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

Palm-leaved Ligularia

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I have a dear friend who, at least in her own gardens, eschews daisies of all sorts.  (Roses, too.)  True, their "Hello world!  What a fantastic day it is!" enthusiasm can be mighty broad for these wild times.  For me, though, boldness is the right response to wider uncertainties.  If ever (heaven help us) I myself had the need to slip a daisy down into the barrel of a National Guardsman's gun—ah, those iconic photo ops of the Sixties!—this is the one I'd pick: Palm-leaf ligularia.

 

Single daisies the color of school buses: Could any flower have stronger messages of child-like simplicity and hope for the best?

 

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But for many gardeners, simplicity and hope look more like tackiness and and trash.  So when you plant ligularias, be prepared to state your position on the flowers.  Otherwise, your sophisticated friends will begin to doubt your own soigne charms, forcing you to improvise about how the flowers are shocking, shocking, and how could you have foregotten to clip them out?  Or you slide in a comment about the power of ironic tastelessness in making an otherwise magnificent garden finally get some rhythm going. 

 

Your more free-thinking friends, on the other hand, will sidle up to confess that they, too, have always had a soft spot for ligularia flowers.  But this attempt to welcome you into their coven of loud-flower lovers also signifies that you've been demoted as the keeper of the flame for the Temple of Taste. 

 

Either way, any message about simplicity and hope is bypassed altogether.  Head both groups off at the pass, as I do, with a pre-emptive strike.  Contrast the ligularia's immense and impressive foliage, which both sophisticates as well as free-thinkers will applaud, with your even more catholic need for levity as well as variety.  "Aren't those ligularia leaves incredible," you declare, "but I find that what really gives the plant some kick are those hilarious flowers.  Who could imagine daisies springing out of such foliage?  And in these times"—whatever the times actually are, saying "these times" will automatically bring on sympathetic nods from your listeners—"don't we all need more moments of child-like delight?"

 

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The flowers—in flat clusters atop tall greet-the-sky stems—are also a self-supporting way to get height into your garden without also blocking everything behind that height. 

 

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The broad-leaved evergreen behind my palmatiloba isn't tall all on its own.  Oh, no: It's a euonymus bush grafted atop a trunk of some sort of euonymus tree.  Clever, eh?  And the ligularia flowers look great in front of its foliage.

 

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At the front, I confess that the low fern-leaf Japanese maple, 'Red Pygmy', is, even for me, too blunt a contrast with the ligularia's huge leaves and bright flowers.  It's eight feet wide and shows no sign of slowing down, either, so I've got a lot of deep-purple to deal with.  That's Clematis henryi growing atop it.  But while the pure white dinner-plate flowers are a triumphant match for the maple, thanks to their identically-purple stamens, this still doesn't help get the conversation going with the ligularia.

 

I know: I'll add a yellow-flowered honeysuckle.  Lonicera flava sprawls more than climbs, so it can scramble through the 'Red Pygmy' and bring a coordinating yellow right to the maple's foliage.  And for flowering right when the ligularia's out, the yellow-flowered "orange-peel" clematis, C. tangutica, twining through both plants on its way to still bigger quarry, that standard euonymus.  Its flowers are called orange-peel because of their petals' unusual thickness; the actual color suggests lemon peel more than orange.  But still, the clematis will be a good Summertime partner for the maple and the ligularia both.  And then, finally, this group will begin to mix and mingle with style.

 

 

Here's how to grow this lush and colorful perennial:

Latin Name

Ligularia x palmatiloba

Common Name

Palm-leaf Ligularia

Family

Asteraceae, the Aster family.

What kind of plant is it?

Herbaceous perennial.

Hardiness

Zones 4 - 9.

Habit

Large basal leaves on stems tall enough to give the perennial an almost bush-like presence.  It grows from a clump that thickens but doesn't spread.  Tall, strong, and straight flower stems, also with leaves, rise above the foliage, and bear loose flat clusters of shocking orange daisies.

Rate of Growth

Fast.

Size in ten years

A clump four feet across and, when truly happy, five to six feet tall when in flower.

Texture

Lush and full; the wide and flat leaves have long enough stems that they aren't in a low mound like a hosta but, instead, in a taller, airier, and altogether more graceful grouping.  A cocktail party of individuals, so to speak, not a tight formation of identicals.

Grown for

the unusual large, round, and coarsely-toothed leaves, which can be sixteen inches across when the plant is growing in rich soil with plenty of water.  Among their colleagues the silphiums, Telekia speciosa, and Rudbeckia maxima, ligularias are the first among equals of the huge-leaved asters.  Only after you've drunk your fill from their fountains should you explore the inulas and the literal huge-leaved aster, A. tataricus, both of whose even-more-gigantic foliage can easily look merely weedy—and, worse, can become afflicted with powdery mildew.

 

the tall and bush-like presence—again, with rich soil and plenty of water—that is a great way to add height as well as bulk to any garden bed.

 

the loose flat sprays of bright-orange daisies, which seem delightfully out of character with the water-lily-like foliage, and float atop tall straight stems above the foliage. 

 

its unpalatability to deer—a huge surprise given the foliage's lush size as well as its smooth and thorn-free surface. 

Flowering season

Mid-Summer.  July here in Rhode Island.

Culture

Ligularias are consistent in their pleasures:  Plenty of water, whether that means just rich soil and plenty of watering by you, or rich soil and plenty of water because they're growing by a (fresh-water) pond. 

 

For once, the mantra of "moisture-retentive but well-draining" can be relaxed and even ignored:  Ligularias crave water and lots of it; they'll grow in near-boggy conditions.

How to handle it

Shade in the afternoon is usually the best choice: regardless of the amount of available water, ligularia foliage tends to wilt in hot late-day sun.  It recovers the minute (well, the hour) the sun wanes, and the plant doesn't seem to have minded, either.  But because of its very size, a wilted ligularia still looks mighty stressed, and right when you'll be most likely to be in the garden to see it, too.

 

Ligularias are "comfortable in their skin" just like hostas and peonies, and can grow for many years without division.  Self-seeding is modest, at least in my experience, so there's no rush to dead-head when the flowers fade.  Ligularias' need for plentiful water, however, means that they're not interested in competing with tree roots, which hostas do so famously.  Nor are they interested in dry shade.  Either give them regular-to-rich garden soil with full sun until, oh, one o'clock, or give them regular-to-rich woodland garden conditions with dappled shade all day.  Happily, both conditions are perfect for their perfect aesthetic partners, ferns of all sorts. 

Downsides

L. x palmatiloba foliage seems to get more sun-damaged than that of other ligularias, so it's a plant for even greater-than-normal shade or moisture or both.

Variants

Few gardens should be without several ligularias, where the large foliage can be had in various shapes (pointed, lacy, toothy, or lotus-round); hues, from bright green to purple-blushed (especially on the back) to deep mahogany top and bottom, in the exciting cultivar 'Brit Marie Crawford'; and sizes, from the three-inch leaves of plants that are eighteen-inch munchkins to the foot-and-then-some leaves of plants that are as tall as you are.

 

The flowers are sometimes in dense vertical spikes of smaller flowers, looking for a moment like medium-yellow spikes of delphiniums—or, as with L. x palmatiloba, in loose flat sprays of much larger daisies that are also (like it or loathe it) the same shade of deep orange-yellow you've seen on school buses for decades.    

Availability

On-line as well as at retailers.  Sometimes sold under the names L. x yushizoeana or L. yoshizoana.

Propagation

By division.

Native habitat

Ligularia x palmatiloba is a cross between L. dentata, native of China and Japan, and L. japonica, native to—you guessed it—Japan.

 
 
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