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.

Friday, July 27, 2012

White Angel Althea and Marshmellows

 White Angel resembles marshmellows
Why does new White Angel Althea from Garden Debut® remind me of marshmellows?  

Marshmellows are one of the earliest confections known to man and were originally made from the root sap of the Marsh Mallow (Althea officinalis) plant and used medicinally. The scientific genus name indicates the distinctive flower structure shared by plants in the Mallow Family, Malvaceae, and there are a lot of them.  White Angel Althea, Hibiscus syriacus, is also in this plant family and is a close relative of the Marsh Mallow,  sharing the same type of flower. 
Modern day Marshmellows
The species name of Marsh Mallow, officinalis, indicates that this Mallow is an “official” member of the medieval list of medicinal plants, known as Hortus Medicus. From olden times, Marsh Mallows have been dug up and a mucilaginous tea brewed from the roots to soothe sore throats.  Later, the moist and sticky root sap became the origin of the confection we know today as the fun food, marshmellows. Food historians might like to learn more.  

Photo from Not Without Salt Blog
Or DIY and make Ashley Rodriguez’ own version of the American fun food. Use Hibiscus “Juice” made from dried Hibiscus flowers, purchased as Jamaica Flowers or Roselle at the Mexican grocery, in order to make the marshmellows pink. Find the step-by-step directions at her Not Without Salt blog

Although White Angel Althea flowers do look like dreamy white marshmellows floating in the garden, and though they are relatives and their flowers are similar to the Marsh Mallow, they are not to be eaten. The Marsh Mallow is herbaceous and easy to dig up when sacrificing the plant to obtain the roots for a recipe. But new White Angel Althea is a woody landscape shrub from Garden Debut® that is not eaten, nor would you want to deprive your landscape of this lovely flowering shrub.  Right? 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

How to Train a Flowering Shrub into a Distinctive Ornamental Tree

Lime Soda(TM) Hydrangea
Who wouldn’t want an extremely surprising, head-turning small tree covered with massive, fluffy panicles of white flowers in July that change to vivid pink over the next few months? Easy pruning over a season or two can turn an unusual shrub into a tree form that is perfect for small gardens, as well as being distinctive and unique.  

Generally, shrubs have very different growth habits than trees. While both are woody ornamentals, shrubs are lower growing and have multiple stems that sprout from the base of the plant, while trees are typically taller and single-trunked. But Mother Nature is anything but black and white.

Certain tree species commonly have multiple trunks—such as river birch (Betula), cherry laurel (Prunus) or Chinese Elm (Zelkova).  Conversely, some woody plants that normally grow as shrubs can be pruned or “trained” to have only one trunk-- like tree roses, Rose of Sharon, Viburnum or Althea. Even woody vines such as Wisteria can be trained into a tree form, as explained in our popular blog from 2010.  In these cases the distinctions between the landscape forms become blurred.

multi-stemmed shrub
A robust new shrub appealingly named Lime Soda™ Hydrangea is the perfect choice to prune into a dramatic landscape tree for smaller gardens across the country. Hardy from U.S.D.A. Zone 3 to 8, Lime Soda™ Hydrangea from Garden Debut® has mammoth flower heads that open white in July and change to vivid pink in the next couple of months. 

Lime Soda™ Hydrangea
is naturally upright
responds well to pruning
has strong, stiff branches
is fast growing
reaches about 10 feet, ideal for a small tree

pruned to single trunk

Step by Step Creative Pruning to achieve a tree form

+ Before you buy, examine young nursery plants and choose one with a strong central leader
+ Eliminate all the branches arising from the crown at ground level except this leader, which will become the tree-form trunk
+ Prune off branches from the lower 1/3 of the remaining leader flush with the trunk, known as “limbing-up”
+ Guide a strong nursery stake down along the main trunk, hammering in securely, then loosely tie the plant to the stake using a soft tie and a figure 8 around both stake and trunk
+ Allow the top 2/3 of foliage to photosynthesize and the plant to establish a good root system during the rest of the year
+ The following season, limb-up another third of the lateral branches from the trunk. Repeat Step 5 for another year or two until the trunk has reached the desired height, perhaps 5 to 7 feet. Remove the stake.
lower branches removed
+ Select about 5 scaffold branches evenly spaced around the trunk that will become the canopy of the tree, and pinch each of those back about 3 inches to encourage lateral branching  
+ Keep the trunk clean with no branches below the canopy. That is all there is to it!
+ Mulch or underplant Lime Soda(TM) Hydrangea with Snow N Summer Asian Jasmine in warmer climates, or with annuals or Lenten roses for year round appeal. 

Thursday, July 12, 2012

How to Use Broadleaf Evergreens in Garden Design

In the warmer half of the country, Broad-Leaf Evergreens take center stage. Northern gardens are filled with hardy but deciduous trees and shrubs that drop their leaves at the onset of winter, leaving the garden with a bleak appearance,. Garden design in southern gardens relies on the cheerful appearance of year-round gardening. Contributing to the effect are Boxwood, Nandina, Mahonia, Southern Magnolia, Tea Olive, Wax Myrtle, Holly and Cherry Laurel. 

Broadleaf evergreens are valued both as specimens and as hedges to provide structure, often called the “bones” of the landscape, year round. Taller broadleaf evergreens function well as privacy screens, or may be planted into rows as hedges to separate garden rooms. Other broad leaf evergreens are better for low hedges, parterres or more airy applications.  

One example is Centre Court™ Cherry Laurel, Prunus caroliniana, selected by Garden Debut® for its tight, compact branching structure, oval habit and fragrant white flowers in spring. This broadleaf evergreen is hardy to Zone 7 and can be pruned up into a tree form eventually reaching 30 feet.

Centre Court™ CherryLaurel may also be kept as an informal flowering hedge, or sheared occasionally into a formal hedge. Its dark green, glossy foliage and fragrant white flowers are followed by stone fruit that is relished by wild birds. Due to the Prussic Acid (hydrogen cyanide) content of its leaves, Centre Court™ is reliably deer proof.  

Photos courtesy WikiCommons and Garden Debut(R)

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Founding Father & Gardener Thomas Jefferson

On Independence Day 2012 we look back to 1776 to think of the Founding Fathers and in particular, the principal author of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson. Eponym of Jeffersonian democracy, Jefferson was a political philosopher, architect, archaeologist, paleontologist, inventor, scientist, horticulturist and gardener.
The third president of the United States idealized the independent farmer and grew 250+ varieties of vegetables in his 2-acre kitchen garden and 170+ varieties of apples, peaches, grapes, raspberries, gooseberries, blackberries figs and so forth in Monticello's orchards, along with ornamentals such as pinks and iris, and his most beloved “pet trees” carefully sited around his landscape. For Jefferson, Monticello’s gardens were a source of endless experimentation and enjoyment.

Jefferson kept a detailed Garden Kalendar and recorded successes and failures in his Garden Book, an invaluable primary source today. His garden at Monticello was a botanical laboratory of ornamental and useful plants from around the world. For example, he experimented with imported broccoli and squash from Italy, salsify and beans collected by the Lewis and Clark Expedition, French figs and artichokes, Mexican peppers and so forth, selectively eliminating inferior types and choosing the best species or varieties for the hot, humid Virginia climate. In this same tradition, new Garden Debut® ornamental plant introductions have been selected as the best of the best.

According to the official Jefferson Monticello website, the kitchen garden was terraced and leveled to overlook the Virginia Piedmont, “the main part of the two-acre garden is divided into twenty-four "squares," or growing plots arranged according to which part of the plant was being harvested -- whether "fruits" (tomatoes, beans), "roots" (beets, carrots), or "leaves" (lettuce, cabbage). The site and situation of the garden enabled Jefferson to extend the growing season into the winter months and provided a microclimate for tender vegetables such as the artichoke. Jefferson successfully grew figs in Submural Beds, which were also situated to create a uniquely warm setting.”

Perhaps Jefferson’s most beloved quote and the one most gardeners understand best is found in a letter to Charles Wilson Peal in August 20, 1811. Jefferson declared, “But though I am an old man, I am but a young gardener. “ Be sure to visit the website for the Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants,  to learn more about heirloom plants and seeds. Thomas Jefferson died on July 4, 1826.