Last week I was delighted to read an email from a Studio ‘g’ reader named Mark who had sent along a few photos of his garden. He and his wife have lived in their apartment in Queens for over 20 years. What started as just an open yard has since evolved into something much more invigorating, but this is what it looked like during the early stages. The photo above was taken a little while after the start of it all, and it has filled in very nicely since.
Which plant is literally on fire in our garden right now? Hibiscus ‘Midnight Marvel.’ I admittedly ordered this plant on a whim when we needed some more late season color to our new planting beds. After looking through the availability listings, this one sounded like it would go with our new plantings which included dark-leaved Phormium, ‘Black Madras’ rice, bright red kangaroo paws, and stop-light red Coreopsis. When we got the plants, they immediately caught our guests attention. This hibiscus has a dark red leaf color like that of some of the non-hardy Hibiscus acetosella cultivars. Hibiscus ‘Midnight Marvel’ differs from H. acetosella in that it does not have dissected leaves. The leaves are over 6″ wide and a deep, wine-red. As with most red leaved plants, be sure to site this plant in full sun so it captures as many of the ultraviolet rays as are available. Too much shade will cause the foliage to look pale, weak, and exhibit spotty orange colors.
As summer went on, our plants continued to grow and are now over 4 feet tall. Various reports state that these plants will ultimately reach 6 feet tall so we will monitor its growth over the coming years. The real show is once it starts to flower. Gorgeous, 8″ wide hibiscus flowers emerge from various spots on the plant. The flowers are a bright red that stops our guests in their tracks. Whenever I am talking with folks about these plants, I always throw in the fact that they are perennials. No one can believe that they are cold-hardy to at least USDA zone 5. The flowers are reminiscent of the Chinese hibiscus which only grows in tropical areas. Hibiscus ‘Midnight Marvel’ is a hybrid between H. ‘Cranberry Crush’ and H. ‘Summer Storm.’ From these two plants, the ‘Midnight Marvel’ gets its dark foliage and big, bright-red flowers. The combination is amazing and this may well be one of the top perennial introductions in years.
Wow, mushrooms are magical — and not in the ‘make the walls start undulating’ way….but really magical….like in the save the world sort of way.
I’ve recently become obsessed with soil (you’d think as a gardener this might have happened a long time ago) but I mean really, really obsessed. I read Dan Barber’s The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food* while on vacation and now I want to get a spectrometer to measure the sugars in my carrots and graph that against the levels of trace elements in my soil.
*You must read it. It is excellent.
Between contemplating every aspect of my own soil, and all the things I have learned while gathering of information for a story I am working on (for Issue #1 of PITH + VIGOR) about designing a mushroom garden; without ingesting anything illegal my mind has been completely blown.
The networks that mycorrhizal fungi create in soil are amazing (I had no idea) and this Ted Talk by Paul Stamets lays out some of the most interesting potential uses. It is worth the time to watch.
One of my favorite things about writing the Before & After series here on Studio ‘g’ is that I get to read all kinds of little facts about the projects. The one I found for this week won 2 runner-up awards in the summer of 2012 from Kansas City Home & Gardens- one for best professional landscape and the other for best outdoor living space. Katie and NSPJ architects completed the project and I love how it turned out.
I have written before about how much I like the Hartlage Wine sweetshrub. Calycanthus x raulstonii ‘Hartlage Wine’ is still a standout performer in our Coastal Maine gardens. After seeing how well it performed here in Boothbay, Maine, I was glad to see another Calycanthus hybrid entering into the horticultural world. This time Dr. Tom Ranney, the noted plant breeder from the Fletcher, NC research station of North Carolina State University (my alma mater), wanted to improve the Hartlage Wine sweetshrub by introducing fragrance back into the flowers. Instead of using Calycanthus floridus, he used the west coast sweetshrub, Calycanthus occidentalis. He hybridized the west coast native with the Chinese species, Calycanthus chinensis. By crossing these two species, he was able to get a large, vigorous shrub with big flowers and fragrance. Thus far, the fragrance has been milder than some of the Calycanthus floridus but I am guessing that the difference in fragrance comes from C. occidentalis. Dr. Ranney named the selected cultivar ‘Aphrodite’ after the Greek goddess of love and beauty. She is certainly lovely and beautiful. The flowers are a nice, deep red with the inner petals having yellow on the tips. Each flower is large, at least 4″ in width. The leaves are massive, up to 8″ in length and a medium green. The growth rate on the shrubs is phenomenal. We planted quite a few small shrubs along our front entry walk and they have grown about 2-3′ in height and width in one growing season.
We also have 3 plants in another spot that we planted last year. They had a bit of tip dieback during the winter of 2014 when our temperatures went down to -7 degrees Fahrenheit. As soon as the new leaves emerged, the plants started growing. They are now reaching almost 6′ in height. It will be interesting to see how large these shrubs will actually get over time. I am also wondering what might happen if you took Aphrodite and crossed it with a selection of Calycanthus floridus such as ‘Michael Lindsey.’ Maybe it will get darker leaves and sweeter flowers?
In the meantime, if you are looking for a beautiful, summer flowering, deciduous shrub for your landscape, run out right now and find Calycanthus ‘Aphrodite’ to add to your garden.
Image: Proven Winners
Last spring I received an email from a reader named Dana of Catnip and Mint who was in the process of creating a beautiful new landscape. You may remember the post….here’s a link to refresh your memory. Anyway, I opened my inbox last week to find another email from Dana, and this time she’s been hard at work transforming the front yard. Take a look!
When I built the cobblestone path that would guide you to the (now finished) cobblestone patio, I had a certian thing in mind. The cobblestones where nice, and I thought it would be wonderful to try and establish creeping thyme between them and I even went so far as to leave some of the stones out so that I had intermittent rectangles that could completely fill with the thyme. I dreamed of graphc paterns in foliage in stone that released its fragrance whenever I passed….Sounds lovely right? Wrong…this is what it looked like. In my garden, the thyme isn’t the week choking thug I hoped it would be, and neither was the tiny sedum that I tried after I gave up on it. Something needed to be done.
The big gaps between the stones that were meant to provide root area and encourage beautiful mounding tufts need to go, so last week my mom and I carefully lifted each stone, cleaned all the weeds out and cleared the gravel and soil that was surrounding each stone and we reset them.
But the weed and gravel removal is only half the soltuion.
The other half was to fill the path with polymeric sand. Polymeric sand – unlike regular sand – is polymer fortified and when set (by lightly wetting) it will harden and discourage weeds and insects. It is so easy to work with, you just sweep it into the cracks. I used it on the patio and it has made the world of difference in keeping the joints clean. It isn’t soft green fragrant plants, but it is beautiful and reminds me of the streets of some of my favorite European cities. Albeit not what I originally had in mind, it is a perfectly satisfying compromise don’t you think?
Images by rochelle greayer
Disclosure: This post is sponsored by Lowes. This is a series that I am doing through the end of the year. I am not an employee of Lowes and all opinions are my own. See the other posts in this series.