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.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Extraordinary History Behind Twist of Lime™ Abelia

 Twist of Lime™ Abelia’s backstory is an enthralling one of arrogance and disappointment.

The genus contains about 30 species. It was named for noted British physician and naturalist-author on China, Dr. Clarke Abel, 1780 – 1826, who served as Chief Medical Officer and Naturalist to the Embassy of Lord Amherst at the Court of Peking and in Canton in 1816-17.  During this time there was resentment on the part of the Chinese due to perceived British arrogance and because of British involvement in the opium trade. The British were technically limited in plant collection to the Portuguese-controlled island of Macao.

In his role as naturalist, Dr. Abel had collected many unfamiliar plants and seeds, all new to Western science at the time. He also wrote a book of his observations and corresponded with renowned English botanist Sir Joseph Banks.

Lord Amherst’s objective in China was to improve British-Sino relations. To this end, the Embassy staff traveled to the capital, and Abel made detailed observations and collected wild and cultivated plants along the way. However, the mission backfired when Amherst refused to kowtow to the Chinese Emperor and the entire party was banished from China. Before departing on the hazardous journey back to England, Abel entrusted a small portion of his extensive botanical collection to a colleague, Sir George Staunton.

The ship ran aground on uncharted reefs and was badly damaged, causing some of the cargo to be jettisoned, including Abel’s botanical collection. Returning to the site the next day to try and rescue some of the botanical chests, they were attacked and captured by Malay pirates. Eventually, Abel did make it back to England and Staunton returned the remaining small portion of Abel’s collection. One of the specimens was named Abelia chinensis in Abel’s honor posthumously in 1844, and is an ancestor of Twist of Lime™ Abelia. .

Meanwhile, Robert Fortune, another famous plant collector, was also sending back live specimens from China, including one that later would be named Abelia uniflora. The first Abelia chinensis x A. uniflora crosses were made at the Rovelli Nursery in Italy producing a hybrid named Abelia x grandiflora in 1886 and was the best Abelia of its time.

This is the fascinating history behind my favorite Abelia, Abelia x grandiflora, Twist of Lime™ by Garden Debut®. I’ve planted my Twist of Lime™ Abelia an area of the garden I call the “golden triangle” planted with specimens having gold or yellow variegation or yellow flowers. In the photo, Twist of Lime™ Abelia is in the foreground, flanked by Euphorbia x martini ‘Ascot Rainbow’  and Forsythia koreana ‘Ilgwang’.  The brilliant leaves of Twist of Lime™ is perfect for lighting up the partial shade. Other landscape uses for Twist of Lime™ Abelia include specimen plantings in gardens and/or in a mixed border with other shrubs, as a low, informal hedge plant, or as a cascade.

The honey-scented, tubular blossoms of Twist of Lime™ Abelia are one of my greatest butterfly and hummingbird attractors, and are actually edible in salads or candied. In Astrological reports, the shrub Abelia is placed under the dominion of the planet Moon, if you go for that sort of thing. Folklore tells that many baby girls were named after the plant Abelia because of its continually fresh, evergreen nature. Post a photo if you’re growing Twist of Lime™ Abelia too.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

White Frost™ Birchleaf Spirea Invites History to the Garden

Now and then the landscape gardener comes across a must-have shrub that fits nicely into smaller scale urban and intown gardens. First choice this spring is White Frost™ Birchleaf Spirea from Garden Debut®. White Frost™ is named for the fountains of white flowers that cover the plant each spring like a beneficent late frost. Flat-topped corymbs composed of tiny white flowers envelope the shrub’s arching branches and closely resemble another Spirea known as Bridalwreath.

In days gone by, brides cut the arching branches of Spirea and wove them into bridal crowns that lasted only a day. Since Spirea and Hawthorn were annually in bloom around the first of May, they were often selected as the flowers of choice. The flower crowns were employed still earlier in the Celtic festival of Beltane, a spring-time festival of optimism mid-way between the Spring Equinox and Midsummer Night.

A Queen of the May was crowned on the church steps each year, with the ritual circular crown signifying both virginity and the unending cycle of the seasons. Fertillity of crops and livestock was an important aspect of the agrarian society, and  the hanging of May Boughs on the doors and windows of houses and barns and in farmyards was observed, often composed of Hawthorn or Mountain Ash. In the garden the flowers are attractive to bees, butterflies, pollinators and birds.

Bring history into your garden with White Frost™ Birchleaf Spirea, a compact, mounded, dense shrub maturing at about 3 feet tall and wide. This tough-as-nails, spring-flowering shrub is also known for its striking fall color. Enjoy a second season of color each autumn with its long-persistent bronze, purple, yellow-gold and red fall foliage colors. Landscape uses of this durable, romantically old-fashioned shrub include low hedges, foundation plantings or containers.

Visit Garden Debut® Retailers Page and click on your state to find a retailer nearby who is carrying White Frost™ Birchleaf Spirea.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

How to Make Lilac Sugar with Sweet Treat™ Lilac

I am enamored of fragrance in the garden. Poetry is written and paintings are painted in celebration of the rose, the sweet violet, lavender, heliotrope, gardenia, jasmine, magnolia and especially the lilac. In addition to transforming my garden into a pleasure, one of my favorite uses for all this sweetness is flower-scented sugar made with lilac or lavender whole lowers, or with petals from violets or fragrant roses. Flower sugar is useful in teas, sugar cookies, pound and angel food cakes, coffee cake and blueberry muffins.

Though I am the strongest proponent of fragrance in the garden and always opt for fragrance over many other characteristics, until now I had been bereft of the perfume of lilacs. The common lilac just doesn’t thrive in my Zone 8A Atlanta garden. Until now! Enter Sweet Treat™ Lilac, an improved form of the well-known variety of Miss Kim Lilac, Syringa pubescens subsp. patula from Garden Debut®. It grows well in a wide range of soil conditions and is hardy in Zones 3-8, making it the most versatile lilac in the country.

Sweet Treat™ reliably displays clean foliage and vigor with no disease or die-back even during the hottest Atlanta summer temperatures that normally sound the death knell for the older varieties. The intoxicatingly sweet lilac fragrance so beloved of generations is combined with superior disease resistance performing flawlessly in the brutal heat and humidity (and often drought) of southern summers. Plus it’s burgundy fall color is an added bonus.  

Sweet Treat™ presents a profusion of fragrant blossoms each spring that are dark lavender in bud and fade to a soft lavender-ice blue when fully opened. They smell like warm sunlight and the breath of spring, seasoned with vanilla and sweet-smelling roses. The plant is particularly floriferous when planted in full sun, and its fragrant blossom trusses stand out beautifully against dark green, glossy leaves. To preserve this fleeting aroma I capture it in sugar; it’s very simple to make.

Super-Easy Lilac Sugar
I take about a cup of clean, dry flowers that have been grown organically and are entirely free of pesticides of any kind, 

and gently macerate or crush them with a wooden spoon to release the fragrance. 

Then I combine them with 2 C. granulated sugar and stir well to distribute the petals evenly. 

The flowers and sugar are poured into quart canning jars with screw-on lids  (in this case a decorative storage bottle with a fitted, ground glass lid).

It mellows our for a few weeks and when the sugar smells just like the flowers it is ready to use. 

Flower sugar may be substituted for plain sugar in any recipe, and you may leave the flowers in or sift them out as you choose. Sprinkle tea sandwiches with Lilac Sugar, or mince up some of the flowers and add to cream cheese for a yummy spread.

Have you planted versatile Sweet Treat™ Lilac in your garden? Mine is really new. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Companion Planting with Daylilies

About a decade ago, I devised a strategy to interplant tough, drought-resistant daylilies on an embankment, although my idea will work in any garden situation, in sun or part shade. My objective was to prolong the bloom season from January until June.  I selected two other perennials of approximately the same size with similarly-shaped leaves for this companion planting.  
Several types of daffodils were selected, and planted in groups of about seven bulbs (all the same for maximum impact) next to each daylily clump. I chose some of the earliest yellow bloomers for January, as well as mid-sized white and pink varieties to extend the flowering season into February and March. Narcissus are long-lived, and since they are in the Amaryllidaceae, they are poisonous and therefore unappetizing to chipmunks and pine voles. 

Next, I planted starts of Siberian Iris and non-bearded iris next to the daylily clumps to follow the daffodils and continue the flowering season into March/April. Iris siberica are every bit as tenacious as Hemerocallis in terms of toughness and drought resistance. Although their sword leaves look a lot like the fans of slender daylily leaves, the flower spectrum is in the blue-to-violet-to-white range and the iris flower shape is completely different, providing variation.  

Finally, the old varieties of daylilies took center stage. Before the new repeat-blooming hybrids, my daylilies would begin flowering about Father’s Day – mid June—and give a burst of color for about a month.

Today, by replacing the old varieties with continuously-blooming daylilies like those  from the Enjoy 24/7 Daylily Collection from Garden Debut®, my daylilies start blooming in early April and don’t quit until Thanksgiving!
  •          A strong-growing bi-color Kokomo Sunset™ PP22181 provides brilliant color with blazing gold and a burgundy-red eye.
  •          Montego Melon™ PPAF is a compelling soft yellow on a short plant that increases rapidly and has triple the number of flower scapes. 
  •          Ruffles and frills of Bermuda Peach™ PPAF are irresistible, with low-growing, rust-resistant foliage on a rapid increaser.
  •          The haunting Jamaica Sunrise™ PPAF, delivers an eye-catching lavender-rose hue.

These daylilies were developed by award-wining daylily breeder Dr. Ted Petit for incredible bloom cycles stretching from April through late fall and healthy, rust-resistant foliage with low, grassy-like leaves and flowers held above compact plants. I find planting in groups of the same variety gives the biggest impact, particularly those with bright- or light-colored flowers, with each plant becoming a attention-magnet or “visual bouquet” in the landscape.

So share a photo if you give my daylily companion planting strategy a try and let us know your own long-blooming efforts! You’ll have flowers from Januany through November by including daffodils, Siberian iris and choices from the new iEnjoy 24/7™ Daylily collecton from Garden Debut®. Or perhaps you have a different set of plants to include for a continuous bed of blooms?  Let’s hear it!