Springtime, Summertime, Autumn, Wintertime Dreamtime: New Plants to Consider
Fraser's Sedge (also known as Cymophyllus fraseri, Carex fraseriana, and Carex fraseri) is a terrestrial plant native to the Appalachian Mountains of Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. It prefers moist, rich, slightly acidic soil, but tolerates some drier sites as well. The dark green leaves (see photo) are evergreen, strap-shaped, and look somewhat like those of a small, supple-leaved yucca. As they age they tend to become a bit floppy.
I like to choose at least one plant each year that is unusual and offers a challenge. One unusual aspect of Fraser's Sedge is its flowers. Most sedges have insignificant brownish blooms, but Fraser's are small, showy white pom-poms. They're quite unique in the world of flowers and are present from May through June.The challenge presented by growing this plant in our gardens is threefold: 1)We garden close to the dividing line between Zones 5a and 5b. The original source I consulted said that Fraser's is hardy through Zone 5. Since then, I've come across sources that say it's only hardy from Zone 7 southward. I'll need to remember to mulch heavily as soon as the ground freezes. 2) It requires slightly acidic soil. Most of the soils in our gardens are more or less neutral at 7.0. I'll have to amend the planting site with an acidifier. 3) It prefers damp soil in a slightly shady area. While such an area exists in our gardens, it tends to dry out in summer during long dry spells, so I may have to sprinkle the area occasionally.
Garden-worthy varieties include those in the column to the right. Note that Thalictrum rochebrunianum is a variety whose flowers do have petals (see inset). At the moment the only species growing in our gardens is T. aquilegifolium. As its species name implies, the leaves look like those of aquilegias (columbines). Their blue-green sheen adds interest, even when the plants are not in bloom. I've planted this species in among a mixed shrub border, where it gets the shade it needs, but also benefits from bright light.
In order to brighten up this shady border a bit more, I've decided to try a Meadow Rue that's new to me. I first read about it in The American Gardener, a magazine published by the American Horticultural Society. It's horticultural moniker is impossibly long: Thalictrum filamentosum var. tenerum Heronswood Form. The flowers are white (see photo at left) and without petals.
My attraction to this thalictrum is not only due to the white flowers, but to the fact that it's the longest blooming Meadow Rue available. The huge clouds of white last for three full months! If you'd like to give this plant a test drive, make sure that you get the Heronswood Form. It's named for famed plant hunter, Dan Hinkley's now defunct nursery in Kingston, Washington. The usual Thalictrum filamentosum has a much shorter blooming period.
I'm looking forward to using the holly-leaf lookalike in holiday arrangements, instead of having to buy holly sprigs from florists. Red berries to go with the pseudo-holly sprigs will come from deciduous Winterberry hollies that have graced our gardens for many years. Mahonias do have berries, but they're dark blue to almost black and don't show up well in arrangements.
In 1948, Toichi Itoh of Tokyo, Japan, succeeded in making an intersectional cross. He crossed the tree peony P. x suffruticosa var. 'Alice Harding' with the herbaceous peony 'Kakoden'. The resulting seedlings were herbaceous, but exhibited some of the tree peony traits as well. He obtained six seedlings that were considered gardenworthy. Among them were the first herbaceous double-flowered peonies to have a true, deep yellow color. They represented a long-sought goal of both hybridizers and gardeners: to grow herbaceous yellow peonies.
In the interim, intersectional yellow peonies have been produced in the U.S. as well. The problem is that they're prohibitively expensive, with some plants selling for $200 or more. And that's my dilemma. I cannot in any way justify buying a yellow peony at that price! Yes, I could plant a yellow-flowering tree peony, but it's the unusual nature, the beauty, and history of the herbaceous intersectionals that I find alluring. Take a look (column to the right) at some of the gorgeous intersectionals being developed by breeder Don Smith.
I've been scouring the Internet as I write this article, trying to find what I would consider to be a reasonably priced yellow intersectional. So far I've unearthed 'Yellow Crown,' developed by Mr. Itoh, at Contrary Mary's Plants. It sells for $50, which appears to be quite a bargain in the context of the high prices commanded by intersectionals. I might just spring for it!
In my next "Dreamtime" article, I'll share with you some interesting reading I've been doing about the "new" German style of gardening.
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© Larry Rettig 2010
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