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

Shining False Indigo

amorpha-nitens-640

 

Black, indigo, and orange:  What cool flowers are these?  Shining False Indigo, a loose-limbed native of the Southeast.  I grow it partly because Morticia Addams would, I'd hope, be in favor of all flowers that bring more black into the garden. 

 

And because the bush, which prefers to grow in large and loose colonies, like any self-respecting sumac, is allowing me to train it, instead, as a standard.  Just the one stem—well, now one trunk—with a large and loose head of foliage and flowers atop it.  My gardens aren't big enough for a twenty-foot swathe of anything, so to grow this plant "on point," as it were, is an enormous savings of space.  Even better, the light foliage lets other bushes edge underneath the Amorpha's canopy without getting shaded out. 

 

PS:  I'm between cameras, but just for a couple of days.  The new one will arrive by Friday.  Meanwhile—argh!—iPhone pix.  Thanks for your patience.

 

 

Here's how to grow this unusual native:

 

Latin Name

Amorpha nitens

Common Name

Shining False Indigo

Family

Fabaceae, the Pea family.

What kind of plant is it?

Deciduous shrub

Hardiness

Zones 5 - 9.

Habit

Large spreading shrub, similar in habit to sumac.

Rate of Growth

Fast.

Size in ten years

Depending on how it's handled, ten to fifteen feet tall and ten to fifteen feet wide.

Texture

Loose and billowing

Grown for

the unusual flowers, which are tight spikes of near-black buds that developed into tiny indigo-colored blooms with brightly-contrasting projecting orange pistils.  The "amorpha" name refers to the flowers, which are oddly-shaped (for a pea-family flower, that is) with only one small petal that wraps around the lower half of pistils like a cone.  If amorpha had normal pea-family flowers, the floral display could be more like that of, say, wisteria.  

 

the wisteria-like foliage, which is modestly engaging.  The "shining" in the common name shows that the leaves are (a bit) smoother than other amorphas.  (And, indeed, Amorpha canescens' leaves are fuzzy gray.)

 

the loose and open habit.  This is a great shrub for filling a large space but without looking bulky or heavy. 

 

the it-will-survive-anywhere reliability.

 

its rarity in man-made landscapes, let alone in anything as detailed and thoughtful as a garden.

Flowering season

Latest Spring: The last half of June here in Rhode Island. 

Culture

Easy!  The plant will grow in almost anything, from seasonally-flooding bottomland to gravel banks.  It handles part-shade, but prefers full sun.

How to handle it

With full sun and plenty of space, amorpha can be an airy-but-massive landscape presence, like an enormous colony of sumac.  It casts only dappled shade, so underplant it with a shade-tolerant colonizer like hay fern or yellow-root—or, if money's no object, dwarf box.  (I always yearn for the opportunity to handle amorpha like cut-leaf sumac is handled at Wave Hill, by underplanting it with 'Tide Hill' boxwood.)  And then, just let 'em get acquainted for a couple of decades.

 

In my rich soil, amorpha is really fast-growing; I'm training it into a loose standard to give it a compact footprint. 

Downsides

The flowers are intriguing but are showiest in close-up, so, despite its mature size, this isn't a good choice for back-of-the-bed planting.  Perhaps best in informal or "campus" settings, where amorpha could be just the thing to economically fill a miscellaneous space that's, oh, twenty feet by thirty.

Variants

Amorpha canescens, Lead Plant, is a compact beauty, and should be grown in every full-sun garden.  It's one of the few woody plants native to the American prairies.

Availability

On-line.

Propagation

Cuttings and by seed.

Native habitat

Southeastern United States.

 
 
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