Summertime’s Sweet Carolina Lupine: Basking in Her Graceful, Golden Glow

June 25th, 2013 § Comments Off on Summertime’s Sweet Carolina Lupine: Basking in Her Graceful, Golden Glow § permalink

Carolina Lupine (Thermopsis caroliniana) michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.com Lovely North American Native, Carolina Lupine (Thermopsis caroliniana, aka Thermompsis villosa) with Goat’s Beard (Aruncus dioicus)

Oh sweet, sweet Carolina… I love how your golden blossoms illuminate the evening garden like the glow of candlelight. And on these early summer days, Carolina Lupine (Thermopsis carolina, also known as Thermopsis villosa), is quite literally covered with butterflies and bumblebees. With beautiful, long-lasting flowers —elegant and sturdy in a vase—beginning in late spring/early summer, upright/durable habit, ornamental, grey-green foliage; what more could you ask for in a perennial plant? Oh, did I mention that this gorgeous, low-maintenance beauty is a native plant? Yes, Carolina Lupine (Thermopsis caroliniana/Thermopsis villosa), is a North American wildflower!

Bumblebee on Carolina Lupine (Thermopsis caroliniana) michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.comBumblebees and Swallowtail Butterflies are Regular Visitors to the Carolina Lupine Blossoms in My Garden

 A favorite flower of butterflies and bees, Thermopsis caroliniana is native to the open meadows and prairies of Tennessee, Virginia and the Carolinas. This 3-4′ tall, 3′ wide perennial dislikes humidity and performs best in gardens at the northern edge of its hardiness range (USDA zones 4-8); particularly those with good air circulation. High temperatures, humidity, still air and overcrowding can lead to fungal diseases and decline (try this organic, homemade remedy if fungus is a problem), so give this beauty room to move in the wind. I find the post-bloom, hairy seed pods interesting to look at, but if they aren’t to your liking, just snip them off. In addition to airflow, Carolina Lupine requires full sun and well drained soil.

Carolina Lupine (Thermopsis caroliniana) and Goat's Beard (Aruncus dioicus) michaela medina harlow - thegardenerseden.com Soft, Summer Hues: Thermopsis caroliniana & Aruncus dioicus in the Native Garden

Carolina Lupine’s bright, light yellow blossoms and pretty foliage work well with many garden design compositions. I like to combine this false lupine with ornamental grasses and other native wildflowers; including Goat’s Beard (Aruncus dioicus), Beard’s Tongue (Penstemon digitalis), Gayfeather (Liatris spicata), various Coneflower cultivars (Echincacea purpurea), Meadow Sage (Salvia nemerosa), Queen-of-the-Pairie (Filipendula rubra), and the list goes on. Dark-leafed Ninebark cultivars (Physocarpus opulifolius cvs.), such as ‘Summer Wine’, ‘Diablo’ and ‘Center Glow’ provide a dramatic, maroon contrast to bring out the yellow. If you like a bit more subtlety, try planting Carolina Lupine against a backdrop of deep, blue-green conifers or a weathered fence. Gorgeous!

Garden Design: Michaela Medina Harlow

Photography & Text ⓒ Michaela Medina Harlow/The Gardener’s Eden. All images, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Please do not take my photographs without asking first. Thank you! 

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Sweet-Scented August: Clethra Alnifolia

August 17th, 2009 § 4 comments § permalink

Clethra alnifolia, North American native “Sweet Pepperbush’

Some of the most beautiful late-blooming shrubs remind me of that childhood tale, “The Ugly Duckling”. Late to leaf out, looking perhaps a bit twiggy and awkward in June, these stars of the late summer garden take their time dressing up for spring. Sweet pepperbush is one of those shrubs. Personally, I never mind shyness, in fact I often find it quite charming. Besides, it’s like they always say, good things often come to those who wait. And in the case of Clethra alnifolia, that old adage couldn’t be more true. This late blooming beauty produces some of the most fragrant flowers in my garden; attracting butterflies, bees, hummingbirds and humans alike. But when most gardeners are out shopping in early spring, Clethra alnifolia is looking a bit scrappy. Lilac, azalea and roses are scooped up at garden centers by the cart-full, while the sweet pepperbush languishes in the corner like a high school wall-flower. It seems like her only fans are horticultural-geeks, (always quick notice her).

Well, don’t you be fooled by the awkward-spring-nature of this gorgeous native plant. Clethra is a knock-out worth waiting for. Just like that skinny girl at the prom, (you remember the one with the metallic braces?), Clethra makes up for lost time a bit later on in the season, when you will be glad you chose her. When the perky roses are past their prime and that showy azalea starts to look a bit shabby, Clethra’s lustrous green leaves still shimmer and shine in the late summer heat. Then, round about August, Clethra really comes into her own. Oh the flowers!  The sweet smell of pepperbush is a fragrance you will never forget. Borne on the current season’s new growth, the elegant blossoms cluster on upright racemes or panicles, often 8-12″ in length. Bloom time begins in late July or early August and continues for at least 4-6 weeks, (longer when sited in a moist location with partial shade). And there are so many new cultivars! ‘Ruby Spice’ and ‘Pink Spires’ bloom in glorious shades soft pink rarely seen so late in the season, and creamy ‘September Beauty’ extends the spicy-fragrance right into October here at Ferncliff.

Clethra alnifolia ‘Ruby Spice’ in mid-August at Ferncliff

Come autumn, the foliage of Clethera alnifolia turns a gorgeous shade of golden yellow, slowly burnishing to a warm, coppery brown. What beauty! I like to surround Clethra with late blooming blue-violet asters, such as Aster oblongifolium, ‘Raydon’s Favorite’, and violet-blue Aconitum (Monk’s Hood). Placing violet against the gold is a great way to bring out the intensity of both colors. Because of its honey gold autum foliage, Clethra also looks beautiful when planted near darker foliage shrubs such as purple-leafed Cotinus, and Physocarpus cultivars ‘Diabolo’, ‘Coppertinia’, and ‘Summer Wine’. The multicolored autumn leaves of Fothergilla gardenii and many Viburnum cultivars also make great border-mates for Clethra alnifolia.

And now, at the risk of sounding like an infomercial, is the time when I say : “but wait… that’s not all”! Because Clethra alnifolia is a native to North America, growing this shrub is one of the kindest things you can do for late season bees, butterflies and birds. Since many suburban gardeners lean toward spring-blooming shrubs in their planting schemes, few backyard food sources remain for our pollen-dependent friends in the latter part of the season. By choosing late-blooming shrubs and perennials, a gardener can help give back some of the natural habitat we humans have taken away with our subdivisions, lawns and hardscaping. Not only will you enjoy the fragrance of sweet pepperbush in your garden, but the hummingbirds, bees and butterflies will delight in Clethra’s sweet elixir.

Ready to add sweet pepperbush to your garden? Like most ‘ugly-duckings’ Clethra alnifolia has an easy-going personality. And, as is the case with many native plants, this is generally a pest-free shrub with few diseases. Keep in mind Clethra’s needs and you won’t be disappointed. The sweet pepperbush is native to woodlands and swamps from Nova Scotia on south to Florida, (zone 4 – 9). As such a plant, Clethra prefers semi-moist, slightly acidic soil conditions, (though average, well prepared and mulched garden soil will do fine). Also a plus, Clethra can tolerate a bit of shade from taller shrubs or trees. But do keep in mind, this is a suckering shrub, so give it plenty of room to spread out, (cultivars vary in size from small to large, but the species can grow from 4-12′ high and 6-10′ wide or more). Because the blossoms of sweet pepperbush occur on new-growth late in the season, any pruning should take place in the early part of the year,(ideally before June 1st). Be certain to make shallow-angled cuts on the alternate leafed branches, just above an outward facing leaf-bud. Clethra alnifolia forms a loose, natural-looking hedge when planted in groups, and except for the removal of spent blossoms, I avoid most pruning. However, should you find that your sweet pepperbush gets a bit wild and unruly, a severe pruning in early spring will rejuvenate her beauty. To my eye, Clethra alnifolia is always the perfect garden swan.

Clethra alnifolia, ‘Ruby Spice’ in bud at Ferncliff

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Article and Photographs Copyright 2009 Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

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