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

Delavay False Ginseng

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One of the more obscure of the "Let's give it a try; maybe it will be hardy when it's larger" plants that sits out the Winter in the greenhouse is waking up.  Is it coming into bloom?  Leafing out?

 

Hard to say, even at closer range.

 

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This is the excitement of experimenting with new plants:  They do things you never saw before.  Delavay's false ginseng is a Chinese broadleaved evergreen shrub.  If my pair of 18-inchers ever "soar" to, oh, three feet, I'll risk planting them in the garden.  And if I can establish them, someday they'll flower—in August or September.  This pale-green growth, then, is new foliage, not flowers.  It's copper-red when the shrub receives the full spectrum of sunlight when growing outside.  

 

The evergreen leaves are graceful, with three, four, or five narrow leaflets.

 

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The young stems are evergreen, too. 

 

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This little Metapanax is years away from being planted outside.  I'm encouraged by its activity; with a little grooming (the shrub, I mean, not my potting-soil-caked fingers), the plant will be an attractive potted curiosity.

 

 

Here's how to grow this rare broadleaved evergreen shrub:


Latin Name

Metapanax delavayi / Nothopanax delavayi

Common Name

Delavay False Ginseng

Family

Araliaceae, the Aralia family. 

What kind of plant is it?

Broadleaved evergreen shrub.

Hardiness

Zones 7 - 9.

Habit

Multi-stemmed and broadly upright.  Cane-like stems arise from a dense clump.  Younger plants can be reminiscent of the Fargesia genus of clumping bamboo; older ones are more typically shrubby, with fewer but thicker main branches, like, say, a rhododendron.

Rate of Growth

Fast; slower at the cold end of its hardiness range.

Size in ten years

In Zone 8 and warmer, to fifteen feet tall and about half as wide.  Six to ten feet in Zone 7.

Texture

Delicate and feathery.

Grown for

its foliage:  Three to five narrow pointed leaflets, each of which can be four or five inches long, are arranged palmately at the tip of each petiole.  Leaves are in whorls; young foliage is a copper-red, but quickly changes to a bright light green.  Both colors show up well against the darker green of mature foliage.  Mature shrubs bear enough foliage that the whorls aren't distinct enough to be showy.

 

its flowers:  Many-branched panicles of typical aralia flowers—tiny greenish blooms in small round umbels, similar to those of ivy—maturing to black berries.  Unlike the panicle of, say, Aralia elata, which is very broad and only gently mounding, like that of a huge Queen Anne's lace, the panicle of Metapanax is spike-like, with a prominent central stem and shorter side branches. 

 

its rarity:  Although Metapanax thrives in the Pacific Northwest and in the East as far north as Washington, D.C., and should be viable throughout the northern remnants of Zone 7 (New York City, Long Island, coastal Connecticut, the Cape and Islands), it is extremely uncommon in commerce and, hence, in gardens everywhere.

Flowering season

Late Summer.

Color combinations

Metapanax is neutral green in flower and mature foliage; the copper-red of juvenile foliage is a passing fancy.  Unless what you've planted nearby are hot-pink azaleas, Metapanax can associate with almost any other color.

Partner plants

Juvenile foliage excepted, the talents of Metapanax are textural not coloristic.  It welcomes the same contrasts in form, leaf-size, and overall scale as Nandina domestica, whose narrow foliage creates a similar lacy pattern.  You'll never go wrong by partnering with the largest-leaved species you can, whether broadleaved or deciduous, hardy or tender.  If they have a dense and full-to-the-ground habit, so much the better.  Magnolia, rhododendron, viburnum, ligularia, aucuba, hosta, hedera, bergenia, and tetrapanax are just the beginning.  If hardiness allows, rough-leaved hydrangea would be especially exciting, because its light-green leaves are so conspicuously large and also so peculiarly sandpapery to the touch.  It would be hard to have greater contrast with the smooth, narrow, dark-green foliage of Metapanax.  

Where to use it in your garden

Where fully hardy, Metapanax can be clipped into a hedge, but its best use is as a specimen evergreen.  In Zone 7 and 8, there's a lot of competition from other showy broadleaf possibilities; site Metapanax with some prominence, so that it's clear that this one isn't run of the mill.  Prominent siting also provides opportunity for garden visitors to appreciate up close the unusual foliage and, if you're lucky enough for your shrub to provide them, the large panicles of flowers.

Culture

Best growth is in deep, moist, fertile soil.  Sun or shade, but faster in sun. 

How to handle it: The Basics

Where it's solidly hardy—the middle of Zone 7 and warmer—Metapanax is tough and tolerant.  Plant it in Spring only, with respect but not with worry, and let it grow on its own. 

 

To help extend its range of viability farther north, siting and care need to be more specific as well as attentive.  As usual, excellent drainage is the first thing to provide.  The entire bed in which the shrub is planted should be higher than its surroundings, even if just a few inches.  Soil that's been deeply dug and enriched before planting with both compost and chopped leaves as well as old bark mulch or even gravel will remain loose, and will foster the deeper roots that can better absorb water even in the depths of Winter.  In addition, be sure that the soil is heavily mulched by late Fall, which will help lessen the depth of freezing as well as quick swings between freezing and thawing. 

 

Plant as large an individual as you can find—which, given the infrequency of the shrub's appearance in nursery listings, isn't likely to be large at all.  If possible, then, grow the shrub in a pot for a couple of years, keeping it in bright light but cooler temperatures through the Winter.  When you do plant it outside, spray the shrub with antidessicant the first few Winters; spray once in late Fall—November or December—and, if possible, again in late January or February. 

 

Siting where the plant gets little or no Winter sun, especially in the morning, is always helpful for broadleaves that are borderline hardy where you garden.  Can you plant to the northwest of a fence or building?  Is there a location sheltered on two sides by building or fence—and on the other two by evergreen shrubbery?  Is there a large and spreading tree-sized conifer whose longest branches can be overhead even though the trunk itself (and most of the greedy roots) are farther away?  All of these tactics help baffle and deflect wind as well as bouts of unusually cold air, which, being especially dense, literally falls downward from the sky onto whatever's below. 

 

The ideal would be a courtyard in semi-shade.  North of Washington, DC, then, Metapanax is a prime candidate for interior-of-the-block gardens in cities, where it's safe from the sweeping wind that can turn the streets into arctic wind tunnels.  City gardens are more likely to provide the most aesthetic backdrop for this lacy-leaved shrub, too: High masonry walls.  They'll highlight the foliage while also providing crucial protection from Winter sun and wind.

How to handle it: Another option—or two?

Metapanax is likely to need some grooming by late Winter.  Expect to remove Winter-damaged leaves and prune any Winter-killed stem tips.

 

If your climate is mild enough that your Metapanax is threatening to become a monster, consider some artistic pruning to thin the shrub instead of shorten it.  Remove branches that seem less felicitous, and even foliage that seems congested.  The more spare and sculptural the result, the more slowly the shrub will grow, too.  And the more stylish it will look if you've been able to plant it in front of a masonry wall. 

Quirks or special cases

None.

Downsides

If only Metapanax were hardier.  Just one more Zone would be such a gift. 

Variants

Metapanax davidii is a small tree, whose leaflets are so much broader than those of M. delavayi that they seem like three-pointed cousins of sweetgum, Liquidambar styraciflua, whose leaves are five-pointed.  M. davidii is as hardy as M. delavayi—or, depending on your perspective, equally tender.  To my eye, M. delavayi is more distinctive.

Availability

On-line.

Propagation

By cuttings and by seed. 

Native habitat

Metapanax delavayi is native to China.

 
 
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