In the Garden:
Mid-Atlantic
July, 2009
Regional Report

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After frost bites the orange-spiked Solanum pyracanthum, the gold-leafed Japanese maple will be here year after year.

Beauties and the Beast

Most anyone who spots the spiny, ouchy Solanum pyracanthum can't resist a closer look. The "What's THAT!" bright orange spikes and veins on wavy blue-green leaves catch the eye from across a courtyard. That is, yards and yards away. The three-foot-tall oddity entices, drawing the curious adult and child near enough to scrutinize, then maybe touch -- very gently.

We usually see spiky solanums highlighted in large, attractive containers -- stoneware, urns, decorative resin pots. A beast juxtaposed with flowering beauties. It's a tropical -- heat- and sun-loving, not hardy -- with lavender blossoms.

Mid-June at the North Hills Garden Symposium in Vermont, the Walker Farm booth had them at a good price. $5 each, as I recall. And so it started -- from bargain to semi-extravagance.

On the same plant table sat Crossandra 'Sunset' -- a mid-sized tropical whose bright orange flowers complement the solanum's spikes. Both like sun and tolerate dry soil. They look great together. SOLD!

I turn around. Flats and flats of tempting, plump sedums. The succulent leaves of Sedum nussbaumeranum have a hint of orange plus chartreuse. Three would certainly handsomely rim the container edge -- their smoothness striking contrast to the solanum's jagged leaves. SOLD!

That's enough, I insist. I have enough plants! Sure!.

Kathy calls me over to ogle the trees, shrubs, and roses at her favorite nursery's display. Well, one of her many favorite nurseries, it turns out.

Oooooo, chartreuse! There's a Japanese maple -- Acer shirasawanum 'Aureum' -- whose golden-green, crinkly, palmate leaves catch the light much like the bloated, finger-like leaves of Sedum nussbaumeranum . A perfect color/texture addition to the combination so far.

I've never met a Japanese maple I didn't covet. They've done well season-to-season for me in large, white, molded resin/plastic pots. This one will stay small, 5 to 6 feet at maturity. The large specimen I really, really like is beyond my budget. I walk away then walk back. I move the showy 'Aureum' from its front-and-center, "Buy me now" location to hide behind a lush viburnum. I recalculate my budget, then scope surrounding merchandise for a few more minutes. Guilt taps me on the shoulder. I return and move the $$$ specimen back to its original prime location. My indecision shouldn't cost the nursery a decisive sale.

Kathy points out the same maple -- less impressive, easily overlooked as it's smaller than its sibling -- around the corner. And another. By sales' end, the smaller version ($59) joins its new tropical friends and a bright 'Victoria Blue' salvia in my car. Blue, orange, chartreuse!

Enough already? Not quite.

I pot up the North Hills ensemble in a substantial, faux terra cotta, Styrofoam container. Looks good in the sun, under a hayrack brimming with bi-color, velvety Heuchera villosa.

While annuals-shopping for clients, I spy a display of breathtaking summer Phlox Intensia 'Cabernet'. The flowers are bright like fuschia yet rich and deep like merlot. Yes, it would cascade nicely among the North Hills ensemble.

Though that pot's full, the plants mysteriously keep coming. More pots appear. Watch for the new perennial Coreopsis Big Bang 'Red Shift' -- holding its own nicely in contrast to a wilting red gerber daisy. Oops -- out of word space here. We know though, there's always room for one more plant.


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