Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
February, 2009
Regional Report

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Nearly evergreen 'Home Fires' phlox is an excellent perennial, spring-flowering pink/violet, ovate-leafed ground cover tolerant of shade and sun, dry and moist soils.

"Good Plants" a la guru Richard Lighty

Much as we love the process of gardening, we also appreciate shortcuts from the experts. Recently Dr. Richard W. Lighty, founding Director of Mt. Cuba Center for the Study of Piedmont Flora, talked "Good Plants: 70 Years of Hopes, Failures, and Successes." His aim -- not just to tantalize his audience.

"Plant societies can encourage nurseries and greenhouses to provide good plants they long for," he urged at the Mid-Atlantic Hardy Plant Society's Joanne Walkovic Memorial Lecture at the Scott Arboretum, Swarthmore.

Ivory-plumed, shade-tolerant Aruncus aethusifolius (dwarf goat's beard) is an example of a once difficult-to-find perennial that plant afficionados requested and is now more available, he added. On the other hand, asarums (wild ginger) are wonderful, universally popular plants not easily found in their 20 plus American and Asian species and cultivars. Variegated Asarum minor and A. takaoi clones 1 and 2 top Lighty's list as "excellent, evergreen, small area ground cover" in high light, light and heavy shade, moist/well-drained soil.

From deer-resistant groundcover perennials to liliums to hydrangeas to dogwoods, maples, and white oak, Lighty thoughtfully provided his favs in a color-coded, multi-column plant list. All the more to appreciate his comments and slides instead of struggling to correctly spell Latin names.

Lighty's "Good Plants" made the cut through two to four decades of conscientious collection and evaluation. They're "quite free of disease and cultural problems," he said. They also "make a good, basic palette for gardens in the Middle Atlantic region." Finer, more finicky plants are welcome to enhance composition and orchestrate the garden, he added.

Ground Cover For Weed-Free Beds
Weeds are our constant nemesis. Lighty has the ultimate "green" solution. "When I say 'groundcover' I mean something that will control weeds when it reaches maturity," he offered. Among his recommendations -- clump-forming 'Springwood' tiarella and stolen-spreading 'Lace Carpet' tiarella. Vinca minor 'Jeckyll White' (named after Gertrude Jeckyll) and 'Sterling Silver' stay consistently green, don't burn out, and fill in thickly enough to resist weeds.

Many spring-flowering epimediums survive in shade and among dense tree roots that greedily absorb moisture. Epimedium 'Alabaster', E. x grandiflorum 'Purple Pixie', and E. stellulatum are Lighty's suggestions. I heartily second his inclusion of native Phlox stolenifera (Lighty's spelling, aka stolonifera). These creeping phlox cultivars -- pink 'Home Fires' (my fav), 'Sherwood Purple', and 'Blue Ridge' -- form nearly evergreen mats of small, shiny oval leaves. In early spring, waves of bright flowers bloom 4 to 5 inches above the deep green foliage. Breathtaking!

Lightly finds Iris siberica (aka ) 'Ceasar's Brother' and yellow flag iris ( 'Butter-and-Eggs') equal in beauty to German iris.

I'm always looking for a good lobelia that will continue bloom after cutback of the first tall, flower-covered spikes. Sterile, thickly foliaged, fuschia-flowered Lobelia x speciosa 'Sparkle DeVine' is one Lighty "could not do without." His get "two puffs in a season under all conditions."

Elegant lilies always elicit oohs and ahhs. Lighty likes the light peach, orange-eyed Lilium Asiatic hybrid 'Sally' for its disease resistance and shade-tolerant Lilium Martagons -- especially whirl-leafed 'Claude Shride' and L. Martagon Hybrids X L. tsingtauense 'Sontsing' and 'Tsingense' best grouped and lifted to divide every 10 years to sustain vigor.

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