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.


A Gardening Journal

The Best Season Ever: Paddle Plant in Bloom

Shorter days in fall and winter, combined with comparatively chilly fifty-degree nights in the greenhouse, inspired my colony of paddle plants to soar into bloom. Vegetative stems are squat, with closely spaced pairs of round leaves that are, indeed, the size and thickness of paddles—or flapjacks or cabbage. When each stem is a year or two old, a tall flowering stalk emerges from its tip. Mine developed so quickly that they hit the translucent roof of the greenhouse before I noticed. 

Kalanchoe luciae overall 010517 320

I put the container on a lower bench, bringing the entire colony into right-at-hand view in the process. And hooray for that: a paddle plant in bloom is a strange beast that deserves to be appreciated in every detail.

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Must Have: 'Gold Standard' Scholar Tree

Gardening would be intolerable without the certainties: Plant this, and it will thrive. Prune that, and it will become bushier. But a garden of only certainties would be a bore—while a garden of only surprises would be a nightmare. It's the balance of the two that rings the bells the best.

Styphnolobium japonicum Gold Standard limb National Arboretum 122616 320

Hooray for plants, such as this gold-stemmed scholar tree, that provide both certainty and surprise.

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Must Have: Wintersweet

For humans, December is a peak month for parties. It's the depth of dormancy for most plants hardy to zone 6 and colder but, for a few contrarians, the season's short days and sharp winds are encouraging: December is their month to party, too.

Chimonanthus praecox National Arboretum flowers fingers 122616 320

Here's a stem of a Chinese shrub known in the West as wintersweet. The flowers and buds may look pale and scattered, but no matter: this plant's December celebration is about fragrance, not appearance. Spicy and sweet, to me the wafting perfume recalls carrot cake smothered in cream-cheese frosting.

Wintersweet won't debut in my own gardens until 2017; this picture is one of several lusty specimens in flower by Christmas at The National Arboretum in Washington, DC. What have I been waiting for?

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Fabulous in the Fall: Teton Pyracantha

Pyracantha fruits are profuse and durable. And they're at their best all fall, while so many other plants slide into winter dullness. Fruits of this Teton cultivar are unusually pale; although some cultivars have yellow fruits, most are deep orange or veering to red.

Pyracantha x Teton pomes fingers 121516 320

The shrub itself is a mixed blessing, being fast-growing, less hardy than you'd like, and requiring pruning—but with vicious thorns that punish any lack of concentration in the process. Every pyracantha is fertilized, if only minutely, by the blood of its human caretaker. But for those fruits—and the many ways the shrub can be trained—this shrub is worth it.

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