Friday, February 27, 2009

Good Things Growing… March 2009

The lightly fragrant flowers of wild blue phlox (Phlox divaricata) can be blue, white or pale pink.

The Kaul Wildflower Garden contains only plants native to the southeastern US, and their spring show is one of the highlights of this season at BBG. Among many stars in this early, ebullient time, the three plants highlighted here are easy to grow in shade to part sun in average (not wet) garden soils.

Sanguinaria canadensis is called bloodroot because of the orange-red juice found in its leaves, petioles and rhizomes. The 8-10” tall plant is also known regionally as redroot, puccoon, red puccoon and Indian paint. Its 3” wide, white flowers typically have eight narrow petals and showy yellow stamens, and bloom before the single basal leaf is unfurled. Flowers last only a day or two but large populations flower from early March to early May and create a nice, staggered impact. Bloodroot is summer dormant; by late June all evidence of the plant is usually gone.

Phacelia bipinnatifida, scorpion-weed or fern-leaf phacelia, is a 15-24” tall biennial. The specific epithet bipinnatifida refers to the twice-compounded (bi-pinnate), silver-mottled, leaves; purplish hues are sometimes evident. Emerging quickly in late fall, the leaves persist through winter and make a nice companion plant for in and under deciduous shrubs. On second-year plants, the ½” wide, pale blue-purple flowers emerge on a stalked cluster that uncoils (like a scorpion’s tail?) as they bloom; flowers fade in color as they age; dormancy quickly follows seed dispersal.

Phlox divaricata, wild blue phlox, is one of our most beloved native perennials. In early to mid-March, the flat-topped flower clusters are borne atop 12-18” tall stalks that emerge from widely-spreading surface rhizomes. The lightly fragrant, ½”-¾” wide flowers are typically blue, but can be pale pink (rose), lilac-purple, or white as well. Wild blue phlox maintains its dark green leaves through the growing season; in winter, the leaves take on purplish hues, but remain effective in the garden.

A mass of wild blue phlox (Phlox divaricata) spreads out in the Barber Alabama Woodlands.

Lavender scorpion weed (Phacelia bipinnatifida) blooms along with wild columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)
in the Kaul Wildflower Garden.

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) inhabits undisturbed woodlands, and is a good indicator of healthy forests.

For more information on these plants, please go to

Good Things Growing… January 2009

Pieris japonica, Japanese pieris [PEA-AIR-ISS], is not the easiest plant to make happy in Birmingham but that doesn’t deter local garden shops from carrying it. Its drooping racemes of fragrant, white winter flowers and lustrous evergreen foliage are tempting, especially to gardeners who have seen mature plants in cooler climes. Japanese pieris is not well-suited to our heavy soils and relentless summer heat, but there are several related pieris that share this species’ attributes and are worth a closer look.

Hybrids of
Pieris japonica and P. floribunda (mountain pieris, a US native) include ‘Brouwer’s Beauty’ and ‘Karenoma’, and these are both worth trying. Both exhibit the nice flowering qualities of their Japanese parent and retain the heat tolerance of their American parent. New leaves emerge glossy orange- to bronze-red, providing another asset. Pieris ryukyuensis ‘Temple Bells’ represents the typical form of that species, found only Ryukyu Island, Japan. Both it and Pieris taiwanensis are not easy to locate in the trade, but their beauty and heat tolerance are legend

The ideal site for
Pieris species, cultivars and hybrids is one protected from winter winds and direct summer sun. Like most of its kin in the Ericaceae, or heath family, soil must be acid, well-drained and with ample organic matter; these plants will quickly die under an irrigation regime tuned to big-leaf hydrangeas. Expect slow growth from these plants, a trait all pieris are known for, valuable where space is limited but a woody, evergreen plant is desired.

Pieris japonica flowers dusted with mid-January flurries; buds and blooms are frost-tolerant. Shown here in early March, the flowers of Pieris × ‘Karenoma’ are often effective for two months, like many of its relatives.

Shown here in early March, the flowers of Pieris × ‘Karenoma’ are often effective for two months, like many of its relatives.

Visit for more information on growing Pieris.