Coreopsis – and bringing new plants into my garden

Leading Lady Coreopsis, conniecottingham.comThese beauties are both from the Leading Lady™ Series of Coreopsis. ‘Iron Lady’ opens up almost completely burgundy, with more white showing on the petals as the flower ages. ‘Sophia’ is a bright, happy yellow.

The Coreopsis genus includes 100 species and a bazillion varieties, many of which have at least two species in the parentage. I cannot claim these are fantastic plants for your garden, because this is the first time they have bloomed for me. The many plants in Mt. Cuba’s Coreopsis trials range from a 4.7 to a 1.2 out of 5 and do not include any of the Leading Ladies. The Leading Lady™ Series does claim to bloom June through September and be heat and humidity resistant plants that are about two feet high. I have seen them listed online (and the Internet never lies, you know) as Coreopsis grandiflora on one site and Coreopsis auriculata on another site (both native to the Southeastern U.S.), although most sources do not attribute this series to one species.

So what is so great about these two leading ladies: ‘Iron Lady’ and ‘Sophia’?

They are beautiful here and now. For the price of a Starbucks coffee, I added these showoffs in my garden last spring because I haven’t grown Coreopsis in years. Now they are inspiring me to pull out art supplies, filling a little vase (I’m about to find out how they do as a cut flower), and feeding insects. They quietly grew for a year before this show-stopping bloom. Will they do this again next year? Coreopsis are known to be short-lived perennials so maybe for another year or so. A colony of native species of Coreopsis often reseed.

But if I only have now that is fine. Every year I gamble on a few new plants and when they pay off they are a thrilling surprise. When they truly prove themselves, they are invited back into the garden or related species and hybrids are brought in to try too (hence the many Salvias, Hostas, Hydrangeas, Ajugas and Viburnums in my garden).

Other plants that have proven their worth:

Cleome Señorita Rosalita® and Señorita Blanca® – During the worst summer drought, when the hoses only went to the most cherished plants, these two annuals never stopped blooming while all the other plants in that bed died. I now become a salesperson when I see them in a nursery, convincing anyone who will listen they MUST have these plants.

Epimediums – Deer, drought, deep shade… bring it on. The easiest to find in this area is ‘Pink Champagne’, a sturdy perennial with delicate early, early spring blooms.

Fanflower – All the annual hanging baskets look good in May. This one also looks good in August and September, in baskets and at the edge of the sidewalk.

Poppies – Last fall I dumped all my outdated Poppy seed packets into a 4’x8’ raised bed. They looked amazing for months and are still blooming, although a bit ragged. I am keeping them there to harvest the seed and am sure to plant again each fall (without having to buy more seed). Plant them where you can enjoy them from the windows because they do not last in a vase.

Fennel, dill, parsley, and butterfly weed – Because they do increase the butterfly population if you let the caterpillars eat the foliage.

Hydrangea paniculata – Hydrangeas in summer that glow in full sun. These are so treasured that they are the first to get deer spray.

Asters – My newest obsession, offering fall blooms and deer resistance. Many are native. These are among the few plants that thrive in the hot, neglected, compacted-clay, brutal full-sun, west-facing bed. Cut the plants back by half in June for compact plants with more branching and more flowers, instead of having them flop everywhere.

I could go on and on. These favorite plants came into my garden as inheritances, gifts, recommendations, samples, whims and gambles. I have killed a lot of plants. I have cut down a few shrubs and am cursing and fighting some invasive plants. But I am always trying a few new plants and hope you are doing the same in your garden. Maybe these Coreopsis plants will join the list, maybe not. In the meantime, I’m pulling out my art supplies.

Note: This was originally written as a weekly Love Notes From the Garden.  Subscribe to these weekly emails on this website.

I would call Lenten rose deer proof

It is risky to call any plant deer proof, but there are a few I would give that tag. One is Lenten Rose (Helleborus xhybridus or ), which seems like the perfect plant to me. It is evergreen, tolerates part to deep shade, resistant to deer and other pests, and blooms when few other plants bloom. Not just any flower either – sculptural, perfect blooms that entices me to pull out a sketchbook and concentrate on their beauty.

Lenten Rose is hardy from Zones 4-9 and is one of the longest blooming perennials in cultivation, with blooms that last for six weeks or more. To make it even more desirable, it is one of the earliest blooming perennials, with blooms starting as early as January in Georgia and lasting into April. Who couldn’t love a plant that blooms even before the daffodils?

Glossy, bold, leathery foliage is a year-round asset to the shade garden. Leaves are divided into seven to nine segments, falling away from the central stem like an umbrella. These coarse leaves are a great contrast with ferns and bleeding hearts. Although they are evergreen, the leaves can look a little ragged before the new growth emerges. This is just a little winter burn and aging foliage. Trimming off some of the older foliage in January or February not only makes the plants look better; it shows off the blooms better too.

The perfect spot for a Lenten Rose would be in deciduous shade, protected from the wind, in rich soil with plenty of moisture but good drainage. They would like the bank of a creek, along a woodland path. Lenten roses do better planted among hardwoods than pines, because they appreciate winter sun and pine needles accumulating around them can hinder growth. One thing Hellebores cannot take is soggy soil.

These plants are disease and pest resistant and prefer to be left alone. Once established, Lenten roses reseed to form a colony, creating a dramatic woodland groundcover that blooms in various colors. Seedlings can be dug up and moved, but established plants resent being moved or divided and may not bloom the following year.

My first few plants have reseeded to create a colony in my shade garden, with each plant producing slightly different blooms. The blooms come in many colors, including white, pale yellow, pink, maroon, purple and speckled. These are subtle, beautiful, nodding blooms on evergreen plants that are eighteen to twenty-four inches tall.

I love my colony of reseeded Lenten Roses but, oh my, what are available in nurseries now are stunning. The breeders have been working on Lenten Roses and now offer double blooms in bright colors with their faces rising upward, or pale pink fluffy blooms comparable to an English Rose, or blooms that look like they were hand painted in a porcelain factory. Just do a search on Pinterest to be amazed at the variety and beauty. These new Lenten Roses can be pricey – and worth every penny. Once in your garden, they will become your favorite plant, asking little and giving so much.

I suggest you shop for these plants locally, when they are in bloom. Then you know exactly what the bloom will look like and buy a plant that is already at blooming age.