Some plants because of their size, some because of different blooms, some because of their perfume, and some because of their color, grab your eye immediately. I call them “SHOW STOPPERS”.

          A large SHOW STOPPER, both the bush and the flower, is the HIBISCUS. For years we were told they would not survive in Nebraska.  One plant may be 5 to 6 feet tall and just as wide with blooms 8 inches across. About the last plant to start in the spring, it is easy to destroy when doing early spring cleanup. Therefore, when I cut it back in the fall I always leave about 6 to 8 inches of stump in place for spring protection. The blooms usually last only one day unless it is cloudy when they may open a second day. They like moisture and good drainage.  Those big leaves need water. Mine have been very vigorous for 3-4 years and then gradually decline.  They are easy to start from seed and come in reds, pinks, whites, and some with different color centers.

          Most people think of CLEMATIS as a vine but there are a number of bush ones. My largest (Clematis heracleifolia) is 4x4 feet and sends out root runners so it can spread. The blooms are in clusters around the stem in several layers up and down the stem.  Smaller ones, only about 2 to 2 ˝ high, are also blue, with single flowers and white centers. They have fluffy seed heads later.  The blooms look like bells hanging down, with the edges of the petals curved upwards.

          You need to know the pruning group of your CLEMATIS when you get it. The very early (Group #1) bloom on last year’s wood and any pruning must be done immediately after blooming.  Group #2 (mid-season) are large flowered blooms on side shoots from last years growth.  Remove dead and damaged stems before growth begins in the spring.  Group #3 (last flowering) need to be trimmed to 6 to 12 inches from the ground in late fall after frost has killed the leaves. I like to leave just enough stem so I can help it start climbing in the spring.  The Autumn Clematis (Clematis recta) is a good example of Group #3. Autumn Clematis is covered with star shaped white flowers that are very heavily scented. In some areas it is considered a weed as its many seeds from the fluffy heads are blown into many places. RAMONA, a gorgeous blue, is probably my favorite of Group #2.

          Variegated FALLOPIA is a vigorous perennial about 5 to 6 feet tall. Several years ago I found this little plant coming up bright pink with variegated leaves and planted it in front. Its common name is MILE-A-MINUTE and is in the same genus as SILVER LACE VINE to give you an idea of what happened. It is now back against the wooden fence, over 6 feet tall and almost as wide, with gorgeous, variegated leaves.  It goes well in flower bouquets.  The blooms are small, pinkish white. It certainly looks like a shrub in summer but dies to the ground after frost.

          Several years ago, I saw a different looking plant in High Country Gardens catalog called INDIAN PAINT BRUSH. It said “only for experienced gardeners” and that it is a parasite that taps into the roots of other plants. They send BLUE GRAMA GRASS along with it to feed it.  I bought three to see what I could do! After the first winter I had only one but it was about 2 feet tall, slender stems, topped with the brightest orange blooms in clusters.  It lives with GRAPE HYACINTHS and near a tall HELIOPSIS. As yet I don’t know which plant is “feeding” it.  It said to use clean, well drained soil so I have it planted on a slight slope. It is now 3 years old and has widened out to about 18 inches.

          I see flowering TOBACCO around the gardens in Lincoln but never the big tall one, Nicotiana sylvestris. The blooms are white and produce perfume in the evening.  Mine grows to about 6 feet tall and comes up very late so it is good for a fall bloom.  It is a native of Argentina with densely packed trumpets hanging down from the top. These flowers close in full sun so it is good for a background plant in light to medium shade.  The seed is dust fine but there is lots of it.  The original seed was given to me by Steve Nosal from the Lincoln Sunken Gardens.

          Another tall, very easy to grow plant I don’t see very much is CLEOME, usually called SPIDER FLOWER. Some people say the petals look like spiders but I think the long seed pods look like spider legs hanging down with stem.  It produces thousands of seeds which may account for its lack of popularity.  It also needs a good amount of space.  There are lavender, white, pink, and pink and white blooms that bloom up the stem for a number of weeks.  I have measured 2 feet of “legs” on one stem. 

          A number of years ago I saw a FRINGE TREE (Chionanthus) in a yard on a garden tour and finally three years ago I found one.  It is a small tree or a shrub.  Mine wants to be a shrub.  Trees are either male or female but both have fringes but only the females have black berries in the fall.  Books say the male blooms are more dramatic.  They bloom before the leaves appear making a solid white mass of fringes hanging down.  It needs fertile, well drained soil.  Also, it is sometimes called OLD MAN’S BEARD and usually is never over 10 feet tall.

Copyright 2008