Tag Archives: Acanthus ‘Summer Beauty’

Acanthus Summer Beauty

In the past year, because of damaging storms and drought, it seems my garden story has been more about failure than success.  So I’m excited to show you this cluster of Acanthus Summer Beauty, which survived March and April’s crazy temperature fluctuations to produce an amazing 15 bloom spikes.

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Acanthus Summer Beauty

The group, planted near the front door to add textural interest to the green garden designed to soften a large expanse of asphalt driveway, includes three plants that have knitted together to make a handsome show.

Imported from China by Chet Tompkins of Oregon, the hybrid is believed to be a cross between A. mollis and A. spinosus. Of all acanthus species and hybrids, this one holds up best in our hot summer climate.

A close look shows the complexity of individual flowers, which have been described as “a little frog-like creature hiding under a hood (calyx) and holding up a white hanky.”

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Look a little closer…

Winter or summer, everyone is curious about this plant.  It’s a beauty, don’t you think?  

This quick post, like many others in recent months, is a quick hello and goodbye.  Just home from an event in Minnesota, I’m frantically repacking for an afternoon departure for a long-planned garden tour to the Netherlands and Belgium with some of my favorite travel friends.  Hope I can post a few photos…and will plan to catch up with you soon.

Tot ziens voor nu!

 

 

 

Birdwatching

Though the feeders at home attract a wide range of bird species for our enjoyment, Tim and I had the thrill of getting a close look at bald eagles in Alaska this week, where we celebrated our 35th wedding anniversary.  On Thursday, with our cruise ship docked in Ketchikan, we visited Clover Pass Marina where a wildlife expedition provided an opportunity to observe an eagle pair on the nest.  While the smaller male guarded the hatchlings, the female was tempted close to our Zodiac by a gift of herring tossed into the bay by the boat captain.

Pair of nesting eagles near Clover Pass Marina; the female observes our approach.  The nest is at bottom center, the male is just a few feet above, shrouded by foliage.

Pair of nesting eagles near Clover Pass Marina; the female observes our approach. The nest is at bottom center, the male is just a few feet above, shrouded by foliage.

Swooping in for the fish...

Swooping in for the fish…

Almost there...

Almost there…

Got it!

Got it!

Keeping Plants Snug & Warm in Frigid Weather

When I stepped outdoors around 7 o’clock to walk the dogs this morning, the air temperature was 11 degrees F and today’s high is predicted to reach only the freezing point before we plunge into bitter cold again. Recently, I read this winter is the coldest in two decades, but I’m not sure that’s true. I simply can’t remember another winter in South Carolina as cold as this one. And next week doesn’t look any better.

On January 8th, during the Polar Vortex, I visited the South Carolina Botanical Garden in Clemson and found some of the most tender plants near the Bob Campbell Geology Museum covered with tents.

Heated tents protect tender plants at SCBG.

Heated tents protect tender plants at SCBG.

SCBG’s Director, Patrick McMillan (also host of the Emmy-award winning ETV nature program Expeditions), was on hand, so I had the opportunity to get a close look at measures taken to protect the collection of dry-climate plants. Patrick was particularly concerned about Lithops, commonly called living stones, a species native to South Africa. Interestingly, Lithops evolved into its stone-like shape as camouflage from hungry animals.

Patrick McMillan checking the plant collection, including Lithops, which is under cover in the lower right corner of the photo.

Patrick McMillan checking the plant collection, including Lithops, which is under cover in the lower right corner of the photo.

Safe and sound.

Safe and sound.


Patrick used a hanging basket filled with leaves to provide insulation around the treasured plant. When the basket was lifted and the leaves moved to the side, Lithops was discovered safe and sound.

I adopted Patrick’s method in my garden a few days ago when the weather took another turn for the worst, using 3-gallon pots and dry leaves to protect ‘Summer Beauty’ Acanthus. In past years the foliage had survived winter with only slight damage from the cold, but the Polar Vortex did it in. Fingers crossed that the crown of these plants will make it through and live to grow and bloom again.

Acanthus 'Summer Beauty' under wraps.

Acanthus ‘Summer Beauty’ under wraps.

Acanthus 'Summer Beauty', June 2, 2013.

Acanthus ‘Summer Beauty’, June 2, 2013.

Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day—May 15, 2013

After an extended period of cool and rainy weather, the end of spring appears to be in sight. The 10-day forecast for the Upstate shows high temperatures between 80 to 87 degrees F and only an occasional chance for an afternoon thunderstorm.

In my garden, where shade dominates, winter and spring are the primary seasons for blooms. Even still, there are a handful of flowers worth sharing now.

'Summer Beauty', a hybrid of Acanthus mollis and Acanthus spinosus.

‘Summer Beauty’, a hybrid of Acanthus mollis and Acanthus spinosus.

Chief among these is Acanthus ‘Summer Beauty’. This hybrid plant was chosen for a feature spot near the front door, where its attractive foliage adds year-round interest. Bloom spikes, which began to appear about 6 weeks ago, now stand 5-feet tall. Along each stalk, white blooms peek from under a purple hood (calyx).

Blooms of Summer Beauty peek from under hoods.

Blooms of Summer Beauty peek from under hoods.

Other flowers in the ornamental garden (which circles the house) include a native wisteria ‘Amethyst Falls’ (W. frutescens) and columbine ‘Crystal Star’ (Aquilegia caerulea). A number of hydrangeas are also beginning to show their stuff, including this bigleaf hydrangea (H. macrophylla).

'Amethyst Falls'

‘Amethyst Falls’

'Crystal Star' is a vigorous performer with long spurs.  (Note: the foliage in this photo is iris.)

‘Crystal Star’ is a vigorous performer with long spurs. (Note: the foliage in this photo is iris.)

Hydrangea macrophylla

Hydrangea macrophylla

In the woodland garden, eye-catching Rhododendron is in its glory, but it is the shy Jack-in-the-Pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) that is the superstar.

Rhododendron

Rhododendron

Jack-in-the-Pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum)

Jack-in-the-Pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum)

To see what’s blooming in the rest of the world visit the host of Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day—Carol at May Dreams Gardens.

End of Month View–April 30, 2013

This post, by suggestion of Helen at The Patient Gardener’s Weblog, is a fine example of what a difference a few weeks can make in the spring garden. Just compare these two photos, taken on Thursday, April 4, and today, Tuesday, April 30.

Thursday, April 4

Thursday, April 4

Tuesday, April 30

Tuesday, April 30

Acanthus 'Summer Beauty'

Acanthus ‘Summer Beauty’

I have to admit, however, all the credit goes to Mother Nature. I’ve been so busy in the past month, you can see I haven’t even managed to blow away the catkins falling from the oak trees.

Of special note are the growing bloom stalks of the Acanthus ‘Summer Beauty’, with the tallest standing roughly two-thirds of their mature height of six feet. A few among the two dozen spikes are just beginning to display a peek of white flower under a blushing hood.

Autumn fern (Dryopteris erythrosora)

Autumn fern (Dryopteris erythrosora)

New foliage on the autumn fern and fatsia are also worth admiring. And lucky for me, and any visitor who drops by in May, each tip of the Confederate jasmine holds the promise of flowers that will soon perfume the garden with their spicy, sweet scent.

Fatsia (F. japonica)

Fatsia (F. japonica)

Confederate jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides)

Confederate jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides)

Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day–April 2013

Spring has sprung in the Upstate! Although we had frost just two weeks ago, temperatures soared into the low 80’s three days last week before a Thursday night thunderstorm restored normal conditions. April averages include a high of 72 and low of 47 with 3.9 inches of rain. Today, April 15, is our average last frost date.

Spring’s riot can’t be captured in a few photos, but here’s a choice sample of blooms.

The view from my front window includes two spring favorites, Spanish bluebells (Hyacinthoides hispanica) and the dwarf bugleweed ‘Chocolate Chip’ (Ajuga x). This ajuga speads quickly but is not an invasive self-sower like many of it’s kin.

Spanish bluebells (Hyacinthoides hispanica) and Ajuga 'Chocolate Chip' (Ajuga x)

Spanish bluebells (Hyacinthoides hispanica) and Ajuga ‘Chocolate Chip’ (Ajuga x)

There are close to a dozen types of evergreen azaleas in this garden. All predate me and though some put on a pretty show for a couple weeks, I plan to rejuvenate or reclaim some beds. These Kurume azaleas, with their tiny leaves and twiggy structure, are likely to be replaced with newer cultivars or other woody ornamentals.

Kurume azaleas

Kurume azaleas

Lilac ‘Betsy Ross’ is more to my liking. ‘Betsy Ross’, from a breeding program at the US Arboretum, is one of the very best lilacs for the South. Blooms, which remind me of lace curtains fluttering in the breeze, offer the sweet fragrance that make lilacs one of the garden’s most memorable plants.

Lilac 'Betsy Ross'

Lilac ‘Betsy Ross’

The nine or so bloom spikes on Acanthus ‘Summer Beauty’ are beginning to pop above the 30-inch tall foliage. When mature, they will stand six-feet tall and sport white flowers shaded by purple hoods.

Acanthus 'Summer Beauty'

Acanthus ‘Summer Beauty’

I hope you can provide a name for this iris, given to me by a friend last spring. I believe she called it “walking iris” but it’s not similar to anything on the internet with that common name. The lovely white crested iris (Iris cristata ‘Alba’) is also in bloom and the planting has doubled its size since last year. I adore white flowers in a shade garden, but they don’t always photograph well, so you’ll have to use your imagination.

Mystery iris...do you know its name?

Mystery iris…do you know its name?

Solomon’s Seal is a great favorite and I’ve planted all three species: the large Polygonatum odoratum (including ‘Variegatum’ and the more rare ‘Red Stem’), the much smaller dwarf P. humile, and the native P. biflorum.

Variegated Solomon's Seal (Polygonatum odoratum 'Variegatum')

Variegated Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum odoratum ‘Variegatum’)

In the woodland garden, the Carolina Silverbell (Halesia carolina) is the current superstar. Blooms are much bigger than last year, perhaps because the invasive ivy has been removed. Sweet Betsy trilliums (T. cuneatum) are still in bloom and have been joined by Mayapples (Podophyllum peltatum) and Sweetshrub (Calycanthus floridus).

Carolina Silverbell (Halesia carolina)

Carolina Silverbell (Halesia carolina)

Sweet Betsy Trillium (T. cuneatum)

Sweet Betsy Trillium (T. cuneatum)

Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum)

Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum)

Sweetshrub (Calycanthus floridus)

Sweetshrub (Calycanthus floridus)

Sweetshrub has a number of common names, including “bubbie bush.” If you think there’s a story there, you’re right. In days gone by Appalachian women often picked the fragrant flowers of the shrub and tucked them into their décolletage.

To see what’s blooming in the rest of the world visit the host of Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day, Carol at May Dreams Gardens.

Revamping the Foundation Planting

It’s been a week since I said I would show the new garden, so I guess you’ve noticed I’m dragging my feet. To tell the truth, it’s been a lot harder to pull my thoughts together than I expected and I’m not sure why. Perhaps it’s because shade gardening is a new medium for me and I’m not confident in my vision.

In fact, more than anything, I’m flying by the seat of my pants. After spending a lot of time reading about shade gardens and going through my photo library to pinpoint what I like about them, I’ve put all that aside to follow my instincts.

So, here we go!

Foundation planting before renovation, September 2010

Foundation planting before renovation, September 2010

As you can see, the areas on either side of the front door are relatively small because the sweeping driveway adjoins the front stoop. As you look to the right of the door, the “before” planting included Trachelospermum jasminoides (Confederate jasmine) on the wall, Loropetalum chinense (Chinese fringe) under the windows, a Hibiscus syriacus (Rose of Sharon) and a hodgepodge of roses and sun-loving perennials at the front of the bed, an Acer japonicum (fullmoon Japanese maple) in the right corner, and an abundance of weeds, especially pokeweed, which I soon discovered has a very long tap root.

After renovation, April 2013.

After renovation, April 2013.

In the revamp, I chose to focus on texture, rather than color or bloom. I made this choice, in part, because my gut told me the hardscape needed to be softened and the house, which looked like it floated on a sea of asphalt, could be better grounded. Since lawn was impractical, Ophiopogon japonicus (mondo grass) was the logical solution.

Two of the original plants, the Confederate jasmine and the fullmoon Japanese maple, were utilized in the new design and give it instant maturity. In addition to the ornamental grass, a pool of Dryopteris erythrosora (autumn fern) was planted under the maple, three stately Buxus sempervirens (common boxwood) were added in front of the windows, and a Fatsia japonica (fatsia or Japanese aralia) was planted at the corner of the house.

Finally, for feature interest, Acanthus ‘Summer Beauty’ was added near the stoop. This hybrid grows well in the South and will bloom in summer with 6-foot tall stalks of white flowers with hood-like purple bracts.

Last month, I commissioned two identical metal trellises for either side of the windows. One will replace the plastic support under the Confederate jasmine and the other will provide a frame for ‘Applejack’, a shade-tolerant Buck rose that can be grown as a short climber. ‘Applejack’, lightly fragrant with the scent of apples and cloves, has perky pink single blooms.

Though the garden is shady, this area does get some hot sun in the middle of the day. I’m not sure the rose will be a success, but figure it’s worth a try.

Initially, I planned to add Aspidistra elatior (cast iron plant) behind the boxwood shrubs. Now, however, I’m afraid they would be sunburned. (What do you think? Do you have a suggestion for an alternative?) If I don’t come up with something interesting, I may plant more mondo grass.

Dry creek bed, in progress, March 2012.

Dry creek bed, in progress, March 2012.

One other thing that may have caught your eye is the dry creek bed. When I cleared the bed, I found a drainage grate in the center of the space. Knowing I would always struggle to keep the grate open if storm water flowed over a mulched bed, I decided to make life easy by channeling the water. The dry creek works like a charm, adds an extra point of interest, and relaxes the formality of the planting scheme.

Left of stoop prior to renovation, September 2010.

Left of stoop prior to renovation, September 2010.

Similar changes were made to the left side of the front stoop. There is one noticeable difference, however. A ‘Jane’ magnolia, too large and spreading under the eaves of the house, was replaced by an upright Stewartia pseudocamellia (Japanese stewartia).

Front stoop, April 2013.

Front stoop, April 2013.

The stoop itself is ornamented with a collection of ceramic pots that are planted with seasonal ornamentals, a birdbath, and a wicker rocker.

September 2010

September 2010

Glorious spring, 2012.

Glorious spring, 2012.