have found that they prefer some clay in their soil, as opposed to peat moss.  So, plant them in rich, black soil with leaf mold and clay in a fairly moist location. I have given them to friends who put them in natural clay soil without additives, and theirs do better than mine with all the soil amendments I use. The more moisture they get, the more sun they can tolerate.  They are very susceptible to sun wilt, that will turn the young shoots and leaves black and crispy.  This will not likely kill the plant, but will harm the season's flowering.  The exact amount of water for them is still a bit of a mystery to me.
  • Thalictrum X Witweri  Hybrid of Flavum and Dasycarpum female. Hardy seeds.  After two years, I have determined that these are not worth propagating.  They look like a taller, weedier version of the T. flavum.
  • Thalictrum X Hecate (Witweri 2) Hybrid of Flavum (mother) and Rochebrunianum (father).  Click here to see a picture of it.   It bloomed for the first time in 1999. Leaves are textured like flavum, color is half way between the glaucus flavum and the purple-to-green rochebrunianum. Extremely vigorous growth to eight feet by mid-June, then it spreads.  This is the best one I have developedIt is sterile.  This is an attention getter of statuesque proportions.  The flowers are very similar to the rochebrunianum, but the yellow is stronger, and the pink is slightly pale.  The strength of the flowers is that they stay on a good deal longer than the non-hybrid meadow rues.  The flowers are nice, but its strength is the extra hardy, dark green foliage and the chocolate purple color in the stalks and young leaves.  I am starting to get enough of them through vegetative propagation and spontaneous breeding that I can move them and maybe even sell some.   
  • COMING SOON! Thalictrum X Witweri 3 Thalictrum dasycarpum father and Thalictrum aquilegiafolium mother.  
  • Thalictrum zhongdian (from China).  Spring 2006 Rice Creek Gardens.  Located in the Circumpolar garden, this Chinese alpine specimen appears to be similar in structure and proportions to the Hewitt's Double and T. diptercarpum.  It did not bloom for me last year, but seemed content.  This year there is just one stalk, and it might not bloom this year either.  It looks really healthy, but it is definitely taking its time getting established.  I can't find any images of it, but I found this gallery of images of its native landscape.

Thuja 'Teddy'. (Arborvitae) Fall 2002 Rice Creek Gardens.  This is a dwarf cultivar.  In the rock garden, this 15" dense ball of glaucus juvenile foliage will make a very attractive and interesting impression.   Rather expensive for its size, but these are the kind of plants that you want to spend that kind of money on.  Exotic evergreens are a specialty at Rice Creek.  It survived the winter, probably because we planted it in the shade of a large stone.  It doesn't like winter sun, but it gets some after the Equinox.  Four years later it increased in size quite a bit more than I expected.  It's about 15" tall and very full.  Because of its lush growth I had to create a girdle to hold all of its vertical branches together because it has developed a tendency to collapse on itself--probably with the help of the neighbor's cat who thinks it makes a really nice cozy bed.  It is a very nice looking mini bush, though.  I recommend it.

Tiarella wherryi -- Wherry's Foamflower [Saxifragaceae (like Astilbe)] 1995 Evergreen but the leaves only serve to give energy to the newly emerging leaves from the roots. Late to show new growth.  Spreads very slowly by the roots.  It does not seem to reseed.  It's attractive, but can't compete around taller plants.  Nice plant for low-growing formal garden in bright shade. 

Tradescantia bracteata -- Prairie Spiderwort  [Commelinaceae] Spring 2004  A native Minnesota wildflower that is actually rather impressive in appearance.  This came in a six-pack pot, and I planted these in separate locations among the prairie flowers in the older part of our garden's "Main bed."  It tolerates damp to dry conditions in well-drained soil.  It is a vigorous reseeder, but I'm kind of hoping that it takes off through the neighborhood.  I deadhead mine to maintain control.  Stay tuned for further commentary.  I have not yet decided what I think.  It was very happy in our garden, but let's see how far it got in spite of deadheading. In its second season, it had a bit of spreading, and the plants are quite a bit larger.  Still it seems manageable.  They are really pretty, but the flowers don't last long.  In Spring 2006, I see a few that I left and a few that have survived my attack.  However, I'm thinking they are fairly manageable with vigorous maintenance.  As of May 2007, I am having second thoughts because there are lots of seedlings coming.  They're just not pretty enough to justify their vigor. [More information, and images]

Tricyrtus hirta -- Toad Lily. [Liliaceae]. 2-3' woodland shade plant. Best planted where it can be viewed close-up. Its fall blooms look like tiny orchids on plants similar to Solomon's Seal. Evenly moist, rich soil in light to partial shade. Long-lived and easy to grow. Divde clumps in spring. Self sown seedlings are common if the season is long enough for them to ripen. A real gem of the late summer garden.  However, the growing season is short here in Minnesota.  Be sure to give it good light so that it gets an early start.  I think that a sunny location in deciduous shade is ideal, but it must have space to do well.  This one got crowded out by Siberian Iris and Thalictrum Rochebrunianum.  On the North side of the house, the extra cool microclimate that has developed there retains snow and ice well into March, so it got a late start.  After the second winter it was gone.  Oh well, back to the drawing board...

Trillium (I forget which species/cultivar and I forget where I bought it in 2001.  I think it's T. recurvatum--prairie trilliumIt is a native Minnesotan beauty that looks somewhat like the Jack-in-the-Pulpit, but the flower is on top of the leaf structure.  There are quite a few varieties.  This nursery in England has an amazing selection with pictures.  Click here to see imagesClick here for cultivation and medicinal usage information.

Trollius chinensis 'Golden Queen' -- 1996 Globe Flower [Ranunculaceae]. Water and fertilizer. Easy to grow from fresh seed. A fabulous plant. The intense yellow flowers stand high (about 3 feet) above the attractive foliage.  I have mine next to Jacob's Ladder, with bright lavender flowers.  The two bloom together to produce a really loud color combination.  Since the trollius is so bright, I think it silly to try to find a color to complement it.  Instead, use it for its attention-getting nature, like an oriental poppy, which also blooms at the same time.  In Minnesota, this is the time for the "hawaiian shirt" colors anyway.  In Spring 2002, I finally noticed a number of seedlings--because I let some seed pods develop.  They must reseed pretty easily.  I can't stress enough how loudly colored these can be.  If you're looking for subtle yellows, forget this one.  It's appearance is rather like a tall buttercup, with a strong hint of single-flowered peony structure.  The 15"-high leaf mass has leaves that look a bit like a delphinium.  The flowers stand about 12-15" above the leaves on long, sturdy stems.  Very cool.  In Spring 2006 (ten years later) I notice that I now have about 15 plants scattered around the central portion of the main bed.  I have yet to kill any, but as of May 2007 I'm starting to have phytocidal thoughts.  They're all over the place now. 

Vaccinium angustifolium 'Burgundy Dwarf' -- Low bush blueberry [Ericaceae or Empetraceae] Spring 2004 This particular species creates dense foliage and a really compact, low growing structure of less than a foot in height.  That makes it ideal for coverage in a rock garden like our Circumpolar garden.  It doesn't appear to be mature enough to bloom this year, but the plant filled up the four inch pot it was in.  It has many leaves and stems.  In its second Spring, it looks vigorous, but close to the ground in May.  It looks like it will get a growth spurt in June.  In Spring 2006 it is blooming for the first time and has increased by about 2-3 times its original size 2 years ago.  As promised, it is a low grower at about 8".  In 2008 it is completely covered with flowers.  

Vaccinium 'Northblue' -- Blueberry [Ericaceae or Empetraceae] Fall 2002 Highland Garden Center, in the rock garden.  This self-fruitful variety does not require two plants.  It also provides the best combination of large berries on a small plant.  We are not expecting to get many for ourselves.  The birds and passersby will probably get them before we do.  Blueberries like very acidic soil, so we planted ours on the edge of the root range of a large blue spruce.  They can tolerate some shade, but berry production is reduced.  This location is bright, but has limited direct sun.  Most of the brightest sun it gets is between sunrise and 10:00 AM, and from 4:00 PM to 7 PM.  The second season yielded only about five fruits.  This third season the plant is obviously thriving, and covered with beautiful blooms.   For more information on cultivation, check these links:  Growing Blueberries in the home garden and Blueberries for the home garden  I did a soil test in Spring 2004 and found that the soil near this plant was only about pH 5.5, so I added more sulfur and some coffee dregs.  Spring 2006 it looks very nice with lots of flowers, but the growth in size has been minimal.  It is still only about a foot tall and maybe a bit more than two feet wide.  After 10 years it is showing some visible spread along underground stems.

Veronica fasciculata (also Veronia fasciculata) Ironweed [Asteraceae] Spring 2004.  New to our garden, this native wildflower attracts butterflies.  In the fall it has large panicles of reddish purple flowers similar to most asters, but the overall appearance from a distance is similar to Queen of the Prairie (Fillipendula rubra).  It likes moist soil and sun.  I see varying statements of average height, ranging from 3 to 7 feet.  According to one source, the flowers can be used in dry flower arrangements.  In Summer 2005 it bloomed beautifully, and in Spring 2006 it looks very vigorous, with about 3-4 times as many shoots as last year.  As with most of the asteraceae, you really have to deadhead it, but other than that, it's a marvelous native plant.  [ Click for image ]  

Veronica 'Blue Reflections' [Scrophulariaceae] Fall 2002.  This creeping Veronica is only about 3-4" tall, but has spread in four years to cover a large area.  In a location with Winter sun, be sure to mulch it so that it's not exposed to the air.  We have it in the sunniest location in the circumpolar garden.

Viburnum Worthington? -- Highbush Cranberry. Nice bush that grows bird attracting reddish-orange berries.  They really do taste like cranberries.  It has attractive creamy white flowers and the leaves turn a deep red-maroon in autumn.  After ten years it has become a really strong presence in the shady corner of our garden. Old wood needs to be removed periodically. 

Viola ? 'White Freckled'The bugs or slugs attack it viciously. By mid summer, there is nothing left of it.  I'm not impressed.  

Viola evilus weedus (aka Viola and V. sororia) The common garden violet is now on the list of most unwanted weeds in my garden.  It's actually less troublesome in a lawn than in a cultivated garden.  A mature clump will drop a million seeds, and when you dig it up and then cultivate the spot, you'll leave a good number in ideal conditions for germination.  Worse yet, the plant you dug up had a mother "bulb" at the base of those fleshy roots that tied the whole clump together.  The following year the whole big plant will be there again, like the mythical Hydra.  If you must have these, get the Johnny Jump Ups and Pansies, both of which are pretty hardy here in certain situations.  To eradicate large violets, I strongly suggest digging up the top 4" of soil and screening it to remove the rhizomes and bulbs, or whatever the hell keeps this nasty thing alive. Herbicides are not very effective on mature plants because the "mother" resides about 4-6" beneath the ground.  Chemicals and ambitious hand weeding usually only get the upper part of the plant. It will be back the next year as if you had done nothing.  They like acidic soil, so it is believed by lawn fanatics that lime applications help control its spread.  I don't think it matters.  The trick is having healthy grass to suppress it.

Annual Flowers and Tender Perennials (recommended by Darren and Sandy)

French Lavender--a saw tooth lavender with a paler green leaf and much more vigorous growth and pleasant aroma. Even if you plant them new every year, they will out perform a mature clump of English Lavender.

Impatiens--the ordinary red variety are easy, and are effective in attracting hummingbirds. 

Moss Roses: easy, cheap.  Sometimes reseeds and survives winter.  

Salpiglosis: beautiful, big flowers on a medium sized stem.  New species for us in 2001.  No problems.  Beautiful.


Aside from a slew of sites I have linked throughout here for images and more info (too many to list!)...

Deborah Kellaway, Clematis and the Ranunculaceae  This wonderful book will teach you about this remarkable family of flowers at the same time that it teaches you to see and write about your garden.  

Diane Benson, Dirt: The Lowdown on Growing a Garden with Style.  This humorous, opinionated book is full of wisdom, even if she has the aristocratic snobbishness of Martha Stewart.  Fortunately, she is much more humorous and a bit more twisted than the pop culture jailbird maven of domesticity.

Rodale's Illustrated Encyclopedia of Perennials

Reader's Digest Illustrated Guide to Gardening ISBN 0-89577-046-6  It gives much more detailed instructions for cultivation and propagation.  Excellent resource for shrubs, annuals, house plants, bulbs, vines....  You wouldn't expect such quality from these folks who do for literature what McDonalds does for potatoes.  

National Audobon Society Field Guide to North American Wildflowers--Eastern Region 

Francesca Consolino & Enrico Banfi, Simon & Schuster's Guide to Climbing Plants 

and of course, the excellent resources at Dave's Garden website

I also use lots of resources from the Internet.  Links to relevant information are provided in the text of this document.


Plant family names are not universal.  Here is a good cross list of the different classifications of plants by family: PBIO 250 Lecture notes

Twin Cities Nurseries

These are not advertisements.  These are personal endorsements and reviews.  I am focusing on the East side of the Metro Area.  Minneapolis residents already know the virtues and weaknesses of Bachman's, Lyndale Garden Center, and the rest.

Rice Creek Gardens Way the hell out North of Blaine, but well worth the drive.  They are probably one of the most expensive nurseries in town, but they have an amazing selection of unique plants.  They also have enough land to set up lots of different display gardens so you can see the full grown plants doing their thing together.  It takes at least four hours to comb the display gardens and then browse carefully through their plants.  They never have sales and they don't get their plants out until a bit late in the season.  However, since most of it overwinters on the ground outdoors, they aren't artificially accelerated (don't you hate buying a delphinium in full bloom in May?)  That also means that their plants survive Minnesota winters without difficulty.  They have some specialties at which I think they excel:  alpine perennials and teeny weeny evergreens.  They have produced impressive stone landscaping for beautiful rock gardens done as they're supposed to be.  They were behind the rock garden on the North end of Lake Harriet.  They breed their own varieties of Day Lilies and Hostas, so they have the biggest variety of both in the area.  If you want a really special specimen that you can't find at Bachman's, go here.  They also have an astounding collection of exotic evergreens for those who are adventurous enough to put in a weeping Fir instead of a Juniper, Hemlock or Arborvitae.  We don't spend as much money here as other places, but we almost never get through a Summer without making a couple of trips there for five to ten unusual plants.  The owner is a fascinating treasure trove of horticultural wisdom.  

Linder's Garden Center: They have everything you need, from potting soil to pots, to perennials.  The perennial collection is respectable, but not outstanding.  Volume over variety seems to be the goal here.  They specialize in annuals, water garden supplies and plants, as well as bulbs and seeds.  They have been really improving their Spring bulb collection.  They had three different Fritillaria species last year.  I haven't seen that anywhere else in town.  They also stock a lot of seeds.  They are affordable for most things.   They are also pretty close to us.  Because they are a great one-stop shop, we buy the majority of our supplies and plants here.  Their annuals are uninteresting, but they have good prices and lots of them.  If you need petunias, mums, impatiens, lobelia, begonias, snapdragons...in the common colors, this is the place to go.  If you have gardening questions, or need guidance of any kind, don't expect much help here--it's about like trying to get a clerk to help you at Target or Home Depot.  I like their professional potting mix and their bark compost.  

Leitner's Garden Center: Parking can be a problem at this place, though they did expand their lot a bit.  We have purchased many things there.  Their selection is impressive for a small shop.  If we don't go to Linder's, we go here.  Usually their annuals are more interesting than Linder's.  Their perennial selection is better than Linder's too.  They cram a lot of stuff into their small space.  If they're at all busy, you'll have to park 1/2 block away on the street.  It's best not to go here at peak garden shopping hours.  Besides the surprisingly broad selection of interesting plants, they are also well staffed for answering questions--something that Linders fails at miserably.  Leitner's is a very friendly place.  The weakness is definitely in the gardening accessory and fertilizer area.  They have very little space for this, so they have high prices on hoses and sprinklers.  Nothing organic.  Just Scott's and Miracle Grow...   BUT, they had the best real pine bark mulch in town for the 2002 season.  That stuff is beautiful

Highland Nursery Garden Center: This wonderful little shop has an amazing and extensive collection of perennials, shrubs and trees.  They also have one of the best selections of decorations for the garden--at least in terms of aesthetic value.  Linders has many things, but they cater to a more popular taste.  Highland obviously is marketing to a more discriminating clientele.  This place is really amazing, so you should go check it out.  However, since the building itself is small, they put almost no effort into stocking tools, fertilizers or other gardening accessories.  I don't find their annual selection to be outstanding either.  If you want an exotic shrub, or perennial, a statue or a pretty wrought iron fence to edge a  bed, this is the place to go.  I think their prices on plants are reasonable, but much of the artistic lawn ornaments are expensive.  It's somewhat like the big Bachman's in Minneapolis, but much smaller in scale.  No coffee shop or atrium...


Odds and Ends

I was ego-googling the other day for this page--which is actually ranked pretty high for a non-commercial, unprofessional web page.  On the day I did it, there were about 89 hits dehydrated to 2 pages.  The first two links were on this site, of course.  The rest were all plagiarized from some indeterminate source.  Each of them provided the same appraisal and review of my site.  Since it's a reasonable description, and the writer obviously did read a significant part of the site I quote it:

Describes a garden in Minnesota along with an extensive list of the plants that grow there and gardening how-to tips. Emphasis on Ranunculaceae (thalictrum & aconitum). Numerous links to images and other resources.

The fact that roughly 87 websites contain the exact same statement is slightly uncanny.  But, the strangest thing for me was seeing what kinds of pages could be so obviously automatically generated to contain that text.  This really showed to me how weirdly cannibalistic and parasitic the web is.  No doubt there are robots that comb through site ranking lists, then snatch links to draw unwary surfers in for spyware installation, or some such thing.  

Here are a collection of my favorite weird links to this page.  In most cases, you'll need to do a page search (Ctrl-F) for the word "Darren's".

Pets--Rabbits As A Pet in Ireland

Crest Health--Blue Cross-Blue Shield of Ar

Heuchera Florist Choice @ Flowersources.com (Don't just search.  search a lot!)  This page is shockingly ironic.  I don't sell plants, and Heuchera's are only briefly mentioned, and not especially enthusiastically, yet I am one of only five links, all four of the others being exceptionally "weak links" that weren't searched well at all.  The same folks also have me listed on their Shoes-New Balance Stability Running Shoes.



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