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

Variegated Siberian Meadowsweet

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Here's foliage that's not for the faint-hearted. It's large, and the coloring is both unusual and irregular: Metallic blue, green, and white, with flecks of rosy pink. The plant that sports these leaves is as big as any mop-top hydrangea. And yes, it flowers, too.

 

In contrast to the bold leaves, the faintly pink flower buds are smaller than the tiniest couscous, and borne elegantly on irregularly branching panicles that are held nicely above the foliage.

 

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The buds open to fluffy little flowers that, despite their small size, are tightly packed.

 

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As it nears its peak of bloom, Filipendula palmata 'Variegata' seems topped by its own fluffy white clouds. On a stand in the background is a huge pot of gold-leaved sweet flag, confirming that this filipendula doesn't belong anywhere near plants that feature yellow (or orange or red). I'll transplant the filipendula to my pink borders this Fall—which is always the best season to plant or transplant any filipendula. (See "How to handle it," below.)   

 

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The flowers themselves are fleeting. Especially after a heavy rain, the petals are soon shed. But the remaining portions are attractive, too—and, like the buds, are small enough to be showy as individuals, not simply as an undifferentiated mass.

 

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Here's how to grow this very hardy perennial:

 

Latin Name

Filipendula palmata 'Variegata'

Common Name

Variegated Siberian filipendula

Family

Rosaceae, the Rose family.

What kind of plant is it?

Herbaceous perennial 

Hardiness

Zones 3 - 9.

Habit

Clumping, with tall unbranched stems that, despite their height and the broad fluffy flowerheads that tip them, don't usually need support.

Filipendula palmata colonies increase in width year by year, but rhizomes don't explore outward at nearly the rate of those of, say, Filipendula rubra. True, what a wonderful problem it would be to have conditions so supportive that Filipendula would spread out of control. I can't recall ever having heard of such a difficulty. 

Rate of Growth

Vigor depends on availability of sufficient water throughout the growing season. Fully-hydrated colonies bulk up quickly.

Size in ten years

Like the rate of growth, above, ultimate size is affected by the availability of water. Potentially, to five feet tall and four to six feet wide.

Texture

The large maple-like leaves overlap one another, and a thriving clump will produce enough stems, and of similar height, to create a solid and shrubby presence. As is typical for filipendulas, the large heads of fluffy flowers float alluringly above the surf of the foliage. 

Grown for

its colorful leaves, which retain just a few irregular patches of plain green at their perimeters. The majority of each leaf blade is a shade of gray-blue that can look metallic, and is often termed pewter. Small irregular areas of creamy white occasionally intervene between the green and pewter areas, as do occasional flecks and segments of rosy pink.

 

its buds and flowers: These are borne in large, irregular panicles. Indi-vidual flowers are tiny, but because there can be hundreds per panicle, they create a big show. They are spaced closely and so are indistinguish-able when open. The spherical, faintly-pink flower buds are so tiny that they retain their individuality even though displayed en masse. Budded panicles of filipendula have an icy elegance that, as the buds mature to flowers, is lost in favor of a less sophisticated cotton-candy cloudiness. After the flowers pass, they shed their petals and numerous stamens. The basal portions that remain in place are once again as small as the buds had been and, so, reprise their more subdued and delicate look. This year as always, I have forgotten to confirm the flowers' strong and sweet fragrance; it is sited often, so I don't doubt that it's there. 

 

its hardiness: Like hosta, astilbe, monkshood, and peony, meadowsweet thrives in (but doesn't require) climates with cold and even brutal Winters that lead to wet Springs and cool but sunny Summers. It is also happy in mild climates where frost is light and Winter short, as long as it is spared the pitiless sun and scarce moisture that, often, typifies these locales' Summers. See "Where to use it" and "How to handle it," below, for ways to help 'Variegata' look its best.

 

its unpalatability to browsers: Both deer and rabbits normally leave all forms of Filipendula alone. 

Flowering season

Early Summer: The flowers themselves have a fairly brief show—mid-June into July here in southern New England—but the buds are effective for a couple of weeks beforehand. After the mature flowers have shed their petals and stamens, their "after party" is effective for another couple of weeks.

Color combinations

Filipendula palmata 'Variegata' fits into any scheme that celebrates pink and blue, and abhors red and orange. Avoid including neighbors that flaunt pure white, which could make the  near-white flowers of 'Variegata'—which retain a small dose of pink—look dingy. 

Plant Partners

If you can provide enough water throughout the growing season, Filipen-dula palmata 'Variegata' maintains its presence even if you do decide to cut stems down in mid-season: A new crop soon develops. If, however, you can't provide the water necessary to compensate for a mid-Summer drought, the stems can die down to the ground by August, and the colony's performance will end for the season. Only if you're lucky will new growth reappear the following Spring; even so, it will probably be weaker.

 

The buds and flowers are exciting but ephemeral; the foliage maintains the plant's size and coloring before, during, and after their show. Further, each leaf's large size and complex pattern of pigments suggest that neighboring plants be neutral to bland or, if their colors are vivid, simple in shape and texture. 

 

Yet another consideration is to enlist nearby plants in the battle to ensure the greatest continuity and abundance of soil and atmospheric moisture. Choose and site partners so that they can provide dappled shade by mid-day and well into the afternoon.

 

A somewhat taller plant to the southwest, then, would provide shade and, if its foliage were smooth-edged and purple, color harmony and texture contrast, too. Sounds like a job for a purple-leaved Japanese maple, or 'Velvet Cloak' smokebush. If the filipendula is planted in a bed that faces south, then something taller and dense at its back won't block the sun, but will provide the solid neutral backdrop that makes the foliage of 'Variegata' stand out all the more. Choose an evergreen that has small foliage and responds well to pruning. It would be hard to have too many tightly-clipped blocks of greenery in any garden, because their geometry, smooth texture, and neutral coloring all call attention to the unfettered exuberances of the plants in front of them. All of the following evergreens are available in dark-foliaged forms; avoid the clash that their yellow-leaved cultivars would create: Box, Japanese holly, yew, plum yew, Chinese fir, and the green-leaved forms of arborvitae and leyland cypress.

 

As long as it isn't too loudly variegated, grassy foliage would be a lively contrast in texture. Liriope muscari 'Silver Dragon' would reinforce the metallic look of the filipendula's blue foliage. The dark simplicity of the foliage of Liriope spicata would provide a neutral foreground; you'll need to edge the colony yearly to keep this fast-spreading liriope species from infiltrating the filipendula. If your garden's layout and available moisture allow siting 'Variegata' in full sun, consider iris. The gigantic blooms of the Japanese forms would be particularly striking next to the myriad minute flowers of the filipendula—and, because Iris ensata flowers several weeks later than the rest of the irises, its flowers are more likely to peak at the same time as those of the filipendula. Choose one of the "red" forms, as iris fanciers term them, whose plum-violet petals will pick up the deep pink of the filipendula's petioles and the flecks of deep pink in its leaf blades. Iris ensata 'Rosewater' is a great match; it is described as being late-flowering even for a Japanese iris. Too late? Experiment to see which form of Iris ensata might flower at the most felicitous time.

 

Large leaves with smooth edges would help the sharply-pointed filipendula leaves stand out strongly. Either umbrella plant, butterbur, or the purple-leaved 'Brit Marie Crawford' ligularia would be dramatic. Later in the season, cut the ligularia's spikes of clashing yellow daisies for a bouquet.

Where to use it in your garden

Because the foliage of Filipendula palmata 'Variegata' remains in good condition in Summer only with an exceptionally moist soil and humid atmosphere, you'll sometimes need to cut the clump down to the ground soon after flowering is completed. Site where the clump is accessible even at a season when most surrounding plants are at, or nearing, their most voluptuous and hard-to-slide-by bulk. Despite its potential height, then, this filipendula only succeeds farther back in a bed if you can access the clump from the rear. Why not include a stepping stone or two in that part of the bed's permanent configuration, so you can have secure footing when stepping in? Frontward siting provides a three-fold benefit: You can ponder this perennial's exceptional foliage at close range; you can groom the clump while remaining on the adjacent grass, pathway, or pavement; and you can enjoy the full impact of the flowers' fragrance.

 

The bluish foliage and pale pink of this filipendula's flower buds dictate placement in a pink-friendly part of your garden.  

Culture

Nutrient-rich soil that is high in humus and, so, moisture-retentive. Full sun if moisture is plentiful the entire growing season; otherwise, afternoon shade or dappled sun will help the plant remain hydrated enough to avoid leaf scorch. Although Filipendula is not aquatic, it thrives when planted in pond- or stream-side ground that is slightly elevated rather than boggy. It is also happy where the water table is very high, so that saturated soil is accessible to the plants' roots even though the rhizomes themselves are not submerged outright.

 

Filipendula is somewhat unusual among water-craving perennials in that it seems quite happy in soils with a high pH.  These are often called calcareous soils, on account of their elevated proportion of calcium carbonite, otherwise known as lime. While a number of plants tolerate and even thrive in such alkaline soils, most of them prefer well-drained and even dry circumstances.

How to handle it: The Basics.

Although this very hardy perennial can be planted either in Spring or Fall; Fall planting is much easier, because you won't have to work as hard to ensure the necessary moisture. It can be a challenge to keep even an established clump moist enough; it's doubly difficult to supply that amount of moisture plus the additional needed to compensate for roots that are still cramped from growing in a nursery-pot-sized block and, so, can't yet forage more widely and deeply for water in the surrounding soil.

 

Groom the clump according to the condition of the foliage, not the presence of the flowers: If the foliage has already become scorched, coming into bloom won't help restore the plant's appeal. If anything, the buoyant flowers will only call attention to the sad brown patches of the foliage beneath. If necessary, then, cut stems with scorched foliage to the ground whether or not flower buds have emerged. Subsequent stems won't produce flowers—Filipendula flowers once a season, and you can't induce recurrence or delay by cutting back—but will give you another chance to maintain sufficient moisture to keep their foliage in good shape.

 

Regardless of any such warm-season attention, cut all stems down to the ground after hard frost, so that you don't disturb emerging growth the following Spring.

How to handle it: Another option—or two!

You can help ensure plentiful moisture in otherwise unpromisingly dry soil by planting filipendula in a wide and deeply hole that is lined with heavy plastic and then refilled with topsoil. This is also how you might create near-boggy conditions for, say, butterbur; for filipendula, mound up soil so that it is higher than the lip of the plastic. Even if the deeper soil becomes fully saturated, the rhizomes of the filipendula remain in unsaturated soil.

Quirks and special cases

Although a mature colony might produce thousands of flowers at once, Filipendula is usually a poor producer of viable seed. The flowers of a given clump are of the same clone, and have little ability to self-pollinate. And, yet, it's often rare that there's another clone nearby. Further, pollen is often carried by wind, increasing the necessity of just what doesn't often happen: different clones being sited fairly close together. Insect vectors aren't firmly identified, either. All in all, then, despite its heavy flowering, there's no need to worry that any Filipendula will escape, let alone take over the neighborhood: So, you never need to deadhead a filipendula to control its spread. Nor is there an aesthetic need for deadheading. The resultant clipped stems won't sprout attractive side growth to hide the cut, and the small remains of mature flowers have their own appeal, anyway. Leave spent panicles in place. 

Downsides

As is typical of all Filipendula species except F. vulgaris (see "Variants," below), F. palmata doesn't tolerate dry soil or even occasional and brief drought. The foliage scorches easily and, unless atmospheric and soil moisture is plentiful, the entire clump can look shabby even before flower buds appear. For options, see "Where to use it" and both "How to handle it" boxes, above.

Variants

The straight species of Filipendula palmata has green foliage and near-white flowers that have a trace of pink just discernible enough to clash with neighboring plants whose yellow foliage or flowers would sing next to pure white. Give this Filipendula species a pink-friendly context, just as you would its 'Variegata' cultivar.

 

The flowers of these other forms of F. palmata are a clear pink: 'Nana' is, appropriately, much shorter than the species: fourteen to sixteen inches. The foliage of 'Red Umbrellas' is green, but the veins are burgundy, and create a striking show. This Japanese cultivar is a hybrid of F. palmata and F. multijuga.

 

There are plenty of other garden-worthy Filipendula species and cultivars. The flower scapes of F. ulmaria can reach three to seven feet when it has enough water. It has green foliage and, unlike F. palmata, its white flowers are truly pink-free. The foliage of F. ulmaria 'Aurea' is solid butter yellow, and is brightest in Spring and early Summer. It is half as tall as the species. The bright yellow leaves of 'Variegata' are margined with dark green; stems can reach two to three feet.

 

Filipendula rubra is native to North America, and can top out at six feet. Its foliage is green, and its mid-pink flowers appear in huge cloud-like clusters that seem to float atop the clump's tall stems. 'Venusta' is the form usually available; its flowers are reported as being a richer pink than those of the species. 

 

The ferny foliage of F. vulgaris is low and mounding, and its flowers are creamy white. This species is notably more tolerant of less-than-moist soil than others in the genus.

 

Filipendula 'Kahone' is the real dwarf in the genus, and is less than a foot tall even when in full bloom. The foliage is dark green, and the flowers deep pink. In foliage, scale, and minuteness of its pink blossoms, 'Kahone' could be easy to mistake for the dwarf Astilbe chinensis. The flowers of the latter are borne on astilbe's typical vertical and flame-like panicles; those of 'Kahone' are grouped in filipendula's usual irregular cloud-like clusters. If the soil is rich and moist enough, either can succeed as a groundcover. 

 

Filipendula purpurea is a Japanese species to three feet tall, whose flowers provide a welcome change from the comparatively pale bubble-gum pink found in so many other filipendula forms: They are a vivid deep rose. 'Elegans' is reported to be shorter still. Although its flowers are described as being paler, plants listed as 'Elegans' at nurseries usually have flowers as deep rose as the species. In no way is their color the red that, unaccountably, nurseries often ascribe. Flowers of 'Plena' are double, but this doesn't seem to create a show that's any fluffier than the single flowers: Filipendula flowers are plenty fluffy already. The flowers are rose.

 

Filipendula camschatica is the giant of the genus. In far-north climates whose Summers are moist and cool, and whose Summer days are especially long, it can reach ten feet. The foliage is green, and the flowers, like those of F. palmata, are white with a trace of pink. Flowers of 'Rosea' are more clearly pale pink. The foliage of 'Sanshoku' is pale green with faint rimming of white; it lacks the striking pewter overlay of F. palmata 'Variegata'. The species of F. camschatica seems superior to either of these cultivars. Although in my garden I'm able to provide only middling amounts of water, the sun sets before nine PM even at the Summer solstice, and temperatures can exceed ninety degrees Fahrenheit, my colony of F. camschatica usually tops seven feet. Someday, I may be able to establish Heracleum sosnowskyi nearby. Siberian hogweed is another giant from northeastern Asia, and can soar above fifteen feet. It could easily backdrop this huge species of filipendula. 

Availability

On-line but only rarely; just as rarely offered at even destination retailers.

Propagation

By division in Fall or early Spring. 

Native habitat

Filipendula palmata is native to Russia, China, and Japan. 'Variegata' was probably first identified and brought into horticulture in Japan.

 
 
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