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: Ricepaper Plant

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The parasol-sized leaves of ricepaper plant are alarming in their size; the plant's relentless warm-weather vigor only adds to any gardener's sense of wary awe. In Fall, the full-size foliage succumbs readily to frost, but the very youngest leaves—as above—remain through the Winter, in all their velvet-turns-to-crust glory.

 

If the weather stays mild enough, these young leaves will resume their lives come Spring. Normally, their down-to-the-last-detail intactness shows how physical integrity can be maintained even when life itself has left. My hunch is that this leaf is, in fact, dead. Even after death, it remains its own perfect monument.

 

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Tetrapanax papyrifer is fully hardy here as a die-back shrub; new shoots that arise from the fearlessly wide-spreading roots can soar eight or even ten feet by September. But flowering only occurs at the tips of stems that survive their first Winter—and, even then, only if the growing season is long enough.

 

My colony is triumphantly thriving here in New England, at the coldest edge of its hardiness range. But it has never yet been able to flower. First-year stems, such as this one, can be nearly two inches thick, but are usually killed to the ground.

 

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Recent milder Winters, however, allowed a first-year stem to survive. It matured to the barky three-incher below, while enabling growth of the purple-skinned first-year stem above.

 

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If a barely-hardy plant can be matured, it will become maximally hardy. The conundrum is that if it is substantially killed back each Winter, it never becomes mature enough to possess that maximal hardiness. Its ongoing immaturity keeps it more susceptible to Winter damage and, therefore, to continued immaturity. It's locked in a cycle of "negative synergy."

 

Worse, barely-hardy plants are almost never available for purchase in the larger sizes that could (possibly) allow you to bypass tender youth entirely. Even if they were available, the rarity and therefore expense of specimen-sized plants of marginally-hardy species makes planting them an expensive game.

 

More often, plants are available only in small starter sizes. There's too much risk, too small a market, to grow them to larger sizes before sale. Yes, there are plenty of tactics to make the best of a dicey situation: Siting these small and at-risk plants where they have great drainage and are sheltered from cold wind; mulching the ground around them; burying them outright in a seasonal mound of mulch or soil; spraying with antidessicant; surrounding with bales of hay; wrapping with carpet; forming a cylinder around the best stem and filling it with mulch. I've done them all—even the carpet and cylinder. The tip in the top picture is seven feet above ground. Can I face building a cylinder that high?  Not this year.

 

Tetrapanax flowers emerge only from the very tips of the stems. The only way the shrub will ever flower is, maddeningly, in the least likely circumstances. First, that this Winter is as mild as last. Then new growth will emerge from the tip of the cane, from the tip of what was this year's first-year growth. And second, that an unusually late Fall could, possibly, allow that tip to produce a flower cluster before killing frosts descend sometime around Thanksgiving.

 

In a climate where ricepaper plant flowers every year, are the flowers appreciated as much? If anything is routine, is it, inevitably, also somewhat ho-hum?

 

Here's how to grow rice-paper plant.

 

 
 
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