Three Neat Plants – Late July

 

Text and photos ©Nancy J. Ondra

First, I’d like to welcome all of the new readers to Hayefield. As some of you who have been here before guessed, the special garden visitor I mentioned in my last post was Anne Raver of the New York Times. It was such a surprise that she wanted to write an article (Where Foliage Eclipses Flowers); I figured she and my two editors from Storey were just looking for an afternoon of garden touring. You can imagine what a lot of plant talk four garden nerds can fit into just a few hours.

While the attention has been fun, it’s also great to finally have some time to get back to blogging – especially blogging about neat plants. As usual, it was hard to choose just three, but I’ve ended up with something old, something sort of new, and something I think will be very new to most of you.
 
To start, an old-fashioned annual known by the quaint name of love-lies-bleeding (Amaranthus caudatus). The very first year that I tried this heat-loving annual in my previous garden, it was absolutely glorious. After that, there and then here at Hayefield, I had a spell of several years where I simply couldn’t get it going; as soon as I set out the seedlings, the cucumber beetles demolished them. I took a break for a few years, then decided to try again this year, and I’m so glad I did. For whatever reason, the cucumber beetles weren’t very active at the critical time, so the plants had about a month to get established before the pests attacked, and they were vigorous enough to withstand a bit of damage.
 
Usually reaching 4 to 6 feet tall, love-lies-bleeding grows from tiny seeds that I usually start indoors in late March or early April (4 to 6 weeks before our last frost date), then set outdoors in mid- to late May. You can also sow them directly in the garden around your last frost date, but keep in mind that the plants take 10 to 12 weeks to start flowering, so the flowering season will be short where frost comes early. Here in southeastern PA, the flowers start to form in July and keep going well into October.
 
Love-lies-bleeding flowers appear in fuzzy-looking, 1- to 2-foot-long chains that drape gracefully over lower companions. The color is typically a rich red to pinkish red, but you can find a few other colors too. ‘Coral Fountains’ is a new cultivar with softer-pink flowers. ‘Viridis’ is pale green to yellowish green. I used to think it was really neat, but after a garden visitor likened the dangling green chains to…well, a snotty nose, I haven’t really been able to enjoy it since. Another variant of the regular red is ‘Pony Tails’, with lumpier flower clusters rather than solid chains.

Amaranthus caudatus 'Pony Tails' (left) and 'Coral Fountains' (right)

Amaranthus caudatus 'Pony Tails' (left) and 'Coral Fountains' (right)

If you try love-lies-bleeding, keep in mind that it gets really big. I plant companions close to mine, so they tend to mostly grow upright before cascading at the tips. At work, I planted a group of them to fill a fairly large area, and each one has expanded to about 4 feet across from side branching. I strongly suggest providing a sturdy stake for each plant, especially if they’re growing in fertile soil, if they’re getting some shade (they’re generally best in full sun but can tolerate partial shade), or if you water regularly. Otherwise, your love-lies-bleeding will lie bleeding all over everything (as above), and the results may not be pretty. You can find seeds of the red species from a number of seed sources; Select Seeds carries ‘Coral Fountains’ and ‘Viridis’ as well, while Territorial Seeds sells ‘Pony Tails’.

The something-newer cool plant is a selection of purple coneflower (Echinacea). Unlike most of the newest offerings, ‘Prairie Frost’ is one you’ll grow mostly for the foliage. Each of the deep green leaves is neatly edged with bright white, making it a beauty even if it’s not in bloom. I’ve seen the rich pink flowers described as large, but those on my plant (and in most pictures) appear to be relatively small, especially because of the short petals.
 
Reaching to about 2 feet tall and about 1 foot across after three years, ‘Prairie Frost’ grows well in full sun or partial shade (mine gets morning sun only) and average, well-drained soil. It’s tidy, well-behaved, and essentially trouble-free, making it a great addition to a border as both a foliage and flowering accent. The hardiness rating is generally given as Zones 3 to 10.

And for the newest cool plant, I present ‘Chocolate Ball’ sedum (Sedum hakonense ‘Chocolate Ball’). Can you see it?

Yep, it’s almost exactly the same color as moist mulch! Most of the time, I think that’s pretty funny, though I’ll admit that it can be a problem too: I can’t tell you how many times that I’ve almost stepped on it because I can barely see it from normal eye level.

To make the most of ‘Chocolate Ball’, try putting it next to something paler or brighter: light-colored stepping stones, perhaps, or a pale gravel mulch, or a silvery, blue, or chartreuse-leaved companion. We’ve had the plants at work for just a month or so, and they’re still just an inch or two tall; apparently they won’t get much larger than that. We’re also not positive about the hardiness: Our supplier says Zone 7, but most references give Zones 9 to 11 for the species, so I guess we’ll have to find out the hard way. But I think we’ll plant some in containers, too; they’ll show off better than way, and it’ll be easier to bring some of them indoors for the winter. I don’t think ‘Chocolate Ball’ is commercially available at the moment, but I understand it’s supposed to be released very soon, so keep an eye out for it in this winter’s mail-order catalogs and next spring’s retail displays. If you adore sedum ‘Angelina’, I think you’ll love ‘Chocolate Ball’ too!

18 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Linda Pastorino on August 1, 2008 at 5:46 pm

    Dear Nancy,
    I’m so glad a friend of mine e mailed the NYTimes article about your place to me. I’m happy you blog about your great garden and the rare plant finds. I too collect rare plants and extreme garden. I have no gardening friends where I live in Chester NJ so I pretty much rely on reading and visiting other gardens on conservancy days. I think the more I have gardened the more I also enjoy foliage. It’s something that one doesn’t get in the beginning and it’s so much better to have leaf texture and color dimension that lasting way.
    I will look forward to your blog and will order your books, which I’m sorry to say I do not have yet.
    thanks for doing this!
    Linda

    Welcome, welcome, Linda, to the wonderful world of garden blogs. You’ll meet lots of awesome gardeners all over the world, and you may even find some you don’t yet know about right near you. Get thee to Blotanical, where you’ll find hundreds of other great garden blogs, and you can even search for other New Jersey bloggers, such as Heirloom Gardener in Chatham. Then maybe you’ll start your own blog to share your garden with the rest of us!
    -Nan

  2. A chocolate ball sedum, I’ve never heard of it! I suppose you could almost make a whole garden out of chocolate colored plants. I really like the white edge on the coneflower leaves. It makes it much more interesting.

    Yes, I suppose you *could* have a whole garden of chocolate-colored plants, but I imagine it might be a little boring. Now, add a little chartreuse, and you’ve really got something.
    -Nan

  3. Posted by Lisa at Greenbow on August 2, 2008 at 7:48 am

    Hi Nan, I have heard of love lies bleeding for years but I haven’t ever seen it actually growing. It sure is an interesting plant as are all the plants you have described here. I haven’t seen the varigated Echinacea before either. I would like to find that one.

    Ok, now I’m totally mortified, because I realize I messed up the name of the echinacea: ‘Prairie Frost’ is the beautiful one with the white edge (now correctly named in the post above), while ‘Sparkler’ is the kind-of-icky one with white speckles. I normally make sure I link to at least one current source, but I forgot to do that when I was writing, and so far I haven’t found a retail supplier for ‘Prairie Frost’; I can’t imagine why. When I do find a source, I’ll add a link. So sorry about that!
    -Nan

  4. A friend sent me the NYTimes article. Loved it. I am a container gardener and over the years I have developed a much greater appreciation of foliage plants. Now I find I am often much more drawn to them than I am to flowers.

    Welcome to Hayefield, Miriam. I’m glad you joined us. Yes, foliage is a real blessing in containers as well as in-ground gardens, particularly for those of us who don’t keep up with proper fertilizing to get abundant flowering.
    -Nan

  5. I bought Echinacea ‘Prairie Frost’ from a bargain plant table at a great nursery around here a few years ago. I guess I didn’t baby it enough because it didn’t survive the winter. I really liked the foliage, but I haven’t seen the plant for sale again anywhere. I’ve seen ‘Sparkler’ & I agree, “icky” is a good way to describe it. I think I’ll pass on the “Chocolate Ball” Sedum. The last thing I need is more plants that blend in with the mulch. Congrats on the NYT piece!

    Thanks, MMD. I really wonder why ‘Prairie Frost’ has apparently disappeared. Now, ‘Sparkler’ I understand; I love variegation, but if ever there was a kind that looked like a really bad spider mite infestation, that was the one!
    -Nan

  6. Hi Nan, good to see some new visitors via the NYT article, so much fun. My daughter Semi grew the love lies bleeding from some free seeds from somewhere that I had received in her new garden the first year they bought their house. It did great, along with all the other seeds of zinnias and cosmos she threw around in new beds mulched with mushroom compost. They have never grown as well since that first year. I can’t seem to get them going at all, but have never tried to start them inside. As for the chocolate ball sedum, love it and will keep an eye out for it. Perfect for the black garden, to join Black Jack and Purple Emperor and a little blackish short one with no name tag. I know how you love the variegated foliage on all plants, but the Prairie Frost doesn’t appeal to me as much as the straight species.

    Maybe love-lies-bleeding is one of those plants that just doesn’t like to be pampered? Or else it just doesn’t like to be taken for granted. I’m thrilled to have luck with it this year, but based on my past experience, it may be another 8 years or so before I can grow it as well again.

    Yep, I can see ‘Chocolate Ball’ in your black garden. And I respect your opinion on the coneflower!
    -Nan

  7. Posted by Diana on August 2, 2008 at 10:48 pm

    I have to admit, I’m a new reader and I’ve bookmarked your page for easy access. I RARELY (if ever) rip out an article, but I did tear out yours and I’ll share with you why: you are living my dream! Right down the alpacas. Good for you!!! I’ll be checking in regularly. Thanks!
    -D

    It’s great to meet you, Diana, and I do hope you come back. Daniel and Duncan tend to pop up in my posts now and then, so you’ll learn about the realities of owning alpacas (both good and otherwise). I usually put up new posts about once a week, so don’t give up if you don’t see one for a while, ok? Enjoy!
    -Nan

  8. love your echinacea – it looks so summery! i completely agree that the foliage is as nice as the bloom itself.

    Thanks for visiting and commenting, Debra. Echinaceas sure are beauties for summer-into-fall color, then for winter seedheads. And when you add foliage interest for spring-into-summer, they’re truly four-season perennials.
    -Nan

  9. Congrats on the NYT piece. Wow!!! Sounds like you have had a very busy summer indeed. Tonight I am just back from touring 4 private gardens in Stockbridge and Lenox, Massachusetts. Places full of inspiration… for next year (or years) !
    Carol in Massachusetts
    terranovadesign.blogspot.com

    Thanks, Carol. Sounds like you’ve been having a great summer too!
    -Nan

  10. Oh, I am SO drooling over that chocolate-colored sedum! I can totally see having that planted in with my blue-silver New Zealand burrs… but if they’re iffy about zone 7, I would have no chance with it being hardy here. *sigh* Since you said you weren’t sure about the hardiness, etc., does that mean that you’re trialing these plants and the rest of us might see them in a few years? Or are they just hard to find?

    By the way, congrats on the NYT article. I’m off to read it now, and see what the pictures they show. (Isn’t it funny how we all see our gardens one way, but when other people take pictures of it, they often show things we don’t notice on a daily basis?)

    Thanks, Kim! I don’t even have the sedum at home, just at work, and we’ve had it only a short time. The echinacea I’ve had for several years; I know it’s hardy here in mid-Zone 6, but I don’t know how much colder.
    -Nan

  11. Okay, I just finished… wow! Great article. I’m struck with a desire to see how you prune that ninebark, but the bigger question is this one: Really, you don’t eat any of those luscious edibles? How can you resist the call of Bulls-blood beets, roasted in olive oil and sprinkled with cracked black pepper and sea salt? (I’m drooling at the thought.)

    Oh, I have a whole area for stuff to eat out back. I just keep the ones out front to look pretty!
    -Nan

  12. Nan,

    Congratulations on the great NYT article. I just featured you/and the article on my blog. Thank you for all that you do!

    -Heirloom Gardener

    Hey, HG, that was *so* kind of you. Thanks ever so much!
    -Nan

  13. I like that annual with its’ very ‘cottage garden’ look. I have the Amaranthus growing in my garden but no blooms yet. It is looking pretty good though. I’m not sure about that Echinacea with the variegated foliage. Your recommendation goes a long way though. Right now, I am thinking ‘more phlox’!

    You’re so right: At this time of the year, it’s easy to see all sorts of places that could use more phlox. But then, the mildew…
    -Nan

  14. Thanks for featuring such cool plants. Prairie Frost looks like a winner. I tried LLB this year but it didn’t do well. It is small and bug infested. Like you say. I can try again next year. I’ll appreciate it in your garden now.

    I very seldom bother to spray anything, but I think I might try some neem on my love-lies-bleeding next year to see if I can minimize the leaf damage from the beetles. Even if the plants can tolerate it, the holes do detract somewhat from the plants’ beauty.
    -Nan

  15. Posted by ondina on August 10, 2008 at 2:43 pm

    Hi one more question How do you prebent the grass from extending to the top of the molch and how do you keep it nice and tame as a border when mowing the grass?

    Are you asking about lawn grass along the edge of a planting bed? The main part of my garden is grass-free (with mulched paths), so that’s an issue I seldom have to deal with. There are a variety of both manual and power edging tools to choose from. You may want to ask around to see what other gardeners find most useful for the type of grass you’re growing. (I understand that some of the southern grasses are far more aggressive spreaders than our cool-season types.)
    -Nan

  16. Nan, that photo with the Love Lies Bleeding is just lovely. I am enjoying your site!

    Welcome, Mary Ann, and thanks for the kind comment!
    -Nan

  17. In the Anne Raver artice, she mentioned some’noodle’ beans. What are they and where can I get some seeds? Thanks.

    I wrote a whole post on them here: http://hayefieldhouse.com/2008/01/31/red-noodle-beans/

    Essentially, they’re a climbing bean with long, deep red pods. I don’t find that they have much flavor, but they look really cool. If you’d like to try them for yourself, I’d be glad to share some seed.
    -Nan

  18. Posted by PrairieGirl on September 12, 2008 at 12:14 pm

    Nan~I was reading this old post and had a good laugh at your “cooking” comment, I guess it’s under the red-noodle-beans link. I can’t cook worth a darn, but it sure looks like it with all the herbs and a few veggies I grow just to look at, and smell! Well, my Dad used them to flavor the meat when he visited one Christmas (I brought my strawberry planter inside so it didn’t crack), and my husband likes to cook too. Thank goodness or we’d be eating take-out a lot more!

    Well, I think just having the herbs and veggies counts. If one actually *uses* them, at least occasionally, then that earns bonus points!
    -Nan

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