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The Garden Awakens

Anise 'Woodland Red' ( Illicium floridanum ) A few weeks ago, I thought spring would never arrive, but now the change is astonishing. The nights are still cold (40s and sometimes even 30s) so planting tender annuals and vegetables is unwise although I have already succumbed, but covering and uncovering things gets old quickly. Someone made a wise comment last week and I must agree with them - "Don't plant anything tender until after May 1". Several plants are blooming like never before. One is the Anise shrub (above and below). I don't know if the recent tree pruning, which is allowing more sun into the woodland path, is affecting it or perhaps it is just age, but I've never seen so many blooms. Michael refers to this as "the stinky fish shrub" and I have to admit to smell of the flowers is quite unpleasant. It is so beautiful that I can overlook that. The old pink dogwood tree, which was already here, shades our woodland path and it too is prett

Five for Friday

Five of my favorite plants in the garden this week -

#1  Lagerstroemia 'Lunar Magic' 

Having lived in Crape Myrtle country (it was the city tree of Florence, Alabama), it has been fun seeing this heat-loving tree gain popularity here in Washington state. I don't see that many growing in the neighborhood but I'm sure that will begin to change as more and more folks are asking for them at the nursery. I first added 'Dynamite' and 'Catawba' crape myrtles to our garden a few years ago. 'Catawba' blooms the earliest with beautiful lavender blooms. I wanted that particular color and studied the options closely before choosing it. 'Dynamite' with blood-red color blooms later, sometimes not until September, but this year it is loaded with flowers that have been blooming for weeks now. I'm sure our recent heat waves gave it a boost. 

I had been seeing many of the dark colored leafed varieties at the nursery but wasn't particularly drawn to them. That is, until 'Lunar Magic' bloomed last year. It was the last one left on the table and I got it after being enchanted by its stark white blooms against that black foliage. And white bloomed varieties would normally be my last choice. I had 'Natchez' in Alabama and never really cared for it. It was so huge that you could barely see the blooms and most of the time they looked dingy. 

I've had 'Lunar Magic' in a pot and it is stunning this year and blooming like crazy. I am contemplating moving it to the ground but haven't made up my mind for sure yet. 

#2 - Sedum 'Cherry Truffle

I purchased this sedum on the sale rack at Home Depot the first year we lived here. Sometimes the better performing plants come this way - unexpected and at bargain rates. I've moved this plant at least twice and it has done well in every location I've tried. It now resides on the north side of the house, in a bed of mostly gravel. It gets more sun during the summer months but not that much in the winter when the sun recedes to the north and there is more shade in front. It doesn't seem to mind this and if blooms are any indication, it is very happy. Bees love this plant and so do I. The dark color of the foliage - a deep dark purple/black gets richer as summer progresses and when the pink/white flowers appear, it is a winning combination.


#3 - Echinacea 'White Swan'

This is the only echinacea in our garden but it is not because I haven't tried. This is a plant that tends to disappear on me. I plant them, they do okay that first year and they seldom return. I'm always perplexed when I hear that they are easy-to-grow plants. However, this one has not only returned but gets even better every year. The newer varieties with their shocking colors are dramatic but this one offers an understated elegance to the garden.


#4 Isotoma axillaris 'Beth's Blue' (Star Flower)

Ever since discovering this annual at the nursery three years ago, it has become a favorite. Blooming non-stop on a tidy mound, it is extremely easy-to-grow. This year I even planted two of them, one in the usual spot along the terrace steps in the back garden and the other in the front border pictured above. It is an extremely tidy plant and the color is wonderful. The only disappointment was last year when I purchased 'Beth's Pink' instead of 'Beth's Blue'. It wasn't as good a performer so now only the blue will do. 

#5 - Rose 'Essex'

I discovered this rose at Joy Creek Nursery many years ago and admired it in their display garden. It has been a fantastic rose with no problems at all with the exception that it wants to outgrow the space I have it in. I had the hardest time finding any information about this rose. The Joy Creek website gives only a sentence or two about the growing habit. Recently, however, I finally found a listing for it in a book called Botanica's Roses. Sometimes referred to as 'Aquitaine' or 'Pink Cover', it was bred by Poulsen of Denmark and Kordes of Germany and introduced by Mattock of England. It was part of a "Country Series of Ground Cover Roses" which featured nearly twenty roses named after English countries. That book gives the size as 2 feet high by 5 feet wide which is also the size that Joy Creek gives. It is taller than that though - more like 3-4 feet high. It is indeed a carefree and healthy rose and blooms off and on through summer. It takes well to shearing but it is a thorny affair. It is best to just let it do its thing. The pink and white flowers have a charming elegance about them and they glow on bright overcast days.

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy


  1. Excellent plant combinations! I've had my eye on Lagerstromeia 'lunar magic' when you pictured it in the previous post, enchanted but the fact it does well in a pot, at least for a while. I grow a few Echinacea with the dramatic colors, and added 'White Swan' last fall. I finally arrive at the conclusion that, as you put it, they contribute "understated elegance" to the garden.
    What's the phormium in the back of the fabulous Rose 'Essex'? Wonderful color scheme.

    1. The phormium is 'Rainbow Queen'. There is another one on the opposite site. I like them a lot but do wish they would stop growing. They are getting so big.

  2. All are beautiful! I planted a tree daisy (Olearia albida) last year to replace a dead native Toyon but it's barely hanging on so I'm considering replacing it with a crape myrtle. As those I've seen here are prone to mildew, I need to locate a resistant variety. Echinacea 'White Swan' was the only plant in that genus to survive more than a season in my garden but it's hard to find here for some reason.

  3. Five excellent plants. 'Natchez' does have a dingy white flower--dingy is the right word!--though the bark is really beautiful when the plant matures. There are (or were) a grid of them at the Getty Museum in LA and they were gorgeous.

    That white Echinacea is very elegant. I've tried a couple here--dead within weeks and not cheap. No more tries. 'Beth's Blue' looks excellent with the chartreuse--something behind it...what is that?

  4. I know that your blog is always a good place to come for information on unique plant varieties. It is puzzling why traditional purple coneflowers don’t work for you!


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