Adventurous gardeners love to experiment, and what better way than to explore some of the lesser-known perennials that don't usually inhabit the local greenhouse. These plants will probably be varieties that you'll need to order (or special order from your local nursery), but the ones covered in this series over the next several articles will bring pleasure and interest to your gardens that will make the search worthwhile. Each article in the series will feature one sun-loving and one shade-loving plant.
(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on July 7, 2010. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to promptly respond to new questions or comments.)
In mid- to late spring and early summer, Japanese wood poppy (Glaucidium palmatum) puts on a lovely show in the shady parts of the garden. The plant is somewhat difficult to find, and will most likely be a specialty mail order item if you decide to buy. Some nurseries do carry 3- and 4-year-old plants that are mature enough to bloom.
Glaucidium palmatum is a native of Japan and will grow in zones 3 to 8 under the right conditions. Large purple or pink, and sometimes white flowers appear over lovely full leaves of bright green in early spring and sometimes last up to three weeks. This perennial is a slow grower and will take several years to achieve large round blooming clumps 18 to 30 inches in size.
Plant Japanese wood poppy in cool, rich, moist soil that drains well. The plant can be grown from seed, but as stated above, is slow to mature to the bloom stage. No diseases or pests were cited in any of the literature, but as with all plants located in shady, moist areas, slugs could definitely be a problem.
For a bold statement in the garden, nothing makes one better than bear’s breeches (Acanthus mollis)! A Mediterranean native that is found mostly in Portugal, northwest Africa, and Croatia, the plant is known to be one of the earliest cultivated garden plants.
This stunning landscape specimen produces leaves up to 3 feet long, and flower spikes that can reach 8 feet! The deeply lobed leaves are dark green and shiny, and tipped with soft spines. The plant itself grows in a large clump, reaching about 5 feet tall and 5 feet wide before the flower spikes appear. The tubular flowers bloom in early summer and look similar to foxglove; they are creamy or white, with purple or pink edges, and bloom from the bottom of the stalk upward, providing a long display of color.
Easy to grow, Acanthus mollis loves the sun, dry air, and average to rich soil. Once established, the clumps can survive for several decades. Drought and partial shade to do not faze this sturdy garden inhabitant, but it will not tolerate overly or constantly wet soil.
The plant has some susceptibility to powdery mildew and bacterial leaf spot. Bear’s Breeches will grow from fresh seed or 2-3 inch root cuttings, but a word of warning: it can and will expand to fill the space around it, so be vigilant with this striking beauty.
Photo of bear’s breeches leaf, and thumbnail Japanese Wood Poppy from Wikimedia Commons
About Toni Leland
Toni Leland has been writing for over 20 years. As a spokesman for the Ohio State University Master Gardener program, she has written a biweekly newspaper column and is the editor of the Muskingum County MG newsletter, Connections; she currently writes for GRIT, Over the Back Fence, and Country Living magazines. She has been a gardener all her life, working soil all over the world. In her day job, she scripts and produces educational DVDs about caring for Miniature Horses, writes and edits books about them, and has published five novels.