Monthly Archives: March 2017

Garden Beasts

Garden Beasts, Imaginary and Real
Platycodon (plat-ee-KOE-dun) may sound like the name of a dinosaur, but it’s actually a charming plant more often called Japanese bellflower. Another common name, balloon flower, perfectly describes the spherical shape of the blossoms right before they open, and is much more memorable than its scientific name, unless you are familiar with its Greek roots: “platys” (broad) and “kodon” (bell).

Centaurea (variously sen-TOR-ee-ah and sen-taw-REE-uh) has been a garden resident for centuries, and was used to treat illnesses in medieval times. Perhaps its name sounds so much like a garden beast because of its origin in Greek mythology. Centaurs were a race of war-beasts who were half-man, half-horse. According to legend, one particularly peaceful centaur named Chiron used the flowers of this plant to heal wounds. Centaurea is better known as the bachelor’s button, for its use as a lapel flower, or cornflower, for its habit of growing in corn fields.

The delightfully-named liriope (lir-RYE-oh-pee) also derives from Greek mythology. Liriope was a naiad, or water nymph, and mother to Narcissus, the beautiful young man who fell in love with his own reflection. Although neither a grass nor a lily,

The echinops (EK-in-ops) is one garden “beast” named after an actual creature that can be found in gardens in some parts of the world. It derives from the Greek words “echinos” (hedgehog) and “opis” (appearance). The dense, spiny, globe-like flowers of this plant, commonly called globe thistle, certainly do resemble little, colorful hedgehogs.

Located nearby in the botanical dictionary, and similarly spiky, is the eryngium (air-ING-ee-um), from the Greek meaning “sea holly,” which is the plant’s common name. One particular variety, E. giganteum, is nicknamed “Miss Willmott’s Ghost” after the famous English gardener Ellen Willmott. Apparently she was in the habit of scattering seeds of these short-lived perennials, whose silvery flowers give them a spectral appearance.

The name antirrhinum (an-tihr-RYE-num) sounds like it’s straight out of Harry Potter’s Herbology class, perhaps describing a powerful counter-spell for a magic-induced illness. But it’s really just the scientific name for an old garden favorite, deriving from the Greek “anti” (like) and “rhin” (nose), for the flower’s similarity to a snout. The plant’s common name, snapdragon, describes an age-old children’s pastime. By pressing the sides of the flower, you can open and close the make-believe jaws of an obliging “dragon.”

Plant or Dreaded Disease?
If the plant name achillea (ack-ih-LEE-uh) reminds you of a foot disorder, you’re not far off the mark, because it comes from the same root as the Achilles tendon, which runs between calf and heel. Both names derive from Achilles, the hero of Homer’s “Iliad,” who supposedly used the achillea plant to heal his wounded soldiers. (Achilles himself was mortally wounded by an arrow to the heel — hence, a person’s fatal flaw is his “Achilles heel.”) Because achillea was believed to be particularly useful in treating wounds caused by iron, Civil War battlefield surgeons applied this plant to bullet wounds.

Echinacea (Eh-kih-NAY-shah or ek-in-AY-see-uh) — a description of the aches and pains accompanying a cold and the flu? Far from it! Echinacea or coneflower is in fact a time-honored herbal medicine that may help ward off such symptoms. From the Latin “echinatus” or prickly, the plant name echinacea, like echinops, ultimately derives from the Latin word for hedgehog. In this case, the little hedgehog is the not the flower itself, which is daisy-like, but the spiny “cone” or seed head that gives the plant its common name, coneflower.

Phlox (floks) isn’t an upset stomach, it’s a “phunny” name for one of the loveliest and longest-blooming perennials of spring and summer. From the Greek “phlox,” meaning “flame,” this name was originally applied to a completely different plant, now unknown (undoubtedly a reference to brightly colored blossoms or leaves). Somehow the moniker phlox became tied to an abundant, sweet-smelling North American native plant. Today phlox can be had in a huge variety of colors and bi-colors, both pastels and brights.




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

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

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


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

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

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

Confederate Rose

The Confederate rose was in bloom during a particularly bloody battle of the Civil War. A slain soldier fell beside a Confederate rose, and his blood spilled into the ground at the base of shrub. The flowers, which had started out white in the morning, absorbed the slain soldier’s blood throughout the day, so that by evening they had turned a deep, rosy red.

That sort of story makes for interesting reading, but the flowers do, indeed, live up the specific epithet, “mutabilis,” which means “variable or changeable.” All are large and showy and look somewhat like a large, delicate rose. Some are single, and many are double. On some specimens, the flowers that open early in the morning are snowy white, but by evening they have turned to deep rose. On the second day, they wither and fall from the shrub. On other shrubs, the opening blossom may be pink, turning to white or even a darker pink as it ages. Either way, many buds are waiting for their day in the sun. At any time, as many as three different colors may show at one time as the flowers fade or darken to their various hues. On some single-flowered specimens, flowers are red and remain so for the duration of their bloom. Some are pink and gradually turn a darker shade of pink as they age.

The Confederate rose is a large shrub or small multi-stemmed tree capable of growing up to 15 feet tall and about 10 feet wide. Large, deeply lobed 5- to 7-inch leaves are attractive throughout the summer, during which time they add a distinctive, coarse texture that contrasts well with other, more finely textured compatriots. Following the bloom, a seed capsule reminiscent of a cotton boll, dries and yields its fuzzy seeds. This trait calls to mind why another of its common names is cotton rose. Like many other plants with seasonal bloom, hardly anybody notices the Confederate rose in spring and summer. When fall rolls around and the shrubs begin flowering, nobody can miss their striking beauty.


Confederate rose exhibits some degree of hardiness in USDA Zones 7-9. In my Zone 8B garden it gets killed to the ground most winters, but it comes back from the roots every spring. All summer it spends growing and producing strong woody stems and big, tropical-looking leaves. Rounded buds begin appearing about August, and in September or October and until frost, the Confederate rose struts its stuff.

In frost-free areas, Confederate rose blooms throughout the winter. In places that have light frosts, the leaves are shed, but they sprout again from sturdy, undamaged stems in spring. In areas with prolonged cold periods and frequent heavy frosts, the stems are killed to the ground, but the plant re-grows from hardy roots the following spring. Our poor cousins to the north where the ground freezes must grow their confederate roses in containers and move them to protected places in winter or simply treat them as annuals.



In the Landscape

Most country folks and others who have space to do so, grow the Confederate rose as a free-standing specimen. In such a place, it grows to its maximum potential into a natural, oval shape, and its beautiful, various-hued flowers are shown to their best advantage. If space allows, plant Confederate rose in the front yard so that it can be seen by all passersby. If space is simply not available, the Confederate rose is good addition to a mixed shrub border.

At any rate, the Confederate rose will be the talk of the neighborhood when it is in full bloom. It is particularly welcome in the fall when many of the summer-flowering plants have bloomed out and the garden needs an extra boost.


Like many other plants, Confederate rose does best in rich, well-drained but moist soil and full sun. However, it is highly adaptable and will perform reasonably well in almost any soil as long as it drains well. It is well worth growing even if you cannot provide the conditions for maximum performance. Some blooms will be produced in partial shade, and the plant is tolerant of a wide range of soils. Even though it appreciates regular watering, it can get by with much less and is even drought tolerant in good soil.

Confederate rose can be plagued by insect pests such as white flies, scale insects, weevils, and caterpillars. If the infestation is severe, spraying with an insecticide approved for hibiscus and recommended for the particular pest may be necessary. Systemic insecticide drenches or granules that are applied to the ground and absorbed by the plant’s roots are sometimes useful in the battle against persistent pests.

Tomato varieties in your garden

1.Chocolate Cherry

This cherry tomato variety is the color of port wine and bears a hint of chocolate. For such small fruit, these tomatoes have an awfully big taste. They’re best served fresh and are ideal for making salads and canning.

Yellow Pear

 Yellow pear plants produce sunny little teardrop-shaped tomatoes, so their name seems more than appropriate. These fun fruits have a mild taste and are great for popping into your mouth right when you harvest them. Alternatively, they can be eaten as tomato preserves.

2.Sun Gold

Sun Gold is another variety that produces smaller fruits, all of which are lovely orange cherry-type tomatoes. They have a rather sweet taste and can thrive well past the end of the growing season. Sun Golds are perfect for eating right off the vine or for adding some color to your salads.

3.Candy’s Old Yellow

Another yellow variety! These tomatoes are large, flat, and sweet-tasting. Their crazy irregular shape makes them a lot of fun to grow. Try throwing some of these into a chutney or a sweeter salsa.

4.Green Zebra

Green Zebras are gloriously striped green fruits that usually bear a yellow or bluish-red tint. With an average weight of just six ounces, these fruits are relatively small. Some may worry that they won’t be able to tell when their Green Zebras have ripened, but the trick is to wait until the stripes turn a deeper shade of yellow. These tomatoes have a tart taste and can be enjoyed fresh by anyone who isn’t a fan of sweeter varieties. They also work well in canning recipes because of their slight acidity.

5.Pineapple Heirloom

This giant beefsteak tomato is bicolored yellow and red. It has a mild but tropically sweet flavor to it. These tomatoes can grow to massive sizes on the vine and work wonderfully for slicing thanks to their meaty flesh. Plus, you can use these giants in your canning recipes.

6.Striped German

These large, gorgeous-looking tomatoes are known for their green and red stripes. Inside, they are marbled. Striped Germans are sweet and can easily be sliced up to eat fresh. Unfortunately, this variety tastes so good that it often doesn’t last long enough to make it into your meals.

7.Mr. Stripey

Like the Striped German, Mr. Stripey is a two-toned tomato. The only difference is that this red and yellow-striped fruit that has a thick beefsteak feel to it. Mr. Stripeys have a high sugar content, which gives them a very sweet flavor. Still, they taste great on salads and sandwiches and in sweet salsas.

8.Cherokee Purple

Cherokee Purple is another aptly-named variety, as they turn a beautiful shade of mahogany purple when ripe. Cherokee Purples are large and very beefy. If you’re looking for the perfect slicing tomato, this one’s for you. They can be eaten fresh, added to your salsa recipes, and canned.

9Brandywine Pink

Brandywine Pink plants produce large, delightful pinkish-red tomatoes. You can expect these to slice well and taste divine. They have a rather sweet flavor and will make the perfect addition to your burgers and picnic sandwiches.

10.Costoluto Genovese

This red-fluted tomato is an Italian heirloom that’s been around for quite a while. Their deep ribbing gives them a unique shape. Costoluto Genovese have an intense flavor and can be eaten fresh or thrown into your favorite recipes!

11.You should be able to find some of these varieties at your local nursery. For others, you may have to order seeds or seedlings from a mail-order garden company. It’s always fun to try out new varieties and discover some awesome new flavors. You might even find that your kids love yellow pears for their sunny color or that you can’t get enough of Cherokee Purple. This year, make it a point to grow one or two new tomato varieties in your garden. A lot of heirlooms are finally making a comeback, and it’s time to give them a try.