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

Feather-leaf Rodgersia

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A good motto for the garden—and for life: Better to be interesting than beautiful.  It's much easier, and much more fun into old age.  Here's a plant that lives the philosophy right from its first appearance each Spring.

 

The common name is a puzzle:  Featherleaf Rodgersia?  If anyone had been looking at the plant in Spring when thinking up a name, the choices might have been more like "Monster from the Black Lagoon."  Or "Hairy Claws About To Grab Your Ankle."  Or "Hokey Smoke, Rocky, What's That?" 

 

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I'm liking that last one a lot.  Partly because I've just ordered the complete boxed set of "Rocky and Bullwinkle," but also because there couldn't be any higher praise for a plant than to stop you in your tracks. 

 

Featherleaf Rodgersia doesn't let down for a minute all season long, either.  These excitingly sinister reaching-for-something-vulnerable stems fluff out to big palmate leaves, thick enough to stand proud and unchewed throughout the season.  (How many of your hostas can say the same?)  They bring some tropicalismo to any plantings outside the tropics—where, admittedly, they'd be ho-hum trying to compete with actual palmate palms

 

But even the palms pale in comparison when you look closer at the top of the stalk.  It's web-toed and hairy, for Pete's sake.  Creepy indeed.

 

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And what's the left leaf holding, I mean enclosing?  A dense cluster of little round nodules.  Fish roe?  Alien spawn?  The innards ripped from underground prey?  And how many perennials can even hope to incite such speculations?

 

Just the flower buds, of course, which will open into a plume as fluffy as any astilbe's, and which floats nonchalantly above the big leaves. 

 

By the time the flowers are out, the leaves will have matured to mild-mannered green, big but harmless.  "Featherleaf" will continue to be wide of the mark, but the entire plant will be in a warm-weather disguise as merely striking and even pretty.  (I wonder if the bristly Spring stems have gotten manscaped too?  I'll check.)

 

By June, then, the web-toed, hairy-armed, innard-clutching monster is at bay until next Spring.  Our secret.

 

 

 

Here's how to grow this split-personality perennial:

Latin Name

Rodgersia pinnata 

Common Name

Featherleaf Rodgersia

Family

Saxifragaceae, the saxifrage family.

What kind of plant is it?

Herbaceous perennial.

Hardiness

Zones 5 - 8

Habit/span>

Upright and broad, with thick and large leaves more reminiscent of palm tree fronds than feathers.  Thick dense growth similar to hostas, and with similar groundcovering potential.

Rate of Growth

Fast when happy.

Size in ten years

Three feet tall and five feet wide; size is all about plentiful water and rich soil.

Texture

Thick, substantial, even tropical.  Full to the ground.

Grown for

the long stems of astilbe-like flower-heads are taller than the foliage, sometimes dramatically, showing off the flowers to full effect.  Depending on the cultivar, the flowers can be white, buff, pale pink, or deep pink. 

 

the large palm-like leaves, as big as most hosta leaves but separated into pointed finger-like leaflets.  Usually green in maturity, although darker-leaved cultivars are available.  The foliage is usually a mysterious and even creepy hairy tan-brown when emerging—a big positive on all counts, at least to me. 

Flowering season

Early Summer.  The stems with flower-heads emerge at the same time as those with just foliage.

 

Culture

Part shade to shade, with rich soil and plenty of water.  The richer and wetter the soil, the more sun it tolerates.  Extremely happy in a bog or pond-side setting.  Would also thrive in a large pot sitting in water.

How to handle it

Soil and water are the keys:  Prepare as rich and moisture-retentive a site as you can.  Increases to form colonies although doesn't run or even romp far afield, as much as you wish it would. 

Downsides

With size being so much of the appeal, too-dry soils will stunt or even kill the plant.  On the other hand, rodgersias aren't troubled by insects or pests, and with good water all Summer long their foliage stays in better shape than that of hostas. 

Variants

Many, as well as several related species, with flowers from white to buff to pink, foliage color from green to purple- or copper-blushed to Summer-enduring purple.  The foliage is usually palmate, but one related species has round leaves like those of a lotus.

Availability

On-line and sometimes at retailers.   

Propagation

Division as well as seeds.

Native habitat

East Asia.

 
 
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