Thursday, December 19, 2013

New Resource: Botanical Garden List

You never know who you'll see at a botanical garden!
Here a cute frog crashes the party at Powell Gardens' Festival of Butterflies.
Photo by Greg Boege

Dear Garden of Aaron readers,

Thanks for all your support and valuable feedback over the past year!

I would like to draw your attention to a new resource - a list of U.S. botanical gardens that I have added to the right sidebar. 

I'm sure this list is not comprehensive, but I hope that I've included most of the biggest and best botanic gardens in the country.

If I've missed any notable names, please contact me or use the comments section below to let me know.

(In the future, I hope to add a list of major U.S. arboretums. Since some botanic gardens - like the one in Dallas - seem to define themselves primarily or equally as arboretums, they'll end up on that other list.)

Hopefully these links to botanic gardens around the country will help you to discover gardens in your region or give you ideas of gardens you can visit when you travel.

What are your favorite U.S. botanical gardens? I've got to give some hometown love to Cheekwood, but I also was incredibly impressed with a visit a couple of years ago to Powell Gardens outside Kansas City, particularly the 12-acre Heartland Harvest Garden. Well-played, Powell!

Which garden would you most like to visit? I have to say that I'm hoping to visit some of the famous nearby gardens in upcoming years, including the botanical gardens in Memphis, Atlanta and St. Louis, plus the University of Tennessee Gardens in Knoxville!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Eight Top Performers from 2013: Creeping Raspberry, Aucuba, Camellias and More!

Apologies for the recent silence.

I was traveling for a while and then sank into a curmudgeonly funk due to November's extraordinarily cold weather.

Having shaken off that funk, this feels like a good time to look back on some of the lessons learned from 2013. I'll start by looking at the best performers - either new discoveries or proven favorites.

Creeping Raspberry

Rubus calycinoides, Creeping Raspberry - Winner, especially in sunny situations. As you can see from the photo above, Creeping Raspberry blankets the ground, preventing weeds, but so far it has not displayed any tendency to spread out of control. (Everything I've read about this plant is that it spreads through above-ground runners, not below-ground roots, so it seems unlikely that the plant would travel underground and pop up feet away, as can happen with other sneaky groundcovers like Blue Star Creeper.) Note that this photo, like the others below, was taken a few weeks ago. Since then, cold temperatures have added much more reddish tones to the plant's leaves. I'm looking forward to seeing the changeover from old to new leaves in the spring and also to seeing what this plant is capable of doing in 2014. Indeed, I'm happy enough with this plant that I plan to add several more specimens in the spring. After that, I imagine I'll be able to separate rooted runners and propagate it within the garden and should not need to buy any more for the foreseeable future. I'm also keeping my fingers crossed for flowers and berries next year, but maybe my hopes are too high in that department.

UPDATE 4/2017 - I ended up removing creeping raspberry from the garden in 2015. See this post to read why it got the heave-ho. (I should say that even though it was a royal pain to dig up and remove creeping raspberry, at least removal was just a one-time job. It didn't try to return from any rootlets like Ajuga, hardy blue plumbago and bloody geranium tend to do.)

Ajuga genevensis

Ajuga reptans "Burgundy Glow"

Ajuga - Winner (mostly), Ajuga is an unpredictable plant. In one place, it seems to have petered out. Perhaps it got too much shade? But most of the others I've scattered around the garden are thriving, especially in partial sun settings, with one doing well even in full sun. My favorite may be Ajuga genevensis, it's not variegated or flashy, but it does produce a dense, low carpet of pleasant green leaves. Ajuga genevensis also seems to hold up to cold temperatures better Ajuga reptans. So why is the genevensis variety so much harder to find in nurseries and catalogs??

The purplish ajugas like Burgundy Glow are beautiful, but they do seem to have a tendency to revert to a darker-leaved plant, so you may have to keep a sharp eye out for those reverts and remove or transplant them if you want to keep a patch consistently purple. I like that ajuga is evergreen in zone 6-7, although it does get tattered over winter. I like the springtime flowers. I like that it seems relatively tough and spreads at a moderate, but not ridiculous pace. I like that it seems relatively easy to uproot and keep in bounds if necessary. My goal in the future is to have mostly plants as groundcover and not much mulch. I see groundcovers like ajuga and creeping raspberry being a big part of that plan. In 2014, I'm eager to try the Chocolate Chip variety, which I hear is an outstanding ajuga.

UPDATE 4/2017 - Way too aggressive in my garden. It wants to create a monoculture (at least at ground level), it's unattractive for a good bit of the year and seems to offer very few ecosystem benefits. In my garden, Ajuga reptans does suffer random dieback sometimes, but the other species (A. genevensis and A. tenorii) seemed to thrive and spread, usually by rhizome, but occasionally also by seed. I wish I could say that I'd evicted this from the garden, but it's an ongoing effort and in some places - especially where it has insinuated itself among the roots of shrubs or other perennials - I'm not sure what to do. I can't really dig deeply in those places to remove the roots completely and spraying seems to run the risk of damaging the other plants, so I'll probably just keep pulling and pulling until the Ajuga (hopefully) gives up the ghost.

Aucuba japonica, Gold Dust Plant - Winner, planted in autumn 2012, so far my Aucuba shrub has thrived. The variegated leaves really light up a dark corner. I hope to add more Aucuba to the landscape - particularly as having multiple male and female plants would give me the hope of getting large ornamental red berries. Warning -- those berries are apparently inedible and slightly poisonous for humans, but hopefully birds would enjoy them. Note that the leaves in this photo are a bit droopy. That's just because I took the photo on a cold day. When temperatures are below freezing, Aucuba droops. Think of it as your own biological thermometer. As temps warm, the leaves perk back up. Loving this plant so far.

UPDATE 4/2017 - Still loving Aucuba. I should say that while it has done well in partial shade in my front foundation, it struggled when I tried a green-leafed variety in a more sunny, exposed setting. It also got chomped to pieces by deer when placed out in the landscape. But it's been a fantastic evergreen through heat, drought, cold, snow, ice, etc. in my east-facing foundation bed. I should really post an update photo to show what it looks like now.

Sorry I don't have a beautiful Camellia flower to show you. Many of the early-blooming ones have finished or got zapped by freezes. This Camellia japonica has not started flowering yet, but it has many fat buds that hold the promise of a beautiful show in the spring!

Camellias - Winners, with reservations. All the camellias in my garden so far have done fairly well with minimal supplemental water and just a bit of acidic fertilizer. This November, I swapped out a mildew-stricken crape myrtle and added yet another camellia - Winter's Joy. Supposedly hardy to zone 6 and with an upright, narrow growth pattern (10-12 feet high by 4-feet wide), I hope this camellia will perform as well as the others have.

But that's not to say everything is perfect with the camellias. (Has there ever been perfection in a garden since the time of Adam and Eve?)

One of the camellias I added last year dropped a lot of buds this winter in our November cold snap (lows in the teens) and barely flowered at all.  Apparently, camellias (some more than others) are susceptible to this sort of bud drop when temperatures fluctuate wildly, as they have done so far in Middle Tennessee this winter, from a low of 12 degrees Fahrenheit in November to a high of 76 degrees Fahrenheit last week.

And then there's the whole issue of zone pushing. Many camellias are only listed as being hardy to zone 8 or the warmer parts of zone 7. But there are more and more camellias - such as those in the Ice Angels(R) series - that are advertised as being hardy down to zone 6, which technically should mean that they are able to survive temperatures as low as -10 Fahrenheit. Fortunately, I have not encountered anything like those temps since I started gardening Middle TN. We're officially listed as being on the colder side of zone 7 these days (0-5 Fahrenheit maximum low temperature in an average winter), so there should be plenty of camellias that survive here.

But I have to recognize that I'm pushing zones here a bit. I'm thinking that I should look for camellias that flower either early or late - or ones that are known for having especially hardy flowerbuds. After all, I'd like to have camellias not just for their evergreen leaves (which are attractive on their own), but also for their flowers. But many of those flowers and flowerbuds will be killed by sub-freezing temperatures - certainly by temperatures in the teens or low 20s, so then I just have the sad spectacle of fallen buds or melted flowers on the stem. (As this source says, "Most blooms freeze, brown and turn to mush at about 32F.") I guess this is why I don't see many other camellias planted in my neighborhood or other Nashville area gardens. I imagine that Camellias are probably best suited for climates reliably warmer than Middle Tennessee - such as parts of the Deep South where it doesn't get to be 12 degrees in November!

That said, I still like the camellias a whole lot. If I pick the right varieties, I should be able to have a nice flower show in late autumn (October to November) and spring (March and April) even in harsh winters. And in mild winters, like the ones we had the last two years, I might even get to see flowers all winter long.

UPDATE 4/2017 - I still love the two camellias that were already planted right next to the porch steps when we bought the house. I mean, they're clearly too close to the foundation, but maybe that's why they have survived and done pretty well over the years while other camellias that I bought and tried to use in more exposed locations got blasted by cold winter winds? I like that we have both a Camellia sasanqua (blooms in late autumn, attracts honeybees) and C. japonica (does not seem as attractive to pollinators, but it does bloom for months in late winter to spring. In fact, it's just finishing up now in late April and I can see on my Instagram feed that it started blooming in February, so that's at least 8 weeks of blooms!!)

Dixie Wood Fern

Dryopteris x australis, Dixie wood fern - Winner, the books call this native fast-growing and drought-tolerant. The books would be correct (so far). This is my only fern and I'm loving it. I'd like to add more ferns, but I don't have many of the shady spots that ferns like. I planted Dixie in the spring, so this is my first winter with the plant, but since it's hardy to zone 5, I presume it will overwinter here just fine (although sadly, I don't believe it's evergreen). It's worth noting that the fronds which fell over were presumably felled by a cold snap. I imagine those fronds are dead and will eventually decay, but for now they are still green and adding a beautiful ferny presence to the garden even splayed on the ground.

UPDATE 4/2017 - Still a nice, solid performer, although the persistent old fronds are pretty messy. I guess they do decay, but slooooooowly. Honestly, I'm not that big into ferns in the garden at the moment, but I still have a few, and this is probably my least favorite at the moment. Ouch. Sorry about that, Dixie wood fern.

Coneflower seedheads
Echinacea purpurea, Purple Coneflowers - Still Winners. The coneflowers bloomed all summer and into autumn, with the clumps getting larger and more beautiful as they mature. Since I leave the seedheads for the birds, I'm starting to see more and more self-sown seedlings pop up here and there, so hopefully I'll have many more coneflowers next year. I love them for their natural beauty, plus of course for the way they attract bees and birds. This year, I also tried a trick I read on the Internet -- I cut off entire mature seedheads and buried them in various places throughout the garden beds - including in some partial shade spots. (So far, all my coneflowers are growing in very sunny settings - I'm curious to see how they'd do in a morning sun / afternoon shade situation). I'll post an update next spring as to whether this was a successful propagation technique.

UPDATE 4/2017 - Purple coneflowers perform fine in the garden. The straight species ones are dependable and come back year after year. The flowers are pretty and attract pollinators (especially bumblebees), while birds do eat the seeds from the seedheads. That said, purple coneflowers can look pretty awful in a drought, especially when growing in full sun. They seem most robust and floriferous when growing with morning sun and afternoon shade. They can seed around quite a bit (especially if you leave the seedheads standing over the winter for the the birds), but seedlings (or even established plants) are easy to pull and remove if you find yourself with too much E. purpurea.

Gaura lindheimeri 'Siskiyou Pink'

Gaura lindheimeri - Still Winners. Love, love, love the gauras. Since it didn't get too hot this year, they bloomed pretty much from late spring all the way through to autumn. The big, billowy plants attracted lots of bees, ladybugs and other beneficial insects like green lacewings, who came to feast on the many aphids this plant attracted. (If you're grossed out by aphids in the garden, Gaura might not be the best plant for you. I cut a couple sprays of flowers to take inside before I realized the stems and especially stem tips were covered in aphids camouflaged as flower buds. Yech.) I didn't treat the gauras with any insecticide or even try to wash off the aphids with water, I just let the predator bugs do their thing and they soon had the problem under control, but I think there always a few aphids on the plants throughout the summer, which actually probably was a good thing as it kept up the predator insect population enough to protect the other garden plants.

In early winter, the stems turn red and then tan. As I recall from last year, they may be a bit of a frizzled mess by spring, but for now, they still have some nice billowy presence to them - and a bit of green at the base. At a time when many other perennials have died back and annuals have plain died, it's nice to have the gaura's presence in the garden. I hope to add more, particularly full-size ones like Siskiyou Pink. Gaura has been very tough and drought-tolerant for me, plus it's survived several typically wet winters despite my heavy clay soil. Other gardeners have not been as lucky with overwintering gaura outside of its native SW climate, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed that these gaura will survive for many more years. And meanwhile, a couple of the gauras have self-sowed to give me a few new seedlings, so I do have a few young next-generation plants in the garden in case the parents shuffle off this mortal coil.

UPDATE 4/2017 - My gauras proved to be short-lived perennials (typically 2-3 years?). I suspect they were killed by a combination of cold temperatures and heavy, wet clay soil. Still, I missed the pretty flowers and long bloom season and just bought a quart-size plant this year. I've tried installing it on a slope where hopefully the drainage will be a little better. We'll see if that helps.

Geranium x cantabrigiense "Biokovo"

Geranium, Cranesbills - All Winners. The Rozanne hybrids sprawled and bloomed from summer through November, while x cantabrigiense 'Biokovo' and sanguineum 'New Hampshire' were much more compact with shorter bloom periods, but beautiful foliage and generally trouble-free plants in morning sun, afternoon shade settings. I know that Rozanne will be completely herbaceous, but I'm curious to see the extent to which the others die back. So far, Biokovo is looking mostly green and beautiful as we head into mid-December! Even if all the geraniums are fully herbaceous, I still think they are wonderful perennials from spring to late autumn in zones 6-7, and I hope to add a couple more Geranium x cantabrigienses in 2014.

UPDATE 4/2017 - I did add more 'Biokovo' geraniums. They're fantastic. Truly one of my favorite, most dependable plants. I think they'd be happier in a cooler and/or shadier setting (most of them get full sun all morning and into early afternoon in the east-facing front foundation). They get a bit wilted, but hang tough through the summer. And they really shine in autumn, winter and spring. They're true evergreens, with some red leaves for bonus color. They form a relatively thick groundcover that excludes weeds, but they spread at a measured pace and are easy to remove if they stray beyond their boundaries. 'Rozanne' is also a nice plant - loooong blooming season. It's probably an amazing garden plant further north. Here, it wilts awfully bad during the summer and seems to be a little short-lived. Maybe 3-4 years? Plus it involves a little more work - benefiting from being trimmed back once or twice a year, and all the dead stems need to be pulled out in late winter (since it dies back to the ground and then comes back from the roots - or not). I do wish to retract my recommendation on G. sanguineum. This plant has turned into a bit of a nightmare. I thought it was spreading too aggressively and overwhelming other nearby plants, so I decided to rip it out. Ha. Geranium sanguineum - or bloody cranesbill - has deep, thick, red roots. They hang on touch and snap easily (at least in heavy clay soil). And the plant regrows from even small root fragments. The upshot - I've dug up certain areas oh, half-a-dozen times trying to get rid of G. sanguineum and probably will be digging all this year trying to eradicate the last remnants. Meanwhile, I've got quite a few holes and blank spaces in my garden where I can't plant anything lest I need to excavate again in a search for G. sanguineum root pieces. Ugh. Don't plant it. (Unless you're in its native range - Europe, far western parts of Asia. In that case, I guess you could plant it if you wanted a really tough, aggressive native romping through your garden.)

Stay tuned throughout the winter for more reflections on how plants performed in 2013. Here's a hint - they weren't all winners! ;-)

Monday, November 11, 2013

This is Why I Grow Zinnias

Gulf Fritillary butterfly (Agraulis vanillae) on a Zinnia elegans
The zinnias are dead now having succumbed to the twin hazards of powdery mildew and cold weather.

But when I look at the blackened stalks standing in the garden, I think back to the warm days of July when the zinnia patch was alive with ethereal butterflies skipping from one blossom to another.

Still, I'll be taking a break from Zinnias next year and trying to weed out the volunteers. My plan is to sow seeds again in 2015 -- but using Z. marylandica (specifically the Pinwheel variety) which are supposed to be more resistant to drought and mildew than the typical Z. elegans.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Feeling Guilty about Coral Honeysuckle

Alas, Poor Honeysuckle, it's only crime was to grow too well and too bushy...

I had a dream in days gone by of native coral honeysuckles twining their way up the metal railings on either side of my porch stems, blooming with their orange-and-yellow trumpets all summer long, attracting hummingbirds and softening the hard lines of the metal and brick.

Amazingly, my dream came to fruition.

And yet, once I saw the coral honeysuckle in place, I realized I had made a mistake.

The honeysuckle was so happy and so exuberant that it practically hid the railing entirely and sent up bushy tendrils in every which direction from the top railing.

It was out of control.

And I was worried. Worried that I had created a potential hazard for anyone using the front porch. After all, the railings are there for a reason - to help people go up and down without tripping or slipping.

But if they can't find or grasp the railing, then the railing is pretty well useless.

I didn't want anyone to get hurt and I didn't want to worry about the liability issues either.

So one day in August, I went out with scissors and started trying to snip the honeysuckle vine off the railings.

The vine broke my scissors! (The tendrils get woody and tough after a while.)

So I went to get my loppers. Overkill? Sure, but it did the trick.

I toyed with the idea of ripping out the whole plant, but I felt guilty curtailing the growth of a couple of vines that were only being all-too-successful at fulfilling the goals I had set for them.

So I left the stubs with a couple of flowers and some maturing berries.

Here you can see the pruned remnants of the formerly mighty vine - now transformed into a truncated bush - encamped at the foot of the stairs.

Provided the vines survive, I'm still undecided as to whether I should leave them to ramble through the front foundation beds or take them out entirely. I'm not at all sure that they'd be willing to play nice with other perennials, at least not without a lot of watchful pruning and shaping.

But I do like the fact that the vine frequently attracted a visiting hummingbird -- who seems to have become accustomed to our property and now drinks from other flowers like the zinnias and even has sampled the Russian Sage.

What would you do with these Coral Honeysuckle vines?

And have you ever had to remove or relocate any overperformers in your garden?

Monday, October 28, 2013

Groundcover Lessons, Groundcover Hopes

Tiarella cordifolia, Foamflower bites the dust

Throughout this summer and early autumn, I've written about groundcovers I've trialed. Some I've really liked (Sweet Woodruff, Creeping Raspberry), some were a bit too successful (Blue Star Creeper) and the jury's still out on some others (Betony, Ajuga).

But in the Full Disclosure spirit of this blog, I feel like I should also admit to some of my unqualified groundcover failures. So without further ado...

Groundcovers that have not worked at all:

1. Lamium maculatum, Spotted Deadnettle - Killed this in a hot minute in 2012.

2. Tiarella cordifolia, Foamflower - Planted three in the spring, killed two of them (including the one pictured above) while the one survivor has limped along looking less than stellar. I'm guessing they'd prefer a cooler climate or at least more shade. I did not notice any pollinators when the ethereal flower spikes were in bloom.

3. Epimedium x perralchicum "Frohnleiten" - Purchased in the spring, installed with morning shade but afternoon sun, the plant has sulked and the leaves have crisped. I'll probably transplant it this winter to a shadier spot to see if it can recover and thrive. Clemson says it can tolerate drought but needs lots of shade. My failure so far with Epimedium is probably mostly a matter of me putting the plant in the wrong place. Mea culpa. UPDATE 1/15/2016 - For gardeners, patience pays. I'm trying to become better at waiting at least a couple of years to pass judgment on plants. In the case of 'Frohnleiten', I never did transplant it, but as it settled in (and as some of the shrubs around it grew up to provide more shade), it has flourished and become one of the BEST groundcovers in my garden so far!)

Now of course I could continue to cover ground using the plants that have worked best so far. And in fact I plan to do just that. But there are also some other groundcovers I would like to try:

Mitchella repens, Partridge Berry, photo by Joshua Mayer

Mitchella repens, Twinberry, Partridge Berry, Running Box (UPDATE 1/15/2016 - I have been growing this plant for about 15 months now. It took a little while to settle in, but now seems to doing quite well. I have high hopes for partridge berry in 2016!) 


Saxifraga "London Pride" photo by Janet 59

Saxifraga stolonifera x. urbium "London Pride"

Monday, October 21, 2013

Groundcover Review: Alchemilla mollis, Lady's Mantle

Alchemilla mollis, Lady's Mantle in early July. (The blue flowers are from an adjacent bush-type clematis. Lady's Mantle does have flowers with a long bloom season, but its flowers are the tiny yellow specks that you can see in the middle and upper sections of this photo.

Alchemilla mollis, Lady's Mantle


1. Beautiful and unusual foliage

2. The plant's unique ability to catch and collect raindrops and dew. The water caught on the plant's leaves was once thought to possess magical properties.

3. Wind tolerant

4. Hardy to zone 4 and may be semi-evergreen in zone 6/7

5. According to some sources, young leaves may be edible raw; root may be edible cooked. Have not tried this so I cannot provide any first-hand opinion on this.

6. Supposedly attracts various flies as pollinators, but I don't think I've seen any around the plant yet...


1. Not native to the U.S. (from Southern Europe)

2. Does not cover much ground on its own. The plant only gets about 2-feet wide. But supposedly it self sows vigorously and all the baby plants act as a groundcover. Hopefully those babies don't grow out of control...


So far, I'm really fond of this plant. I'm kind of hoping it will invade a little (but not too much).

Monday, October 14, 2013

Groundcover Review: Stachys byzantina "Helene Von Stein", Big Ears, Lamb's Ear

Stachys byzantina "Helene von Stein" .... it's so fuzzy!

Stachys byzantina "Helene Von Stein", Big Ears, Lamb's Ear


- Reportedly very tough. Tolerates full Southern sun or afternoon shade.

- Reportedly drought tolerant

- Definitely can handle wet weather as it made it through our very wet spring without any issues while sitting in amended clay soil.

- Soft and fuzzy foliage! Among the most touchable foliage of any plant I've seen. Before mass production of consumer goods, people used plants for a variety of everyday purposes. As I understand it, Lamb's Ear leaves make a good bandage and can also be used as a natural 'toilet paper'.

- The silvery color of the leaves is unusual and attractive in the garden.

- Covers the ground thickly, shading out weeds, but seems to grow at a manageable, steady pace so that I feel I could control its spread if necessary.

- Reportedly easy to propagate by division if I'd like to help it cover ground a little faster.


- Not native to the Southeastern U.S.  Stachys byzantina comes from the part of Southwest Asia now known as Turkey and Iran.

- Stachys byzantina is hardy to zone 4 and probably grows in a sort of dry and mountainous climate. As such, many varieties of S. byzantina reportedly struggle in Southern heat and humidity. Helene von Stein is supposed to be the humidity-defying exception to that rule. We'll see how it fares during the upcoming summer.

- Many varieties of S. byzantina apparently send up flower spikes and then self-seed abundantly. But Helene von Stein rarely flowers, so this is less of an issue.

- Helene von Stein is supposed to be herbaceous, but the leaves don't disappear over the winter, they reportedly turn into 'mush'. I'm not exactly sure what that means, but it doesn't sound all that attractive. On the other hand, the mushy leaves reportedly act as a natural mulch during the winter months and can then be easily raked away in the spring. (Or perhaps the plant will naturally send up new leaves to obscure the decaying ones, as happens with Sweet Woodruff and Pachysandra procumbens?) I'll have to see how this works out come the wintertime.


- It's early days with this plant, but I'm optimistic. It would be great to have a bulletproof but not rampant groundcover for sunny spots and this plant looks like it might fit the bill.

UPDATE - I ended up removing lamb's ear from the garden. It looked beautiful from spring to autumn, but just awful in the winter. The dead foliage was persistent, so that after a while, even the fresh new foliage was growing on a mound of dead and decaying gunk underneath. In addition to the cultivar, I got the straight species, which spread much faster and had lovely flowers with a long bloom season that attracted lots of bumble bees. Unfortunately, the flowers led to a plethora of seedlings in the immediate vicinity of the mother plant. If the old foliage decayed completely over the winter and/or if the plant didn't spread so quickly, I might have kept it. It's rock solid in the heat and didn't seem to have too many problems with our humidity. But I just couldn't deal with the old foliage and its spreading ways. Plus it's a non-native. Plus I didn't like the scent of the crushed foliage when I did try to clean it up at the end of the winter. Yuck. So... I had to give it the heave-ho.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Groundcover Review: Creeping Raspberry, Rubus hayata-koidzumii, Rubus calycinoides

Creeping Raspberry, Rubus hayata-koidzumii in a partially-to-mostly shady spot beneath a large crape myrtle tree. In shady areas, Creeping Raspberry seems to spread faster with less mounding.

UPDATE 4/9/14 - This may be evergreen in warmer climates, but in USDA zone 6/7, after a winter with a low temperature of -2 Fahrenheit, it seems to have died back to the roots and is only now emerging slowly as an herbaceous perennial. It may yet make a good perennial, but gardeners in the colder parts of zone 7 and anywhere in zone 6 should probably not expect Creeping Raspberry to serve as a reliably evergreen groundcover.

UPDATE 3/4/15 - This plant has since been shovel-pruned from Garden of Aaron. Click here to find out why.
Creeping Raspberry (a.k.a. Rubus hayata-koidzumii or formerly Rubus calycinoides)


Evergreen foliage. Always a plus in a groundcover. Plus I'm head-over-heals for this particular foliage, which is charmingly scalloped and crinkly and fuzzy.  

- Spreads at a good pace, by which I mean that I can actually see appreciable growth on a week-by-week basis, but growth is not so fast that I'd worry about keeping it in bounds later on. Plus it spreads by above-ground stolons, not below-ground rhizomes, which means it should be much easier to pull it up or chop it off if parts of the plant start spreading into unwanted areas.

- Tough! Grows in full sun or partial shade (haven't tried full shade). It is supposed to be very drought-tolerant. Handled the winter cold (hardy to zone 6), spring wet and summer heat without batting a (metaphorical) eyelid. I will say that the plant sort of hunkers down for the winter. I don't think it grew at all then (although it was just settling in) and the foliage acquires a ruddy reddish glow, which makes it even more appealing in my book.

In full sun, Creeping Raspberry still spreads laterally, but it also seems to mound up a bit more in the center, perhaps trying to shade its central core from the sun? I ended up transplanting this plant from a spot with afternoon shade to one with all-day sun. Despite being dug up and put at one of the windiest and hottest corners on the property, Creeping Raspberry has performed like a champ. It even produced a flower, but I pinched it off so that the plant would put all its energy into roots and foliage at this point.

- Benefits wildlife and people. Creeping Raspberry produces white flowers (I've seen one, but pinched it off so that the plant could concentrate on vegetative growth) that reportedly attract bees. Pollinated flowers turn into orange berries that are reportedly attractive to birds and also edible (and tasty) for people. The berries are small and sparse enough that most folks say you shouldn't expect to get bowls and bowls of fruit from a Creeping Raspberry patch, but I think I'd be thrilled to get any edible benefit from a groundcover. (In the Pacific Northwest, on the other hand, berry production may be abundant.) I've also read that it may be possible to use the leaves to make a mild tea.

- Reportedly very easy to propagate by detaching rooted stems / stolons.


Not native to the Southeastern U.S. In fact, it's native to Taiwan. This may actually be the only plant I've come across in my gardening research that's specifically native to Taiwan and it makes me wonder what other gems they might be hiding there.

- Honestly, I can't think of anything else. It does not shine my shoes or make me breakfast.


Why doesn't everybody plant this? I know that I'm planning to buy more and hopefully propagate / divide the ones I have once they get bigger. 5-stars!

Monday, September 30, 2013

Groundcover Review: Chrysogonum virginianum, Green and Gold

Chrsysogonum virginianum, Green and Gold in early July. Three months after being planted, Chrysogonum had grown from being teeny tiny to just tiny. Not covering a lot of ground yet, but for some reason I love the shape, color and fuzziness of the foliage.

Chrysogonum virginianum (a.k.a. Green and Gold)


- Native to Tennessee and most of the Eastern U.S.

- Charming yellow flowers supposedly from mid-spring to early-fall in cool climates (stops flowering during the summer in hot climates like Tennessee but resumes in the fall). This is my first year with Green and Gold. The plant I bought was tiny, but it still flowered sporadically throughout April and May. These flowers reportedly attract native bees. I can't say I've noticed any yet, but there are typically just 1-2 flowers open at any given time so far. Maybe you need a carpet of Green and Gold to really attract the attention of the bees?

- Hardy to zone 5. Reportedly evergreen to semi-evergreen in zones 6-7. The foliage has a nice mix of colors in it - greens, but also yellows and reds.

- Supposedly easy to propagate by divisions or cuttings in early spring.

- Tolerates drought with partial to full shade in the South. So I've got it planted with an Eastern exposure and afternoon shade. Also reportedly tolerates wet soils. (We had a lot of rain this past spring and Green and Gold seems perfectly happy.)

- Diminutive but still gives good coverage. I don't think Green and Gold would overwhelm any other plants. It seems like more of a rambler than a mat-former. But I do think it's just tall and thick enough to prevent most weeds from getting through. Does not seem too aggressive. I think it should be easy to control.


- Hard to find in the nursery trade. And when you do find it, you're likely to find a tiny plant. Since the plant grows slowly (at least at first), it would be very expensive to produce an instant groundcover effect.


So far, the pros far outweigh the cons for me on this groundcover. I wish it was a little faster-spreading (OK, a lot faster-spreading), but otherwise I'm thrilled to have Green and Gold in our garden. There's supposedly a more stoloniferous and faster-spreading variety called Eco-Lacquered Spider carried by Plant Delights, but I'm loathe to spend $12 (plus shipping) on a quart-size plant just to see if it lives up to the hype.

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Monday, September 23, 2013

Groundcover Review: Cranesbill Geraniums

Geranium Rozanne in early July

Cranesbill Geraniums


- Very floriferous. Lotsa flowers (even in partial shade) + Long bloom season = Quite an impression

- Beautiful foliage

- Does not seem to be bothered by any pests or diseases

- Don't recall seeing hardy geraniums on many lists of drought-tolerant or heat-tolerant plants, but Rozanne survived the brutal heat and drought of 2012 (with supplemental water in full sun) and I have to think they'll be fairly tolerant of both drought and heat in a spot with afternoon shade.


- Not a con necessarily, but just be aware that foliage may scorch in hot climates in full sun. At least that is what happened with Rozanne in 2011 and 2012. She's much happier now in partial shade as you can see from the blooms.

- Rozanne is herbaceous. That means the whole plant dies back in winter, which can leave quite a hole in the garden seeing as Rozanne is a sprawler. Not sure yet if my two other hardy geraniums - G. cantabrigiense 'Biokovo' and G. sanguineum 'New Hampshire' - will perform the same or if they'll be evergreen or semi-evergreen. I can say that so far both are much tighter in their growth habit.

- Can't see much in the way of pollinator action from bees, wasps or hoverflies. There are some little insects that buzz around the flowers, but they don't seem to land much. I think they may just be in the vicinity while visiting the Sweet Alyssum. Or maybe they visit at night when I'm not looking?

- Not native to the U.S.

Geranium sanguineum "New Hampshire" in early July


- Rozanne was my first hardy geranium love and probably still the one I like best. I'd like them all a lot better if the bees seemed more interested. The herbaceous nature of Rozanne is a real drag and can be a challenge in figuring out garden design. I'll have to reserve final judgment on cantabrigiense and sanguineum until seeing how they perform this winter. I think all of these make nice low-growing perennials, but I'm not sure they really qualify as groundcovers. (Although other varieties I don't have in my garden yet, such as G. macrorrhizum are actually supposed to have more of a groundcover habit.)

UPDATE 4/17 - 'Rozanne' ended up being a lovely, but somewhat short-lived plant in my garden. Geranium x cantabrigiense 'Biokovo' has turned out to be one of my favorite perennials. Sure, it might be a bit happier with some more shade (mine are mostly planted where they get full sun all morning and into early afternoon), but it hangs tough during the summer and makes an excellent, beautiful evergreen groundcover especially in spring, summer and autumn. Sometimes 'Biokovo' flowers even attract bumblebees! BUT...I do wish to retract my recommendation on G. sanguineum. This plant has turned into a bit of a nightmare. I thought it was spreading too aggressively and overwhelming other nearby plants, so I decided to rip it out. Ha. Geranium sanguineum - or bloody cranesbill - has deep, thick, red roots. They hang on touch and snap easily (at least in heavy clay soil). And the plant regrows from even small root fragments. The upshot - I've dug up certain areas oh, half-a-dozen times trying to get rid of G. sanguineum and probably will be digging all this year trying to eradicate the last remnants. Meanwhile, I've got quite a few holes and blank spaces in my garden where I can't plant anything lest I need to excavate again in a search for G. sanguineum root pieces. Ugh. Don't plant it. (Unless you're in its native range - Europe, far western parts of Asia. In that case, I guess you could plant it if you wanted a really tough, aggressive native romping through your garden.)

Monday, September 16, 2013

Groundcover Review: Stachys officinalis, Hummelo, Betony

Stachys officinalis, Hummelo, Betony in early July
Stachys officinalis, Hummelo, Betony in early July

Stachys officinalis, Hummelo, Betony


- Hardy to zone 4 and supposedly at least semi-evergreen in zone 6/7. This is my first year with S. officinalis, so I can't say yet how it will perform in winter

- Reported to have moderate drought tolerance. With limited supplemental water, S. officinalis seemed to handle TN heat and typical summer drought with aplomb.

- Long bloom season. Started sending up flower spikes in late June and was still blooming into September. Flowers are reported to provide nectar to bees and butterflies, but unfortunately I didn't see much activity on the Hummelo flowers.

- Foliage is dense enough to suppress weeds.

- Dried leaves can reportedly be used to make tea. (I have not tried this myself so I cannot personally vouch for its safety or taste, just passing on information found via Internet research.)


- Reportedly needs some afternoon shade in hot and humid summer climates, so no dice if you're looking for a full sun groundcover.

- Supposed to spread by creeping stolons to form a groundcover, but so far in its first year has acted more like a clumper. But you know what they say sometimes about groundcovers and vines - first year they sleep, second year they creep, third year they leap! So we'll see what happens in years to come. On the bright side, at this point it seems like it would be easy to keep under control.

- Not native to the U.S. Originates in Europe, Western Asia and North Africa.


I can't say anything bad about Betony, but I don't think it really stands out in the garden yet. Perhaps as it gets more established in the garden, it will have a stronger presence and make more of an impression. If it starts spreading a little further and attracting pollinators, I'll definitely become more enthusiastic.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Groundcover Review: Ajuga, Bugleweed

The variegated ajuga in the front border mixes nicely with some Sweet Alyssum while blocking out most weeds. 

Ajuga, Bugleweed


- Evergreen (or ever-purple or ever-variegated, depending on the variety)

- Pretty and long-lasting (at least several weeks) spikes of flowers in the springtime. UGA lists Ajuga as a good bee-forage plant, but I did not see any bees on the flowers during our (cold, wet) spring. Other sources say Ajuga can attract hummingbirds and butterflies. I didn't see any of those on the flowers either. Sigh.

- Prefers moist soil, but tolerates drought

This patch of Ajuga reptans (Bronze Beauty?) gets afternoon sun and you can see that parts of it are looking a little crispy. Ajuga genevensis seems better able to tolerate afternoon sun. So in my own experience, sun tolerance varies across different Ajuga species

- Grows in sun or shade. I have one patch growing in sun, but the patches growing in afternoon shade seem much happier.

- Does not really need any maintenance. Some sources recommend cutting back the flower stalks after the bloom is done. As far as I can tell, that's only really 'necessary' for aesthetic reasons. If you don't mind the spent bloom stalks sticking up until they fall over (and I don't) then the plant is basically zero-maintenance.

Ajuga genevensis, Carpet Bugle. Annie's Annuals says it is not stoloniferous and therefore less likely than Ajuga reptans to spread out of control. (Of course, Annie's also says the plant will flower all summer, which ours does not do, so perhaps the summer blooms are a California thing or maybe it's just that YMMV...)

- Spreads pretty quickly. I could see Ajuga perhaps working in combination with Sweet Woodruff to cover large patches of shady ground that would not need much / any mowing or other maintenance.


Not native to Southeastern U.S. Like Sweet Woodruff, Ajuga reptans is native to Europe.

- Some sources list Ajuga as being mildly invasive. For instance, the North Carolina Native Plant Society has it listed as a "lesser threat".

Here's a patch of Ajuga that I really like in morning sun / afternoon shade. It's been expanding steadily and blocking all weeds from its patch of turf between a Japanese Aucuba and an Inkberry Holly. The foliage looks good all year round and the blue flower spikes were very pretty in the spring. I'm not sure which variety of Ajuga I have here. The tag says "Burgundy Glow" but the foliage doesn't look anything like the picture of Burgundy Glow on Monrovia's website. Perhaps it is Mahogany or Black Scallop? I think Black Scallop, although it doesn't behave like the other plant that was labeled Black Scallop. Either there is a lot of behavioral and visual diversity within Ajuga cultivars or there's a fair amount of mislabeling going on...

- As with Sweet Woodruff, I could see Ajuga becoming a problem for annuals or other small perennials. Reportedly at least some species of Ajuga spread both through rhizomes and stolons, so that could make it doubly hard to control. Supposedly also may spread by seeds and can reportedly show up far away in garden beds and lawns. (Although I haven't found any seedlings yet.)

- Also like Sweet Woodruff, Ajuga may technically be evergreen, but that doesn't mean it looks beautiful all year round. In fact, I found the Ajuga looked much more tattered than the Woodruff over the winter. I think slugs like to eat the Ajuga in the cool months, because there were lots of holes in the Ajuga leaves. The slugs didn't cause any mortal wounds and Ajuga has rebounded to look lush and thick in the springtime, but it's not necessarily all that attractive in the winter months.

- Ironically, even though Ajuga can be aggressive, it can also have the opposite problem of thinning out in the center. Some sources say that it needs to be divided every 2-3 years to prevent crown rot. I haven't noticed anything that catastrophic, but some of my Ajuga species do seem to be thinning out in the middle. I've read reviews online where gardeners talk about their ajuga dying out in one place and popping up somewhere else. I think my mother had this problem with her Ajuga, where it eventually died out where she wanted it to cover ground and then showed up far away in the lawn or in some other garden bed where she didn't really want it to grow. It may be unpredictable that way.


I'm actually pretty conflicted on Ajuga. I can see its merits, but I worry that it is a little too thuggish. If it were a native plant, I probably would not be too concerned, but since it's an exotic, I worry about what natives it might suppress or displace if it were to spread beyond the garden. The fact that Ajuga is not on many invasive species lists does make me feel a bit more comfortable. That said, all four patches in my garden right now are behaving themselves and performing well. So I'm going to offer a qualified endorsement, but I'll keeping a close eye on the Ajugas in my garden and suggest you do the same in yours if you decide to plant some.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Oh Give Me a Home, Where the Buffalo Grass Roams

Buffalo Grass, summer 2013 at Garden of Aaron in Tennessee
Yes, this soft, feathery grass is Buffalograss (Buchloe dactyloides) growing in a small section of my Tennessee backyard

One of the neat things about writing a blog is being able to track the stats and seeing which posts are most popular. The two most popular subjects drawing people to the blog so far are searches concerning "pine straw mulch" and "buffalograss".

With regard to the mulch, my most recent post on the topic tells how and why I lost my infatuation with pine straw. More recently, regular readers will know that I've begun posting reviews of the groundcovers with which I hope to replace most/all of my mulches.

But it's been quite some time since my last post on the test buffalograss patch. The last update was way back in January, when the buffalo grass was hibernating (i.e., dormant) and resembled nothing so much as little gold tufts of straw on a dirt background.

So how are things going now? Much better thank you!

As you can see from the photo at the top of this post, the buffalograss did eventually green up and has mostly filled in its designated area.

It's doing better in some parts of the rectangular test patch than others. I think it's happiest in full sun and has not filled in as much in the section of the test patch that gets a fair amount of shade from a neighboring crape myrtle.

Buffalo Grass, summer 2013, photo #2
Here's a section of the test patch where the buffalo grass has not filled in as thickly as I would have hoped.  

The best thing about this patch of buffalograss -- it has only been mowed once. That's right, buffalo grass not only grows slowly, but the soft and tender blades of grass sort of flop over so that they make a nice wavy texture.

Even the one time that the buffalograss was mowed, I don't think it really needed to be mowed. Our lawn care guy was mowing the rest of the lawn and I guess he decided to give the buffalograss a trim. To be honest, I liked it better when the buffalograss was a little bit longer. Sorry I don't have that 'before' picture.

So is a buffalo grass lawn right for you? Here are my thoughts after a year on the pros and cons:


1. No need to mow! Near as I can tell, you can skip mowing your buffalograss lawn altogether. Or maybe mow it once or twice a year if you really like a manicured look. That's a major improvement over the typical lawn that needs to be mowed once every week or two from spring to autumn to stay looking nice.

2. Drought tolerant. Buffalograss is supposed to need much less water than regular grass. We've had a pretty wet year so far here in Tennessee, but there have been some warm and dry spells over the last month. The buffalograss seemed to handle the warm, dry weather without any problem.

3. Soft. I remember soft (Kentucky bluegrass?) lawns from my childhood in Pennsylvania, but many of the lawns down here in Tennessee including our own are stiff and rough fescue-based lawns that constantly poke your feet and ankles. Not fun. The buffalograss, by contrast, is feathery-soft and very easy on the feet.

4. Fills in, but does not run rampant. The buffalo grass spreads above ground by stolons, so it's easy to see where/how it's spreading and to rein it in if need be. But the truth is that it does not spread at unmanageable pace. In fact, I wish it spread and filled in a bit more quickly.


1. Zzzzzz.... Yeah, there's that pesky dormancy period. Buffalo grass is not the only grass to go dormant. Zoysia also has a dormancy period, for instance, as does Blue Grama Grass. Anyway, the problem for me was that weeds (and Viola tricolor) took advantage of that dormancy period to establish themselves among the Buffalo grass bunches.

You can see what the dormant grass looked like as late as early April by scrolling down through this archived post.

And even when the Buffalo grass greened up and filled in late in the spring, a number of the weeds still coexisted alongside the grass.

So, is this a dealbreaker? I'm not sure. I'm eager to see whether the dormant Buffalo grass does a better job at resisting weed invasions now that most of the clumps have knitted together. Stay tuned for another update in late 2013 or early 2014.

Regardless of the weed invasion, the long dormant period was not particularly attractive, but maybe it will look better with an unbroken golden carpet this fall rather than the isolated tufts I had to look at last winter. I'm trying to keep an open mind.

2. The Swiss Cheese Effect. So Buffalo grass has filled in, but it has not filled in completely. There are still some bare patches, particularly in the shadier spots. Folks say that Buffalo grass loves the sun and apparently they're right.

3. The Net Effect. The interlocking stolons of Buffalo grass form a kind of net that seems to help it block a lot of weeds, but when a weed does get in there, it's pretty hard to pull it without ripping out a lot of Buffalo grass stolons in the process.

4. The Cost. I ordered my Buffalo grass plugs from Todd Valley Farms. I think one tray cost about $62 including shipping. That tray covered an area that is maybe 50-square feet. So if you've got a big lawn, you're looking at a lot of moola if you want to cover the whole area with Buffalo grass.

5. Brown Spots. Even where the buffalo grass has filled in nicely, I can still see brown spots. Is it the dead/dormant spots from last winter? What's going to happen this winter when the whole patch goes dormant? Will there be brown and green intermixed throughout next spring? Beats me, but I'll update you as soon as I know.

Buffalo Grass, summer 2013, photo #3
The Big Picture. The buffalograss has come a long way, baby. It hasn't exactly turned out to be the groundcover of my dreams nor has it matched the glowing descriptions from marketing brochures, but it certainly has its attractions. If only it were a little greener, a little thicker, a little more weed-proof, with a shorter dormancy period...


I'm happy that I trialed buffalo grass and I think it's an interesting, beautiful groundcover with some significant advantages over traditional lawns.

Unless I win the lottery, I can't imagine spending the money to cover an entire lawn with buffalo grass, but I could see using it again in the future for a small space.

I look forward to seeing how it will perform in its second winter and how it will green up next spring. If it gets stronger and more established, I'm curious as to whether it will become more aggressive at invading the flower beds and the fescue lawn, or whether it will stay mild-mannered and let me keep it in check.

Stay tuned for future updates! If you have any questions about your current or planned buffalo grass lawn, please leave a comment below and I'll try to provide answers!

Monday, August 26, 2013

Groundcover Warning: Blue Star Creeper, Pratia pedunculata, Laurentia fluviatils, Isotoma fluviatilis

Blue Star Creeper, pretty flowers, pretty aggressive, pretty finicky about growing conditions, etc.

Blue Star Creeper, a.k.a. Pratia pedunculata, Laurentia fluviatilis or Isotoma fluviatilis


- Spreads fairly quickly. Tiny plants 2-3 square inches can form an expanding patch 10-15 feet wide within 2-3 years.

- Profusion of charming light blue flowers in spring for several weeks. Bloomed starting mid-May this year and was still covered in flowers in early June. In cool summer climates, Blue Star Creeper might bloom all summer. I say that because our temperatures have been cooler than average most of this summer (highs in the mid-80s or lower many days) and Blue Star Creeper started reblooming in late July. The flowers do seem to attract some small bees, wasps and/or hoverflies.

- In spring, the foliage can make a lush green carpet.

- Tough. Survives heat, cold, drought and wet conditions (though it may not look good in the process).


I ripped up a patch of Blue Star Creeper here a couple of weeks ago. Clearly I did not get it all, because bits and pieces are creeping back. Gonna have to try to dig it out again. Could take a few tries (at least) to eradicate Blue Star Creeper from a garden bed.

- Hard to control. Blue Star Creeper spreads on below-ground rhizomes. And it tends to travel a little...unpredictably, not necessarily advancing in a straight line, but suddenly popping up several feet away. When I decided that Blue Star Creeper was insinuating itself where I did not want it, I started digging with my Cobra weeder and found that Blue Star Creeper had made a thick web of white roots below the surface (see photo below). When you try to uproot this Creeper, the roots are likely to break, leaving bits and pieces below ground to resprout. This extensive underground root system makes controlling or eradicating Blue Star Creeper a challenging proposition - at least through manual means. (I have not tried spraying it with any herbicide because I tend to avoid using such chemicals when possible.) Since the plant grows so close to the ground and the leaves are so small, that also makes it hard to get a grip to pull up a patch. The fact that Blue Star Creeper is an invasive exotic is another strike against it since we can't count on co-evolved predators or pathogens to keep it under control. That being said, at least Blue Star Creeper is diminutive. Generally it only grows a few inches tall, so at least it's not about to climb and strangle a tree as kudzu might.

These roots are just a small representative sample of the web that Blue Star Creeper has woven underneath the soil. It's pretty scary stuff. My advice -- stay far, far away. I imagine I'll be fighting to get rid of this for years to come. I wouldn't mind having a small patch, but I don't think that's possible unless I wanted to grow Blue Star Creeper in a pot.

Not native to the U.S. The nomenclature is very confusing on Blue Star Creeper, but according to Paghat, there are actually two different species that are frequently marketed under the same common name, one from Australia and one from New Zealand.

- Doesn't block weeds all that well. Blue Star Creeper's small size may be an asset in terms of making it not-that-thuggish, but it also makes it only partially effective as a weed-blocker. So it's kind of a lose-lose situation - the Blue Star Creeper insinuates itself like a weed, but it's not actually thick or tall enough to shade out other weeds like clover. And as Paghat says, "some weeds are practically nursed by the mat of [Blue Star Creeper] foliage, and weeding will mean ripping out big patches of the ...creeper."

- It just doesn't look that good much of the year. Heat and cold and drought and wetness may not kill it, but they can make it look like Hell warmed over. More specifically, in cold weather, the plant may brown and sort of disappear under the soil. In hot weather (especially in full Tennessee sun) the plant may bake to a crisp and disappear. In drought, you guessed it, Blue Star Creeper pulls a disappearing act. That's sort of a pity, because if the plant were green and mat-forming all year, at least I could consider using it as a lawn alternative (assuming that deep metal or plastic edging could control its spread...which I don't know for sure). It's so low-growing that at least it never needs mowing!


To sum up, Blue Star Creeper is aggressive, invasive (in the U.S.), offers poor weed suppression and has low aesthetic appeal for much of the year. I can't recommend Blue Star Creeper for the Southeast and I certainly would urge caution before adding it to your garden. Read some of the other negative experiences that Dave's Garden reviewers have had. Blue Star Creeper is one of the few plants that I regret planting. I'm now trying to undo that mistake and warn others from making the same error.

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