Gardening: Plans for the New Year

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I wonder why it is that so many of us make resolutions at this time of year: lose weight, keep a clean desk, be nicer to people working for political candidates that call us during dinner time ... and so on. As a gardener, I don't tend to think so much about resolutions, but more about what I hope to do in my gardens, come spring. What plants shall I try? What new gardens might I develop?

I recently got a catalog from a wholesale plant nursery, Van Berkum's of Deerfield, N.H., and spent an evening drooling over the catalog and thinking about all the plants I wanted. I made three kinds of notations: a star for everything I simply must have; a check for everything I'd like to have; and a dot for everything that sounds interesting. Needless to say, there were way too many marks to buy them all — I just don't have room. Here are some of the starred plants.

Meehan's Mint (Meehania cordata). I've never seen this, so I'm intrigued. It is for shade or part shade, likes moist soil, and spreads slowly by stolons (roots). It has showy lavender-blue flowers in May-June, and is a native wildflower that comes originally from Appalachia. I know where to plant this: under some old apple trees where my primroses bloom in pinks, whites and magenta. The foliage is just a couple of inches tall, and the blossoms stand three to four inches above it.

Purple Prairie Clover (Dalea purpurea). Browsing the on-line photos that are not included in Van Berkum's printed catalog, the photo caught my eye. Nothing like the clovers I know, it stands 24 to 30 inches tall, and has showy cylindrical cones covered with tiny magenta flowers. The blossoms remind me of teasel flowers in that only part of the cone is blooming at any given time. Native to Missouri, it is hardy to Zone 3 (minus 30 degrees) and needs full sun.

White Cloud Calamint (Calamintha nepeta). I've seen this and even planted it for one of my gardening clients. I love it, and although it is listed as a Zone 5 plant, the one I planted wintered over last year, even with a cold winter. It forms a globe-shaped plant loaded with tiny white flowers, reminiscent of baby's breath. I need one (or more)! Full sun, it tolerates dry soil.

Miss Manners Obedient Plant (Physostegia virginiana). I love obedient plant, but it is not obedient at all. It's a thug! Tall, with wonderful pink flowers, it is great in a vase. But my goodness, getting it out of my garden was a struggle. But I miss it, and am tempted by this plant which is, allegedly, "not invasive." Only 18 to 24 inches tall, it has white flowers and loves moist soil, and I have plenty of that. I'll keep a sharp on it, and it if takes off, yank it!

Geum rivale Flames of Passion. This is a small perennial that does best in part shade and takes drought. I want it, largely, because it was introduced by one of my garden heroes, Piet Oudolf. One winter when I was passing though Holland I visited him at his home in the countryside; I loved the fact that he had commissioned someone to carve life-size stone sheep and had them "grazing" around his property.

Piet Oudolf is a garden designer extraordinaire; among his projects is the High Line, a garden a mile and a half long built on an abandoned elevated railway line in New York. I plan to go there this year on my 70th birthday, April 23. Let me know if you want to join me for a garden walk there. It would be great fun to walk it with interested gardening friends — new or old.

Feather Reed Grass, Karl Foerster. I've got to try this tall grass, having heard it lauded by gardening great Bill Noble when I interviewed him recently. It's his favorite plant. It grows 36 to 60 inches tall in a big clump, and is lovely from early in the season till late. Full sun.

I love delphiniums, but hate staking them up. There is a new group of them, the New Millennium Hybrids, that "shouldn't need staking" if planted in full sun. I'll give one or two a try, and see how they do.

Lastly, I absolutely must get an Itoh peony. This is a cross between a tree peony and an herbaceous peony, and at maturity can produce up to 50 blossoms over the course of a month. Expensive, but I've decided it's worth it. They come in a variety of colors, and I will buy mine when in bloom, so I will know exactly what I'm getting. I just need to figure out where to plant it. But, hey! I've got all winter to do that.

So make your gardening resolutions, or create a wish list for what you hope to plant. You can see photos of the flowers I mention on line at www.vanberkumnursery.com. They are strictly wholesale, but their website has a list of retailers that carry their plants.

Henry Homeyer can be reached at PO Box 364, Cornish Flat, N.H., 03746 or by e-mail at henry.homeyer@comcast.net.


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