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Thursday, January 10, 2013

Quest for your Holy Grail

pennisetum macrourum
We all have them, right? Those plants that we long for...that seem to be just out of reach, if not completely unavailable? Like most gardeners, I always seem to have one plant that I'm OBSESSED with finding. For years, after visiting the Montreal Botanical Garden, I hunted for a source of Pennisetum macrourum (above). I desperately wanted to have those tall, glowing wands in my garden. Luckily, a few years later, I did find them, at a local nursery (Wind Dancer), no less! Was I sated...hardly!


Teucrium closeupIris Gerald Darby and Knautia Melton Pastels v
It seems every time I turn around, there's some new plant for me to become enamoured of. Take the Teucrium on the left...I saw it on Nan Ondra's amazing blog, Hayefield, a year or two ago, and became convinced that it was the perfect plant for me! I found it a last autumn (at what was our last Fall HPSO plant sale) at the Far Reaches booth. I couldn't believe my luck...and snatched up all three of the plants they had on the table! To my delight, they've proven to be amazingly beautiful (and tough) plants.

On the right, are two other plants that I searched for...Iris 'Gerald Darby', which I also discovered on Hayefield. If you haven't noticed by now, Nan's blog is a dangerous place for the plant-obsessed! I fell in love with the purple-flushed new foliage...the almost-black flowering stems...and, of course, those simple, elegant purple blooms. Planted around it, yet another plant I became obsessed with, Knautia 'Melton Pastels', which I first saw a few years ago in an issue of Gardens Illustrated, which is, perhaps, my #1 source of pure GARDEN PORN.

schizachyrium blue heaven  1819
Of course, then there are the plants that we WANT to grow...but just can't, for whatever reason, or that just don't do particularly well in our gardens. For the past few years, I tried and tried to find a Schizachyrium (Little Bluestem) that would stay upright in my garden. In general, many of the prairie grasses will grow well here, but our cool-ish summers (these are plants adapted to blazing-hot, full-sun conditions, after all) produce weak growth that tends to lodge (flop over) as the plants get taller. Imagine my delight last winter when the owner of Wind Dancer, Carolyn Kolb, told me the new cultivar, 'Blue Heaven' (above) was supposed to be very upright...and not prone to flopping here in the PNW!

blue heaven  2890
Of course, it was practically all I could think about all that winter and spring...and when I drove down last summer to get a few of them from Wind Dancer, I practically skipped home with sheer delight. I'm happy to report that they were not only stunningly beautiful, but NONE of them flopped...not in the slightest!

Andropogon Red October
Of course, as soon as I find one thing I've wanted...I move on to another thing. Last fall, Adam Woodruff, a friend and AMAZING designer (seriously, check out his website...it's gorgeous) emailed me the photo above. Intrinsic Perennials had sent him a few plans to trial...and the one that immediately grabbed my attention was the reddish grass in back. It was Andropogon 'Red October'...a new introduction. I was in immediate, complete love! Much like Little Bluestem, Andropogon (Big Bluestem) is a plant I've wanted to grow in my garden for years...but like Little Bluestem, is prone to flopping here in the PNW. Needless to say, however, that visions of this burgundy beauty have been in the back of my little mind all winter.

andro
Then, last week, I got an email from Klehms Song Sparrow Nursery about their new 2013 listings...and I popped over for a look. Lo and behold...they had not one, but TWO new Andropogon varieties for sale! I've read that 'Indian Warrior' is supposed to be more upright (not as prone to lodging) as other Andropogon...so it might just solve my Big Bluestem Dilemma...but oh, the color of 'Red October' makes me weak in the knees. I'll probably get one of each, because I'm a glutton for punishment!

How about you, what is the plant (or plants) that you are on the hunt for? Is there a plant that you want to grow so desperately that you plant it (and kill it) over and over?

54 comments:

  1. I am also seething with desire for Big Bluestem. It grows well here, of course, but I don't have a good spot for this big grass without tearing out something else. AAARGH.

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    1. That, of course, is the other par of the dilemma...I really don't have space either unless something else gets removed...ugh.

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  2. A few years ago my "logic be damned" plant was bamboo, but now that my collection is quite large there's not too much that I'm craving too strongly. I'm always on the lookout for interesting "new" plants though (new to me), so appreciate sources of inspiration like RSG and Hayefield. If you force me to list something though, it's various Liatris species. Liatris aspera for sure -- I had it for a few years and then it disappeared, and I miss it.

    Like Jason, what are you going to remove to make room for the Big Bluestem? As its name suggests, it's not petite. Also, isn't Pennisetum macrourum on "the list" in Oregon as a nuisance or invasive?

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    1. Oh yeah...every time I see someone with a nice, large clump of Liatris in their garden, I'm insanely jealous...not sure what stops me from actually planting some. I think I'll move a few things around...I'll make it work ;-) Eek! I'm not sure...I've seen it on a few lists...but not the one I check regularly...guess I'll have to keep an eye on it...so far it's well-behaved.

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  3. Santolina 'Lemon Fizz' is my current obsession. It's only available on the west coast currently and seems to be out of stock a lot. I've asked for it locally and they can't make any promises but will try to order it.

    I will have to take another look at bluestem, I killed some a while back (don't know which one) which is not easy to do since they plant it on the roadsides here.

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    1. Oh yes, Shirley...I've seen that Santolina in gardens...it's so cute. Strangely, I've never seen it for sale though...they must be getting them mail-order.

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  4. Oh gosh, I think I want that Pennisetum in your first photo. I remember searching for years for the climbing bleeding heart (Dicentra scandens) and finally located it. I'm that way with Pam Harper's book, it is dangerous to be in my hands.

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    1. Isn't it funny how some books just seem to hit all the right buttons...I'm so easily swayed, it seems! I have a similar climbing Dicentra (I think it's Dicentra microcarpanos)...very charming!

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  5. Thanks for introducing me to Andropogon 'Red October'. I'm a Klehm's customer, but they didn't send me that mailing. :(

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    1. 'Red October' would look fabulous in your garden, James...it would be perfectly in place!

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  6. 'Sour Grapes' penstemon is my vixen. Penstemon grow poorly in my clay soil but I've been determined to get mine to grow and flower. Last year I stuck it in a pot and it grew but didn't flower. I'm hoping it will finally bloom this year.

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    1. Oh yes, that is a GORGEOUS Penstemon! I've never tried them...as my soil is super-heavy clay as well...but I've seen them growing in hell-strips and looking amazing. Good luck with your potted specimen...I'll cross my fingers for you :-)

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  7. Anything you write about becomes my must-have, though Loree has me pretty worked up over Echium wildpretii.

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    1. Hahaha...I'll try to exercise restraint then, Heather! You have room enough for both of those...go for it!

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  8. Garden porn that makes you weak at the knees, perfect!!

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  9. Here in Canada it was Anemonopsis macrophylla, but fortunately I found it and after about 5 years it has grown and blooms well.
    Apart from that there are the blue poppies and so on...but for me it is usually another small flowered clematis that I yearn for. It all began with Clematis Mary Rose which I coveted for over 10 years...and then received as a gift.

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    1. I've never actually seen Anemonopsis in anyone's garden, but they look amazing...I wonder if it would do well in Portland? Of course, those Blue Poppies are almost unreal...and I'm a sucker for those little Clematis...so cute!

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  10. There's always something new to lust after. My current holy grail is Schefflera macrophylla. I've heard that Monrovia will finally be releasing it this spring. However, I've heard that before and will believe it when I see it!

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    1. It's so true...we always want more, don't we. Good luck finding your holy grails too :-)

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  11. Hi Scott,

    Does saying I long to have your garden count? ;)
    My mind has gone blank but I know there have been things I've searched for time and again, one was Clematis 'Marjorie' which I eventually found at an RHS garden. I don't *think* I'm lusting after any one plant at the moment, but ask me again in Spring/Summer when I'm in gardening mode once more and I bet it'll be a different story.
    I'd love some of the Pennisetum macrourum but I know it probably won't survive here :(

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    1. Hahahahaha...it does...just like I lust after Piet Oudolf's! Isn't it sublime when you finally find that plant you've been looking for! I think the Pennisetum would be hardy for you...then again...I'm not sure what your particular microclimate is.

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  12. You have the best taste in plants to lust after. Right now for me it's a shrubby tree -- Arbutus 'Marina', which was one suggestion when I was looking for trees to put in my front bed where I took out two last year. I couldn't find it in a large enough size anywhere nearby. I still have room for it (if I create another garden bed), so I'm still looking. In perennials, I have also been looking for Clematis 'Josephine', which I can probably find somewhere online, but I've been looking for it at local nurseries. I don't seem to have good luck with Clems here, I don't know why, I have two right now, but they just don't seem to b e thriving. Maybe I need to give them a few more years to take off.

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    1. Awww, you're too sweet, Alison ;-) You know who has Clematis 'Josephine'...my absolute favorite local (Portland) nursery, Joy Creek!
      http://www.joycreek.com/cl.htm#150-343-1
      I have mixed luck with them, as well...some do fabulous, while others mildew :-(

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  13. Hi Scott, Great post! Wowzers, I'm in love with 'Red October' for sure. I know I don't have room for it though, dang. Honestly, I'm not really pining over any must-haves at the moment, which is very strange for me. I think as spring hits, this will change. For now, I just want to just get outside and enjoy what I've got. These days of getting home after dark really suck. I miss my garden.

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    1. I feel your pain, Grace...I don't mind anything about winter...except the whole getting out of work...and it's already dark...ugh! Spring is so close, though, and then we'll all get Spring Fever!

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  14. Holy Grail...hmmm. Not sure, but I guess it's the masses of Pale Yucca / Yucca pallida I need to plant in 2 places, as well as the Purple Threeawn / Aristida purpurea in the front parkway. You would really like those!

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    1. Nice! I've actually considered getting Yucca pallida (I know, ME wanting a Yucca...crazy)! I've been intrigued by the Purple Threeawn...need to see it in person to get a feel for it...looks lovely!

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  15. It's hardly surprising you've been listing after those plants the grasses are gorgeous. The only plants I lust after are the ones that wouldn't survive in my garden :)
    Right now I'm patiently waiting on a Meconospsis x cookei Old Rose' to flower this year.
    I've a list a mile long but as one gets crossed off a few more get added!!

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    1. Oh yes...it's very easy to lust after Meconopsis, isn't it! I agree...it's human nature to keep wanting one more thing, isn't it ;-)

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  16. Interesting new plants Scott, at least new to me. I will look them up and see if they will work in our new Chicago area zone 6, can't believe that we will be able to try so many new plants.

    Eileen

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    1. You know, Eileen...I think almost all of these would totally be hardy for you, well, except for maybe the Pennisetum. I know how you feel...it's like getting handed the world...and you're not quite sure what to do with it!

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  17. Is it holy grail or is it obsession? For many of us, acquiring plants is an addiction. Unlike illegal and legal substances that affect our corporal and cerebral health, the intensity of plant hunting weakens our bank accounts and crowds our flowerbeds.

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    1. Hahaha...I guess it's two sides of the same coin, isn't it Allan...we are only human, after all, I guess :-)

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  18. Knautia sure seems to have a place in your garden--along with the Bluestems! I'm glad you found some varieties that don't flop over, especially since they're your favorites. I have many plants that I've drooled over--some have been successful over time, and some not. That's the fun of it, right?!

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    1. Exactly, it's all in the trying things out...and finding what works for you!

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  19. Knautia sure seems to have a place in your garden--along with the Bluestems! I'm glad you found some varieties that don't flop over, especially since they're your favorites. I have many plants that I've drooled over--some have been successful over time, and some not. That's the fun of it, right?!

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  20. I remember seeing masses of Anemonopsis macrophylla blooming gloriously at Alpenglow nursery in Sidney, British Columbia in 1976 (in July no less): I've grown in now and again since then--it's not for us in the dry steppes where it suffers from the extremes, although we do get it to produce its waxy, columbine like flowers for a few years before it gives up the ghost. The big bluestems are for us, however: they blaze and glow all winter in our crisp air. My holy grails? To get a reliably hardy Aloe (we overwinter them a few years--then poof!) There has to be a trick! And a hardy Agave Victoria-reginae (I know they grow high enough to make it here..) I want Thelypteris oregana (no one ever offers it!) and Daubenya aurea (which was once sold at a local supermarket)...

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    1. I do envy your ability out there to have such glorious grasses...they just love your climate (and, as you said, its extremes)! I'll cross my fingers for you finding your holy grails...although half the fun is in the pursuit, isn't it ;-)

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  21. You are responsible for the Persicarias on my wish list, Scott, very frustrating because Blooming Advantage grows those and some other plants on my wish list, but the nurseries that supposedly carry their plants never have them. My new wish list for this year includes some Goldenrods, which I keep seeing pictured on various blogs for Wildflower Wednesday, hopefully some of the shorter ones, and Stylophorum diphyllum, which makes a nice clumping plant covered with yellow poppies. Yellow is generally not my favorite color so I can't explain my present obsession, but it is the clumping and spreading ability because I need stuff tougher than weed grasses to fill in and exclude weeds. The Anemonopsis is lovely though.... it also seems very hard to get, worthy of a Holy Grail fixation.

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    1. Oh no, Hannah...that's so annoying that they don't carry them! It's funny you mention Goldenrods, because I just acquired my very first one lat month, 'Fireworks'! I've been wanting one for ages, not sure what took me so long :-) I hope you find your other Holy Grail plants, as well ;-)

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  22. Man, that 'Red October' looks gorgeous. I can see why you are head-over on that. I am too!

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    1. OMG...I know, isn't it just fabulous, Jean!!!

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  23. What Teucrium is that? Must have! Also probably Dasylirion wheeleri, which I'll get sooner or later--no rush.

    We are, after all, hunter-gatherers--it's in our DNA, so it's not our fault!

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    1. Hi Hoover, it's Teucrium hircanicum...which is usually available from Digging Dog nursery via mail-order...it's fabulous!

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  24. Except for that pink grass, it is not your plants i am so envious about, it is your photography. I wonder if I've asked you before of your camera and lens, even if i've asked that, maybe you are again kind enough to tell me, as i am very forgetful. hehe. thanks and Happy Gardening!

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    1. Hahahah...thanks, Kalantikan! I use a Canon EOS Rebel xti...with a variety of lenses, one is a Tamron 18-55, the other is a canon 24-88 (or something like that).

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  25. Well, this was dangerous. Now I want to go plant shopping! I've had great success with mail order so there's nothing stopping me! - well, except maybe space. What gorgeous grasses you have portrayed here.

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    1. Hahahaha...you and I have the same problem, Violet...lack of space!

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  26. Wow! Even though I have been removing some of my grasses, I may be too weak to resist if I come across 'Red October' in full color. I enjoyed your look back at 2012 and the brief tour of Dancing Oaks. You have some nice nurseries in your area.

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  27. What marvelous finds~and now I must visit online nurseries to see if I can find them!

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  28. Scott, I am hoping to obtain Anemone "Wild Swan" this season. I have always like Japanese Anemone but this one is much more compact, well behaved and blooms all summer.
    See here for details: http://www.elizabethmacgregornursery.co.uk/content.php?id=119
    It is available now in NAmerica.

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  29. Scott, where in the world do you put all those plants in your seemingly compact garden? Nevermind - you're a plant-coholic, and where there's a will there's a way, I know. ;-) I'm trying little bluestem in my garden this year and can promise it all the heat and sun it wants. Hope it can handle it! I'm safe at Nan's, gorgeous though her posts are, because most of her plants just wouldn't be happy way down in Austin. I agree, though, that her plant combos are STUNNING.

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