Plant Preview

Welcome to Plant Preview, a blog dedicated to helping gardeners learn about gardening techniques and preview new plant cultivars. Read about new plants here first and hear how your "comrades in compost" are making use of new plant introductions in their gardens and landscapes. Blog author Geri Laufer is a life-long dirt gardener, degreed horticulturist, author and former County Extension Agent. Plant Preview is copyrighted by Geri Laufer.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Summer Solstice 3 Ways: Science, Plant Photoperiodism & Lore

June 21 is a significant day for Planet Earth and its relationship with the sun. The Earth spins on its axis, an imaginary line going through the globe between the north and south poles, with each complete revolution taking 24 hours. However, the Earth’s axis is tilted 23.5 degrees off the plane of its revolution around the sun, and so for several months of the year, one half of the earth receives more direct rays of the sun than the other half. The four seasons are a result of this tilt.

The Summer Solstice is the date when the rays of the sun directly strike one of the two tropical latitude lines. Astronomers in the northern hemisphere calculate that the summer solstice occurs when the sun reaches the Tropic of Cancer thus causing the northern hemisphere to experience the longest day and the shortest night of the year, June 21, 2011 at 1:16 p.m. EDT (17:16 UTC). Similarly, astrologers know this as the date on which the sun enters the sign of Cancer in the starry heavens.  Simultaneously it heralds the longest night of winter in the southern hemisphere. And far north of the Equator in the Artic Circle, there are 24 hours of daylight on June 21.


Plants respond to day length in direct ways. Photoperiodism is the term used to discuss plant responses to day length or more accurately, night length.  “Long day plants” (like clover, foxgloves and garden pinks) bloom as the days get longer and when the nights are short. 

After Midsummer, these plants stop blooming and other plants (like goldenrod and chrysanthemum) begin to bloom. These are called “short day plants” because they are triggered to flower as the days grow shorter (after the Summer Solstice) during late summer and fall. Well-known as a Christmas flower, the poinsettia develops its showy bracts as the year approaches the Winter Solstice, while the day length is decreasing and there are a long, unbroken periods of darkness each night.

Still other plants are “day neutral plants” because they are less responsive to the length of the dark period. Spring and Fall Equinoxes are the midway point of the solar year. (See also )


Awed by the power of the sun, for centuries civilizations have celebrated the Summer Solstice, also known as Midsummer, St. John’s feast day, or Litha. Although modern usage suggests that ‘summer begins’ at the summer solstice, the old folk calendar placed the beginning of summer on May Day (May 1) and the end of summer on Lammas (August 1). This more reasonably placed the summer solstice midway between the two, marking midsummer as the peak of old sun god’s strength.

The traditional Celtic Midsummer was celebrated on the fixed date of June 24, which coincides with the Christian feast of John the Baptist and his flower, St. John’s wort.  Faery lore held that Midsummer night was a time of magic, when pixies and evil spirits went abroad. To thwart them, people wore protective garlands of herbs and flowers. One of the most powerful of them was a plant called 'chase-devil', also known as St. John’s Wort, and is still used by modern herbalists as a mood stabilizer.

Other flower-based customs included decking the house (especially over the front door) with birch, fennel, St. John’s wort, orpin, and white lilies. Five plants were thought to have special magical properties on this night: rue, roses, St. John’s wort, vervain, and trefoil. St. John’s wort was picked by young maidens in the hopes of finding her true love.

St. John’s connection to the wilderness (from whence “the voice cried out”) was often emphasized by the rustic nature of his shrines, and by his alternate name, “the Oak King”. Perhaps the archetypal ‘Green Man’, or ‘wild man of the wood’, whose face appears through the leafy masks that adorn early Church architecture, was based on St. John.

Celts and Slavs celebrated the eve of the first day of summer with dancing and bonfires representing the sun's energy (Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, June 23), staying up all night to welcome the dawn
Couples would leap through the flames, believing their crops would grow as high as they were able to jump. Chinese marked the day by honoring Li, the Chinese Goddess of Light, in Spain it’s called the “Night of the Verbena (Vervain)”, while the Druids celebrated the day as the "wedding of Heaven and Earth", resulting in the present day belief of lucky June weddings. The Midsummer full moon was known as the "Honey Moon" for the mead made from fermented honey that was part of wedding ceremonies performed at the Summer Solstice.

Thanks to Mike Nichols at and for background, to Chuck Tague for the photo of St. John's wort via, rhe Green Man is from The Glouster Cathedral's South Porch Facade, c.1455 and to Wikipedia for the bonfire photo 

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Patented Tiny Gold Barberry Grows Knee-High to a Grasshopper

Tiny Gold Adds color to G-Scale Model Rail Road Gardens, Rock Gardens, Containers & Borders

Tiny Gold Barberry (PP17084) is a truly diminutive woody shrub. Itty bitty gold leaves cover the cupcake-sized shrub 10 months of the year until winter. The small leaves attain best color in full sun, although this dwarf shrub also will grow in partial sun with a chartreuse leaf color. Brown twigs have deep grooves and a zig-zag appearance, with a sharp spine at each leaf node. Tiny Gold Barberry grows slowly to attain a mature spread of 12 to 15 inches with a maximum of 15 to 18 inches in height.  

Insignificant pale yellow flowers bloom in late spring or early summer but do not set viable seed. Northern gardeners will be happy to learn that Tiny Gold Barberru is non-flowering, therefore the plant does not set viable seed and invasiveness is a non-issue with this cultivar. 

Extremely adaptable, Tiny Gold grows in USDA Zones 5 to 9 in a wide range of soil types and exhibits average water needs, preferring well-drained soils; do not overwater. In the landscape, Tiny Gold is grown for its foliage color and pocket size.

Some landscape uses for Tiny Gold Barberry include mixed perennial borders, smaller more detailed gardens, miniature landscapes, G-scale model train landscapes and inclusion in containers for color. 

Statistics Chart for Tiny Gold Barberry (PP17084) (Berberis thunbergii 'Tiny Gold')
Plant Category:
 Dwarf deciduous woody shrub grown for its leaf color and tiny size
Mature Height:
6 – 18 inches

Mature Spread:
12 – 15 inches
Mature Form:
True dwarf, rounded shrub
Brown branches deeply grooved, somewhat zig-zag in form and bearing a single sharp spine at each leaf node.  
Growth Rate:
Moderate, low maintenance, durable, no serious pests, resistant to rust
Sun Exposure:
Full sun for best leaf color, will grow in partial shade
Soil Type:
Widely adaptable, Loam, Sand or Clay
Soil Moisture:
Well-drained; adaptable to drought when established
Wiry and yellow in color
Pale yellow in spring
Does not set viable seed, therefore not invasive, A patented plant will not come true from seed.
Summer Leaf Color:
Bright, cheerful yellow to chartreuse
Fall Color:
Lovely red-orange fall color, becoming deciduous in early winter  ?
pH Level:
6.1  - 7.8
Hardiness Zones:
5 - 8
 Michal Andrusiv in the Czech Republic Registered in 2005

When performance counts, use Garden Debut® great new plants. 
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Thursday, June 2, 2011

Full of ADMIRATION for this Blazing Barberry

 A showstopper with a blaze of red foliage set off by golden leaf margins, Admiration Barberry (PP16921) holds its vibrant color throughout the season.  Initially new leaves are a flaming coral-red with bright golden edges, and by late summer the oval leaves mature to a purple-red contrasted with the yellow rims. Plant Admiration in full sun to produce the best color when vivid foliage colors are desired.

Although a dwarf, this low-maintenance shrub is very strong and bushy with a compact rounding growth habit. Admiration Barberry reaches only 12-15 inches tall in 4 years, (ultimately 2 feet x 2 feet, untrimmed). Any trimming is best done in early spring. A true dwarf that will not outgrow the site, Admiration Barberry (Berberis thunbergii 'Admiration') is a low maintenance shrub that is hardy to USDA Zone 5.

Landscape designers often select shrubs that contribute accent colors to the landscape and red foliage plants are one of the most popular additions. Admiration Barberry creates a spectacular display of stunning color in a garden border, is ideal for banks and slopes as well as for large containers.  Use additional plants that compliment red shrubs to set off this barberry.

Admiration Barberry tolerates a wide variety of  soil conditions and withstands dry periods, although during establishment it does need a moderate amount of water.  Northeastern gardeners will be happy to learn that Admiration is non-flowering, therefore the plant does not set viable seed and invasiveness is a non-issue with this cultivar.

Statistics Chart for Admiration Barberry, PP16921, Berberis thunbergii 'Admiration'
Plant Category:
Deciduous woody shrub
Mature Height:
 12 inches after 4 years; a true dwarf ultimately reaching only 2’ x 2’
Mature Spread:
 15 inches
Mature Form:
Compact, bushy woody ornamental shrub  with a compact, rounded growth habit
Remarkably dense, compact, multi-branched dwarf ornamental
Outstanding color form, new growth is coral red with golden leaf margins, maturing to wine red leaves with golden yellow rims
Growth Rate:
Sun Exposure:
Sun for outstanding leaf color
Soil Type:
 Sand, loam or clay,
Soil Moisture:
Well-drained soils; drought resistant once established
Flower Color:
 It’s a bonus that this cultivar is non-flowering and does not set seed; thus eliminating any misgivings about invasive spread in the Northeast
Landscape Value:
Brilliant accent color contrasts with green of typical landscapes
Deciduous; drops leaves in late fall, November
pH Level:
5 – 7 ?
4 – 8
U.S., Hybridized by Andrusiv; Year of Registration or Introduction: 2005 Greenleaf Nursery Selection, Park Hill, OK  ?
When performance counts, use Garden Debut® great new plants    
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