Garden Highlights During the Month of May 2021

May is a glorious month with many changes taking place in the garden. The month started with hellebores giving away the spotlight to blooming epimediums, unfurling hostas and various ephemerals. Flowering shrubs like rhododendrons and azaleas and trees like dogwoods were the stars in mid-May. By the end of the month, my hostas were fully unfurled and I could not help but admire the various sizes and shapes of my collection any time I took a stroll through my garden. We had a rainy month here in South-Eastern Massachusetts and my plants definitely liked that. Below is an overview of what was particularly pretty in my garden this May.

My epimediums were in full bloom in early May. Epimediums are an amazing and easy to grow plant that I featured in an earlier post.

Giant snowflakes (Leucojum) were also blooming in early May. They were one of the best new plants in my garden this year that I purchased fairly inexpensively from Michigan Bulb Co. last fall. I normally avoid planting bulbs because I don’t like their foliage after they are done blooming but giant snowflakes exceeded my expectations. I highly recommend them if you are looking for an unusual alternative to spring bulbs like daffodils and tulips. I particularly liked giant snowflakes in my garden in combination with old-fashioned bleeding hearts where they mimicked each other’s nodding silhouette but contrasted in color.

May is the month when many woodland plants are in their fullest glory. Of these, Jack in the Pulpit is one of my favorite with its unusual long-lasting flowers that are eventually replaced by attractive orange seedpods. Should you decide to grow it, make sure to give it plenty of room as it has the tendency to seed heavily and may overtake your garden.

There were many other beautiful native plants blooming in my garden in May. Shown clockwise from the left: robin’s plantain, shooting star (dodecatheon meadia), columbine (aquilegia canadensis) and dwarf crested iris (iris cristata). Warning: like jack in the pulpit, robin’s plantain and columbine have the tendency to spread aggressively so plan accordingly if you want to add them to your garden!

I planted some amazing violas in my garden this spring but the variety called ‘Etain’ stole the show for me. I planted it in my hosta garden where its bloom color contrasts beautifully with darker foliage plants.

I call this my “Moon Garden” where the white plumes of the foam flower are complemented by the variegated foliage of hosta mediovariegata – an old but nonetheless amazing variety.

Many trees and shrubs also look their best in May. Despite its short bloom time, this orange azalea called ‘Gibraltar’ is a stunner in my garden in Mid-May.

Not as showy but nonetheless an excellent shrub for the garden is the native Carolina allspice (Calycanthus floridus), also known as sweetshrub. Its magnolia-like flowers last for a few weeks in May and have the much desirable quality of being fragrant. My yellow variety called ‘Athens’ is particularly aromatic and I could smell its delicious scent, that reminds me of sweet wine mixed with baked apples, from far away. Carolina allspice attracts insects with its scent which enter the petals and get trapped there until pollination occurs, after which the flowers opens and set the bugs free.

We added a few beautiful flowering trees to our yard last year and the dogwood called ‘Celestial Shadow’ is my favorite. The unusual variegated foliage is complemented by large white flowers starting in mid-May and still going strong to date in mid-June.

My hostas started unfurling in early may and by the end of the month they looked stunning. Shown above clockwise from top left are h. ‘June’, ‘Leapin’ Lizard’ and ‘Jack Berry’.

Many other amazing foliage plants look their best in May. Shown counterclockwise from top left: helleborus “Anna’s Red”, ligularia, Darmera peltata (Unbrella plant) and podophyllum ‘Spotty Dotty’.

I am going to end this post with an images of the foliage of my epimedium ‘Pink Champagne’ that looked breathtaking at the end of May once the blooms were done.

What was in bloom in your garden in May?

It’s Epimedium Time

Epimediums are slowly but surely gaining popularity among shade gardeners. They are one of those plants that look dainty but are tough as nails and require very little care – just my kind of plant!

My first encounter with that amazing plant was two years ago when I visited Garden Vision Epimidiums (GVE) in Phillipson, MA on Mother’s Day during their 2019 open nursery days. GVE is a specialty nursery that boasts the largest selection of epimediums in the United States, if not the world. I was amazed by the variety of bloom and foliage and immediately fell in love with that plant. The owner Karen Perkins answered all my questions and helped me select a few varieties for my garden while leading me through her garden in the rain. Aren’t gardeners the nicest people in the world!

Unfortunately, Garden Vision Epimediums’ open nursery days were cancelled in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID pandemic and, even more sadly, Karen Perkins has announced her decision to gradually wind down the operations of her business and retire. I am hoping to be able to make one last visit next year before they close for good.

A beautiful vista at Garden Vision Epimediums in Phillipson, MA. What a better way to view a vast variety of epimediums in bloom than by visiting the display gardens of GVE during open nursery days.

During my visit to GVE in 2019, I acquired the following varieties of epimediums: ‘Domino’, ‘Ninja Stars’, ‘Pinnatum’, ‘Purple Prince’, ‘Queen Esta’ and ‘Silver Queen’. Despite my first purchase being based on zero knowledge and prior research, all of these turned out to be excellent varieties and now, two years later, the already mature clumps look spectacular in my garden.

Epimedium Pinnatum ssp. Colchicum is native to the former USSR Republic of Georgia. The GVE website describes it as “a workhorse groundcover for dry areas” (www.epimediums.com).

My favorite thing about Epimedium Pinnatum ssp. Colchicum plant is its spring foliage (shown above).

Epimedium grandiflorum ‘Silver Queen’ was one of the varieties that I added to my garden during my visit to Garden Vision Epimediums in 2019.

‘Queen Esta’ is another beautiful epimedium grandiflorum that went home with me that day. Not only does it have pretty flowers, but it also boasts spectacular chocolate brown foliage in spring.

‘Domino’ is a larger variety that occasionally reblooms. I recently acquired its sister plant ‘Pink Champagne’ (shown below) that Karen Perkins has repeatedly referred to as her favorite variety.

I love the raspberry bloom of ‘Pink Champagne’ and can’t wait for my clump to grow.

‘Ninja Stars’ combines beautiful yellow bloom with bronze foliage in spring. I was first drawn to the unusual shape of its leaves that have the additional virtue of being semi-evergreen. This is a truly outstanding variety that provides year-round interest in the garden.

While my first purchase of epimediums was based solely on bloom color, I subsequently placed an online order with GVE of 6 additional varieties based exclusively on foliage interest. One of these amazing varieties is ‘Mottled Madness”. Its flowers are so tiny that they are barely visible but who wants flowers when you have foliage like this.

‘Kaguyahime’ is another well-rounded epimedium with foliage similar to that of ‘Mottled Madness’ but also lovely lavender flowers.

‘Bandit’ is a superb variety that has both interesting spring foliage and beautiful flowers. It is a smaller plant that would look great in a trough or a rock garden in combination with other miniature plants.

Epimediums combine beauty with ease of care and are one of those plants that no shade garden should do without.

A Visit to Garden in the Woods During Trillium Week

If you are into native plants like me, Garden in the Woods in Framingham, MA is a perfect place to visit, especially in spring when many wildflowers are in bloom. Garden in the Woods is a 45-acre woodland property owned and operated by the Native Plant Trust whose goal is to showcase and promote the beauty of plants native to New England. The purpose of my visit today was to observe in the wild the trillium, a plant that Garden in the Woods celebrates during the first week of May.

Trillium cuneatum, aka sweet Betsy, has a lovely citrus fragrance and it ended in my shopping cart at the end of our tour.

Yellow is my favorite color in the garden and this Trillium lutheum, which is also fragrant, has been on my wish list for a long time. Unfortunately it was not available for sale at Garden in the Woods.

There were a few varieties of white flowered trilliums in bloom and I went home with Trillium grandiflorum.

Some more trilliums.

In addition to trillium, there was a wide variety of other lovely wildflowers that were in bloom at this time of the year and that made our visit worthwhile. Uvularia grandiflora, or large-flowered bellwort, is a beautiful spring ephemeral that I added to my garden last year and that I was delighted to see growing in its natural habitat.

Virginia bluebells is another plant that I grow in my woodland garden but it has not flowered for me yet and I may have to move it to a sunnier spot. It is a lovely larger wildflower that makes an appearance in spring and then goes dormant the rest of the year.

Mayapples and celandine poppies were everywhere.

Pulsatilla vulgaris (Purple pasque flower anemone) is a rare native plant that I had never seen before. It must not naturalize as well as some of the other plants as we saw only one or two of these flowers at Garden in the Woods.

There were some swampy areas where one could observe wildlife as well as plants. The cute turtles on the logs were my son’s favorite.

One of the plants at the swampy area.

I love the purple and green foliage of these irises. They must be quite a sight to see when in bloom.

No woodlands would be complete without ferns. I think they are especially pretty in spring before their leaves unfurl.

Columbine cultivars are quite popular in the garden. This here is the straight species.

Rest places abound at Garden in the woods. I love the rock placed on this bench that reminds of a pillow on a bed.

In case you are wondering what the plant surrounding the bench is.

Another beautiful wildflower that blooms in May.

There is a fun area for the youngest visitors.

At the end of the trail, just before one goes back to the visitor center, butterfly murals remind visitors of the beauty of native flora and fauna.

Many of the native plants that are on display at the Garden in the Woods can also be purchased there. Here is what I added to my native plant collection today: prairie smoke, Trillium cuneatum and Trillium grandiflorum.

Using Mini Hostas in Containers

Even though hostas have been grown in the West since the end of the 18th century, interest in smaller varieties is relatively recent. In “The Book of Little Hostas”, Kathy and Michael Shadrack pinpoint the introduction of h. ‘Pandora’s Box’ in 1996 as the defining moment that kindled that interest (Shadrack and Shadrack, 2010, p. 13). Since then, smaller hostas have enjoyed increasing popularity and new varieties are being offered on the market each year.

The American Hosta Society (“AHS”) defines a miniature (“mini”) hosta as a hosta with a leaf blade area at maturity no greater than about 6 square inches (39 sq. cm.). The length of the petiole (leaf stem) is disregarded and there is no restriction on clump height and width (Pollock).

Mini hostas are not only cute but also extremely versatile, with uses ranging from garden borders to rock gardens to containers. In this post I would like to focus on mini hostas in containers, which is my favorite way to display them. I use them in combination with other hosta varieties or with foliage plants such as heucheras and ferns. I also like experimenting with various container shapes and colors and natural materials such as rocks and moss for additional interest.

H. ‘Teaspoon’ (top), h. ‘Tears of Joy’ (bottom left) and h. ‘Cracker Crumbs’ (bottom right)

The right container will highlight the uniqueness of mini hostas, including their color, shape and size. It will also bring them closer to the eye level where their beauty would be easier to appreciate. A shallow, wide flower pot is an excellent choice for an effective display of an assortment of minis. The yellow shiny leaves of h. ‘Cracker Crumbs’ in the container above contrasts beautifully with the green foliage of the other two plants; h. ‘Teaspoon’ provides some height and highlights the size of h. ‘Tears of Joy’, which is tiny even by mini hosta standards. For additional interest, I used owl statuettes, rocks collected from the beach and moss from my yard.

Clockwise starting from the top: H. ‘Mediovariegata’, h. “Golden Needles’, h. ‘Pure Heart’, heuchera cultivar

Another way to display miniature hostas in containers is in combination with larger hosta varieties and other foliage plants. The orange color of the heuchera in the container above contrasts beautifully with the green and white of the larger hosta ‘Mediovariegata’. Miniature hostas ‘Pure Heart’ and ‘Golden Needles’ and moss complete the look.

Hosta ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ is not a miniature hosta by the standards of the American Hosta Society, but a small enough variety to be an excellent choice for container planting. Shown above are two ways to display it – solo in a pot of contrasting color or in combination with other shade-loving perennials, including heuchera, fern and ornamental grass.

Clockwise starting form the top of the first version of the container: the larger h. ‘Snake Eyes’, h. ‘Mini Skirt’, h. ‘Tears of Joy’, h. ‘Allan P. McConnel’, h. ‘Golden Needles’.

Shown above is a container arrangement with assorted hostas when first planted (left) compared to what it looked like a few weeks later after the plants grew (right). Notice the modifications to the arrangement. As the larger h. ‘Snake Eyes’ grew, I removed two of the four mini hostas from the container and replaced them with larger rocks. As you can see, your container does not have to stay the same throughout the season – do not be afraid to experiment and modify, if necessary.

Top of the pot: The taller hosta ‘Praying Hands’, is surround by h. ‘Blue Mouse Ears’. The side pockets are planted with h. ‘Blue Mouse Ears’ and ‘Lemon Lime’.

An interesting and uncommon way of displaying small and miniature hostas is in a strawberry pot. The container above was inspired by Carolyn Walker at Carolyn’s Shade Gardens whose blog I love and highly recommend. (You can see Carolyn’s strawberry pot here: https://carolynsshadegardens.com/2012/05/10/hosta-containers-and-companions/). It was my first attempt at displaying minis in containers and still one of my favorite.

I plant my pots each spring and dismantle them in the fall when I move the plants to the garden. This is the easiest way to overwinter hostas grown in container, although there are other methods such as storing your pots in an unheated garage or leaning them on their side in a protected area and covering them heavily with mulch until spring.

The small rock garden above was created using the plants from the strawberry pot with the addition of a few other minis, bleeding heart ‘King of Hearts’ and some rocks. You can see a comparison of this garden when first planted (left) versus a few years later when it was freshly redone (right).

I hope this post has given you some ideas and has convinced you that using mini hostas in containers is easy and fun.

Works Cited:

Pollock, Warren. “What’s a Mini Hosta? Upgrade, Critique & Where to Next?” The Online Hosta Journal, Vol. 41, Fall 2010, http://www.americanhostasociety.org/Publications/41/Contents.htm

Shadrack, Kathy Guest, and Michael Shadrack. The Book of Mini Hostas. Timber Press, Inc. 2010.

Best Perennials in My Shade Garden

(Gardening Zone 6b, Southeastern Massachusetts)

What a better way to start this blog than with an overview of some of the best perennials that I grow in my shade garden. These are all low maintenance, versatile plants with beautiful long-lasting blooms and foliage that provides multi-season interest. I plan on featuring each of these amazing perennials in future posts but wanted to give you a little sneak peek of what is to come.

Pulmonaria ‘Trevi Fountain’

Pulmonaria ‘Trevi Fountain’ is the star of my spring garden.

Bold cobalt-blue flowers attract hummingbirds and bees and last over a month in my spring garden. Once the blooms fade, they are replaced by large silver-spotted foliage that stays attractive until late fall. I grow my pulmonarias in a very shady spot accompanied by rhododendrons, hydrangea, hellebores, hostas and heuchera. Pulmonarias are an amazing care-free shade perennial that is inexplicably underused in the garden.

Tiarella (Foam Flower)

Airy bottlebrush flowers in spring are far superior than those of its cousin, the heuchera. Remove the spent flowers to encourage reblooming. Heuchera’s lovely foliage combines well with hostas and other shade perennials and stays ornamental until late fall.

Old Fashioned Bleeding Heart (Dicentra Spectabilis)

I grow three different varieties of bleeding hearts and the old fashioned pink variety is by far my favorite. A classic staple in the garden, this plant provides a cheerful reminder that spring is here with its graceful arching stems, heart-shaped blooms and fresh scent.

Variegated Solomon’s Seal

Variegated Solomon’s Seal is one of the easiest to grow and most versatile plants in my garden. It combines beautifully with anything else, thanks to its delicate color and elegant shape. As a bonus, its variegated foliage turns golden in fall providing late season interest. Tough as nails and rarely bothered by pests and disease, this is a plant that no shade garden should do without.

Hellebore

Hellebore ‘Ice Breaker Pico’

If I had to choose a single plant to grow in my garden, it would be the hellebore. I love everything about it – its gorgeous long-lasting blooms, evergreen foliage and unusual bloom time in winter. Hellebores provide beauty and joy in the garden while most everything else sleeps.

Astilbe

Plume-like flowers in a variety of colors brighten up my shade garden in early summer. The spent blooms look great combined with hydrangeas in dry arrangements. The delicate fern-like foliage of astilbes contrasts beautifully with the bold leaves of hostas which makes them excellent companions.

Hosta

H. ‘Fragrant Bouquet’ (middle); counterclockwise from top left: H. ‘Little Miss Sunshine’, H. ‘Waterslide’, H. ‘Little Miss Sunshine’, H. ‘Autumn Frost’

It is not surprising that hostas are among the the most commonly planted perennials in the garden. There are thousands of varieties on the market and new ones are being introduced all the time. I grow about 50 varieties (which is by no means considered a large collection) and my favorite are the small and miniature hostas due to their beauty and versatility.

What is your experience with the perennials featured in this post? What other amazing shade plants would you add to the list?