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

Farfugium seedheads

I've had a dried bouquet of Ligularia seed heads for many years; this year I'll add these stems of leopard plant.  Farfugium is a clumping perennial, similar in look and habit to Ligularla, but with thick evergreen leaves.  It's not nearly as hardy, but my collection of potted ones enjoys the move into the greenhouse for the Winter.

 

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Month after month—well, since November—I've done more pressing greenhouse tasks than grooming the leopard plant.  Just as often, I've left everything to slumber another week during the dark and chilly months of December and January.

 

In this unusually mild Winter, everything is waking up early.  If Farfugium were hardy outside, nasty Winter weather would have long since ruined these fluffy seedheads.

 

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A quiet dormancy in the greenhouse gave the seedheads and the plant itself the protection they both needed to greet Spring.

 

 

Here's how to grow this easy evergreen perennial:

Latin Name

Farfugium japonicum 'Aureomaculatum' / Ligularia tussilaginea 'Aureomaculata'

Common Name

Leopard Plant

Family

Asteraceae, the Aster family.

What kind of plant is it?

Flowering perennial.

Hardiness

Zones 7 - 9.

Habit

Clumping, with basal hosta-like foliage that contrasts with clusters of small bright-yellow daisies held high on clear stems.

Rate of Growth

Medium.

Size in ten years

In leaf, a clump two to three feet across and two feet high; to three feet high when in bloom.  Maximum growth only with rich soil.

Texture

The round, gently-pointed green leaves have the same presence as those of a hosta:  Fairly full to the ground, and overlapping enough to work as groundcover.  The clusters of flowers are held about a foot above the leaves.  They're a late-season surprise, and bring welcome variety in overall height and airyness.

Grown for

its foliage: the leathery leaves are tough enough to last through all but the harshest Winters where 'Aureomaculatum' is hardy.  The plant is only reluctantly deciduous, which is not a surprise given the leaves' substance and size.  It takes much more energy to create a Farfugium leaf than a similarly-sized one of Ligularia, whose foliage is much thinner.  As a consequence, Ligularia is readily deciduous—there's so much less to lose—and, therefore, much hardier.  Its leathery foliage makes Farfugium much more drought-tolerant than Ligularia, whose thinner leaves can scorch or even fail entirely if they receive too much sun or become drought-stressed.  Part of the popularity of Farfugium is its tolerance and even toughness, enabling it to persist (although not luxuriate) even in mediocre conditions.  The leaves of 'Aureomaculatum' are, indeed, "maculate"—spotted—with yellow.

 

flowers: The clusters of yellow aster-like flowers are always welcome in any late-season garden, where perennials and even tropicals can be getting a little long in the tooth.  The flowers ripen to sprightly seedheads, and the entire stalk can be harvested to become a permanent member of a dried arrangement. 

 

its ease of growth: Durable and self-reliant if circumstances are congenial (see "How to handle it." below).

 

its lateness of bloom: October into December.

Flowering season

Fall. 

Color combinations

The spots on the leaves are eager to harmonize with yellow, white, blue, and burgundy, as long as the textures and patterns of neighboring plants aren't overly vivid already.  No need to coordinate around the flowers, which are so late in the season, when the often riotous diversity of Fall foliage is at its height: What's one more jolt of brilliant yellow?  But the rest of the year, Farfugium foliage can be interesting to the point of distraction.  With foliage this lively and distinctive, companions whose talents are simpler are best.

Plant partners

Farfugium foliage is large and heavy; combine first with shade-loving plants with contrasting textures in colors that are neutral or specifically yellow:  Ferns; Tradescantia; Tricyrtis; Japanese maple species and cultivars; Lonicera nitida; Fargesia bamboo; woodland grasses such as Carex, Luzula, and Hakonechloa; grassy-leaved varieties of Hemerocallis, Agapanthus, and Liriope; and the ferny-leaved groundcover, Leptinella squalida.  Many of these have forms with blue or yellow flowers, or foliage that's striped or solid with yellow or cream.  Avoid cultivars of Hosta with similarly-sized leaves, which would look repetitious even if the variegation coordinates well; there are still plenty of cultivars to choose among that are dwarf or gigantic, or with leaves so narrow the plants look like Carex.  Also avoid combining with Aucuba japonica, whose thick leaves have an even stronger whiff of plastic-plant artifice. 

 

Spiny- or narrow-leaved evergreens add enough texture to overrule any similarity in color.  Mahonia, Nandina, Cephalotaxus, Osmanthus, and Taxus would all be exciting.  The latter three have gold-leaved cultivars that let you avoid adding more dark green altogether.    

Where to use it in your garden

Despite its capability, Farfugium is too interesting—as well as too heavy-looking—to be tolerable as a large-scale groundcover.  Instead, use it as a specimen amid other shade-lovers of contrasting texture and form. 

 

Clumps will grow contentedly in containers for the long-term, so it's easy to set a potted Farfugium in a shady spot that, even at the last minute, or late in the season, could use perking up.  My container of 'Aureomaculatum' is big—10 gallons—and from May through early November each year, I set it in the same spot by the shady side door.

Culture

Farfugium enjoys the same soil as Ligularia—rich in organic matter—but will not tolerate the high level of moisture or the outright boggy conditions that enable the latter to burgeon.  Drainage must be decent at all times, but especially in Winter.  By the same token, Farfugium tolerates more drought than Ligularia—but, usually, not more sun.  If conditions become too sunny, Farfugium leaves can become sunburned, and because the plant grows more slowly, you'll have to wait much longer for the replacements.  As with Ligularia, shade in the afternoon is usually the best choice.

 

How to handle it: The Basics

Plant in Spring.  Although the leaves are evergreen, they are not immortal.  Clip off occasional spent foliage at any time; groom the clump in early Spring, by which time several or even many leaves may need to be removed.  If you're going to harvest the ripened flower stalks for dried arrangements, do it before the seed-heads show wear and tear from Winter precipitation.  If you're not going to harvest, clip off the flower spikes as soon as the flowers have faded; spent Farfugium flower stems detract from the show of the foliage the same way they do from that of Hosta.

 

Established Farfugium clumps that don't get too much sun are amazingly drought-tolerant, but growth is quicker, taller, and thicker when there's enough moisture.  Farfugium is weed-proof only when the foliage is profuse enough to overlap, and that means easy access to nutrition as well as water.  Soil rich in organic matter is the answer on both counts; it is more moisture-retentive than poor soil.  Even so, you may still want to water weekly when Summer is at its highest.

 

In drier and hotter climates, Farfugium does better with more and more shade, as well as stiller air.  Site it in a shady courtyard, not out in the garden at large, even if the shade there is equally thick.

 

Farfugium can live for years without intervention, although growth can become sparse at the center of the colony.  You can rejuvenate a clump by lifting it in early Spring and replanting the young and less woody portions. 

How to handle it: Another option—or two!

Farfugium lives happily in containers.  In milder climates, it can remain outside year-round, and in a stylish way bring extra height to growth that is otherwise broader than tall, and can look hunkered down.

 

Farfugium takes several years to reach full size, so it's fortunate that containered plants are easy to overwinter.  Farfugium can be grown as a house plant if you can put it in a window that doesn't get direct sun, but does get cooler in the Winter.  Plants can also overwinter in a cool or even barely-heated greenhouse.  As long as the air is still, containered plants tolerate occasional frost, which also lessens the potential for an infestation of spider mites or white fly.  Similarly, in Fall, it's helpful to let the plant become lightly-frosted, which helps to minimize the bugs that you bring in with it.  Water sparingly until growth resumes in late Winter, then fertilize and water regularly.  Put back outside only after frost danger has passed.

Quirks and special cases

The leaves of potted Farfugium soon become numerous enough that the outer ones overhang and completely hide the entire rim and top portion of the container.  This means you can grow Farfugium in a lightweight faux terracotta pot, not the heavier and much more fragile real deal, which is a blessing for any potted plant that needs to be moved in and out of the greenhouse yearly and forever.

Downsides

It would be terrific if Farfugium were hardy into Zone 6.

Variants

Farfugium is the evergreen relative of the herbaceous and much-hardier Ligularia, and in Zone 7 and warmer, enjoys similar pride-of-place in shady gardens.  As is usual for any plant native to Japan and eastern Asia, where serious horticulture has been practiced for centuries, many forms of Farfugium have been identified.  There are hundreds of cultivars in Japan, with more and more becoming available in North America.

 

There are fewer Farfugium species and less variety in overall size or the yellow-daisy flowers than among Ligularia species and cultivars; Farfugium cultivars differentiate themselves mainly by foliage.  'Aureo-maculatum' has long been the most popular form.  The leaves of 'Crispa' and related forms are frilly and, usually, have a gorgeous as well as protective blue-green surface that, handily, also enables these cultivars to enjoy full sun.  The leaves of 'Giganteum' are much larger and are held on much longer stalks; they are so leathery they can seem almost artificial, but are saved from lifelessness by their color, a throbbing dark green.  Leaves of 'Kaimon Dake' emerge creamy white, acquiring more and more green spots from the center outward; those of 'Argentea Variegata' are brightly sectioned with cream and gray-green.  There are many, many others. 

Availability

On-line and at destination retailers.

Propagation

Farfugium cultivars are propagated by division.

Native habitat

Farfugium japonicum is native to Japan.

 

 

 

 

 
 
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