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

Today in the Garden of a Lifetime: Rattlebox

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What image does "overwintering the tropicals in the greenhouse" bring to mind? More than likely, palms and citrus, agaves and philodendron, safely in shelter, leafy and unchanging.

 

Yeah, yeah, I've got them all—but if they were all that overwintering was, I'd have trouble staying awake during my greenhouse visits. The fronds and fruits present last week would still be there this week, next week, next month. Snooze.

 

Thankfully, many tender plants put on shows of high drama and even suspense during their "off-season." Only after they've been returned to the garden for the warm months do they settle down to consistent performances that, voluptuous though they may be, are also not nearly as exciting as their greenhouse hijinks.

 

Rattlebox, for example. Yes, this lone twig, this baby sapling growing in a one-gallon pot. It's the totality of one of my rattlebox youngsters. Mere seeds in April, they sprouted into ferny-foliaged plants in May that by July bore flaming flowers. The baby trees were brought into the greenhouse in late October and, by December, the leaves and flowers were long gone. Without them, the plant is a bare twig. How can that be exciting?

 

God is in the details. Sesbania tripetii is one of the shrubs and trees that, even when growing in a frost-free environment, still sheds its foliage and enters a period of dormancy. We gardeners in climates with a "real" winter—by which I mean anywhere that you can expect to shovel snow—are used to thinking that the ability to shed foliage is the handy talent of hardy plants that need to withstand freezing weather. What's the advantage of dropping leaves if there's never any snow?

 

This Winter, I'll be profiling some spectacularly garden-worthy shrubs and trees that are native to climates so mild that even cool weather is a rarity, and freezes are quite unknown—but even so, they drop their leaves.

 

By bringing these species into my cool-but-frost-free greenhouse—where night-time temperatures drop routinely to 50 degrees Fahrenheit but never lower, and the days are much shorter than they were in July and August—I'm subjecting these "deciduous tenders" to the "rigors" of their Winters. ("It's not eighty degrees, and the sun is not blazing?  Brrr!") In the face of what, for these plants at least, are serious climatic nudges to hunker down, they abandon their inessentials—leaves and flowers—and retreat to their core: stems, trunks, and roots.

 

The contrast with their full and generous warm-weather display is just as dramatic as that of maples and birches: All are heavily foliaged in July, and bare sticks in January. And yet the maples and birches are hardy to Newfoundland, while most of the tender-but-still-deciduous trees aren't hardy north of Miami. (Rattlebox is unusual in being hardy even to Zone 7, which includes parts of such decidedly non-tropical states as New Jersey, New York, and Massachusetts.)

 

Without foliage, so "communicative" in its options for color, size, texture, and durability, any plant can seem not just muted, but mute. Surprisingly, then, the shedding of foliage is just the beginning of these plants' Winter performance.

 

What show—what conveyance of information in a way that we can perceive and even enjoy—could be provided by mere sticks? Or, in the case of this young Sesbania, a mere single stick? The most important show of all: enduring viability.

 

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The shaft of this twig is green, and the leaf-buds at its very tip are plump.

 

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This twig is alive and, so, this entire plant is alive. There's little reason not to expect that its show this coming Summer will be as fluffy and bodacious as that of last Summer, if not more so.

 

Off-season performances, then, can be elemental and even existential. Warm-weather flowers and foliage are mere ephemerals, whereas in Winter the deepest questions—"Am I alive? Can I stay alive through what, for me, is an endless, chilly, dim Northern winter?"—must be addressed.

 

With a single twig, this rattlebox is answering the first question with authority. "Yes!"

 

And the second? Stay tuned. Plants of Sesbania tripetii will stay in the greenhouse into May. That's four months more of their cool-season performance.

 

Here's how to grow rattlebox.

 

 
 
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