Louis Raymond experiments in his own gardens like

a mad scientist, searching out plants that most people have

never seen before & figuring out how to make them perform.- The Boston Globe

…Louis Raymond ensures that trees can grow in Brooklyn…

or just about any other place where concrete consumes

the dirt and skyscrapers shield the sunshine.- USA Today


NEW Trips to Take!

Myrtle's easy when the conditions are right.


NEW Plants to Try!

Louis tries to capture the exact words to describe the fleeting but deep pleasures to be found in these Summer-into-Autumn incredibles.


New Gardening to Do!

Allergic to bees? You can still have an exciting garden, full of flowers and color and wildlife.


Plant Profiles

Today in the Garden of a Lifetime: Cut-leaved Prairie Dock, in leaf and in flower


Another yellow daisy in late Summer? Yeah, yeah, yeah. But wait: This one is native, immortal, tough as nails, and has enormous showy foliage. And it's really rare.


It's in a genus of daisies native to the Midwest—Silphium—that should be grown wherever possible. These perennials tolerate heat and drought, long Winters and bitter cold, heavy soil as well as lean. And they flower for six weeks and more, some starting in July and others waiting until after Labor Day.  


This beauty claims the longest name of any in the genus: Silphium terebinthinaceum var. pinnatifidum.  And that's of interest when you're searching for the plant, or you want to pronounce it confidently to visitors.  (Say: "sill-FI-uhm tare-uh-bin-thuh-NAY-see-uhm var-I-eh-tee pin-uh-tiff-I-dum.")


In the garden itself, this perennial's flowers and foliage are the stars. The yellow daisies are at the tips of extraordinarily tall, nearly leafless, thick stems that can soar to ten feet.  Despite their height, they are remarkably self-supporting.  But most types of Silphium are normally taller-than-tall; the real excitement with this one is its basal foliage.  It forms a clump, two or three feet across, of hairy leaves the scale of those of rhubarb or, indeed, the huge perennial weed, burdock, that give the plant its "prairie dock" nickname. But these leaves have scalloped and fingered perimeters.  




Yes, there's another species of Silphium, S. laciniatum, whose foliage is as large and even more deeply fingered. I grow it also. But it is comparatively easy to find. Cut-leaved prairie dock arrives at the similar dinosaur-fern look by a somewhat different route: It's a form of the species—S. terebinthinaceum—whose foliage is bigger than that of rhubarbs or, even, of dock. It's no exaggeration to call this monster "banana-leaved."


S. terebinthinaceum var. pinnatifidum, then, is both banana-leaved and cut-leaved, whereas S. laciniatum is "just" cut-leaved.  That I grow both kinds is as much proof of their individual merits as my "Brady Bunch" affection for these huge perennials. With nine different—OK, different enough—forms of Silphium in my gardens already, there are still a good three or four yet to covet. What about the form (S. connatum "Red-Stemmed Selection") whose stems are (sort of) red?  The sole form (S. alboflorum) whose flowers are white instead of school-bus yellow?  Forms (such as S. trifoliatum) that can be cut back in June, changing what would have been other ten-foot behemoths into (comparatively) tidy four-footers?  I'm turning sixty, so I only have a few decades more in which to explore them all.


Spring is the planting season for Silphium, and Spring 2014 will be here in no time. The search for the next most obscure Silphium goes on.


Here's how to grow cut-leaved prairie dock, Silphium terebinthinaceum var. pinnatifidum, as well as a look at this remarkable perennial when it is just emerging in early Spring. Here's how to grow the straight species of prairie dock, Silphium terebinthinaceum; it can be a bit larger, but its hardiness and handling are the same. 

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