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

Variegated Butterbur



Like an abandoned corsage, the first of the butterbur flowerheads rests atop the dead leaves of its bed.  It appears, all of a sudden, to announce the end of Winter. 


I didn't catch the flowering early enough last Spring, when I wrote on butterbur's purple-leaved cousin.  With its tiny heads of truly minute flowers just beginning to unfold, the entire structure is young enough that the apple-green sepals retain a chrysanthemum-like voluptuousness.  Corsage, indeed.




The cream-splashed leaves of this variegated cultivar are, typically, as large as those of water lilies.  They don't appear until the flowers are mostly done, and seem to arise from a differant plant entirely.  My colony has been stumbling along for a decade, favoring me with only a few flowers and leaves.  The plant is parched, even in an east-facing location that gets only morning sun.


Now that the flowers have given away the colony's location, it's still early enough to transplant it to squishy-wet surroundings.  Next year I'll have five times as many flowerheads.



Here's how to grow Japanese butterbur:

Latin Name

Petasites japonicus 'Variegatus'

Common Name

Variegated butterbur


Asteraceae, the daisy family

What kind of plant is it?

Hardy flowering perennial groundcover for damp soil or even shallow water.


Zones 5 - 9


Densely-growing round leaves arise from wide-spreading rhizomes.

Rate of Growth

Fast, if water is plentiful.

Size in ten years

Without control, and in wet rich soil, a colony fifteen feet wide and more.


Groundcovering, and, potentially, thick enough to be weedproof.

Grown for

its round green leaves, almost water-lily-like in shape, which are irregularly splashed with cream.  In moist and nutritious circumstances, they overlap. 


its spheres of clusters of tiny off-white flowers, on short stalks emerging like periscopes directly from bare ground.  They are curious more than beautiful, but all the more interesting for it. 

Flowering season

Very early Spring or even late Winter.  In this unusually mild Winter, late February.

Color combinations

The flowers and foliage go with everything.

Partner plants

Butterbur is invincible when confronting any plant that's shorter or slower, even temporarily.  But it can collaborate easily with plants whose growth is taller and woodier, or if herbaceous, quick-enough that it can be the first to grow above butterbur's "high-tide" elevation.  


Calycanthus loves moist ground, and is as fearless and quick an explorer as Petasites.  Its habit is strongly vertical, and the foliage of the 'Purpureus' cultivar is darkly-blushed most strongly when the butterbur's leaves are most intensely cream-splashed.  Leitneria and Cephalanthus are other vigorous and vertical shrubs for moist ground and, as along as they were just a bit taller at planting, would be unfazed by Petasites spreading beneath and through their colonies.


A Taxodium underplanted with Petasites would provide the ultimate contrast in foliage—feathery to round, small to large—while also supplying the dappled shade that would keep the butterbur foliage in good shape.  And it thrives in similarly moist sites.  


The spear-like stems of giant reed would just as soon pierce anything that was in the way of their upward ascent.  Arundo donax has the same territorial ambitions as Petasites, and also craves the same moist ground.  These two thugs are made for each other.

Where to use it in your garden

Butterbur is an unusual groundcover for moist ground, amid neighboring plants that are taller than it is to begin with, or can outgrow it each Spring.  The peculiar early-Spring flowers are so prompt and eager that they are a pleasure to greet when the weather can still be cold and messy.  If possible, site Petasites alongside pavement, which facilitates early-season viewing while it controls the plant's outward spread.  An east or north-facing garden, backed by buildings, would be ideal, providing afternoon shade as well as containment.


Any soil as long as there's plenty of moisture.  Butterbur welcomes full sun only when grown in a bog or pond-side setting.  It handles shade well (again, provided there's enough moisture).  Sun or shade, it will grow out into shallow water.

How to handle it: The Basics:

Plant in Spring or Fall, in any soil that provides enough water so the foliage doesn't scorch by mid-Summer.  Afternoon shade is usually the safest exposure.


Petasites is nothing if not opportunistic, and will spread as widely as bamboo.  It is much easier to control, because the rhizomes are very shallow and easy to pull up. 

How to handle it: Another option—or two!

The foliage of variegated butterbur is so showy that it's worth the work to keep the leaves in good shape through the Summer.  Providing enough water is key.  Unless you can site butterbur in a bog or by a pond, consider growing it in a container that you can set in shallow water during the growing season.  This has the advantage of limiting its growth, even as it concentrates it. 


Another strategy is to create a small bog garden just for a colony of butterbur—which is how I'm going to show my own colony a great kindness next week.  The simpliest way is to dig a hole about the size of a half-height garbage can, line it with heavy plastic, poke just one small hole in the bottom for drainage, fill to overflowing with rich soil, and plant.  The "overflow" soil hides the rim of the plastic and also give surface roots of the Petasites even more root room, by providing clearance for them to explore the surrounding soil. 


Long-term, it's more reliable to provide a thicker lining for your little bog.  Sink a ten- or even fifteen-gallon black plastic nursery pot completely into a bed.  Or a spare recycling bin.  Or the bottom half of a garbage can.  Line the pot or the bin with a couple of layers of heavy black plastic, and for drainage, poke a screw driver through the plastic and out through just one of the extant drainage holes in the pot or bin. 


If you're using a plastic garbage can down to half its height, you don't need the plastic liner.  Set the can right-side up on the grass, and make a drainage hole by pounding a nail through the bottom with a hammer.  Pull out the nail to open the hole.  Then place the can into the hole you've dug in your bed; as with the pot or bin, set it an inch lower than grade.  Fill to overflowing with rich soil, and plant the butterbur. 


Water as needed to keep the soil very moist year-round.  Any rhizomes that eventually escape over rim of the bog are easy to locate—the enormous leaves couldn't be a bigger give-away—and then to sever from the colony and pull up. 


Not suitable near smaller perennials. 


There's a cultivar with purple-blushed leaves, an all-green giant with leaves a yard-across on stems to six feet tall, and a much smaller cut-leaf variety with gold foliage.  The latter is also on my list for a "personal-size" bog.


At specialty retailers, and on-line.


Division of the roots at almost any time.

Native habitat




FacebookTwitterRSS Feed

Stay in touch!


Sign up for twice-monthly eNews, plus notification of new posts:


* indicates required