Plant Profile: Salvia ‘May Night’

Today’s Plant Profile is about one of my favorite perennials: Salvia ‘May Night’. Officially, the Latin name is Salvia sylvestris ‘May Night’ but it usually goes by Salvia ‘May Night’, May Night Sage or just May Night. It is one of those plants that belong in every garden, unless you have a shady garden like me. Salvia ‘May Night’ prefers full sun but it can survive in some dappled shade. It can survive the hottest of hot areas and actually prefers the heat. It is very drought tolerant once established and it’s only requirement regarding moisture is that you not give it too much. It will reach 18″-24″ tall by 24″ wide over time so it makes a perfect plant for the front of the border.

Salvia ‘May Night’ begins blooming in April and the blooms just keep on coming until frost. This picture was taken just about a week ago.

salvia may night

As with most long blooming perennials, it will provide the best show if it is kept deadheaded but you don’t have to fret about this. If you are a lazy gardener like me, just wait until most of the blooms are spent and then cut all of the bloom stalks off. Simple enough.

When and if you deadhead your Salvia ‘May Night’, you may have to shoo away the bumble bees and honey bees. They absolutely love it. Your plants will be covered with bees and some butterflies too. If you want to attract beneficials to your garden, Salvia ‘May Night’ is an excellent choice.

The only drawback to May Night, if you can call it one, is that the foliage smells…well…urineferous. That’s a word that I learned from Dr. Niemeira at Virginia Tech; he used it to describe the blooms of boxwood. Yep, the foliage smells like pee. There’s really no other way to put it. But unless you make a habit of rubbing the foliage, you won’t even notice it. There is one creature with a better nose than us that will notice the smell though: deer. Deer generally steer clear of plants with smelly foliage like herbs and in this case, Salvia ‘May Night’.

The foliage is semi-evergreen in Virginia. It’s there for most of the winter but eventually it starts to look pretty crispy as the winter wears on. I wouldn’t grow Salvia ‘May Night’ for its winter foliage but I would grow it for the other 9 months of the year when it shines in the garden. It’s hardy to Zone 5 so it should be a long lived, reliable perennial in the Mid-Atlantic gardening region. Let me know if you have experience with Salvia ‘May Night’ by leaving me a comment below or e-mailing me at Happy gardening!

April 11, 2012Permalink 4 Comments

Plant Profile: Dwarf Iris (Iris reticulata)


Dwarf IrisThe official start of spring is less than 8 weeks away but most gardeners consider March 1 to be their beginning of spring. And it’s around this time of the year that you’ll find Iris reticulata, or Dwarf Iris, blooming in your garden if you’re fortunate enough to have a planting.

Dwarf Iris are delightful little early spring bloomers with purple to blue flowers with a yellow highlight on the falls. They are often seen poking through a light layer of late winter snow with no bother. At 6″-8″ tall, they can fit in nearly every garden and are often used in rock gardens. I think they look great along pathways or by doorways where they can be viewed up close. If allowed to naturalize into a colony, they can make quite a show even from afar.

Dwarf Iris require no special cultural conditions other than well-drained soil. They prefer full sun and that is easily achieved under deciduous trees even in an otherwise shady landscape. They will tolerate light to moderate shade but shouldn’t be planted underneath dense evergreens such as spruce or hemlock. Their foliage, as with other spring blooming bulbs, should be left intact until it turns brown on its own. With such a small stature, the drying foliage shouldn’t cause much of a distraction in the garden.

Dwarf Iris originate from a bulb instead of a rhizome like the popular German Iris. This makes it easy to propagate them to plant in other areas of the garden or to share with a friend. The bulbs should be planted in autumn so if you didn’t plant them last fall, you’ll have to wait a few more months before you can add them to your gardening palette.

Other noteworthy characteristics of these spring bloomers is that their blooms are fragrant and the plants are deer resistant. Remember, deer resistant doesn’t equal deer proof! Plant them in an area where their sweet fragrance can be enjoyed and you’ll be rewarded for years to come. If you have dwarf iris in your garden, leave me a comment below and let me know your experiences…you can also e-mail me at Happy gardening!

Plant Profile: Hollywood Juniper (Juniperus chinensis ‘Torulosa’)


Today’s plant profile is on the Hollywood Juniper, otherwise known as Juniperus chinensis ‘Torulosa’. While we’re on names, it also goes by Juniperus chinensis ‘Kaizuka’ so don’t be confused if you see it listed as this at your local nursery.

The Hollywood Juniper is a fast growing large shrub or small tree that tops out around 15′ tall and 10′ wide. With selective pruning, you can keep it smaller to fit a particular area such as a corner of a house. Its bluish-green color lends itself to many backgrounds, including brick walls and houses as well as fences and siding. It has an interesting twisting habit with two to three leaders. If you like your garden to be perfectly symmetrical, this is not the plant for you. But if you enjoy a more whimsical, natural landscape, this plant can fit into almost any garden.

Hollywood Juniper derives its common name from its popularity in Los Angeles area gardens but it is perfectly at home in the Mid-Atlantic gardening region as well. Thriving in full sun, it is content with minimal water once established. Its boastful branches maintain their bluish-green color throughout the winter and don’t turn purple in cold weather as some junipers do. Hollywood Juniper is cold hardy through Zone 5 (-20°F) so it comes through the other side of Mid-Atlantic winters unscathed.

When siting it in the landscape, care should be taken to not locate it under eaves where snow falling from the roof in sheets could land. Some snow here and there falling isn’t a problem but if you have a particularly steep roof slope that sheets of snow descend from, pick another area of the garden to display this beauty. The Hollywood Juniper makes a beautiful specimen in the landscape but it can also be used as a privacy hedge or windbreak as well. It is salt tolerant so for all of you coastal folks, this makes a particularly adaptable shrub. And it’s deer resistant as well. The only real cultural requirement that this plant has is its need for well-drained soil. Don’t place it in a low or consistently wet area or you’ll end up with an Addams Family juniper.

Birds enjoy the evergreen foliage and can often be found nesting in the protective branches during the winter. It sports small blue berries in the winter months that add to its attractiveness to birds. Hollywood Juniper is practically bulletproof when it comes to pests and diseases. If planted in well-drained soil, you shouldn’t have any issues with root rot or other scourges.

Now I must confess that I generally despise junipers as a whole. There are only two that I can tolerate and they are the Hollywood Juniper and the Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana). Perhaps it is due to the volume of junipers I have encountered in my professional career or the vast quantities of bermudagrass that tend to rear their ugly heads through patches of juniper…either way, I am not a fan of junipers with these two exceptions. The Hollywood Juniper is truly a gem that stands out in a sea of otherwise overused species and cultivars. I’d love to hear how you’ve used Hollywood Juniper in your landscape…leave me a comment in the section below or send me an e-mail at Happy gardening!


December 7, 2011Permalink 6 Comments

Reader Questions: Deer Problems


I have had several readers send in questions about their options for deer problems. While venison is delicious, I understand that it’s not a feasible option to kill all of the critters. And besides, they are absolutely beautiful to watch. Having grown up in a family of hunters, I still stop the car to watch them on the side of the road, provided that there’s no one behind me. While I am lucky enough to not have deer problems in my garden, I understand the frustration they bring to a gardener who has invested so much time and money in their garden.

So what can you do to prevent them from devouring your landscape?

The easiest option to discourage them is to plant poisonous plants. The perennial nursery that I used to work for had a saying in their catalog under “Deer Resistant Plants” that stated: “Only cacti and plastic plants are truly deer proof” and that is pretty much true. If deer are hungry enough, they will eat anything and so would you if you were put in that circumstance. However, during any given year, there should be enough vegetation in the woods to sustain the deer population without having them raid your garden. The folks that I truly feel sorry for are those that live in jurisdictions where the deer population isn’t thinned each year. Deer, as will most any mammal, will continue to procreate to the point that the population overwhelms the local ecosystem and then they die of horrible afflictions like disease and hunger. I’d rather them be harvested sustainably then have that be the outcome but I digress. Back to deer resistant plants.

There are many options that are available in the poisonous category. Some of my favorites include foxglove, Arum, Hellebores, daffodils and monkshood. There are many other perennials that are deer resistant as well just by their good virtue. These include ferns of all sorts, ornamental grasses, coreopsis, heucheras, sedum, hibiscus and veronicas.

When you are considering deer resistant plants, keep the following in mind: deer noses are much more sensitive than ours and any smelly plant is likely to be a turn-off. Smelly doesn’t just include truly oderiferous plants like Houtynnia; it also includes plants like herbs such as oregano, chives or any allium species, mints, (there’s another story for another day), lavender and rosemary. Other aromatic plants include artemisia, geranium (the perennial, not the hothouse type), catmint, yarrow, agastache and salvia. If you are looking to deter deer with your planting choices avoid the hot-ticket items such as daylilies, hostas, azaleas and tulips.

But what should you do if you want to protect your existing plants from the ravages of Bambi?

There are some options although their effectiveness varies.

  • Dogs – having a dog or dogs that are outside at night are your best deterrents. Unless you have a large area for them to run, there’s a good chance that Fido will lay/pee/poop in some of the gardens you are trying to protect.
  • Sprays – there are several on the market but the one that I’ve used succesfully in customers’ gardens is Liquid Fence. It is not the best smelling stuff but I suppose that is the point. The downside is that it has to be applied after a rain, whether that rain be provided by God or your irrigation system.
  • Homemade concoctions – there are many home remedies available and they include locks of human hair wrapped in panty hose, bars of soap hung in trees and urinating in the garden. Of the three I’d have to choose the latter since you are at least providing nitrogen to the garden if nothing else.
  • Fences -you have to have the dedication and ability to erect a fence that is tall enough to keep out deer. The minimum height that would be begin to keep out deer is 6′ but 8′ is even better. When translated into dollars and cents, that is a sizable amount of money.


To me, a better option is to put in a fence that you deem appropriate and then create another fence of fishing line around it. Let me explain…deer have very poor depth perception and they will not usually enter an area that they can’t determine is safe. The basic setup is to add 2′-3′ long angled sticks to the top of your existing fence and string fishing line or some other material along them. The sticks need to be angled towards the area that the deer would be entering from…the last thing you want to do is have them hop the fence and then be afraid to jump back out! The thought is that as the deer approaches your garden, it would first come into contact with the fishing line and not be able to determine how far away the next fence is. This design works particularly well with veggie gardens that may already have a 4′ high or so fence around them. I will try to take pictures and update this post so that it is more clearly explained.

Whatever measures you take, just realize that deer are remarkably smart creatures that also like to eat. If you have the land, consider planting them an area that is rich in pasture crops such as alfalfa…chances are that they will hang out in those areas instead of your garden. I’d love to hear how you’ve kept deer from destroying your garden…please add your comments below or e-mail me at Happy gardening!


Plant Profile: Lords and Ladies or Arum italicum ‘Pictum’


The frost has killed off the foliage on my hostas and they resemble little more than pathetic blobs of brown mushiness. But a winter friend has reared its head and that friend is Arum italicum ‘Pictum’, otherwise known as Lord and Ladies.

Arum is a fascinating plant in that it is summer dormant and waits until cool weather to emerge. It is a perfect companion plant for shade loving perennials such as hostas, deciduous ferns and astilbes. When the cold weather has become too much for these spring and summer beauties, Arum decides to emerge to take over the show. Its beautiful arrow shaped leaves are mottled with white veins that seem to catch sunlight and reflect it back in the winter garden. It will emerge through fallen leaves so it can be naturalized in wooded areas, perhaps along a garden path or sitting area that is enjoyed on those warm winter days.

Arum is accented with light green to white spathes in spring that resemble those of a peace lily. As summer draws closer, the spathes transform into bright red seed heads that stand out in the shade garden. After this final performance, Arum goes into its summer dormancy and waits again for the cool weather. For this reason. it’s a good idea to mark or otherwise note where your Arum are so that they aren’t uprooted during the summer.

A bonus of growing this plant is that it is also deer and vole resistant. Reported to be poisonous, it’s no wonder why the four legged critters, both above and below ground, steer clear of it. Arum will form quaint colonies over time that are easily separated to either move to other areas of your garden or to share with friends. While they prefer moist but well drained, humusy soil, they will certainly tolerate much less, including the usual drought that the Mid-Atlantic summers offer. This is a must have plant for winter gardens…surely you can find a place in your garden for a plant otherwise known as Lords and Ladies! If you have experience with Arum italicum ‘Pictum’ in your garden, let me know by leaving a comment or e-mailing me at I’ve received some reader questions about deer resistant plants so I’ll be tackling that subject tomorrow. Happy gardening!

November 30, 2011Permalink 5 Comments

Plant Profile: Lenten Rose (Helleborus orientalis)

G.A. Cooper @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS Daabase


Today I thought that we would take a look at Helleborus orientalis, or Lenten Rose. Hellebores are fantastic plants that are hardy to Zone 4, meaning that they can withstand winter temperatures down to -30 degrees Fahrenheit. They are evergreen and bloom during a time of the year that little else will; they begin blooming in December and bloom up until April in Zone 7.

The Lenten Rose obtained its common name from the season in which it blooms. The word Helleborus can be broken down into its Latin roots as “hellin” which means to kill and “bora” which means food. It is true that Hellebores are poisonous so this makes them ideal for areas that have deer problems or pesky voles. They are generally only considered mildly poisonous if they are ingested and thankfully, there are plenty of other greens for me to eat in the winter. I would take care if you have cats or dogs that tend to graze on your plantings. Animals are usually very good at quickly determining if a plant is toxic but I’d hate to think that Sparky would have an upset tummy because of me.

Lenten Roses make great partners to other plants in the shade garden. As you go further north of Zone 7, you can push them into a little more sun but watch for leaves that start to burn. Just as animals have instincts that we don’t, plants will do their darndest to let us know if they are unhappy with their location. Unfortunately for them, they aren’t able to pick up and move if they are getting sunburnt so we have to watch for signs of distress. They enjoy a moist, well-drained soil that is loose and friable. They can certainly make do with much less but if we’re discussing ideal locations for them, a soil with a generous amount of organic matter is the ticket.

Much effort has been invested in the hybridization of Hellebores in recent years as they fetch a fairly hefty price in the garden center. In the Richmond, Virginia area a 3 qt. container will sell for around $12.oo retail. There are many wonderful color variations available now, including pinks, reds, whites, yellows and purples. Pine Knot Farms, located in Clarksville, Virginia has succeeded in breeding Hellebores that go beyond the attractive greenish-white colors that permeate many of the Lenten Rose’s flowers.

helleborus orientalis

The flowers are often freckled and develop into handsome seed pods if left on the plant. It is these seed pods that spring forth the next generation of Lenten Roses. If the plant is happy in its location, you can expect upwards of a hundred new babies the following year. They transplant easily enough if allowed to obtain a little size before moving.

When you’re looking at adding a few new perennials to your shade garden, why not consider the Lenten Rose? It is a workhorse in the garden that will have all of your friends, gardeners or not, asking what is the plant that is blooming in the snow outside your door. And you can kindly reply that it is a killing plant, better known as a Lenten Rose.

If there are other plants that you would like to see profiled here, please e-mail me at and let me know.

November 18, 2011Permalink Leave a comment