Tag Archives: featured plant

Scottish Bluebells (Campanula rotundifolia)

It was a very pleasant surprise to see these in the garden this morning:

Scottish Bluebells, 31 May 2012

I planted seeds of Scottish Bluebells (Campanula rotundifolia) in Spring 2010 after the Chief of Implementation and I finished building the Terraced Driveway Bed.  I also planted white Sweet Alyssum (Lobularia maritima) and Adonis aestivalis.  The Sweet Alyssum germinated right away and has reseeded and spread each year since.  There was no sign of either the Adonis or the Scottish Bluebells in 2010.  I was pleasantly surprised when the Adonis showed up in 2011, but there was no sign of the Scottish Bluebells.  I assumed they were growing in that great Garden in the Sky.

I noticed them for the very first time while touring the garden today.  Presumably, they just took their time growing.

Dave’s Garden has a lovely article on this plant.  Here’s to unexpected surprises.


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Japanese Andromeda (Pieris japonica)

Evergreen shrubs are often considered the backbone of a garden.  I have a decided preference for evergreens that also offer seasonal interest and I love fragrant plants.  Japanese Andromeda (Pieris japonica) offers all three, with fragrant spring flowers, a solid evergreen presence and, on some varieties, colorful new growth.

There are three varieties growing at the Garden in the Woods.  When we moved in, there were two large mature shrubs in the front yard.  One of them is at the end of its life, but I’m hoping to take cuttings.  The other graces the front door, and blooms in mid-Spring,

Pieris japonica, 22 March 2012

covering itself with long chains of delicate bell shaped flowers

Pieris japonica, 15 April 2011

which are much loved by bees.

Pieris japonica, 14 April 2011

This is probably a 25 or 30 year old shrub and most likely the plain species Pieris japonica.  There’s been some breeding and selection focused on pink flowers and colorful new growth.  P. j. ‘Valley Valentine’ is widely available with pink flowers and red new growth.  The pink variety in the Garden in the Woods is P. j. ‘Dorothy Wyckoff’.  It’s a lovely shrub, in full bloom just a few months after fall planting in this picture.

Pieris japonica 'Dorothy Wyckoff', 27 March 2010

The flowers fade from pale pink to white, but the stems and calyces remain red.

Pieris japonica 'Dorothy Wyckoff', 27 March 2010

This variety blooms a little earlier than the plain species, but that may be due to a warmer spot.  About half of the shrub has died back which seems to be a problem with Pieris if they’re not perfectly sited.  I’ll give it another year or so to recover before either moving it or dispatching it to that great garden in the sky.

The third variety in the Garden in the Woods is Pieris japonica ‘Prelude’ a dwarf shrub that blooms later in spring.  This year that translates to just starting now, although in previous years, it’s been in bloom during April and early May.

Pieris japonica 'Prelude', 10 April 2010

I’m particularly fond of the combination of P. j. ‘Prelude’ and Blue Eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium angustifolium ‘Lucerne’) shown here.  Blue Eyed Grass seems to be a short lived perennial for me, perhaps because even with amendment, the soil is still clay.

Pieris japonica 'Prelude' & Sisyrinchium angustifolium 'Lucerne', 1 May 2010

Pieris japonica is a hardy shrub, preferring well drained moist soil and partial shade.


  • West Front, Sidewalk to House
  • Southwest Front Corner
  • West End of House


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Sweet Box (Sarcococca hookeriana var. humilis)

Day before yesterday was a stunning spring day, warming up to nearly 65 F, so I opened the front door to let fresh air circulate through the screened storm door.  After a while I noticed a lovely fragrance drifting in.  The Sweet Box (Sarcococca hookeriana var. humilis) out front is blooming.  The flowers are described as “insignificant” but the fragrance can be quite powerful on warm winter and spring days.  For me, this is one of the first signs that spring is coming, sometimes noticeable on warm days in December or January.

Sweet Box on both sides of sidewalk from driveway and far side of sidewalk from street, 6 May 2010

Sweet Box under Weeping Cherry, 8 May 2011

Sweet box is a short (12-24 inch tall) slowly spreading evergreen.  Its charms are subtle and understated, but I really enjoy this plant.  Most of the year, it provides a lush green background on both sides of the front door of the house here at the Garden in the Woods.  The blooms are very small, but leave a tantalizing scent on the air.  During warm spells in winter, and the very earliest days of spring, that scent drifts on the air, enticing us outside even when it’s too early or wet to plant.  The flowers develop into dark berries, adding a little more subtle color later in the season.

Sweet Box, showing flowers and last year's berries, 1 March 2012

The Garden in the Woods provides an idea location for Sweet Box — plenty of shade and moisture.  The large planting here was probably put in during the 1980’s when the front and west end of the house were professionally landscaped.  I’m very glad to have inherited this lovely foundation plant and have plans for spreading its babies around the yard over time.

This plant is native to the Himalayas and hardy in USDA zones 7-9.  It’s also highly deer resistant here in the Garden in the Woods and very tolerant of clay soil.

East of Front Door
West of Front Door, Lawn to Sidewalk
West of Front Door, Sidewalk to House


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Nun’s Orchid (Phaius tankervilliae)

It’s winter outside, and nothing is blooming since the deer devoured the flowers on the Mahonia ‘Winter Sun’ last month. I’m counting the days (months, years) until those plants are taller than the deer!  Narcissus foliage is peeping up, earlier than usual after the warm winter we’ve had, but those flowers are still a long way off.

Thankfully, there’s consolation inside the house.  My faithful Nun’s Orchid (Phaius tankervilliae) started blooming around the first of the year.  Unlike the orchids I buy in weak moments, plan to coax into blooming, and never quite manage to master, this big beautiful houseplant reblooms every year.  I bought it from a local nursery three years ago, and have been blessed with more flowers every single year.  Here are a couple of pictures from last year when the blooming was at its peak.

Nun's Orchid in Bloom, 5 Feb 2011

Blooming Nun's Orchid, Plant Habit, 5 Feb 2011

Remember this plant is a baby relatively speaking.  It will just keep getting bigger and better.

Here’s a closeup of this year’s bloom scapes:

Nun's Orchid, 20 Jan 2012

Gorgeous aren’t they?  As you can see from the picture, there are more flowers at the top of the scape waiting to open up.  This puppy blooms for a month or two during the coldest time of the year.

I had this plant in a south window during 2010-2011 cold weather, but it seems just as happy in a west window this year.  It likes to be fertilized a couple of times a year, but has done okay without it so far.  I repotted it in September after summering it outdoors, but the leaves were pretty beat up after a summer outside, so I think it will spend next summer inside.

The only problem I see with this plant is that it’s fairly expensive and hard to find.  I paid about $40 for mine, three years ago, and it’s grown, but not a ton.  I suspect it takes several years to grow a blooming size plant.  It’s also most interesting in January and February when most people aren’t thinking about gardening. Stoke’s Tropicals (http://stokestropicals.plants.com) does carry it.  Logee’s (http://www.logees.com) carries several varieties even showier than the species shown here.

Propagation is by seed, division or rooting bloom stems after bloom season is over.  I have a very small baby plant started from a bloom stem last season and plan to try again this year, probably with the stem cuttings in an enclosure to avoid over and under watering, both of which happened last summer.  I suspect it will be a few years before any of the babies are blooming size though.

There are hybrid and selected varieties with even showier flowers available occasionally.  Last spring, the Logee’s catalog included a few.  I think it’s worth a little trouble and expense for this beauty because she’s such a reliable bloomer at such a gloomy time of year.


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