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

Japanese Wood Poppy

glaucidium-palmatum-album-04301-640

 

Have some shade, good soil, don't live anywhere South of Richmond, VA—or in a hot city anywhere North of it—and want a perennial that will tingle you right to your toes?  Today's your lucky day.

 

This is your plant.  The white-flowered Japanese wood poppy.  Mine's just a toddler—this is its very first flower!—so don't think I'm trying to push something small on you.  Keep your J.W.P happy, and someday it will be a clump as big as a peony.  Each of those toothy leaves will be a good six inches across.  And those flowers—well, they will still be about that size: almost three inches tip to tip.

 

Striking, rare, annointed by the cognoscenti:  OK, OK, the Japanese Wood Poppy will certainly get noticed—and get you noticed too.  But why, exactly, does everyone who has ever seen it get so jazzed?  The bigger question here is "What is beauty?" and that answer lurks in some graduate course or other at Prestigious U.  But if the question is "Why is the Japanese Wood Poppy beautiful?"—or rather, "Is there anyone of supposed taste and knowledge who has ever seen the Japanese Wood Poppy for the first time and just walked on by?"—there's hope for an answer in minutes, not a semester. 

 

 

 

First, the Spring eagerness:  In Winter, the JWP retreats down under the soil; no helpful crumpy woody mound or anything to show you where something will Sprout if Winter ever ends.  And then—kablam!—the foliage starts erupting up from seemingly bare soil.  And in only days (OK, a couple of weeks), the plant's seasonal self-reconstruction is complete.  The leaves as well as the flowers are up and out.

 

But if energy in Spring were all it took, we'd be getting weak-kneed at every daffodil and forsythia bush.

 

 

 

Second: There are millions of fosythia and daffodils in the world's Spring gardens.  Are there even tens of thousands of JWPs?  Probably more like tens of hundreds.  You can't find one on every block.  (And if you live South of Virginia, you can't find one at all.)  Rarity is its own excitement.

 

But if rarity were all it took, a rare but fatal genetic mutation would be beautiful instead of tragic.

 

 

 

Third: The leaves.  Yes, the color is constant, a light "eager" green.  But the texture (all those veins!); shape (broad and heavily toothed, not really reminiscent of anything else); size (hosta-like size, but of course hosta leaves are never toothy); number (an old clump might have several dozen); array (close enough to be appreciated as a collective, not an anonymous group of individuals—and yet with enough space so that individual leaves are still displayed well); and elevation (on stems two feet and longer) are seriously distinctive characteristics one by one.   As a group, unique. 

 

If a JWP were an eager and rare perennial with this foliage and no flowers of note, it would still be a big deal.  The foliage alone makes this a memorable and must-have plant.

 

 

 

Fourth: Those flowers.  Large and, on older clumps, in a quantity that seems bountiful and generous.  One or two flowers would be a thrill; a dozen or twenty of them is a thrill that fills us also with gratitude and awe.  "What IS this plant?" we mutter to ourselves.  "And what an unstinting show it's putting on!" we mutter next.

 

And the individual flower's details:  The quartet of large and almost transluscent petals.  The ball of yellow pistols.  Like a kousa dogwood's flowers, or a single species peony, or, of course, a poppy.  These details are individually exciting, but also pleasantly counter-intuitive, too.  A shade-loving poppy?  A kousa dogwood that's a perennial?  The quirks and contradictions keep us alert.

 

 

 

Fifth:  Longevity and the long-term.  After we learn a bit about the JWP, we love it even more:  It's long-lived and well-mannered throughout.  It doesn't die out in the center of the clump, nor rampage through the garden from the perimeter, nor (alas) self-seed much at all (or ever?).  But on the other hand, it also doesn't die either, at least if it's reasonably happy.  Hmm: Well-behaved yet not weak.  Long-lived yet not gnarly or patchy.  And taking a few years to get up its full head of steam too, so we don't take its maturity for granted. 

 

The plant has the whiff of immortality about it.  If there were gods, it would be one of their favorite perennials too. 

 

 

 

Sixth: The achievement of a vigorous and mature clump.  And after we try to grow it ourselves and can see what, for us in our garden, will be its ultimate size, longevity, and floriferousness, it's all too clear just how well we have been able to meet its needs.  Is it large, thickly-leaved, plentifully-flowered?  Then we have done good as a gardener, and our garden is a favored locale indeed.  Is it shorter, sparer, sparser?  So limited is our garden's suitability for the JWP; so inadequate is our own suitability as a gardener of a JWP.  It's a perennial that passes judgment on us, and by public display, no less.  It's a perennial that keeps us humble and hoping to do still better by it in the future as long as we have the chance and the time.  If it will let us, by continuing to appear next Spring too.

 

All in all, then, the beauty of the Japanese Wood Poppy seems so intense because it arises from so many quarters over so many years.  Each aspect and detail has the potential to synergize with the others.  But to synergize downward as well as upward.  Does the clump increase year by year or not?  Do we have moist and cool enough gardens to keep the foliage in good shape longer and longer through the hot Summer each season or not?  Are there more flowers this year than last or fewer?  And so: the last element of beauty:

 

Seven:  The risk of failure.  A happy and long-lived clump is a triumph because we know all too well the ways that the clump can fail.  Easy beauty is a joy—but only like the joy of a good sunset.  We ourselves didn't have anything to do with it; we just happened upon it.  But the beauty of a Japanese Wood Poppy is all about our involvement and energy, year by year by year.  Like the plant itself, then, our involvement itself as well as the beauty it creates has the potential to be substantial, enduring, and sustaining.  But only the potential.  If we get there or not is all up to us.

 

 

 

Here's how to grow Japanese wood poppy:

 

Latin Name

Glaucidium palmatum 'Album'

Common Name

White Japanese Wood Poppy

Family

Ranunculaceae, the buttercup family.

What kind of plant is it?

Shade-loving herbaceous perennial.

Hardiness

Zones 3 - 7

Habit

Clumping and dense-foliaged. 

Rate of Growth

Moderate.

Size in ten years

A clump to two to three feet high and wide.

Texture

Thick and dense, almost as dense as a hosta, but with unique and large tooth-edged foliage.

Grown for

the foliage!  Large light-green not-like-any-maple-you've-ever-seen leaves on long stems in a clump that, in time (be patient), can get as big as any peony. 

 

the flowers!  To about three inches across.  Four-petaled, large and single, and indeed, very poppy like.  Also similar in size and excitement to smaller-flowered single peonies.  A large yellow ball of pistils sits prominent and proud in the middle.  

 

Glaucidium is at the top of every must-have and greatest-perennial-ever list.  To see it is to covet it. 

Flowering season

Early Spring: late April here in Rhode Island.

Culture

A plant to worship and work hard for.  Provide your best circumstances possible:  Richest soil, never lacking for water, with morning sun only or dappled shade.  Avoid heat, drought, low humidity, bright sun, or wind.  Do whatever you have to do for this perennial.

How to handle it

Provided that you've been unstinting and solicitous of its many specific needs and even whims (see Culture above), this extremely hardy perennial is easy.  It never needs division (and dislikes it highly anyway).  Nor staking.  It's all in the initial choice of location, the preparation of the soil, and the attention to watering.  Composting in the Fall would be an additional kindness: This is a plant you can't honor too highly. 

Downsides

Uncompromising in its abhorence of heat, hot sun, and drought.  South of Virginia, your only option, I suppose, would be to grow it in an air-conditioned shade-house.  Which would be as much expense and effort as Northerners go to when growing orchids in New England—and just as worth it. 

Variants

You can have the flowers in lavender, pure white, or pale pink.

Availability

On-line and at "destination" retailers.  Expensive because it's slow to reproduce and doesn't like to be divided either. 

Propagation

Seeds, as well as division.

Native habitat

Japan


 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 
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