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

Giant Wingstem

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Big pairs of leaves that glow when the sun catches them.  What drama!  Giant wingstem is giant both ways:  It's tall—to ten feet—and it's also got giant wings on the stems.  (Wings on the native wingstem, profiled here, are too small to be part of its overall appeal.) 

 

And how 'bout those white-green veins?  And the next pair of leaves sprouting at the center?  I haven't yet gotten giant wingstem to bloom (large clusters of fragrant yellow daisies, if you can believe it), but this is a plant to savor even just for foliage alone.

 

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It's exciting in a pot, and thank goodness; it's not hardy in-ground below Zone 7.  The size of the foliage is remarkable: Each leaf can be 15 inches long.  No wonder it's in a 24-inch pot.

 

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But my plant hasn't ever gotten tall than five feet; half its potential.  If the plant were full size, I'd have needed to shoot the picture below from atop my eight-foot stepladder instead of a shorter one.

 

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See "How to Handle It" below for my current experiment on how to help this daisy truly thrive.

 

 

Here's how to grow this extraordinary warm-climate native:

 

Latin Name

Verbesina microptera

Common Name

Giant Wingstem

Family

Asteraceae, the Aster family.

What kind of plant is it?

Flowering perennial.

Hardiness

Zones 7 - 9.

Habit

Multi-stemmed and strongly upright, woody with age, with unbranched stems topped by a large and loose cluster of yellow daisies.  The stems have four raised ridges—hence the name "wingstem"—that are much showier than on the hardier wingstem species native to the American midwest.  They might also help with stem rigidity, always a plus in any plant that can get ten feet tall.  Oddly, despite the size and showiness of the wings, "microptera" means "tiny wings."  This is true only in comparison to the overall size of the plant.

Rate of Growth

Fast.

Size in ten years

In ideal conditions, a colony to ten feet high and seven feet or more across.

Texture

The vertical stems are unbranched, which gives more room for the pairs of unusually large mitten-shaped leaves, each at 90 degrees to the pair before it.  The plant would have a similar scale and big-boned presence as the native cup-plant, Silphium perfoliatum, also with ten-foot stems bearing alternating pairs of huge leaves.

Grown for

its size : Ten feet tall and, potentially, as wide.    

 

its foliage: Immense pointed light-green leaves have prominent white veins.  They're shaped like mittens, but with two thumbs, one on each side.  They're in pairs up the stems; each pair is at 90 degrees to the one above and below it.

 

its stems: The edges of each leaf extend down its portion of the stem in the form of a pair of large leafy wing-like ridges.  Because the next pair of leaves is at 90 degrees, so is each pair of leafy ridges.

 

its flowers: Small fragrant yellow daisies in clusters a foot across.

Flowering season

Early Fall: October.

Culture

Full sun at the northern end of its range; part shade is acceptable farther and farther south.  Rich soil and easy access to water will encourage the fastest and largest growth.

How to handle it

Where it's hardy in-ground—Zones 7 to 9—giant wingstem is "just" another huge perennial.  Plant it in reasonable soil where it gets plenty of water during the growing season but decent drainage during its dormancy during colder months, and it takes care of itself.  Easy!  (OK, yes, you'll also want to cut the stems to the ground before growth resumes in Spring.  But that's it.) 

 

Where it's not hardy, though, this extraordinary huge daisy must be grown in a container, and I'm still understanding how to handle it.  To date I've let light frosts put it into dormancy in late October, then I've put the pot in the basement—cool, moist, frost-free, and dark—for the long Winter. 

 

To date, I haven't brought it up into light and heat until May, and growth the following Summer has been hesitant:  A lot of stems sprout from the base but grow only slowly even with maximal sun, heat, and attentive watering.  No, the plant isn't pot-bound.  Growth isn't inhibited, then, by conditions during the growing season.  Perhaps if the dormancy weren't so long.  Maybe the plant really craves more action from November through the end of April than endless days and nights in a dank dark basement.

 

This Winter I'll move the pot into the heated greenhouse before frost.  The greenhouse is cool at night—50 degrees—but the sun on a bright day can warm it substantially.  This might feel like a typical Zone 9 "winter", where there are real temperature swings between night and day, but frost is only a possibility, not an inevitability.  

 

Stay tuned.  UPDATE from 2012:  The greenhoused colony, still growing in a huge pot, has thrived as never before this Summer.  As I write—October 3—it is now in bud.  Only with in-ground trial can it be determined if Verbesina microptera can be brought into flower this far north when growing outdoors year-round.  Stay tuned a while longer!

Downsides

If only it were hardier.

Variants

There aren't any cultivars of giant wingstem, but there are a couple of native species to consider.  They're not as impressive in foliage, but they're not a hassle to overwinter, either.  Check out my recent article on V. alternifolia

 

Gardeners in nearly frost-free climates have other giant daisies to consider, too.  New Zealand native Olearia macrodonta is accurately referred to as the "tree" daisy, with woody trunks and an overall height to twenty feet.  Podachaenium eminens is native to Central America, and it's even bigger, to 25 feet.  The common name isn't just "tree daisy," it's "giant tree daisy."  It thrives in foggy semi-shade in San Fransisco, and is supposed to be comfortable growing in containers, too.  Yup, it's on my list—but I won't try it until I've gotten the handle on the mere ten-footer of giant wingstem.

Availability

On-line.

Propagation

By division in early Spring, and by seed.

Native habitat

Verbesina microptera is native to Mexico.

 
 
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