March 21, 2010

The Plant Geek no shrinking violet with his opinions

The beauty of plant geeks is that they not only know about plants, they also have opinions about plants.

Torenia “Catalina Gilded Grape,” the wishbone flower

Coreopsis “Dream Catcher”

Additional Photos Below


IF YOU MISS the deadline for planting your vegetable seedlings inside, don’t worry about it.

I WAS TALKING to Norm Steele, who coordinates the Plant a Row for the Hungry Program for the Cumberland County Cooperative Extension, and he said that last year he missed his deadline for planting onion seedlings by about three weeks. It didn’t matter. They did just as well as ever.

HE WAS JUST planting onion and celariac now.

Put Jim Masse, nursery manager at Estabrook’s, in that category. His talk last Sunday at the Portland Flower Show was called “The Plant Geek Speaks: Exciting Underused Plants,” and it offered a slightly different look at the garden world.

(I also attended Flower Show lectures by Maureen Heffernan of Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens and Cheryl Rich of Southern Maine Community College, and I will combine those into a column next week. Both discussed natives.)

Masse’s list of plants – there were only 27 of them – was good, but mostly I like his opinions.

He believes that when planting in containers, you should stuff them full. “I’m brutal with the plants. Plants thrive on neglect, on tough love, just like children.”

He is not a fan of pink, and especially pink late in the season. “Pink says it’s spring. In summer you want oranges, reds, hot colors.” He made that comment in discussing Lantana camara “Luscious Citrus Blend,” a wonderfully hot annual that he would recommend putting in a blue or gray pot.

“I’ve come full circle on geraniums,” Masse said, discussing the annual semi-trailing geranium Pelargonium “Calliope Dark Red.” “My grandmother grew them all over the place, and I hated them. Now they remind me of her.”

The trailing geranium is easier to grow than ivy geraniums, and has interesting foliage, he said.

Full sun in the plant world means six hours or more of sun per day. Part sun can go down to three hours. “If a plant’s foliage has fuzz or hair, it wants to be in full sun. The fuzz will capture moisture, and they can handle drought and heat.”

Masse believes in cutting back tall perennials early in the season so they are shorter when they bloom. He made the comments while discussing Anise Hyssop, or Agastache “Black Adder,” although he said you can do it with a lot of perennials – especially those in the aster family, including echinacea.

If you put in a broad border of the same plant, “you cut back the one in front and leave the back alone. The back will bloom first, and the front will be shorter and bloom later.”

Masse offered a secret for making delphiniums – discussing specifically “Summer Cloud” – last for several years. They are a Zone 4 plant, but often die quickly in Maine.

“You have to put them in the ground and immediately chop them to the ground,” he said. “It forces them to put their energy into the roots. It will delay the bloom, but patience is a virtue.”

Shasta daisy is a plant he likes a lot, and he specifically recommended Leucanthemum superbum “Fiona Coghill.”

“It doesn’t bloom all the time, and I’m fine with that. If it bloomed all the time, you’d get sick of it,” he said.

Masse likes the Japanese poppy Papaver miyabeanum “Pacino,” but you can’t plant it in good soil or fertilize it much. “If the soil is too fertile, you’ll have great blooms the first year but the plant will grow itself to death.”

Chartreuse is a hot color, and Masse likes Hosta tardiana “June Fever” for its color. “If it turns yellow, it is getting too much sun. Move it farther into the shade.”

Shearing part of some plants, both annuals and perennials, will extend their attractiveness in the garden. He mentioned it for Blue Start Flower (Laurentia axillaris “Beth’s Blue”) and Coreopsis “Dream Catcher.”

Shear off about half the blooms, and you produce new blossoms in the places you sheared while the beginning-to-fade blooms have some color until the new ones come in.

Those were the Masse pearls of wisdom related to some of the plants; with others, he just discussed the plants.

He likes red banana (Ensete ventricosum “Maurelii” and West Indian kale Colocasie esculenta “Heart of the Jungle”) for the size and color of their leaves.

He likes “Snow Princess” Alyssum because one of them takes up the space of seven other annuals, letting you save some money.

Papyrus “King Tut” is good because it is tall and striking, while Papyrus “Baby Tut” is more of a texture flower.

If you are bored with impatiens, the best annual for shade is Torenia “Catalina Gilded Grape,” called the wishbone flower for the wishbone look of its stamens. It has a good mix of purple and yellow, it’s a good grower and nothing has been found that eats it. “Yet,” Masse emphasized.

He also likes the annual bog salvia because, as its name implies, it will handle moist areas well and do OK in drought, and it gets tall enough to blow in the breeze. He uses his basement to overwinter them.

Baptisia is the Perennial Plant Associations’s plant of the year, and he likes a white one called “Wayne’s World.”’ It takes time for them to come into full bloom, however.

Masse’s current favorite daylily is “Fragrant Returns,” which, as its name would imply, is a fragrant rebloomer.

Masse likes Japanese iris and mentioned “Lion King,” but he recommends growing it in a moist swale next to the road because it looks great for the short time it is in bloom, and looks like other green road-edge plants the rest of the year.

Tom Atwell can be contacted at 791-6362 or at:

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Additional Photos

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Agastache “Black Adder”

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Lantana camara “Luscious Citrus Blend”


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