Archives For -Plant of the Week

PawPaw Fruit in July

One of the questions I get most often when people visit my garden is about my pawpaw tree. What is it? What are those weird potato looking fruits? What does pawpaw taste like?

PawPaw Flowers in Spring

I first came across the PawPaw tree (Asimina triloba) in my tropical garden phase about 7 years ago. Here was a plant that is totally native (to most of the eastern US), but had tropical qualities including a fruit I had never heard of! Fortunately at the Scott Arboretum plant sale (held every other year) they usually have small trees for sale. I patiently planted one almost 7 years ago and waited and waited. Meanwhile I had never actually tasted this custardy fruit (I went purely on the what I could find online).  About 4 years ago I finally got to taste one (from the Farmer’s Market in Reading Terminal). I bought it home and cut it open. It wasn’t as good as I was expecting. It was soft,  mushy and messy and it had giant seeds inside which made it even harder to eat. I thought that maybe I had made a mistake and I was going to end up with fruit that I didn’t actually like but took solace in the fact that it was a pretty tree. It wasn’t until another year when we got a lone pawpaw off of our tree (the squirrels ate a lot of the flowers in the spring). Again I thought the taste was okay, but not everything I hoped for. Finally last year, when we had 5 or 6 ripe fruits, I actually tasted one to my liking. I am pretty sure now that  I didn’t let it ripen enough. I had been waiting for them to be soft to the touch like a peach, but I think pawpaws are actually better once they are all brown and look like they are going bad. I cut one of my brown fruits up (thinking that I would probably be throwing it out)and tried it, and discovered that it was in fact quite tasty! It had a tropical flavor of a mix between a banana and a papaya I thought. Of course this was the last of my fruit for the year, so I have be anxiously awaiting this years fruit to see how it tastes! Fortunately this year it looks like we have about 20 or so fruits ripening.

PawPaw Tree in my yard

So why plant it? First of all because it is a lovely medium size native flowering tree (in fact the Zebra Swallowtail Butterfly only lays eggs on this type of tree). Secondly because it provide a fruit that you can’t buy at the store (or not normally at the Farmer’s Market either). I had one of the Amish farmers from our Farmer’s Market tell me last year that they keep the pawpaws to themselves and make pawpaw butter. Third it is really interesting tree and fruit and a good topic of conversation (interesting fact: it is the largest edible ingenious fruit in the US). Another benefit is that it is a really good source of vitamins.

In my research I discovered that it was an important source of food for the Native Americans and early settlers and that is was a popular tree on farms though out the US (Lewis and Clark wrote that they were quite fond of them as was Jefferson). It lost popularity in the last 75 years as produce began to be shipped. These potato looking fruits bruise easily and are not the most attractive looking specimen. Apparently there area lots of old farm cookbooks that have recipes.  The good news is that there is a small cult following of pawpaws. There is even an annual festival in Ohio every year. I found this interesting article which includes a recipe for PawPaw Ice Cream. I think I will be making some later this summer!

I have about 10 seeds saved in the fridge from last year. I am thinking of trying to grow them to see how many I can get to germinate. So please let me know if anyone is interested in giving one a try and I will send you a seed to grow yourself!

Here are a few more interesting PawPaw Links:

Kentucky State University PawPaw Program

PawPaw Lassi Recipe

NPR’s Food Blog: The Salt’s Story on the PawPaw


May 2011 Image w/ Bulb Rendering Including Allium 'Karataviense' (forground) and Nectaroscordum (background)

I spend a lot of time thinking of ways to add more color and a longer growing season to my garden.  My back shade garden (mostly part shade with some part sun towards the front) is the planting bed that I am the most satisfied with right now. It has a pretty long season of interest and changes throughout the season, but I  have not used bulbs in this area except for some snow drops that I have moved to this area over the years (from the lawn and other planting beds). I thought this year was a good time to try and some additional pops of color! I was originally inspired by this photo from Tovah at Plantswise.

Allium 'Karataviense' mixed w/ heuchera (coral bells)

I thought the combination of the shorter allium ‘karataviense; and coral bells was quite beautiful and unexpected! So when I ordered my bulbs this year I tried to think through this area is some detail. I’ve created several renderings over pictures of this garden to help highlight my new additions (since they are just bulbs in the ground right now).

Close Up of Allium 'Karataviense' in front and Nectaroscordum in the middle

To contrast the shorter allium I have also added some taller nectaroscordum to the middle of the bed. These have long stalks and the buds look interesting as well. The little nodding pinky flowers are quite unique.

Nectaroscordum from Brent and Becky's Bulbs

Allium 'Karataviense' from Brent and Becky's Bulbs

Also to add some interest to the planting bed earlier in the spring I have been working on adding more hellebores. Also I have added a bunch of Barr’s Purple Crocus (which the squirrels are not suppose to like). Here is a rendering of the garden earlier in March.

March 2011 w/ addition of Crocuses front and Hellebores middle

Barr's Purple Crocus

New Helleborus 'Golden Lotus' Strain of Winter Jewels (planted in Sept.)

This area is now all planted with the bulbs. Now I just need to finish planting my other bulbs in the front yard. Fingers crossed for a few more nice days!

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Toad Lily Buds & Flower

Toad Lily in my Shade Garden

Common Toad Lilies (Tricyrtis hirta)

Type: Perennial (Zones 4-9).

Light Requirements: Part Sun to Shade

Moisture/Soil: Average to wet moisture.

Blooms: Early to mid  fall. 36″ Tall.  Orchid like flowers are white with dark purple spots.

Leaves: Medium size pointy leaves on multiple arching stems.

Size: Height: 36″ Tall.

Additional Info: I bought my first toad lilies last year. I bought some big plants at an end of season sale and divided them and put them in the ground. They bloomed for a long time, during a period in fall when most plants are past their peak. This spring they all sprouted right back up and I have been anxiously waiting for them to bloom.

Pros: They are low maintenance and bloom when not much else is in bloom.

Cons: The bunnies have eaten the buds closer to the front of the border.

Origin: Not native to the US. Asia.

Varieties: There are a few varieties with several different flower colors including purple, white and yellow.

Plant Combinations: These look good paired with variegated hostas.

*The Plant of the Week is based on plants that do well in my 7a/6b garden in SE Pennsylvania.

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Shade Garden this Morning

I thought I would highlight the plants that I decided to purchase at the Scott Arboretum Plant Sale and Carolyn’s Shade Gardens. I am much pickier than I use to be in choosing new cultivars to add to the garden then I use to be. Qualities that I am always looking for include interesting variegated plants in both green/white/yellow and green/red/purple and a mix of plants that do well in dry sun (front yard) and part shade/shade (back yard). I am also a pretty lazy gardener so I like plants that generally take care of themselves and don’t require a lot of trimming and staking (of course I have been known to make an exception for something I really like). The one major weakness I have is for plants that have a tropical feel. I LOVE giant leaves and exotic flowers. That has lead me to own a number of hardy hibiscus and my beloved big leaf magnolia ashei. I have also tried several banana musa basjoos without much luck getting them to succeed and a number of cannas (which generally need to be lifted and brought inside in the winter).

My shade garden near the garage is looking pretty good these days, so for that area I am looking for a few plants to up the texture quotient and lengthen the growing season.

My Selections:

Carex muskingumensis 'Oehme' (just planted)

Carex muskingumensis ‘Oehme’:
I picked up two of these (one for my mom) at the Scott sale. These carex are suppose to do well in part sun to shade, but like good moisture. I like their loose, slightly wild look. These are native to the central US and get 18-24″ high. I planteed mine towards the back of the planting bed.

Tasselfern, which is suppose to be an evergreen (just planted)

Tasselfern (Polystichum polyblepharum):
I have several varieties of ferns. This one should do well in part to full shade (and likes constant moisture).  I liked the idea of one that was an evergreen since I am trying to add more winter interest to the garden. I picked up two at Carolyn’s Shade Gardens this week.

Hellebore: Helleborus 'Golden Lotus' Strain of Winter Jewels (just planted)

Golden Lotus Hellebore in bloom (picture from Carolyn's Shade Gardens)

Hellebore (Helleborus ‘Golden Lotus’ Winter Jewels)
I am in LOVE with Hellebores! They start to bloom quite early and the blooms last for months. The foilage is also evergreen. When I saw the email from Carolyn’s Shade Gardens (thanks to Stacey forwarding it to me) offering some relatively new varieties I was VERY excited. After a lot of debate I decided on 3 of the ‘Golden Lotus’ variety since I thought a white flower would stand out  in my shade garden.

Muhlenbergia capillaris (waiting to be planted in the front yard)

Pink Muhly Grass (image from landscapedia)


Pink Muhly Grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris)
For my front sunny, dry garden I am looking for a few plants to fill the middle of the beds and provide some height and texture. I saw these grasses listed in the Scott Sale Plant Directory and decided to give them a try. Right now they don’t look very exciting, but fingers crossed they will do well and provide some beautiful foilage and its pink plummage next year. This is another native grass and will hopefully adapt well here. Apparently it does better in slightly warmer clients but fingers crossed it will be okay here.

What are you planting this fall?

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I love bulbs! So easy to plant and then they show up in the spring and provide lots of colors. Sure the leaves look kind of bad by the middle of summer, but they are hard to beat for that jolt of spring color when the weather is still a bit chilly out. So, here is a round up of what I am planning on ordering. Let me know if you want to share on the order since it is always cheaper to buy in larger quantities! I am planning a big order from Brent and Becky’s Bulbs, my go to for most bulbs. They offer traditional bulb as well as some unique ones, and their selection and quality is hard to beat. I am determined to only buy bulbs that I have a place for, and stick to some more reliable varieties. I have had  mixed luck with some of the more exotic species.

I try to plant in October once the weather has cooled down, but have been known to be planting as late as early December. What is on your list?

Allium 'Karataviense' (mixed w/ heuchera)

Allium, 'Purple Sensation'

Allium 'Shubertii'

Allium 'Sphaerocephalon'


I have written about my love of alliums before. Here is what I am planning on ordering for my garden:

Allium ‘karataviense’: $39.50 for 50 ($.79 a bulb). I haven’t tried these but I LOVE the look of the combination above.

Allium ‘Purple Sensation’:$32 for 50 ($.64 a bulb). I have these in the front and side planting beds. I think some additional ones are needed for the backyard.

Allium ‘shurbertii’: $50.25 for 25 ($2.01 a bulb). These short bulbs are AMAZING. I need to move mine closer to the front of the boarded.

Allium ‘sphaerocephalon’ (drumstick): $24 for 100 ($.24 a bulb). Great for some summer color. I have some in my front yard. Stacey is going to plant some with her artemesia.

Nectaroscordum Bulgaricum

Nectaroscordum Bulgaricum: $24 for 50.  Not technically an allium, but very similar so I usually list these with the Allium. I LOVE these little bobbing flower heads. Plus the buds look beautiful before they pop open. They stand very upright at about 3′ high. Great for the back of the border.

Chionodoxa growing in my lawn

Chionodoxa (Glory of the Snow)

Chionodoxa ‘Forbesii’:$18 for 100. I am going to buy a LOT of these for the front yard and the back yard. The only problem with small bulbs like these is that I am always accidentally digging them up.

Tulip 'Flaming Purissima' Image from Plantswise

Tulip 'Turkestanica'


Tulip ‘Flaming Purissima’: $32.50 for 50. This is suppose to be a good naturalizing tulip. Tovah from Plantswise recommended these, so I feel like we must try some!

Tulip Turkestanica: $34 for 100. This is also suppose to naturalize. It is low growing with ground hugging foilage. These would be sweet in the front of a boarder, where later plants would take over in the summer. Back in the spring I was inspired by a display of some similar tulips at the Philadelphia Flower Show.

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Butterfly from this morning

One of my 2 original Butterfly Bushes

Same bush as above from the Kitchen window

One of the first things I planted when we moved into our house were 2 dark purple ‘black knight’ butterfly bushes (and a nikko blue hydrangea). I really wanted some butterflies in our pretty boring landscape and I heard that Buddleia grew quickly and were quite hardy. And sure enough the first year we planted them the butterflies showed up as soon as they started to flower! As I sit here, I have seen 3 pass by the window.

I have since expanded my collection (with some good and some not so good varieties). Now that I have a lot of other plant varieties in the yard, I don’t find the Buddleia quite as aesthetically appealing as I once did (although they do reliably bloom in July and August). They can look kind of rough towards the bottom (if possible I recommend underplanting them with some perennials). I also recommend cutting them back quite heavily (either in the fall or spring). The older branches tend to be less attractive and have a tendency to break over time. Also if left to grow unchecked mine have reached 15′ tall. If you want to avoid seedlings, cut back the spent blooms before they turn to seed. I have had a number of volunteer plants from the seeds (both in good and bad locations), but ultimately I keep them because I love the butterflies. It is interesting that these plants are not generally native to North America, but somehow they seem to be the butterflies favorite food! I have also added Orange Butterfly Weed to the garden as well as a number of other butterfly friendly plants, but I see the butterflies mostly choosing the butterfly bush.

Although they won’t make my Plant of the Week because they can look a little rough at other times of the year, I still highly recommend planting at least one, preferably where you can see it from a window. We have them planted so that you can see them from 2 of the kitchen windows and I get to enjoy the butterflies while I make dinner. Sometimes it is the little things that make you smile.

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'Purple Rain' Salvia before dividing with yucca roughly placed still in the pot

One of the two pots of divided salvia

Divided Salvia in new location w/ Yucca










I use to be afraid and too intimidated to divide my perennials. I started out a few years ago dividing hosta (when they would get too big for their spot). They are one of the easiest plants to divide.  Take them out with a spade (this typically requires lots of heavy lifting), remove them from the hole and divide with a big saw, making sure to leave some leaves and roots on each section. Alternately you can take a spade and try to chop off a section and leave a portion of the plant in its place. Hosta are typically quite strong and thrive on being divided. However with most other perennials I was nervous about killing the plants! The rest of my perennials I started dividing purely by accident. I would be moving a plant and discover that as I was digging it up to move to a new location that it could be easily split into several plants (at which point I couldn’t help myself). Typically, I try to leave one bigger plant (to try and ensure its survival) and plant the smaller ones in new locations (and discard any really woody or rotted portions). Now that I know more about a lot of my perennials, I have discovered that a number of perennials prefer to be divided (i.e. when you see the middle part dying out or the plant seems to have lost some of its vigor). One of my favorite activities is pulling up a plant and seeing how many plants I can get out of it! Depending on the plant, dividing is done with one of a couple of methods. The best way to determine how to divide it is to pull it out and carefully wash off the dirt. A number of plants can be divided by simply teasing apart the roots and sniping the plants apart (i.e. like Salvia). Woodier roots will require a saw or clippers (i.e like daylilies). Typically plants with tap roots should not be divided (i.e. the root looks like a carrot such as Baptisia). Fortunately if you aren’t sure it is very easy to look up what type of root most perennials have.  One downside to this is that the area where you pulled out the plant will look kind of sad for a while (which calls for dividing in early spring or the fall to minimize the bare spots during the prime garden season).

A couple of weeks ago I dug out one of my huge  ‘purple rain’ salvia to divide (and because I wanted to rearrange some of the plants in the bed). This time of year is not the ideal time to do this! Early/mid spring or fall is much easier on the plants (and requires less watering), but sometimes I need to divide in non-optimal times. So is the case with my salvia. When I dug the plant up, I managed to divide (by removing the dirt from the roots and pulling apart the roots, while leaving some leaves on each root) the plant into about 10 plants. I put a couple back near the original location, with my new Yucca and the rest into a couple of pots filled with compost. I added some compost to the the plants that I put back in the ground. I also cut back the flowers, so the plant would concentrate its efforts on it roots rather than its flowers. I also watered every other day (when it didn’t rain) for the first week and a couple of times a week for the first month or so. Whenever I do something like this I hope for about a 75% success rate. I have found that it is unrealistic to assume that all of the plants will take (especially this time of year). However, less than 2 weeks later I have new leaves starting to grow at the base of all but one of the plants! Today I am going to chop off the older larger leaves and stems down to the new leaves.

So don’t be afraid, go out and divide and make more plants! Happy gardening!


'Purple Rain' Salvia paired w/ ice plants and coreopsis in a dry sunny bed adjacent to the driveway

'Purple Rain' paired w/ Bearded Irises and Autumn Joy Sedum

Close up of Flower Stem

‘Purple Rain’ Salvia verticillata (Lilac Sage, Whorled Clary )

Type: Perennial (Zones 4-9).

Light Requirements: Full Sun

Moisture/Soil: Average moisture.

Blooms: Early summer (reblooms in fall if cutback after first bloom). Tall 18″-24″  floppy spikes with beautiful of purple flowers that tend to cluster in balls (the more sun the taller the spikes tend to be)

Leaves: Large soft fuzzy green oval shaped leaves that form in a mound.

Size: Height: 18″-24″ tall and wide. It is a soft untidy mound.

Divided 'Purple Rain' waiting in compost to be replanted (they look sad but they should perk up pretty soon)

Additional Info: Not only is this my favorite salvia and is one of my Top 10 perennial for my garden (I also grow ‘May Night’ which has darker purple flowers and is more upright). I love the untamed cottage garden feel that they have. I also like the soft leaves.   Mine tend to like to be divided every 3 years or so. If not the middle will tend to open up and not look as good.

Pros: They are low maintenance and the butterflies, bees and birds love them. Will typically rebloom if flower heads are cut off after initial bloom. These can also be divided quite easily after a couple of years (I just divided 1 very large plant into about 10 plants). Deer and rabbits typically don’t like Salvia.  They also make a good cut flower.

Cons: If you don’t like “natural” or “wild” look then this plant is not for you.

Origin: Not native to the US. Europe/Asia.

Varieties: There are a number of varieties of salvia to choose from. Here are a few of my favorites:

‘May Night’ has nice dark purple/blue flowers.

‘Caradonna’ has a medium purple flower.

‘Snow Hill’ is a white salvia.

‘Marcus’ is a dwarf version (more like a ground cover).

Plant Combinations: These look good paired with small grasses and taller more erect plants. Also looks great with orange and yellow lilies like Stella de Oro. I also just planted some with a Yucca.

*The Plant of the Week is based on plants that do well in my 7a/6b garden in SE Pennsylvania.

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Magnolia asheii in bloom (5/16/2011)

Magnolia Ashei w/ perennials

Magnolia Ashei leaf

Plant of the Week: Big leaf Magnolia, Ashe Magnolia
(Magnolia ashei or Magnolia macrophylla subsp. ashei)


Type: Small Tree  (Zones 6-9).

Light Requirements: Full Sun to Part Shade (Mine is in part-sun but it can be planted as an under story tree)

Moisture/Soil: Average moisture. Sheltered locations help protect the leaves from fraying.

Blooms: Giant white flowers w/ pink accent (6″-10″ wide) late spring to early summer (mine just finished blooming). Also has red burrs after flowering.

Leaves: GIANT Green leaves (up to 24″ long). Have a unique prehistoric look.

Size: Height & Width: 10′-15′ (In tends to grow more upright in sunny locations  and wider in shady spots.)

Additional Info: I purchased mine at the Scott Arboretum Plant Sale 4 years ago. It has grown about 18″ since then. I think it is very unique and interesting. It has grown sideways as much as upright (looking for the sun). When people visit the garden they always comment on the giant leaves.

Pros: Unique specimen plant. Beautiful leaves. It flowers at a younger age than its larger cousin.

Cons: Fairly slow growing. Not for a windy location.

Origin: Native to the Florida panhandle (it is very rare in nature). Its bigger cousin Magnolia macrophylla is native to the the SE US (Carolinas through Florida).

If you are looking for a larger tree I recommend the Magnolia Macrophylla which can grow 50′ tall and wide (and has leaves up to 3′ long). This tree has the largest leaves of any native tree in the eastern US. There is one down the street from me that must be at least 50 years old and it is fabulous!

*The Plant of the Week is based on plants that do well in my 7a/6b garden in SE Pennsylvania.


Native Honeysuckle, variety 'Blanche Sandman'

Buds just before they flowered

On Deck Railing


Native Honeysuckle (Lonicera Sempervirens) also known as
Trumpet Honeysuckle or Coral Honeysuckle

This is NOT Asian Honeysuckle (that you see taking over many shrubs and yards). This is also NOT Trumpet Creeper (which can be more aggressive then these Honeysuckles).

Type: Perennial Vine  (Zones 4/5-9/10).
Light Requirements: Full to Part Sun (some will work in Part Shade)
Moisture/Soil: Average moisture. Once established can take some drought.
Blooms: Late spring to early summer and often continues to bloom on and off again for the rest of the season. It has a LONG bloom season. Different varieties come in coral, reds, oranges, yellows and pink. Then it gets berries in the fall, which are also attractive.
Leaves: Green (looses them in the winter  but stay on through the fall).
Size: Length: 10′-20′
Additional Info: I grow several coral and orange colored ones on my deck railing in full sun. I bought mine at a native plant sale at Bartrum Gardens. I have also picked up some at the Scott Arboretum plant exchange. There were a lot there and I tried to convince a couple of people to try them out. Here is a useful link to a story from Dave’s Garden: Native American Honeysuckle.

Pros: They are very low maintenance and can take a good haircut. Bees, butterflies  and hummingbirds love them! Does well in my clay soil. Deer resistant.

Cons: Most don’t have a nice fragrance.  They can be too aggressive for some “dainty” applications. I would say that the growth is faster in the wet spring and then moderate to little the rest of the season. I’ve heard it can get mildew, but I haven’t had this problem

Origin: I am focusing on the US native cultivars.

'Blanche Sandman' Variety

Possibly 'Major Wheeler' Variety



‘Blanche Sandman’ - This form has orange-red blooms that are produced even after the initial flush. It is resistant to leaf diseases. I believe this is the one I have.

‘Gold Flame’ (Zones 5-9) (Lonicera x heckrottii) which is a cross between Lonicera L. sempervirens (American) and Lonicera Americana (a European variety) is pink with yellow inside a has the fragrance that I love from the Asian Honeysuckle without being invasive. Reports are that it is more prone to powdery mildew and aphids.

‘Alabama Crimson’ -  Bright red flowers – a cultivar that is becoming very common.

‘Cedar Lane’ – A deep red-flowering form, this plant produces abundant bloom. It is less prone to leaf diseases.

‘John Clayton’ – Becoming more popular in the trade, this selection bears clear yellow blooms that repeat throughout the season.

‘Sulphurea’ (also known as ‘Flava’) – This form features profuse bright yellow blooms and bright green foliage.

‘Major Wheeler’: Coral (pinky red) on the outside and orange on the inside.

‘Dropmore Scarlet’ -  Bright Red.

‘Alba’- White.

Interesting Pairings: I made the mistake of planting invasive honeysuckle with some butterfly bushes in the front yard. It was totally my fault because I ordered it from ebay and they were suppose to send me the native honeysuckle. At the time (7 years ago or so) I wasn’t as experienced with these plants. I think these however would look great planted with butterfly bushes, providing a longer season of color and a nice contrast to the purple flowers of a butterfly bush.

*The Plant of the Week is based on plants that do well in my 7a/6b garden in SE Pennsylvania.

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