Saturday, May 30, 2015

Groundcover Review - Epimedium x perralchicum 'Frohnleiten' (Thumbs Up!)

Epimedium x perralchicum 'Frohnleiten' in mid-May 2015 with another rosy flush of new foliage emerging.

It's been a while since I've posted any groundcover reviews, but I'd like to dive back into that genre with a quick snapshot of Epimedium x perralchicum 'Frohnleiten'.

I believe I added a small (3.5-inch?) pot of 'Frohnleiten' to my garden a couple of years ago, in the spring of 2013. By autumn of that year, I was ready to declare failure and put 'Frohnleiten' on my list of "Groundcovers that have not worked at all".

That first year, the plant sulked, the foliage crisped, I was unimpressed.

I nearly gave up too soon.

By April of last year, I had changed my tune. I included 'Frohnleiten' in a post on beautiful spring flowers -- except that I wasn't highlighting the Epimedium's little yellow flowers (it didn't really bloom until this spring) but rather its dazzling new pink foliage that's as pretty as many flowers.

In May of the same year, I spotlighted 'Frohnleiten' again for its beautiful foliage.

Finally, in October of last year, my eyes were opened to the full potential of Epimedium as a groundcover when I saw E. x. versicolor 'Sulphureum' used to marvelous effect as a groundcover at the Berlin Botanical Garden.

Today, as the photo above shows, my own little patch of Epimedium x perralchicum 'Frohnleiten' has spread to form a nice dense little groundcover perhaps 18 to 24 inches long by 12 inches wide. Following the format I established last year, here are some thoughts on the pros and cons of 'Frohnleiten' specifically (since it's the only Epimedium I've personally grown) as a groundcover:


1)  Evergreen: I tend to prefer evergreen groundcovers for several reasons. First, they provide winter interest. Second, they shade out the soil year-round to prevent weed seeds from germinating and gaining a foothold. Third, they make it easier to plan a garden bed. With deciduous groundcovers (e.g., hardy blue plumbago), I'm never quite sure where it will pop up next spring or how fall it will spread. With an evergreen groundcover, I have an easier time figuring out where to place new plants so they will complement each other.

2) Non-aggressive: Perhaps I'm speaking too soon (it's only been in the garden a couple of years and could perhaps become more pushy as it matures), but so far 'Frohnleiten' has been well-behaved. This can be frustrating in the first year or two when you want the plant to spread faster, but as I've learned from other ill-fated encounters with more aggressive groundcovers (e.g., creeping raspberry), having a groundcover that spreads at a measured pace can be a blessing later on if you want it to play nice with other perennials and don't want to constantly have to be fighting to keep it in place.

3) Beautiful: OK, this is subjective, but then much of this whole blog is subjective! Still, I like most everything about this Epimedium - the shape of its leaves, the hue of the mature green foliage, the cute sprays of little yellow flowers (which unfortunately I neglected to photograph for this post) and especially the rosy new foliage that at least this year seems to emerge over a period of months. It's true that (at least in Tennessee zone 6/7), the old foliage will get pretty crispy by the end of the winter, but I'd say it stays looking good almost all the way up until the new foliage is ready to emerge.

4) Good job of suppressing weeds: Not every groundcover is equally good in this regard, but 'Frohnleiten' seems to be an effective weed suppressor, which is one of the major roles I want a groundcover to perform in the garden.

5) Thrives in dry shade: I don't have all that much shade in my garden, so usually I'm more preoccupied with finding plants that can handle the hot Tennessee sunshine, but from what I understand, it's hard to find plants that can cope with dry shade. Epimediums are supposed to be champs in that regard and mine certainly seems unfazed by droughts now that it has gotten established. I think it's also happier now that other shrubs and perennials have grown up around it, giving it a shadier setting in which to do its thing. At least in Tennessee, it seems like 'Frohnleiten' in particular (and I'd guess Epimediums in general) prefer shady spots. Perhaps further north it can handle a bit more sunshine?

6) Low maintenance: There's no need to deadhead the flowers or even cut off the flower stalks - they just seem to disappear once the flowering season is done. Similarly, the previous year's foliage becomes so brittle that it simply crumbles and disintegrates around the same time that the new foliage emerges. (I cut off or break apart the old foliage with my hands in early spring to make way for the new leaves, but I'm not sure that's really necessary. I may try skipping that step next year just to see what happens.) So overall, it has a really clean, fresh look. This is in contrast to another groundcover I like - lamb's ear (Stachys byzantina), whose old dead foliage looks rather the worse for wear through the winter and then persists for quite a long time beneath the new foliage. And while creeping raspberry's long creeping stolons were a maintenance headache, 'Frohnleiten' seems to stay quite compact, sending up new shoots only in the immediate vicinity of the established clump.

7) Deer and rabbit resistant: I have at least one bunny rabbit living in my front foundation bed. It runs past the Epimedium everyday. Fortunately, 'Frohnleiten' has been spared the rabbit's nibbles. Rabbit-resistance is a key consideration around here.

According to the Pacific Bulb Society, the charming sprays of yellow flowers on Epimedium x perralchicum 'Frohnleiten' produce nectar that attracts pollinators (photo by S. Rae)

8) Wildlife value: The Pacific Bulb Society says that Epimedium flowers produce nectar to attract pollinators (although I must confess that I don't think I saw any pollinators visiting the flowers on my little patch of 'Frohnleiten' this year). Seeds are attached to an elaiosome - a packet of lipids and proteins - which may induce ants to gather the seeds and take them back to their nests to feed their larvae, thus distributing the seeds and propagating the plant in the process.

9) Troublefree: Missouri Botanical Garden says that 'Frohnleiten' has "no serious insect or disease problems." Yep, that about sums it up for me. Something (slug? leafcutter bee?) may occasionally slice off part of a leaf, but generally 'Frohnleiten' seems tough, vigorous and resilient.


1) Exotic: I tend to prefer to garden with native plants. According to Missouri Botanical Garden, 'Frohnleiten' is a hybrid between E. perralderianum (native to Algeria) and E. pinnatum subsp. colchicum (native to northern Iran). Still, I've never read about Epimedium acting invasively. In fact, the Chicago Botanic Garden recommends Epimedium species as good alternatives to invasive goutweed (Aegopodium podagraria).


I'm a big fan.  

Epimediums are not exactly flashy, but 'Frohnleiten' at least seems to be a solid, reliable, dependable performer that performs admirably as a groundcover and just keeps getting better every year.

I think I'll try experimenting by adding some more Epimediums to the garden next spring. I've heard good things about E. x versicolor 'Sulphureum', which may spread a bit faster than some of the other Epimedium groundcovers. It sure looked good in Berlin. Maybe it's time to see, how it will do in Tennessee...

Thursday, May 21, 2015

What a Difference Two Years Makes - The Front Foundation Now and in 2012

Here's a look at the front foundation planting today:

Fully stocked - three evergreen Aucuba japonica shrubs, one Hydrangea quercifolia 'Snowflake, a camellia, lots of aquilegia, geraniums, balloon flowers, bugleweed, prostrate Japanese plum yew (Cephalotaxus harringtonia) and a few other odds and ends.

And here's what it looked like two years ago (after I ripped out all the boring boxwoods and liriopes, plus the Nellie R. Stevens holly that was planted about 1 foot from the foundation):

Just a bed of hopes and dreams back in November 2012. The only constants here are the camellia, a bit of ajuga and some columbine.

And here's one more photo showing the Hydrangea quercifolia (oakleaf hydrangea) when I installed it a couple of years ago. Scroll back up to the top of the page to look at that first photo. The oakleaf hydrangea is just as tall as the adjacent camellia now and has filled in its entire space and then some.

What's the moral of showing these three photos side-by-side?

In a nutshell -- Don't give up!

If you ever feel discouraged about the state of your garden, just remember that a lot can change in a couple of years.

If you're dissatisfied with some of the plants in your landscape - if they don't bring joy to you and/or don't bring any benefits to the birds, bees, butterflies and other wildlife - don't be afraid to rip them out and start over. You might not get instant satisfaction, but with a little patience, your new vision could take shape sooner than you expected.

Something else to remember (and I'm guilty of this myself) is that plants often will grow larger than you anticipate. When you're planting a knee-high 3-gallon shrub, it's hard to imagine the plant growing 10 or 15 feet tall and wide. Sure, you can prune some plants to keep them in bounds. Certain plants even accept annual pruning gracefully as long as you perform it at the right time and in the right way, but you can save yourself a lot of hassle in the long run by trying to either (a) pick relatively slow-growing plants that won't need to be pruned so often or (b) choosing plants or cultivars whose mature size should be relatively compatible with the space available.

Like I said, I don't always (ever?) practice what I preach in this regard. That oakleaf hydrangea probably wants to grow about 10 to 12 feet tall and wide, which means I should have planted it at least 6 feet away from the house. Instead, I planted it about 2-3 feet from the foundation, so I'll probably be doing some annual pruning and/or enjoying the flowers poking into the porch. Hm...maybe I'd be OK with that latter scenario :-)

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Rolling out the Welcome Mat - Aquilegia, Fothergilla, Geraniums, Indian Pink, Salvia and More!

Thanks to my friendly camera-lending neighbor, Christian, I'm able to show you a few more photos from my early May garden - focusing primarily on the flowers you'd see in the front (and side) of the house if you stopped by to visit. This stunning dark purple columbine just showed up this year on the side of my house. I believe it is an interspecies hybrid between Aquilegia canadensis (the red-flowered native, seen in the background here) and one of the Aquilegia vulgaris cultivars that I purchased. Whatever the case, I love it!

The native Aquilegia canadensis went nuts this year - spreading, growing at least 3 feet tall and blooming exuberantly! I thought columbine would need at least partial shade in the Southeast, but these endure afternoon sunshine without any complaints in their northwest exposure. (They do get morning shade.) My only wish - that they would attract hummingbirds. They're supposed to - but I haven't seen any hummers visiting these flowers. (Of course, I've barely seen any hummers at all this year so far.)

Fothergilla gardenii, just looking amazing and acting troublefree - as usual. (That's part of a big patch of Melissa officinalis, lemon balm, crowding the fothergilla from the left side of the photo.)

This Geranium x cantabrigiense 'Biokovo' is only 2-3 years old and it has grown nearly as large as the azalea shrub behind it. After this photo was taken, the center of the geranium splayed open. I'm not sure what happened. I think there's a rabbit living under the azalea bush, so bunny may be to blame. (Perhaps the rabbit excavated a nest and disturbed the geranium roots?) I'll probably try a drastic cutback (which has worked to rejuvenate other geraniums in my garden), but I'm planning to wait until the blooms are done, because (a) they look beautiful and (b) they attract bumblebees!

That same rabbit has been wreaking havoc on the three Indian pink (Spigelia marilandica) plants in the front border. You can see a few stems have been nibbled here.

...and an entire Indian pink has been chomped back here. Darn you, rascally rabbit!

What amazing fuzzy purple-and-white flowers on the Salvia leucantha (Mexican bush sage), a new addition to the Garden of Aaron. Again, these are supposed to attract hummingbirds and butterflies, but I haven't seen either one visiting the flowers yet. Although it's only rated as hardy to zone 8 (and I'm in zone 6b/7a), I found an inexpensive source so I figured I'd take a chance on the plants. Plus, how could you resist these Seussical blooms?

The 'Natchez' mock orange (Philadelphus x virginalis 'Natchez') seems to be doing pretty well during its second full year in the garden. It's sent up some new vigorous, healthy-looking foliage from the base and has some pretty new flowers. The flowers are fragrant, but the scent is quite faint. Perhaps that's why it doesn't seem to attract many pollinators, except for ants like the one shown here in the leftmost flower. (Incidentally, I believe Natchez is a complex hybrid, but it may have 1/4 native ancestry from P. pubescens, which is listed as native to Tennessee, Arkansas and Illinois.)

Close-up pic of the flowers on Penstemon x mexicali 'Red Rocks', another new addition to the garden this year. Red Rocks reportedly has a nice, long bloom season and is supposed to be better than many other penstemons at tolerating humidity and heavy soils.

Lastly, here's a look at the front corner of the house where I planted Panicum virgatum (switchgrass) last spring. I think this is the 'Northwind' cultivar. This is quite a windy, exposed corner on the hilltop and many of the other plants (including a crape myrtle) that I tried here struggled with that wind. Fortunately, the switchgrass does not seem to mind the wind one bit and it's nice watching the leaf blades sway and bend in the breeze. Near the switchgrass, you can see some columbine, self-sown sunflowers, a pink-flowered Salvia greggii and some volunteer Mexican hat plants (Ratibida columnifera).

Thanks for visiting! The garden continues grow and change and bloom and grow more beautiful day by day, week by week. Stay tuned for photographic proof coming soon~! :)

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

In Full Swing - Clematis, Penstemon, Sumac, Sage, False Indigo and More!

Things are in full swing in the garden - bees are buzzing, flowers are blooming, leaves are expanding, plants are growing, everything there is life (except where there is death).

I apologize for the lull in posting photos. My camera is currently traveling overseas (along with my wife), but my kindly neighbor Christian generously lent me his camera so that I could capture some scenes from the early May garden.

(There are a lot of photos, so I'll split them into two posts. This post will focus on the back garden, the next one on the front and side gardens.)

Abelia x grandiflora, dwarf cultivar. I'd thought it was 'Rose Creek', but I think it was mislabeled, so I'm not sure of the cultivar. Whatever it is, it seems to be settling in nicely during its first year in the garden. I don't usually like bright yellow plants, but I like the contrast here against surrounding greenery.

My favorite plant in the garden these days is Baptisia australis (blue wild indigo). In its third full year in the garden, it has sent up multiple stalks of pretty blue flowers that (as you can see here) attract bees!

The Burkii eastern red cedars (Juniperus virginiana) are loaded with berries/cones. The branches were coated with rust fungus earlier during our wet spring, but that issue seems to have abated (at least for now) as the weather has turned drier and warmer.

Clematis 'Crystal Fountain'. We had this clematis tied up into the crape myrtle tree with biodegradable twine. The twine degraded in some rain storms this spring and the vine fell to the ground, but it doesn't seem too much worse for the wear and actually makes a rather nice groundcover. Make lemonade from lemons and all that...

Nothing too exciting here - Forsythia x intermedia 'Lynwood Gold'. But I must admit that the shrub looks very healthy. The foliage was a lovely shade of green earlier in the spring. I'm not over-the-moon on Forsythia. It's totally overplanted and the flowers seem relatively useless in terms of supporting wildlife, but I have to give it props for toughness.

What happened here!? 'Lemon Queen' perennial sunflower is not looking her best.  I need to investigate further, but my initial suspicion is some sort of fungal rot. It's not a pretty picture, but I believe gardening blogs should honestly show the good, the bad and the ugly.

Lantana camara 'Miss Huff', first year in the garden, first blooms.

Panicum virgatum (switchgrass) 'Northwind' -- This is my second year with switchgrass in the garden. I cut back the old stems myself in March. It seems to me that in a normal-to-harsh winter here, I could easily wait until the end of March or even the beginning of April to make such a cutback. The old stems look good all winter and into spring, so the cutback is only needed to make way for new growth. But that new growth doesn't start in earnest until mid-April. Cut back your grasses too early, and you have relatively unattractive stubble mocking you for a month.

Penstemon x mexicali 'Red Rocks', first year in the garden

Acer rubrum (red maple), not sure which cultivar, but whatever the name, it's turning into quite a nice little tree. As long as the deer don't try ripping up the bark again (like they did a couple of winters back), I hope it will be OK.

Fuzzy berries forming on fragrant sumac (Rhus aromatica) 'Gro-Low'. The small yellow flowers that preceded the berries seemed to be a big hit with all sorts of small pollinators (probably a motley crew of bees, wasps and flies).

Salvia greggii (autumn sage), not sure whether this is 'Flame' or 'Rose Pink', but in either case both survived the winter (I was holding my breath since they're rated marginally hardy in Mid-Tennessee) and have started blooming. Last year, the autumn sage flowers attracted hummingbirds.

As with the azaleas I inherited at the front and side of the house, I feel like this ornamental sage ('May Night'?) looks good for a couple of weeks and then looks like Death warmed over the rest of the year. Still those brief bursts of beauty - especially in the Spring - have won it a place in the garden for now. The lamb's ear 'Helene von Stein' in the background looks good most of the year, including now.

Looks like there should be lots of crabapples this year on the 'Sugar Tyme' crab.

This is not too impressive, but I'm just happy that my wax myrtles (Morella cerifera) survived the winter. Although evergreen further South, they pretty much defoliated here. Then again, I probably shouldn't have planted marginally hardy plants in November. Both plants almost made it through the winter intact, but one got chomped by a deer (I presume) right before Spring arrived. This is the one that didn't get chomped. (The other is still alive, but only barely.)

Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) wilting in early May. Not a good sign of drought tolerance when we're still 5-6 weeks away from the official start of summer.

As with the 'Lemon Queen' sunflower, I'm not sure what happened here, but a portion of the Hyssopus officinalis (hyssop) seems to have wilted out practically overnight. Hyssop is a fast grower, so I'll try just trimming out the damaged section and hoping for a recovery.

Stay tuned, more photos coming soon from the front garden!