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Diggin' It

Four more plants I can't live without

These four plants are the divas of my garden.

By Betty Earl / January 21, 2010



I've been reflecting on which plants did well in previous years' gardens. My first list was Plants I can't live without, part 1. Then I sang the praises of a lamium that doesn't spread. Finally, I want to tell you about four more plants that are stars in my garden:

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Clematis albicoma (whitehair leather flower)

Clematis albicoma [see Photo 1 at left] is the cute, adorable kitten in the world of my garden plants -- a charming little clematis species that is unaccountably rare in cultivation.

The captivating, pipsqueak of a plant, which grows a mere 18 inches high, is blessed with small -- less than 1 inch long – delightfully chubby, nodding, urn- shaped flowers. The white blossoms – often flushed with purple toward the base and covered with silken, downy hairs – appeal to my sense of whimsy.

Unlike its twining, climbing, and scrambling cousins, C. albicoma rises on erect stems, and the singular blooms, which start to flower for me in late spring through early summer, are truly appealing. Unfortunately, they are never produced in large enough numbers for my taste.

Native to parts of Virginia and West Virginia, the clump-forming clematis, hardy to Zone 5, grows best in sun to partial shade, in well-drained garden soil.

Syneilesis aconitifolia (shredded umbrella plant)

This is another woodlander that had me at hello!

First, this plant with the mouthful of a botanical name, Syneilesis aconitifolia (Sin-eel-ES-is a-kon-eye-tih-FOH-lee-uh), has an engaging common moniker – shredded umbrella plant. [See Photo No. 3 at left.] Then, the newly emerging leaves, looking like so many furry, silvered mushrooms, slowly morph into fuzzy, tattered parasols on their way to the final stage elegantly dissected umbrellas.

By midspring, the exquisite grayish-green foliage expands to 8 inches or so atop18- to 24-inch stems. In summer, insignificant white or purplish flowers on multiple stems appear above the leaves. Hardly showy, they are best dealt with a pair of pruners as soon as you see them for they really detract from the fantastic textural quality of the plant.

It’s a slow grower, taking a good five to seven years to form a 2-foot-wide mound, but if ever there was a woodlander worth waiting for, this is it. Shredded umbrella plant enjoys light shade and deep, humus-rich soil that does not dry out completely. Hardy in Zones 4 to 8.

Reminiscent of a mayapple (Podophyllum), this drool-worthy plant from Asia is one of those eye-catching foliage plants that plant nuts like myself, lust over for that “one-upmanship” over our gardening buddies.

Symphytum x uplandicum ‘Axminster Gold’ (Russian comfrey)

If you enjoy beautiful variegated foliage, and dream of tall, statuesque blonds in your landscape, then Symphytum x uplandicumAxminster Gold’ is just the plant for you. [See Photo No. 2 at left.]

Think this gorgeous beauty is not a vixen? Think again. I don’t know of one gardener who wasn’t smitten at first glance. Best of all, this highly sought after, dramatic perennia, which produces an abundance of big, bold, somewhat hairy foliage without much fussing from the gardener, is getting so much easier to find at local nurseries.

Mind you, this is no ordinary, run-of-the-mill comfrey. ‘Axminster Gold’ – with its rough, long, elongated leaves of grey-green edged in wide creamy-yellow margins – is electrifying in any garden setting. But planted in the depths of the shady border, this non-invasive comfrey creates one heck of an exciting focal point.

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