Cardoon Va-Voom!

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Cardoon (Cynara cardunculus) is a plant I wanted to try this season because it has foliage power.  The leaves are long and deeply cut, the edges are sharp and pointy, and it has a soft silvery coloring.  Almost a gray-green tone or like a silvery white, with more white tones under the leaves which are held on stalky stems with prickly edges.  It is hardy in zones 7-11 and requires full sun.  I used it as a tropical style looking plant for my container gardens and in the ground.  And sold some at my Container Garden Party offerings in 2010.

This plant can grow to a very large size!  Up to 6 feet tall.  Mine did grow very quickly in my containers this past season, starting with a early June planting and continuing to do well all the way into fall.  It didn’t stop performing.  The texture and form works well in a container alone or planted with supporting candidates.  I used it in 3 places:  1 in an urn, 1 in a huge pot, and 1 by my mailbox mixed with Sedum and Artemisia arborescens ‘Powis Castle’. I was testing out the scenarios and seeing how it did to determine if I would offer it again to my container gardening clients.

The urn was the perfect shape container for the Cardoon plant because the plant’s foliage rose above it and hung over by the tips, offering a dramatic effect.  The downsize was the urn was not large enough to support the plant’s soil and watering needs, so it had to be watered too often.  This became a nuisance because the soil in the urn dried out too quickly for the size of the root system.  And then the plant began to suffer which made the insects nearby take notice.  It got a bit attacked.  I was disappointed.  But the look of the plant fit the style of the urn perfectly.  The plant is stately, grand, and commands attention.  The urn is stately and stands tall as if commanding attention.  It is hard to describe, but the feel of the container matched the feel of the plant.  These are important aspects to selecting the right container for container plants.  You may have a country look to a container and you need to pair it up with a country or cottage style plant, in my opinion.  A formal container should have a more formal style plant.  When you put a couple together that doesn’t match, it looks odd and takes away from each personality.  But when you have the right pair, you can feel and see its beauty!

The mailbox planting of a Cardoon this same season surprised me as well.  I absolutely loved how the silvery green of the foliage of this plant worked so well with the soft rosy pink blooms of the Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ perennial planted with it.  As the Sedum’s bloom color intensified to a darker red-plum during late summer to fall, the foliage of the Cardoon continued to support it.    This analogous scheme used 2 of related colors (blue/silver foliage of Cardoon, the pink/burgundy bloom of Sedum).  They lie next to each other on the color wheel leading to a harmonious blend.  

The Artemisia arborescens ‘Powis Castle’ (Wormwood) perennial plant was also a great addition to the other two plants because it has silvery foliage like the Cardoon, BUT the foliage of Artemisia is soft and whimsical compared to the stark and stronge cutting edge look of the Cardoon.  The Cardoon provided that stronger elemental form while the thinner foliage of the Artemisia softened its stature.  Artemisia (Wormwood) is a fine textured plant that can also take full sun conditions, like Cardoon.  It is hardy in Zones6-9, grows well in average to dry soils (lime-enriched (alkaline) soil, and bonus – is deer resistant!  It is easy to grow and prospers in dry heat which we experienced during our dry 2010 season.  Artemisias can be sheared back if they looks leggy later in the season.  It is also feathery foliage favorite.  (Reminder:  Flowers?  Not always needed for impact!)

Many know that Sedums can take the heat and drought too!  Sedums have broccoli looking buds in spring, they turn pink and then darker pink into fall.  By late Autumn, the rosy burgundy coloring still created a visual appeal with its the large Cardoon foliage.  Sedums are known for their winter interest as well.  The spent flower heads, turning brown and dry into winter, always look wonderful when ice or snow clings to it (although this big snow year for us in CT has hidden many at this time). 

In summary, my experience is all three of these plants, Cardoon – Sedum – Artemisia  – performed well from early summer to late fall.  Each gave the other more impact in regards to coloring and texture.  The Cardoon surprised me on how well it did by a harsh roadside environment too.  It didn’t cry out for watering and it kept getting bigger.  It was a showy curb side candidate in an unexpected place.  I was thrilled Cardoon performed by the mailbox trio planting. 

Yet for some reason the same Cardoon in my large pot of about 3 feet in diameter didn’t perform so well.  It continued to get discolored leaves and did not thrive as well as the mailbox plant.  I kept wondering what was causing this problem.  The soilless medium used was of good balance, it was watered routinely, and had fertilizer appropriately applied.  Sometimes plants just don’t want to cooperate.  But by the end of the season, when I disassembled the large container garden, I took photos of the leaves.  They were up to 2-3′ long! 

I will still use this candidate Cardoon in the future and will look for plants of a similar texture.  It provides great foliage texture and form.  I know when people first saw it in a 5″ pot, they secretly thought, ugh.  But Ugh no more.  It provided a powerful statement in all three areas.  It just needed more consideration for its ultimate size to assure an even more quality outcome.  Cardoon does provide that Va-Voom!

Gutt Reaction

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Last week I spent a full day at New England Grows in Boston.  This is my 4th year attending so I am very familiar with what to expect.  However, I also hope for new surprises.  As I browse the showroom floor, I search for a new, different, or perhaps not yet noticed gardening product or plants.  My goal is to learn, but more importantly, to see what is useful to my design clients and gardening friends.  Here is my gutt reaction to those I took notice of.

Dyeing Orchids.  No, not dead orchids.  Orchids dyed the color blue.  As I took a photo of Phalaenopsis (the Moth Orchid), I told the guy manning the booth that this was the first time I’ve seen this.  My reaction:  I found it curious long enough to take notice, but I’m not so sure orchids should be treated this way (see photo below).  Orchids are not your typical flowers as you know.  Often gardeners who grow them also collect them.  The moth orchid is one of the favorites and perhaps easier to grow.  They require moderate light and consistent moisture, and bloom late winter into spring.  But there are other more sophisticated types of orchids.  You could say that orchids are somewhat in the elite class.  And typically collectors don’t really like their prized plants to be “messed with” – at least maybe not this way.  Sure, we’ve seen dyed poinsettia plants the past few holiday seasons.  But somehow, at least my gutt reaction said, doing this to orchids is not as cool.  Actually, it kind of made me feel blue. 

The Smart Pot.  Because of my love for container gardening, The Smart Pot caught my attention at the show.  It is a soft-sided fabric container.  Commercial growers have used this product, but now its an option for container gardening at home.  As described by the sales person, it has many growing benefits.  The soft sided material allows for better aeration for the plant’s roots.  Unlike plastic containers, the heat held is also released when it is too hot outside.  The aeration process also eliminates (so they claim) the circling or girdling of roots at the base of the pot due to what is known as air-root pruning.  These root benefits greatly improves the root structure and increases top growth.  You should end up with a higher yield or more blooms.  My reaction:  I believed every word the gentlemen told me as he described the benefits of The Smart Pot’s features and that it promotes better top growth because of the benefits provided to the root area, resulting in higher yields.  The Smart Pot certainly has a High IQ!   However, the drawback for me is it is just a plain black container with no embellishments.  I like a lot more bling for my container gardens.  For the vegetable lovers out there, this is a handy, portable, reusable, and lighter growing container.  And it comes in various sizes from 7 to 20 gallon.   This patented aeration container definitely has its advantages.  It may have other uses to consider, which I am.  I have some more thoughts about it to share at my Container Garden Parties in 2011. 

Verticle (or Vertical) Gardening.  Identified as one of the 2011 hot new garden trends.  We are not talking about slapping a trellis against a wall and allowing a clematis to grow up it.  It is about verticle gardening on a larger scale.  A component system shown at the show entailed modular sections made from stainless steel sections and filled with growing medium for quick assembly.  My reaction:  I would love to create this wall of planting glamour at my home where I have a tall and bare foundation wall below my garage facing my lawn.  I feel these component wall systems of verticle green walls are somewhat site specific however.  They could be used to create outdoor room dividers, hide an eyesore (like my garage foundation cement wall) or create artistic elements in the garden.  I could also see them also used in commercial building settings where space is otherwise limited or to bring a concept to eye level for visitors.  Perhaps a wall of herbs at a restaurant’s outdoor seating?  For a smaller scaled environments or interior rooms, there was another interesting option shown by another vendor at the show.  It was framed wall art designed to accommodate plants, roots, soil and watering.  I liked this too, but to be honest, I also felt the garden framed wall art is something one could easily create on their own, should they have the desire.  Just pick up a old picture frame or window pane, and go at it.  Maybe it is because of the plants they used to showcase the wall art.  They did not do it for me.  I would have used coleus and created patterns, or a painting.  Oh, the juices are flowing!  Both the component large wall system and the small frame plant wall art provided inspiration.  That’s a good thing.

Rice Hull and Bamboo Pots.  We have definitely seen a great deal about recycling pots the past couple years with the green movement.  But this year at the show, it was the first time I saw a plant wholesaler selling the starter plants right in the compostable pots.   This grower had pots made from rice hulls and bamboo.  Completely compostable or biodegradable, and serving as beneficial decay matter to the soil environment for the plant.  Once in the ground, the pot will slowly decompose or breakdown as the roots reach thru the vents or slots in the pots, or as the base of the pot decays.  You don’t end up tossing the pot into the garbage, it helps the soil, and eliminates the repotting step.  I really like this.  The grower also is focused on using recycled water and renewable components throughout their production process. If others had done this already (meaning using the attractive “right size” bamboo/rice containers), for some reason I didn’t notice it before at this show.  I’ve seen smaller plugs or pots of this type of material, but not in the size pot I typically like to start with for my garden installs or for container gardens.  And their compostable type pots were attractive enough should you want to just enjoy the plant in the pot before it reaches the ground.  My gutt reaction:  All good.  No bad.  Just right.  (Just wished I had a nursery of my own so I could load up on them!)

Click on the photos below to expand the view!