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