Perennials Archives

Check out Mr. Hosta’s 2013 Selections


Randy Best's Hosta Garden.

Randy Best’s Hosta Garden.

It’s not summer YET but when the heat finally comes, I’ll wish I could hang out in Randy Best’s cool hosta garden, shown above and in lots more photos here.  Around our Beltsville store Randy’s known as Mr. Hosta – not only because his garden is jam-packed with them but because he’s a true Hosta expert and breeder of new Hosta varieties. IMG_2623-001

In pursuit of new, even more beautiful Hostas, Randy is always on the look-out and keeps up with what the other breeders are up to.  That’s how he came to find the 18 exciting new varieties now on offer in our perennial Department in quart-size pots.  Randy carefully selected these introductions and ordered them directly from a tissue culture lab (plant-geek talk for breeder) in Illinois.

Here’s how Behnkes’ Stephanie Flemming described the scene: “If Randy had a tail, it would have been wagging when the boxes were unpacked.”  Sounds like a true Hosta addict!

We have one flat of each of these cool-looking varieties, so come check out Mr.  Hosta’s Introductions for 2013 while supplies last!


‘Jubulani’ (left) and ‘Blue Flame’ (right.)


 ‘George M. Dallas’ (left) and ‘Thunder Boomer’ (right.)

I was once a small-scale collector of Hostas myself but had  to give them all away after the deer arrived in my backyard one day and decided to stay – despite my repeated cursing at them and more sophisticated repelling techniques failed, too.

So last season, when the construction around my Greenbelt home was finally done in the late summer, I bought up several of my favorite varieties, including ‘Sir Frances Williams,’ the glory of my old shade garden (shown below in its formative years).   Then over the winter I moved so many perennials around to accommodate the shrubs and trees I rather abruptly decided to plant that I couldn’t find Frances anywhere and declared him a casualty of gardening-in-winter.

Until I finally found him a couple of weeks ago, behind and almost under a teak bench I’d also moved.  I bet Mr. Hosta can appreciate what a thrilling discovery it was.  Frances now has a prominent and perhaps even permanent spot in my garden, along with some new favorites.  Ah, to have a deer-free garden again!


Posted by Susan Harris.

In Sun or Shade, try Carex instead of Turfgrass

“Less Lawn” is the shorthand for a new trend in gardening that started in the arid West and is coming East, fast.  (Lord knows the Lawn Reform Coalition is doing everything it can to spread the word.)

And one of the most promising groups of plants to create lawn-like sweeps of short plants that can replace turfgrass is the genus Carex.   Carexes are plants commonly thought to be grasses – because they look like ornamental grasses – but technically they’re sedges, not grasses.  (And don’t ask me the botanical difference between grasses and sedges.)

I’ve been growing Carexes for 25 or so years and made sure I thought some with me when I moved because they’re such a help in filling in a new garden.


Above, two of the larger Carexes help fill in a sunny border in my former garden.


But look how well they do (above) in the shade of a deck.  I also used them in my full-shade woodland garden.  They don’t spread, but establish larger and larger clumps that can be divided many times, as I’ve done over the years.


Most Carexes stay nice and low, like Liriope.  Above is Carex morrowii at the Scott Arboretum, where it’s being used as a groundcover on a shady slope in the fall.  It’s also happy in full sun and best of Hadden1-300x264all,  it’s evergreen!  On the right is a variegated version of Carex morrowii that I’ve grown for years, also.

So for shady spots where turfgrass struggles to survive, try Carex.  Options include Carex pensylvanica (Pennsylvania Sedge) that’s native to our region.

One limiting factor to using Carexes instead of turfgrass is that they can’t take foot traffic, so put them where they won’t be walked on OR just create a foot path through them.

Below is are just two of the Carexes on offer in the Perennials Department of our Beltsville location.


“Less Lawn” Show and Tell

And to learn more about lawn reduction – great design ideas and alternative plants – come to Greenbelt tomorrow nite!  Details below.

Posted by Susan Harris.

Appreciating Hellebores, with David Culp


Just as we’re all going gaga over the (finally!) emerging spring bulbs, let’s pause to appreciate some flowers we’ve been enjoying for the last couple of months, those of the Hellebore family.  Hellebore breeder (and author) David Culp visited Behnkes during our recent Spring Open House and used these and more fabulous photos of his own Brandywine Hybrids to make the point that Hellebores more than earn their place in our hearts and gardens.

The Virtues of Hellebores

  • They’re long-lived.
  • They’re evergreen.
  • They seed around “with great abandon,” their seedlings eventually filling in a whole bed, even under the most difficult trees.
  • They’re easy.  “Put ’em in the ground and forget about them.”
  • Plant them in full shade, full sun, or anything in between.  Though if they’re not blooming, they might not be getting enough light – or you’ve planted them too deep.  David calls them “the ultimate shade plant.”  (DO avoid planting them in wet, boggy conditions, though.  They hate that.)
  • They’re critter-resistant.  Even deer don’t like them.
  • David brings them indoors as cut flowers, floating them in large bowls, where they look great for 10 days or so.
  • They bloom even through the snow!


About those “Blooms”

David explained that the Hellebore’s so-called flowers we’re enjoying in winter are really not flowers at all – they’re sepals, colorful parts that attract pollinators.  In fact, they’re getting more and more colorful these days, with breeders choosing sepals that are in colors like pink and purple, and less green.

About their Nodding Nature

Breeders are always working on developing Hellebores whose flowers face UP, so we can see them without bending down, but David has a different take on that.  They’re just “hiding their sexual parts from the cold.  They’re smart.”  David actually likes that slight nod.  You have to bend over and turn it up to see the inside, so the Hellebore is a participatory plant (love that term!)   You can avoid having to bend down to see the insides of their flowers by planting them on a hillside, or in a raised bed.


Just cut off their old leaves in January, a bit of housekeeping that isn’t required but lets the emerging flowers shine on their own.  They don’t need dividing, though they can be divided if you wish.  Just dig them up, wash the soil off, and separate into chunks that have both dark and white root, and at least two leaves.  Late summer or spring are the times to divide them.

Native-Plant Wannabees

That’s what David calls them, because they’re so well adapted.  They’re originally from Central Europe, mostly the Balkans, at higher elevations.

Brandywine Hybrids

They’re all from his very own garden, which is revealed in beautiful photos and inspiring text in his recent book The Layered Garden, which I raved about in this blog post.

Posted by Susan Harris.

How I’m Filling up my New Garden – the Perennial Report

When I reported on my new back garden in late July it looked woefully empty, as shown above.   Patio and walkway done, a few shrubs and trees planted, but otherwise bare.

In this September photo you can see some of the new plantings I’ve added, but they won’t really strut their stuff until next season and won’t really fill out for a season or two.  Patience is required!

Here are the new plants I’ve acquired somehow or other, all plants I expect great things from.  The color palette I’m going for here is purples, maroons, and greens.

Bought perennials

Amsonia hubrichtii- three.  Wish I had room for more because this may just be my favorite perennial.

Aster ‘Purple Dome’ – just one.  It’ll stay short, for the front of the garden.

Echinacea purpurea ‘Magnus’.  Just one, and I hope it spreads fast next year.

Eucomis ‘Sparkling Burgundy’ was unknown to me but recommended by a designer friend.  VERY cool purple leaves – check it out.

Heuchera ‘Frosted Violet,’ sticking with the purple theme.

Hostas, which I couldn’t grow in my last, deer-infested garden: ‘City Lights,’ ‘Frances Williams,’ ‘Earth Angel,’ ‘Elegans,’ and huge divisions of plainer varieties from neighbors for fast fill-in in the first year or two.

Iris ‘Argentea Variegata’ for its light green and white foliage.

Penstemon ‘Husker Red’  for its deep red stems and leaves.

Persecaria polymorpha (Giant Fleece Flower) was also recommended by my designer friend – for something tall and dramatic.

Perennials from my old garden or giveaways from neighbors

Calamint ‘White Cloud.’  Great filler plant for the front of any border.

Euphorbia amygdaloides, Robb’s Spurge.  Evergreen even in the shade!  Also, fast-spreading.  Used it to great effect in my former woodland garden.

Miscanthus ‘Morning Light’ blooms too late for the seeds to germinate, so it’s not invasive.

Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ are divisions from a neighbor.

Plus these fill-in plants

‘Tangerine Beauty’ Crossvine (Bignonia) for a vertical accent that’s evergreen and then sports reddish orange blooms in the summer.  Planted far enough away from the purple-maroon palette that it won’t clash – hopefully.

Hardy bananas will, I’m hoping, give me some instant screening next year where it’s needed the most.  Eventually the three Cryptomerias (Japanese cedars), six Blue Prince and Blue Maid Hollies, and three full-size Abelias will provide screening, but not by next year.

Patience is again helpful but when it’s in short supply, fast-growing hardy bulbs come in handy.

Posted by Susan Harris.

Fall Color for Shady Spots

I’ve reported on on my favorite plants for fall color in sunny spots and as promised, here are my faves for shade.


Coleus come in dozens of colors and patterns.  Mine are just now, in late October, losing their leaves.  They’ve looked big and bold and colorful all season, until let’s say m id-fall.


Begonia grandis.

Begonia Grandis blooms from September through fall.  The foliage is gorgeous all season.

Japanese Anemone in mid-October.

Japanese Anemones look great here at the National Gallery’s Sculpture Garden with petunias.

Hakonechloa Grass.

Hakonechloa Grass doesn’t bloom, but its gold foliage looks great all season and the dried foliage looks lovely in the winter, too.  Behind it is a shrub that’s colorful in the fall and winter, too – the  Acuba.

‘Ice Dance’ Carex.

Carex is the name of a large genus of grass-like plants (technically called sedges, not grasses) and many are evergreen, like the ‘Ice Dance’ variety above.  It’s been a primary groundcover in my shade garden for decades now.  It brightens up even the darkest spot.


Oakleaf Hydrangea at Brookside Gardens.

The glorious Oakleaf Hydrangea  is one of my all-time favorite shrubs and it’s famous for its four-season interest.  The photo above demonstrates its fall glory and coming up next, with no leaves in sight, is its lovely exfoliating bark.

Encore Azaleas

Encore Azalea is a repeat-blooming shrub was highly recommended to me just yesterday by a Prince George’s Master Gardener.  She told me that hers are blooming like crazy even now, in late October.

Posted by Susan Harris.  Photo credits:  Encore Azaleas.  All others by Susan Harris.

 Page 3 of 14 « 1  2  3  4  5 » ...  Last »