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I like plants that are highly tolerant of all kinds of things – heat, cold, full sun, deep shade, and not-so-delicate moves from place to place in the garden. I’m in the Northeast US (New Jersey, for people who haven’t explored the site enough yet to know) and these plants served me well in the packed soil of northern NJ as well as here in the sandy soil close to the shore. I’ll tell you a little about each one under its picture.
This is sedum. It’s a perennial succulent that comes in a few varieties. There are a couple of things I particularly like about this plant. This one flowers in the fall, clumps of tiny flowers where you see the green buds, so it’s a little color when everything else is fading. It’s very tolerant of being moved, and you can also propagate it with almost no effort. Snap off a branch. Take a few leaves off the bottom. Stick the branch in the ground and water it daily until it takes root (you can tell because it’ll look perkier and start to grow towards the light.) The next spring, it’ll grow bigger and look like a real plant. Another benefit is that the pulp inside the leaves relieves the itch of poison ivy or insect bites immediately. Take off a leaf and peel it, rub it on the spot, and you’re all better.
These are also sedum, but they’re creepers usually referred to as rockcress. They’re just as easy to move and propagate as the taller sedum, but I haven’t checked to see if they’re medicinal. I have so many tall sedum I never needed to try.
Hostas. . .I just love these, almost every kind. They put up with all kinds of soil conditions, thrive in even full shade, don’t beg for water, and survive all kinds of abuse. Want more hostas? Dig it up (don’t worry about damaging the roots too much) shake off the dirt, and cut the root into as many pieces as you want with a sharp knife. They’ll look kind of sparse for a few weeks, but fill in quickly, and become full size often before winter comes. Definitely the next spring. Check the sizes, though. There are some hostas that are smaller than a head of boston lettuce, and some that are ginormous. If they get too big, dig out the outside edges, and make new plants out of them. Or give them away. I hate to throw out a good hosta. They’re not invasive in the sense that they send out new plants, but even when they invade by growing in too big a footprint, it’s really easy to correct.
Creeping Jenny comes in this yellow green, and a plain green green. It’s invasive in that it spreads, but it sends down such shallow roots that it’s easy to control. It’s great on slopes or in between rocks. It’s kind of like giant creeping thyme, in that it covers faster, but can still be stepped on without taking much damage at all. Root cuttings in water, then plant.
On the left are daylilies (hemerocallis) and on the right are oriental lilies (lilium) They’re both easy to move and propagate, but they’re quite different apart from both being called lilies. Daylilies have corms, which are root clumps that are kind of fingerlike, with smaller rootlets coming from the base. You can cut the corms apart, but you need to cut between stems, so you have to wait to divide them until sprouting has begun. After they’ve been dug up or divided, they won’t bloom until the next year, so if you’re intent on having flowers, wait until fall. Oriental lilies are bulbs. Each bulb sends up a single stem, with the leaves coming from the stem and sometimes as many as five flowers at the top. Again, you can move them, but wait until fall if you want flowers. When you dig them up, you’ll see the tiny baby bulbs coming off the side of the main bulb. If the bulbs are too small, you’ll get stunted little stems the first year, but don’t despair, because they’ll grow and become real lilies the next year, and keep getting bigger. The daylilies can be repeat bloomers, but only if you pick off the pods that grow after the flower dies off – and only if they are the right variety, and they feel like it. It’s OK, the foliage is nice. Orientals also might or might not rebloom (more likely not, though) and while their foliage is nothing to write home about, most of them have wonderful fragrance. (Again, check that if you’re buying new plants. Some hybrids are scentless. Boo, hiss.) I’ve had both kinds doing well anywhere from full sun to partial shade, differing only in when and how much they flower – but they still all flower. Pretty drought tolerant, but they also do well in the wettest NJ weather, as long as they have some decent drainage.
Ferns. . .mmmm. This is a Japanese Painted Fern, and it costs more than most other ferns in nurseries. However, it propagates just as easily. I have about five varieties of ferns in my yard (maybe six) and I love them all. Out of all my favorites, though, ferns are the most delicate. When you dig up or divide a fern, you never know how well it will work. Sometimes it thrives. Sometimes it dies outright. And sometimes you only think it died, and it surprises you by appearing one or two years later. Despite what you learned about spores in high school biology, ferns spread through the roots more than anything. That means they can be invasive, but since those roots are so persnickety, yanking up the unwanted offspring usually takes care of the problem. While they prefer shade and moisture, they won’t die off in partial sun, and when they look underwatered you have plenty of time to drench them and save them from death. When you plant a piece of root, look at the way the rootlets come off – they’ll all be heading off pretty much in one direction. Lay the root in the ground horizontally with the rootlets going down, because the ferns grow up off the opposite side.
Perennial grasses are both a blessing and a curse. They really are pretty in places, and they grow rapidly. In addition, you can hack the root balls into pieces and make many more grasses with almost no mortality. The problem is. . .they grow rapidly. They get friggin’ huge in no time at all, and that root ball is tenacious and tough. It can go from that little 10-inch pot to the size of a small Volkswagen in a few years, and nothing short of a backhoe is going to get it out. If that’s what you want, you’re in luck. Otherwise, make a habit of digging it up regularly and getting the root ball back to a reasonable size. The dried foliage looks nice in winter, too, but cut it as low as you can in the early spring, before any green shows, or you’ll have grass around an empty center.
I know some people who hate forsythia. I don’t, unless it’s overdone – it happens a lot because it’s so cheap. Even so, there’s no reason to buy a whole bunch unless you have an immediate need for a full-size plant. See the baby forsythia next to its mommy (so sweeeet!!)? You cut a new growth branch in the spring. Stick it in the ground. Water it. There ya go. I love the yellow flowers in the spring because it’s one of the more reliable weather predictors. You can let it grow huge, cut it back, even prune it into a shape. Mommy plant on the left, there, is thriving despite the fact that this is the third place she’s been planted in the last two years.
The plant with the pink flowers is Gaura, or Ballerina Flower. It comes in three different pink varieties, comes back every year, and self-seeds. Plant one or two where you want a lot of them. Pull up the ones you don’t want, the roots won’t give you much resistance, or dig them and give them to friends. They transplant easily, and will flower most of the summer whether they’ve been moved or not.
Rhododendron is a long-term investment. They grow really, really slowly, but they live forever, and survive pruning, severe cutting back, and even, as with this one, trampling and breaking by construction guys. Propagating them isn’t hard, but it’ll take a long time for one you propagate to turn into an appreciable tree. This one started on its own. A low branch got buried. The branch took root in a couple of places. I cut the branch, so I’ll have a good size starter rhody from the end on the left, and the inset shows the growth coming from the center, which was also cut away from the main tree. This one is an unusual deep violet, so I want it in more than one place in the yard. Rhododendrons and azaleas are both tolerant of anything from full sun to partial shade (full shade limits blooming) and keep their leaves all winter. Cutting away top or outside growth encourages new shoots from the center, and snapping off those spiky things left over from the flowers will give you more flowers next year, and fewer shoots coming from the very ends of branches.
Speaking of azalea. . .this is just something I finally noticed, since I inherited a lot of things with nice leaves and no flowers. On the left is azalea. Notice how the stems come off a larger stem in kind of a finger-like pattern? The boxwood (we also have japanese holly, similar leaves, lower growing habit) has branches in more of a right-left, right-left pattern off the larger stems. The azalea can handle transplanting, just don’t plant it too deeply. Pruning it will give you thicker growth and a more regular pattern of flowers, but you don’t have to prune it to get flowers. The boxwood and japanese holly spread by roots, but are much more picky about being moved, so you need to avoid cutting into the roots if you don’t want them to die on you. Me, I don’t care much if they die, I have plenty. Eh. At least they’re evergreens.
This is another love/hate plant. Euonymus, with the variegated leaves, trying to hide under the ferns, can be trained, but needs constant supervision. It spreads aboveground, sinking roots everywhere it comes in contact with soil. It will take over and choke out other plants, but at the same time it can be a ground cover, or a shrub, or be trained on a trellis or fence. It’s tolerant of all kinds of light and moisture, and you can make more by cutting off rooted shoots, or by rooting cuttings in water. If you want to move it, you don’t have to be particularly careful about damaging the roots, but any left behind might sprout. It is pretty in the shade, though, or peeking out from uniformly green foliage.
Sometimes you can buy plants from the produce section of the grocery store. The grassy plant to the left is lemon grass, which didn’t even have the root bulb, much less roots, when I stuck it in the dirt. The lower plant in the front is mint, rooted in water from a bunch I bought for a recipe. A pot is a good place for it, since mint is highly invasive. Inside the red circle is cilantro, which started off as a coriander seed from a spice bottle. It doesn’t look like something that would grow, but it does, almost every time.
We saw some incredible arbors loaded with Tumpet Vine at Grounds for Sculpture, and up until then, we considered our neighbor’s a nuisance. Yeah, it climbs, it grows fast, it comes back every year. . .but it seeds itself, and leaves behind all kinds of dead stuff that has to be cut back. Well, the inset shows one of the babies in our yard, and once we’ve got a good support for it, we’ll move it somewhere and take better care of it. The neighbors’ vine? Eh. I’ll trim it eventually.
In a yard full of perennials and self-seeding annuals, full of easy-care, tough-as-nails plants, why is there this crocosmia? Because I love crocosmia. If I move it, it might not live. It’s OK with limited water, but can get particular about too much sunlight. Part sun is better than part shade, full sun or shade is right out. Plus, squirrels like it even more than they like tulips. It has to be planted under a sheet of chicken wire, or the critters will dig it right up. And if the chicken wire is wire, the plants don’t like it, so use plastic. *sigh* It’s just so darned pretty, though.
I don’t think I mentioned that I love dual-duty plants, too. I bought this purple Elephant Ear (colocasia, I think. Correct me if I’m wrong. . .) for an indoor/outdoor potted plant. Next thing I know, I see a plant at a pond store, submerged. Same latin name, so I figure, let’s see if it works. I sunk a trowel into the pot and hacked off a few leaves and a clump of root, put it in a perforated pot, and stuck it in the pond. Whaddaya know?! The plant is growing a bit more slowly in the pond, but that’s partly because the fish find it tasty. Now that other tasty stuff is growing, it’s doing much better. I hope to bring the monster pot into the house in winter, but now I know that if I can’t find a spot for the whole thing, I can overwinter a smaller part of it in a smaller pot.
This is an old standby everyone should recognize, Dracaena Janet Craig, or Corn Plant. I’ve known very few people who could kill this thing. Did you know that you can lop off the top, stick it in a pot of dirt, and both the stump and the cutting will grow into plants with very little trouble? Did you also know that you can lop off a hunk off the bottom of the hunk you lopped off, and even if it’s nothing but a stick, with no roots or leaves, it’ll grow into a new plant if you stick it in dirt and water it? It’s very happy outdoors for the summer, too.
This is water celery, even though I named the jpeg water lettuce. This particular bi-color variety is available in water garden stores, but if you have an Asian Grocery near you, you can find a plain green one in the produce aisle. Stick it in the pond, it’ll take root and come back year after year. Or root it in water and plant it in the ground someplace a little shady, and it’ll grow in the soil and come back year after year. I never did cook with it. . .
The tall plant in the front. . .cattails. Hardy, perennial, overwinter in pond. They can be divided up in spring if they’re crowded in the pot or if you want to share. Just don’t plant them in a soil-bottom pond, they’re invasive. A perforated pot lets the roots spread out but keeps the plant itself contained. All over the top is water hyacinth. Start off very early in the Spring with a few plants, and soon you have a lot of cover for the fish (protection from heat and predators!) and they’re a tasty snack, as well. They send off shoots in all directions, which you can break apart to make new clumps or share. The water lilies are a hardy variety, and like irises grow out of rhizomes. Sort of like potatos, they sprout eyes, and in spring you can separate the rhizome between the “eyes” and make new plants. Also like irises, they don’t like to be too deep in the soil. Unlike irises, they are tasty to fish, so you need to cover them with something Lay the rhizome section on some clay soil, cover just the rootlets, and put small stones all over the top. I don’t even move these to the bottom of the pond, just leave them where they are, and they come back just fine. The sword-like leaves in the back are water iris. Funny thing – you can plant water iris in regular soil, but you can’t put regular iris in the water. You can otherwise treat it the same – plant it with the rhizome lying horizontally, cover the rootlets with soil, protect it from fish and floating away with some stones. Like regular iris, if you divide it before it flowers, you’ll have to wait until next year for blooms. The fluffy thing in the back is cyperus. This is my first year with it, so I can’t tell you how well it’ll hold up to my inattentive treatment.
This is water mint. It, like the water iris, can live in water or soil. And it makes its best attempt to live in both of them, in as many places as it can at once. Very invasive, but it smells nice. You can see the pinkish runners coming from its base in the water – cut those and you can easily pull up the plant from wherever you don’t want it without disturbing it where you do. Obviously, it’s easy to share this plant. That’s the only reason you’d want to save the cuttings, because you won’t need any more for yourself. It comes back year after year in places you didn’t expect it. But it smells nice. Mmmm. Pulling weeds, cutting back overgrowth. . .minty fresh! Just don’t try to eat it. The tiny green leaves at the base in the water are duckweed. It can take over your pond, unless you have fish. My fish like it so much that I put it in some still areas of the stream, so it’ll occasionally wash down to the pond, but still have some growing, and I also have a bucket that I dump some filter water into when I clean the filter media, so I don’t run out. You need to buy this every year, but if you keep a bucket going you can get away with buying it only once.
Moss is a big problem in lawns around here, but it’s great to have for the pond. I have one section where the liner shows unless the water level is as high as it will go, and that’s a rare occurence because it evaporates so quickly. So I pull up a hunk of moss from the yard, put it on the rocks so at least a bit of it hangs into the water, and it takes root and spreads. Our moss grows even in full sun during drought, so I’m just letting it grow. It’s obviously tougher than I am. It doesn’t need to be mowed, either. It comes back on the pond rocks every year, getting puffier and rounder, spilling down over edges and dripping where it’s close to a waterfall, and I think it’s quite charming.
This is our lilac. More accurately, these are the suckers of our lilac. These, like the grasses, will need machinery to remove. If you are lucky enough to plant a lilac from scratch instead of inheriting one that’s been allowed to have its own way for decades, you can control the suckers and keep it to one plant. The lilac sends new plants up from underground, and they can be easily pulled or clipped when they’re young. Our suckers are old and tough, and we can’t pull up the new ones because they’re surrounded by the old ones. I tried cutting this back so I could see the pond from the kitchen, but all it got me was no flowers (the flowers form in Fall to bloom later in Spring) and more suckers. I love lilac, but this thing is a monster. Don’t let your lilacs grow wild. Even a tiny sucker can be pulled up and planted elsewhere or shared, but once they become a thick cluster of roots, you no longer hold any power over the lilac’s destiny.
I hope you enjoyed my garden tour and maybe learned a little about plants you might have or want to have. Thanks for visiting!