Epimediums are seriously underutilized around here, although those who know them love them and rave about their virtues. The thing about epimediums, also known as bishops cap and barrenwort, is that they're early bloomers, coming on in late April to mid May. In containers, they will bloom even earlier, so sometimes they've past their bloom period before most people start coming out to garden centres. Many gardeners who don't know what they're looking at will be less than impressed to see 'only' foliage, so that's why epimedium are often left on the benches at nurseries. There's a lovely variety of flower colours as well as leaf size and colouring; these are beautiful groundcovers and highly recommended.
A few years ago, I spotted yellow waxy-bells (kirengoshoma) growing in a garden in Truro, and got very excited. Until that point, I'd only read about these beauties in books, which isn't to say there aren't plenty of them growing here--just that I don't get out to nearly enough gardens. One of the joys of yellow waxy-bells is that they're late blooming, putting in an appearance in late summer or early autumn.
Another underutilized perennial is the beautiful masterwort, Astrantia. Masterwort is a member of the umbellifer family (Apiaceae or Umbelliferae), which makes it related to queen Ann's lace (Daucus), sea-holly (Eryngium), parsnips, dill, and carrots...and goutweed. It's a charming, well behaved perennial, forming nice mounds of handsome foliage and sprays of flowers in pink, greenish-white, or red to burgundy. A contrasting ring of petal like leaves, or bracts, surrounds the tiny florets, and makes them eyecatching and cherished for use in floral arrangements. A friend of mine says she has seedlings all around her garden from her plants, but I haven't been so fortunate with mine.
I've had a white-flowered dittany, or gas plant (Dictamnus) for a few years, but this year found the purple form for sale at a nursery down the Valley from here. The thing about Dictamnus: make sure you plant it where you want it, because it hates being dug up and moved. It's slow to settle in, but well worth the wait to get the spectacular, fragrant blossoms.
Although my previous attempts with a tree peony were not very successful, I decided to try again this year. Gardening colleague and nursery operator Lloyd Mapplebeck told me to tip a clay pot or a bucket over the woody stem of the plant after leaves drop and the ground freezes, to help protect the graft union for several years until the tree peony is well established. I meant to do that today, but came in the house too early. Tomorrow, the pot goes into protect-the-peony mode.
The very well named 'Brilliance' autumn fern is actually brilliant from the beginning of the season, when its new growth unfurls, until now, when it's preparing to go into resting mode. I tried this one last year but didn't have a real healthy plant to begin with, and it didn't return. This one was beautiful when planted and grew moreso over the season.
If you love to have pollinators around your garden, you need to have both the veronicas and their relatives the culvers roots, Veronicastrum. This is 'Red Fox' veronica, the bright pink blooms of which are often covered with bees and other pollinators. Last post we mentioned the new variety 'Purpliscious', but 'Red Fox' is an older, and still very popular, cultivar.
This is a relatively new variety of Echinacea, 'Tangerine Dream', which could become one of my very favourites because it's so definitely, defiantly orange. Very eyecatching in the perennial border, especially since it's near several other strongly-coloured bloomers, including 'Red Admiral' cranesbill and a host of other echinaceas.
Panic grasses don't have the showiest of flowers, but they have very graceful sprays of petite flowerheads along with handsome foliage that may be blue or green in colour, red- or wine-tipped. There are quite a few cultivars available around here, including 'Heavy Metal', 'Shenandoah', 'Rotstrahlbusch', 'Cheyenne Sky', 'Dallas Blues', and 'Thundercloud'. You can't have just one. At least, I can't.
A brief dip into shrubs to round out the day. This is the February daphne, D. mezereum, which was introduced to Nova Scotia with the settlers from Europe. It has highly fragrant flowers (they don't come out quite so early here) which turn into brilliant scarlet berries, but remember to take care with these plants: they are highly poisonous in all their parts.
One of the lepidote rhododendrons, R. russatum, is trying very hard to become my favourite ericaceous plant. As far as I know its flowers have the most blue-tinged colour of any of the hardy rhodos for our area.
Having waxed excitedly happy over 'Sungold' buddleia a number of times, no one will be surprised to find me still praising the beauty of this honey-coloured, fragrant flower. I'm preparing to mulch the base of mine with evergreen boughs and hopefully one of them will come through our winter.
One of the coolest evergreens I know of is the Siberian cypress, Microbiota decussata. In summer, the foliage of this low-growing conifer is a bright green, but as cold weather advances, the foliage turns bronze to purple. It's a tough, obliging evergreen, and one that should be used far more than it has been.
The fragrant sumac (Rhus aromatica) is related to our common sumac but as you can see it's quite different in appearance. It is a low-growing, spreading shrub, with interesting leaves and brilliant autumn colour. This variety is 'Gro-low', and I like the way it's used in some plantings around Wolfville, underneath taller shrubs and trees like flowering crabs. I haven't noticed any fragrance in my shrub's foliage, but I'm impressed with everything I've seen about this plant, so I hope for many years of pleasure from the one I planted this spring.