When I was young, one of my mother’s close friends had a garden tucked with all sorts of interesting things, such as dill, horseradish, and strawflowers. But my favorite plant was her Lunaria because it yielded bouquets of silvery, translucent disks. Though named the “money plant” or the “silver dollar plant”, to me the seedpods looked like bundles of tiny moons tethered to the earth by slender but tenacious stems. The Latin name ‘Lunaria’ means “moonlike.”
Last year, my 7-year-old son discovered “money plant” seeds at the nursery and was instantly attracted to the idea of growing money. Lunaria is easy to grow, though we actually forgot we had planted it until this summer when the distinctive pods emerged. The Lunaria plant itself looks unremarkable in the garden, with broad, floppy leaves and clusters of shy, purple flowers. When the seedpods sprouted, they looked like flattened sugar peas. Then they turned a dirty brown that definitely looked unappealing (in fact, when I harvested a Lunariaplant this summer and left it on a patio table to dry, my husband tossed it on the compost pile). But peel back the dry husk and a shiny, papery moon reveals itself, ready to last for years in a dried flower arrangement or on its own.
My son, though, was a little disappointed he couldn’t spend the “money” we raised in our garden.
Lunaria, a member of the mustard (Brassicaceae) family, originated in Europe and migrated to America with early settlers. The plants are biennials, growing one year and flowering the next. The seeds sprout easily, making them a nuisance in tidy gardens. They bloom spring through early summer. In Zone 5, where I garden, the pods were dry and ready for cutting by early August.
How to Grow:
Direct sow Lunaria seeds in the spring and cover lightly with soil, then water.
Lunaria thrives in most soil types (even my clay!), prefer sunny sites but deal with partial sun. Fertilize once a year, if you’re into that sort of thing, and water if they seem droopy (but remember that Lunaria dislike consistently soggy soils). After the seedpods have turned brown, they are ready for harvesting. If not quite ready, you can hang upside down and dry for an additional week or two. Then simply peel off the brown layers on each side of the pearly “coin” and your Lunaria are ready for display.
Nothing has served as a better “welcome home” greeting this spring than my Suncatcher tulips. The tulips began blooming in mid-April and continue to dazzle my slowly-waking front yard with petals of brilliant yellow and cherry red. They are the first thing I see as I return home, sparking life into the southwest corner of my front yard where all passers-by stop to admire their rather optimistic cheerfulness projecting above the brown pine needles and hesitant green spikes of new spiderwort.
Last fall, when I hastily poked a dozen holes into the slope of my front garden, I gave little thought to the fat tulip bulbs that had just arrived from Longfield Gardens. Pressed for time, I covered the bulbs with soil and promptly forgot all about them until pops of color announced that winter was over. Even my young sons noticed the tulips after they first bloomed. “They should have named these ‘Rainbow Tulips’” decided my 8-year-old. “Because these tulips have the first three colors of the rainbow – red, orange, yellow.”
For those who live in the colder climes, where months of gray and brown prevail, a clutch of tulips planted along driveways or front entrances makes an ideal greeting. Returning from work at the end of the day seems like arriving at a little spring party (and shouldn’t it be that way this time of year?).
A few years ago I tilled up the entire lawn in my front yard and planted herbs, veggies, fruits and edible flowers, but I had a dilemma. How should I handle the strip that runs between the sidewalk and street curb? I certainly didn’t want to eat anything that grew in street grit and car exhaust and was irrigated by passing dogs. Over time, that strip has turned into my test garden for perennials and a few annuals, such as this bunny tail grass (Lugurus ovatus). Bunny tail grass is like the adorable kitten of the botanical world. It makes me smile every time I see it bobbing playfully in the breeze. My 5, 8 and 10-year-old sons can’t pass bunny tails without giving the silky-soft seed heads a quick stroke.
I started the grass seeds in my pantry early last spring and transported them outside the first week of May. The grass is doing quite well in my fairly dry curb strip and has been very low maintenance. Right before the first major snowfall, I plan to clip a few bunny tails for dried flower arrangements. Until then, they can amuse my family and passers-by.
Hands down, my favorite late summer and fall perennial bloomer of all time is the Japanese Anemone tomentosa ‘Robustissima’. An absolute non-stop flowering gobstopper for weeks on end by my front step from late August through October. Originally I chose this plant because it is known as the hardiest and easiest Japanese Anemone to grow, but soon it’s captivating wind flowers and bee laden blooms became my favorite September flower-power plant. In fact, bees can be found smothering the flowers the entire bloom season, so anemone is a lovely plant to attract pollinators to your garden. Best yet, this is the perfect perennial to toss in the ground then ignore for most of the season.
How To Grow Robustissima Anemone
While anemone love a rich, moist planting site, this particular variety will do well in average and even sandy soil. Add plenty of organic matter to enrich existing soil before planting. Robustissima Anemone is the most adaptable of all the anemone’s to drier conditions, but need more watering attention initially until they are established. Once established, plants form a low mound of green leaves with tall branching stems that produce interesting branches of bud balls that will develop into attractive soft-pink five petaled flowers.
Anemone Robustissima do well in full sun to part-shade and are tremendously easy to grow. I leave the seedheads up all winter for interest and clean the beds in early spring before green shoots redevelop. Divide every few years in the spring to keep the plants in check. Add additional organic matter like compost to the beds, mulching well, in the fall.
One of my all time favorite plants is my perennial begonia. We transplanted it here from my Mom’s garden, who transplanted it from my Great-Aunt Ruby’s garden. It has lovely heart-shaped leaves with tiny pink flowers, spreads very easily, gives great ground cover, thrives in my shady garden (zone 7b), and provides a structured, yet loose look. It’s one of my most prized plants and I’ve never seen it available for purchase!
The most striking feature though? The undersides of the perennial begonia leaves! The bright red veins really pop against the bright green of the stalks and leaves.
I have perennial begonias lining my pebble stairs and around the garden path. I love the way they bend over into the stairs, reaching out to greet your feet as you walk down into the garden.
They look beautiful paired with ferns!
I hope you can get your hands on some perennial begonias in your area – they are definitely a staple in my shady garden!
Photos by Whitney of The Curtis Casa
These days, when I walk down the stairs and around my garden path, I am greeted by the loveliest smell coming from my August Beauty Gardenia. The blooms are the purest white I’ve ever seen and the smell is just out of this world.
I planted two gardenias in my backyard a few years ago where they get just a couple of hours of morning and mid-morning sun. They’ve had a bit of a rough time. Smashed by a falled tree during a tornado-like storm and then bitten by an odd freeze the following winter. They came back, slowly but surely, and I’m glad to see they are bursting with green growth and dozens of buds this year.
Gardenias enjoy moist, well drained soil in a shady environment with some indirect light. I picked the brightest spot in my shady backyard! They’re hardy to zones 8-10, but after one frost that claimed almost a whole shrub, I sometimes cover with a sheet to be safe. (More info here!)
It doesn’t hurt to plant them close to the house too, so you can enjoy the sweet smell. I can’t help but clip them and bring them inside. It’s unbelievable how much smell can come from such a small flower.
Tip: To remember the variety of this particular gardenia, I had to reference my garden journal, where I keep tags, notes and a general history of my garden. If you’re just getting started with your green thumb or even if you already have an established garden, start a record of plants and make notes of your successes and failures! I use mine all the time. Plus, it’s a little bit nostalgic after you’ve been at this gardening thing for a while.