Everyday Gardeners

Plant. Grow. Live.

May 2010

Rosa glauca

Just a quick shot of Rosa glauca, one of my favorite roses because of its lovely purple foliage. It has single pink flowers in late spring and bright red hips in fall, but to me it’s the leaves that make this rose so awesome.

Last November I wrote a blog post on starting a chocolate garden because I thought it was a fun topic, and quite frankly, I was craving chocolate (and didn’t have enough change on me to make a trip to the vending machine for a candy bar). Thinking about plants like the ‘Dark Chocolate’ coleus helped get me through…

It turns out I may have been ahead of the curve a little on a trend: black plants. Plants with dark foliage or flowers certainly aren’t new, but just last year publisher Timber Press released a book on the subject. And next year, our friends at Ball Horticultural are releasing a petunia called ‘Black Velvet’, the world’s first black petunia, as well as a black-and-cream sister variety called ‘Phantom’.

And this year in front of BHG headquarters, BHG Test Garden Manager Sandra Gerdes is planting a black border — full of richly hued plants such as Mystic Dreamer dahlia, ‘Purple Majesty’ ornamental millet, Illusion Midnight Lace sweet potato vine, and a host of others.

Why are dark foliage and flowers becoming so sought after? One reason, I think, is that it’s easy to use in the garden. Rich dark blackish-purples and reds pretty much go with every color (I’m especially fond of mixing them with sky blue) and look great as long as you don’t plant them in the shade where they tend to disappear in the dim light. Plus, I think there’s something intriguing about them — it’s a refreshing change from bold and bright reds, oranges, and yellows.

Watch for updates on our black border here on The Everyday Gardeners — and let me know by commenting below what you think of black plants and if you plan to grow any in your garden this year!

When it comes to trees, one of the most popular questions I answer via our Garden Doctor application is recommending varieties for folks who want an easy-care tree that grows fast.

Unfortunately, these two concepts are kind of contradictory. As a general rule, the faster a tree grows, the weaker the wood is. And weak trees are the ones you often see toppled over after especially strong winds or shedding large branches after ice storms. And the fastest-growing trees tend to be first choice of disease and insect organisms.

So what’s a gardener to do? One option is to select a moderate grower instead of a fast one. Varieties like sugar maples, red maples, river birches, katsura, and black gum can put on some good size relatively quickly without being too problematic.

And by the way: If you’re looking for ideas of which trees to plant, be sure to check out our Plant Encyclopedia. If you can’t find what you need there, another great tool is the Tree Selector!

I love easy-growing perennials, fun foliage, and the color blue. So it’s really no surprise that perennial geraniums (also called cranesbills for their beak-shaped seedheads) are among my favorite flowers.

The mourning widow geranium (Geranium phaeum ‘Samobor’) is currently in full bloom in my shade garden. This beauty grows about a foot tall and has clusters of dark purple-black flowers rising above the mounds of purple-splotched foliage. It’s a real winner because the foliage looks great from spring to fall.

It’s not blooming yet, but I’m already appreciating the tidy mound that is bloody geranium (Geranium sanguineum). I know its may sound a little morbid, but the moniker actually stems from the fact that the foliage turns bright red in autumn. This great perennial puts out a big flush of purple, pink, or white flowers in early summer, then continues to offer a spattering of bloom until autumn.

The real winner among perennial geraniums, though, is ‘Rozanne’, the stellar selection pictured here. ‘Rozanne’ offers lovely blue-purple flowers in late May or early June and continues to be in constant bloom all the way until frost. Plus it has marbled foliage that looks great in the garden while you’re patiently waiting for its blooms.

Who’d have thought that when I met Rob Hemwall wearing a blue hairnet and scrubbing pots and pans in a hospital kitchen after school in suburban St. Louis that we’d meet up thirtysomething years later on his 34-acre family-owned-and-run operation just outside the city limits of Columbia, Missouri. Rob and I remained friends through high school and college, but lost track of each other somewhere along the line. I finally caught up with him last weekend at his bucolic farm: Here are the two of us catching up on old times.


Rob and his wife Angela started Pierpont Farms six years ago to practice sustainable agriculture using organic methods and to give their two daughters the opportunity to grow up in a more natural environment. Pierpont Farms offers a 25-week CSA (community-supported agriculture) of vegetables, some fruits, herbs, and flowers all grown sustainably with compost, cover crops, row covers, irrigation from a pond, and crop rotations along with many other non-chemical methods of on-going soil improvement. They grow all their own produce, including 20 varieties of heirloom tomatoes, 12 varieties of lettuces, several varieties of beans, cucumber, melons, onions, carrots, beets, and too many others to list here. They also offer free-range eggs from heritage breeds and pastured poultry.


That’s his 12-year-old daughter Sydney with one of her chickens that she hopes to enter in their country fair this summer. Sydney and her sister are charged with feeding the chickens, collecting their eggs, picking vegetables, and helping to weed the long rows of vegetable crops. Rob and his family give me hope for the future. And I’m glad that I can call him my friend.

Looking for a big-impact, low-care perennial for your landscape? Try baptisia!

Also called false indigo, baptisia is North American native plant that bursts into bloom in late spring/early summer — usually about the same time as the peonies, Siberian iris, and ‘Globemaster’ alliums.

Here are some things to love about baptisia:

  • Deer and rabbits leave it alone (at least that’s always been my experience).
  • The lovely blue-green foliage looks great from spring to fall.
  • It tolerates heat and drought like a champion.
  • The seedpods, which start chartreuse and eventually turn charcoal-black, are fun decorations!
  • It comes in a range of colors (from dark purple Twilite Prairieblues to silvery Starlight Prairieblues to golden ‘Carolina Moonlight’).
  • It’s not too fast growing (so you don’t need to worry about it taking over your garden like you do some native prairie plants).

If you try baptisia out, be sure to give it plenty of room. The plant usually looks really small and scrawny in pots at the garden center, but within three or four years, they can mature into stunning 4-foot-wide mounds.

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