Oakleaf Hydrangea

Hydrangea quercifolia

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When you think of Hydrangeas, do you think of the blue or pink poofy flowers growing in your grandmother’s garden?  Those mop-head Hydrangeas are still popular with many, and we have a few left by a previous owner.  But there are many other sorts of Hydrangeas available that offer a bit more character and a longer season of interest.

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The oakleaf Hydrangea, Hydrangea quercifolia, is native to the Southeastern United States.   It is a tall, woody deciduous shrub; hardy, drought tolerant, and somewhat deer resistant.  I say ‘somewhat’ because we have had newly planted ones grazed in our garden.  But there are other, more tasty shrubs the deer prefer!  Once established, these Hydrangeas will only rarely be touched by deer.

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Oakleaf Hydrangea in early June

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The oakleaf Hydrangea was first noted by Pennsylvania botanist William Bartram as he explored the area now known as the Carolinas, south to Florida, in the 1770s.  It is one of the plants he collected and exported back to England for the nursery trade.

This is a tall, understory shrub with coarse foliage.  The flowers are white, sometimes fading to cream or pink as they age.  The flowers are good in a vase fresh or dried.

I like the oakleaf Hydrangea because once its huge, cone shaped flowers emerge in early May, they remain beautiful for many months.

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Even into winter, the flowers dry on the shrub and add interest.  Once the leaves finally fall, the remains of the flowers cling to the woody frame of the plant.

The oakleaf Hydrangea’s large, interesting leaves turn vivid scarlet and remain vibrant for many weeks before they eventually fall.

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Oakleaf Hydrangea in October

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There are several interesting cultivars of the native species, and we grow H. ‘Ruby Slippers,’ which is a dwarf variety with pinkish flowers, and H. ‘Snow Queen.’  Most Hydrangeas are relatively easy to propagate from cuttings, by digging up a new shoot with roots attached, or by layering.  Oakleaf Hydrangea looks good as a specimen, a hedge, or even as an alle’e, on a large property.

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Oakleaf Hydrangea December 2017

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There are a number of beautiful species and cultivars within the Hydrangea genus, and all have great character.  I’ve grown many of them over the years, including the H. macrophylla that bloom in pretty pinks and blues and purples.  Some are quite fussy and challenging to grow, requiring plenty of moisture and shade to thrive.

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But the oakleaf Hydrangea is as tough and sturdy as its name implies.  Hardy to Zone 5, it can adapt to a variety of soils and light.  Happiest in partial shade, growing under the canopy of mature trees, it can manage with full sun, too.  You can even grow a new shrub in a pot for a year or two before moving it out into the garden, as it grows larger.

If you’ve not yet grown Hydrangea quercifolia, you might consider adding this elegant, hardy shrub to your garden.

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Woodland Gnome 2018
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Fabulous Friday: Pitcher Plants

Sarracenia flava

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Once upon a time, not so long ago, really, pitcher plants grew wild in the boggy wetlands along the Atlantic coast.  They grew right around here, along the banks of the James River and the many creeks that feed it.

The yellow trumpet pitcher, Sarracenia flava, is native to our part of coastal Virginia.  Most species of pitchers grow from Virginia south to Florida, and west along the Gulf coast.

Only one species, Sarracenia pupurea ssp. purpurea, grows from Virginia north to Canada and west to the wetlands around the Great Lakes.  Most of these species live in bogs and wetlands at sea level, but a few species grow at higher elevations in the Appalachian Mountains from Virginia south into Georgia.

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It’s rare now to find a pitcher plant growing wild.  Over 97% of their habitat has been drained and developed.  A few species and natural hybrids are all but extinct.  These beautiful carnivorous plants are sustained these days mostly in private collections.

And the good news, gardening friends, is that these striking plants are easy to grow!  Anyone with a sunny spot can participate in keeping these beautiful and unusual species going.

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If you live in Zone 7 or warmer, you can grow most any of the North American pitcher plants outdoors year round.  If you live in colder climes, you probably can grow the species and hybrids of Sarracenia purpurea, Sarracenia oreophila, or Sarracenia montana.  Even if you live a zone or two colder than your plants are rated, you can find ways to insulate them over winter.

These easy to please plants simply want wet, acidic soil and as much sun as you can give them.  Grow them in pots filled with a mix of half peat moss and half sand, or three quarters peat and 1/4 perlite or fine gravel.    Keep the soil moist by growing in a glazed ceramic pot with no drainage hole, or a glazed ceramic pot with a deep, water filled saucer beneath.  Peter d’Amato, owner of California Carnivores and author of The Savage Garden, recommends growing potted Sarracenias in glazed pots kept standing in  2″ of water at all times, so the soil stays evenly moist.

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These are definitely tough, outdoor plants and prefer full sun.  If you grow them indoors, keep them near a window with bright light for at least 6 hours a day, or in a greenhouse.

Never use commercial potting mix, compost, or commercial fertilizers with pitcher plants.  Peat is closest to the soil of their natural habitat, and provides the acidic environment they require.

The only pitcher plant that has ever failed for me came from a local grower.   He cut corners, and blended his own compost based soil mix rather than using good peat.  He admitted this to me when I returned the plant to him the following spring after I bought it, because it hadn’t begun new growth.  He replaced the plant, and I immediately re-potted it into the proper mix.  It is thriving still.

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There are several distinct features to the different species of pitcher plants.  The pitchers can be as short as 5″-6″ or as tall as 48″ depending on the species.  Each hollow pitcher is actually a leaf.  The most common pitchers, the S. purpureas, are also some of the shortest.  They are usually a beautiful red or purple and have red flowers.

S. flava, S. leucophylla and S. oreophila produce some of the tallest pitchers.  Some pitchers stand up tall, and others form recumbent rosettes of pitchers.  Pitchers may have wide mouths with fancy, frilly openings, or may have wide open mouths that catch the rain.  S. minor and S. psittacina pitchers have hooded openings.

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Some pitchers are mostly green, others are red or purple.  S. Leucophylla have white around the openings to their pitchers.  S. flava is also called the yellow pitcher plant, and they are a beautiful  chartreuse yellow.

Sarracenia flowers may be red, purple, white, peach, yellow or some combination of these colors.  There are so many interesting hybrids and cultivars that a pitcher plant enthusiast has many choices of which plants to grow.

I ordered two new pitcher plants from Sarracenia Northwest, in Portland OR, this spring.  I’m now watching S. ‘Bug Bat’ and S. leucophylla ‘Tarnok’ begin to grow.  Both were very carefully packaged and arrived in growth and in perfect condition.

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And then earlier today, I found an interesting carnivorous plant terrarium kit at Lowes, with a dormant Sarracenia and a dormant Dionaea, or flytrap; little bags of peat and sphagnum moss.  There were potting instructions and a clear plastic box to hold the plants until they begin to grow.  At under $10.00, this looked like a pretty good value.

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Our newest pitcher plant  came in a carnivorous plant terrarium kit found at Lowes.  I’ve planted it, and a dormant flytrap in this bowl given to us by a potter friend.

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I potted the little dormant plants in my own mix of peat and sand, in a beautiful bowl our potter friend Denis Orton gave us at the holidays.  The bowl has no drainage and is a perfect first home for both plants.  They may need potting on next year or the next, but that is the way of things, isn’t it?

It will be a surprise to see which species of pitcher plant grows from this start, but I’m guessing it is most likely the most common, S. purpurea.

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Pitcher plants have various ways of luring insects into their open mouths.  There are nectar trails that lure insects up the pitchers and into their open mouthed leaf.  Each species has ingenious ways to keep them from escaping again.  These plants catch and digest every sort of insect from crawling ants to mosquitoes and flies.

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There is no shortage of insects in our May garden!  We have come to the part of summer haunted by every sort of bug imaginable, and it’s fabulous irony that one of our most beautiful native perennials also helps control the bug problem!

Our little collection of pitcher plant is growing now, and it is fabulous to admire their fresh new pitchers on this very muggy Friday afternoon.  I am looking forward to watching the new ones grow and show their special colors and forms.

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Pitcher plant, Sarracenia leucophylla, native to the Southeastern United States

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If you’ve not yet tried growing pitcher plants, I hope you’ll think about giving them a try.  These endangered species need all the help adventurous gardeners will give to keep them going on into the future.

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Woodland Gnome 2017

Happiness is contagious!  Let’s infect one another!

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For the Daily Post’s

Weekly Photo Challenge:  Heritage

 

Blossom XIV

August 26, 2016 spider 003

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“Patience is the calm acceptance

that things can happen in a different order

than the one you have in mind.”

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David G. Allen

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August 17, 2016 garden 004

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2016

 

Blossom I
Blossom II
Blossom III
Blossom IV
Blossom V
Blossom VI
Blossom VII
Blossom VIII
Blossom IX
Blossom X
Blossom XI
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Blossom VIII

Adam’s Needle In Bloom

Yucca filamentosa, or Adam’s Needle, is native to the Southeastern United States.

This very tough, evergreen, drought tolerant plant tolerates a variety of soils.  It can grow in full sun or partial shade in Zones 5-9.   This plant can even be found growing in very sandy soils closer to the coast.

Large, sculptural, and dramatic, the spines on its leaves ensures that it gets the space it needs to grow. Mature plants may be 8′ tall when in bloom.

These plants were growing in the garden when we arrived, and are well established.

With no special care, they treat us to this beautiful display each summer.

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

Savor the Successes

Success is always sweetly appreciated. Whenever we set a goal for ourselves, and work towards accomplishing something of importance, the moment when we know we have achieved our goal is one to celebrate. We gardeners have such high hopes… As the catalogs pore in all winter, I plot such wonderful plans for the pots, beds, … Continue reading

Hardy Hibiscus

Hibiscus Moscheutos, or Rose Mallow, in late July

Hibiscus moscheutos, or Rose Mallow, in late July

 

Hibiscus flowers are a quintessential joy of summer gardens.  One of the largest, brightest flowers we’ll find in our garden, ever, Hibiscus takes its place beside the Magnolia grandiflora for flowers the size of luncheon plates. Hibiscus flowers make us think of tropical vacations, aloha shirts, and rum drinks. They bloom during the hottest, muggiest part of our summer, taunting us out into the garden from our air conditioned shade indoors.

 

A dragonfly rests on a Hibiscus bud .

A dragonfly rests on a Hibiscus bud .

Loved by hummingbirds, bees, butterflies, and dragonflies, hardy hibiscus are always the center of activity in the garden. Not only are they an important source of nectar for hummingbirds, but they also attract small nectar loving insects which hummingbirds love to eat. Once the flowers fade in autumn, and their seed pods ripen, hardy Hibiscus  feed goldfinches, cardinals, tufted titmice, wrens, and other songbirds looking for nutritious  seeds all  winter.

 

A bumblebee enjoys the abundant pollen of a Hibiscus blossom

A bumblebee enjoys the abundant pollen of a Hibiscus blossom

Hibiscus

Hibiscus moscheutos or Rose Mallow

Although big box stores and garden centers offer potted tropical Hibiscus plants each summer, there are several varieties of hardy hibiscus native or naturalized right here in coastal Virginia.  In fact, you’ll see many hibiscus, or Rose Mallow, plants blooming in July along the James and York Rivers, and in the marshes along the Colonial Parkway.  Our native and naturalized varieties need no pots, no coddling, readily self-seed, and come with an agreeable price tag.  The tropical varieties must be brought in before frost or left outside to die; the natives are deciduous, but reliably return the following spring.

Hardy hibiscus comes in two forms:  herbaceous perennial and deciduous shrub.  Both leaf out quite late in the spring.

 

July 6 2013 garden 010

 

Hibiscus syriacus, also called Rose of Sharon, or Althea, is a deciduous woody shrub.  Its first leaves appear in late spring, and it begins flowering in mid June.  Flowers continue into September.  The leaves turn yellow in autumn and linger until after frost. The herbaceous perennials, which begin sending up their green stems and leaves in mid June, bloom in mid-July and August.

HIbiscus syriacus, or Rose of Sharon

HIbiscus syriacus, or Rose of Sharon, is a favorite nectar plant for hummingbirds and bees.

Rose of Sharon is native to eastern Asia, and is the national flower of South Korea.  It is so beautiful that it was carried all over Asia and Europe by traders in the 16th century before coming to North America with the English colonists in the 18th century, where it was called Althea Frutex.  The flowers are edible, and the Koreans also use the leaves.  Growing 8’-10’ tall, and 6’-8’ wide, it is hardy to Zone 5.

Rose of Sharon in a mixed shrub border with Hydrangea and Lilac.

Rose of Sharon in a mixed shrub border with Hydrangea and Lilac.

July 29, 2012 garden photos 019

Rose of Sharon is best used as a back drop for a perennial bed, as a screen, or in a border of mixed shrubs. Here several Althea shrubs form a backdrop for the butterfly garden.

This vase shaped shrub flowers from June through September in our area.  Its flowers are 2”-4” wide, with five petals forming a deep throated flower with pronounced pistol and stamens.  The throat is often a dark maroon, and the flowers come in shades of white, pink, and lavender.  Some double forms are available, but most of the flowers are single.  Each flower lasts a single day, but buds are produced prolifically throughout the season.  Flowers form on new wood so the plant can be pruned in autumn or spring.

Rose of Sharon, or Althea

Rose of Sharon, or Althea

Rose of Sharon shrubs tend to grow very tall and leggy, and so annual pruning helps the plant to bush out and become a more substantial shrub.  Mine are sometimes blown over in strong winds, but can be set upright, staked, and they will continue to thrive.  Although reasonably drought tolerant, Rose of Sharon doesn’t appreciate too much water or too much fertilizer.  Some of my shrubs have simply died over the winter for no apparent reason, while their sisters two feet away survived just fine.  Rose of Sharon often doesn’t even leaf out until after the Azaleas have bloomed, so patience is important.  Their flowers are worth waiting for, especially if you enjoy watching the beautiful creatures they attract.

 

A bee covered in pollen from the generous Rose of Sharon, or tree Hibiscus flowers.

A bee covered in pollen from the generous Rose of Sharon.

That being said, Rose of Sharon is not a good candidate for a “specimen shrub” in the landscape.  They are good as the backdrop for perennial borders, although tall ones will sometimes droop over from the weight of their blooms and shade the plants growing in front.  They are good planted as a mass, used for a screen, or even used as a foundation planting along a back wall where windows are quite high.  Rose of Sharon work best in a mixed shrub and perennial border.  They will carry the hottest part of mid summer when the hydrangeas have faded out but the Camellias haven’t yet come into bloom.

 

Rose of Sharon

An Althea with double flowers

 

Rose of Sharon produces millions of seeds, and these seeds self-sow wherever they can.  It is considered invasive in CT, but not in VA.  This is a benefit if you want more Rose of Sharon shrubs in your landscape, or have friends who do.  They are large enough to identify and pull up by May if you want to discard the seedlings.  New plants can also be started by layering or taking green cuttings of new wood in early summer.

 

Rose of Sharon

Japanese beetles will eat Rose of Sharon buds, but can be picked off easily.

These tough shrubs will grow in full sun to partial shade in a variety of soils.  They grow as well on slopes as on flat ground, compete well with other shrubs, and have very few pests.  I’ve seen Japanese beetles munching their flowers, and occasionally a caterpillar snacking on a leaf.  The damage done was minor and didn’t detract from the beauty of the shrub.

There are actually several herbaceous perennial Hibiscus plants which grow will in our area, although only two are considered natives.

 

July 17 hibiscus 007

Hibiscus Mutabilis, also called Confederate Rose, is native to China, and most commonly grows in the Gulf Coast states in North America.  This is a huge plant, sometimes growing to 10’ or more in a single season, especially in frost free areas.  Even if it dies back to the ground in the winter, it comes back strong the following summer.  It has white blossoms about 6” across which gradually turn pink, and in some cultivars red, over a period of several days before dropping off.  Flowers on the same plant will appear in these different colors all at the same time.  Flowers can be single or double depending on the cultivar.

Hibiscus coccineus

Hibiscus coccineus, native in the Deep South, is hardy to Zone 6b and grows with little fuss or care.  Also known as Swamp Mallow or Scarlet Mallow, it can grow in normal garden conditions.

This plant has large, coarse, deeply lobed leaves which open late in the season.  Hibiscus Mutabilis is hardy to Zone 7, and is commonly found in Zones 7-9.  It works best in a shrub border as it is inconspicuous when dormant, and quite large and showy in mid-summer.

 

July 16 2013 Hibiscus 001

Rose Mallow, or Swamp Mallow, is native to Virginia and naturalizes easily in sunny areas with moist soil.

Hibiscus grandiflora has the largest flowers at 8”-10” across.  The flowers are a delicate light pink.   It is a very large plant topping out at 8’, and prefers to grow in the wet soil of swamps and the edges of ponds.  Hardy in Zones 6-9, it sends up new stems each spring covered in fuzzy, five lobed grayish green leaves.  This plant is native to the southeastern United States and is most commonly found growing in full sun in wetlands.

July 17 hibiscus 002

 

The hardy Hibiscus growing in my garden is Hibiscus moscheutos, also called Rose Mallow or Swamp Rose Mallow.

 

HIbiscus moscheutos growing with Hibiscus syriacus, Rose of Sharon.

HIbiscus moscheutos growing with Hibiscus syriacus, Rose of Sharon.

Numerous stems appear each year in early summer, rapidly growing from the crown, which expands each year.  Leaves are heart shaped, medium green, and slightly fuzzy.  Plants grow from 2’ to over 6’ high, depending on how well their needs are met.  Plants prefer moist soil in full sun, but will grow in drier conditions and partial shade.  This shrubby perennial is native to the Eastern United States from the Great Lakes south to the Gulf Coast.

Flowers have five long petals, usually with a dark red throat, and come in shades of white and pink.  Flowers are generally 6” across and may be 5”-6” deep, with a large stamen and pistols loved by hummingbirds and bees.  Flowers open in the late afternoon, and close again in the morning.  Many hybrid cultivars are available.

Hibiscus

Hibiscus Moscheutos

To encourage the best performance, water this Hibiscus during dry spells, and top dress each spring with an inch or two of finished compost.  The plant does best in moist, rich soil. Collect the seeds once the seed heads open in autumn.  These plants readily self-sow in the garden.  I cut back the dried stems from the previous year in winter or early spring.

Other hardy Hibiscus plants are available, and those interested might enjoy looking at the selections available from Plant Delights Nursery near Raleigh, NC.  http://www.plantdelights.com/searchprods.asp  They also carry a number of hybrids with beautiful colors.  Most online and mail order nurseries carry a number of selections of hardy Hibiscus.

Hardy Hibiscus along John Tyler Highway in James City Co.

Hardy Hibiscus along John Tyler Highway in James City Co.

Locally, Homestead Garden Center carries a dozen or more varieties each spring.  Several colors are still available now in mid-July, and have been reduced in price.  Homestead always has healthy, beautiful plants and a very knowledgeable  family staff to help answer questions.

Rose Mallow, or H. Moscheutos growing beside College Creek on the Colonial Parkway.

Rose Mallow, or H. Moscheutos growing beside College Creek on the Colonial Parkway.

 

Hardy Hibiscus are tough and forgiving plants, easy to grow, welcoming to wildlife, beautiful in season, and good additions to sunny areas in a forest garden.

 

Hardy Hibiscus growing along the Colonial Parkway near Jamestown.

Hardy Hibiscus growing along the Colonial Parkway near Jamestown.

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All Photos by Woodland Gnome 2013

Scarlet Mallow

 

Wild Hibiscus

 

 

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