First Timers

Reading time 6 minutes

The longer one has to wait for something (apart from death, visits from the mother-in-law and tax return forms) the more exciting it is when it finally happens. This certainly applies to gardening. Happily, several plants at The Watch House have chosen 2014 for their floral debut, and there has been much anticipation as the unfamiliar buds emerge and then start to unfurl. As they do, I spare a thought for the great plant collectors of yesteryear who had to wait 10, 20, 30 years for their precious discoveries to produce flowers, sometimes not knowing quite what they’d get. Few gardeners these days are quite so patient – we all expect immediate results from our nursery-grown plants. However, even with modern growing techniques, not all species are happy to be rushed.

The longest I have waited is seven summers to enjoy the foamy-white flowers of Lyonothamnus floribundus ssp. asplenifolius, or the Santa Cruz ironwood tree. This species is endemic to the rocky, wind-swept islands of Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa and San Clemente off California, but finds itself very much at home in Broadstairs. Although the ferny leaves and stringy red bark are reward enough for growing this unusual tree, the flowers are a nice bonus. They lasted just a few weeks in July before turning brown, and are now starting to develop seed. The drawback is that they formed at the very top of the tree, 25ft up, so were only visible from our bedroom windows on the second floor.

Lyonothamnus floribundus ssp. asplenifolius, The Watch House, July 2014
You’d need a tall ladder, cherry-picker or zoom lense to get close to the lofty flowers of Lyonothamnus floribundus ssp. asplenifolius

It has taken Digitalis canariensis only a year to begin flowering, compared to its reluctant cousin Digitalis sceptrum, which took five. The flowers are sparser, smaller and more fiery in colour, borne on fine burgundy stems. This is the second flush, which sprang up readily from beneath the main spike. It looks tremendous planted with other exotic companions, such as sapphire blue Echium candicans, the pride of Madeira. A relative of our native foxglove, Digitalis canariensis is a short lived shrub from Tenerife which I have found to be completely hardy by the coast. Give it dappled shade and moist, well-drained soil for best results.

A long way from its home in Tenerife, Digitalis canariensis flowers for the first time
A long way from its home in Tenerife, Digitalis canariensis flowered for the first time

Canna x ehemanii is new to the garden this year, but is already putting on one hell of a show. Although never demure, the plants are now producing leaves the size of a banana. I dislike the stiffness of most cannas, but C. x ehemanii holds its raspberry-pink flowers with grace and poise. Already there are sharp new shoots emerging from the ground, which will hopefully keep on producing flowers until the first frosts.

As the season progresses, the leaves of Canna x ehemanii expand to banana-like proportions.
As the season progresses, the leaves of Canna x ehemanii will exceed 3ft in length.

I did not have to wait at all for this post’s final plant to flower, as it was purchased already in bloom. At first I could not believe that Spigelia marilandica, the Indian pinkwas a North Amercian native: the flowers appear so unashamedly exotic. It would not be out of place lining the pathways of a Caribbean resort, but in fact this perennial plant revels in the moist, sheltered woodlands of Missouri. The first flower spikes were mercilessly snapped off during the weekend’s stormy weather, so I only have this grainy image to share with you. With its eye-catching red and lime green flowers, I feel sure S. marilandica is going to become a new favourite of mine.

Back home in Missouri, USA, Spigelia marilandica is a woodland native
Back home in Missouri, Spigelia marilandica is a woodland native

Below is a picture, courtesy of Carolyn’s Shade Garden, to demonstrate the potential of this little known shade plant.

I find most things are better the first time round, so if these plants are new to you I hope you have enjoyed them as much as I have. I would love to know what’s flowered for the first time (or even the last!) in your garden this year.

Spigelia marilandica carpeting the ground in Pennsylvania USA
Spigelia marilandica carpeting the ground in Pennsylvania, USA



Categories: Flowers, Foliage, Our Coastal Garden, Plants

Posted by The Frustrated Gardener

Greetings Garden Lover! Welcome to my blog. Plants are my passion and this is my way of sharing that joyful emotion with the world. You'll find over 1000 posts here featuring everything from abutilons to zinnias. If you've enjoyed what you've read, please leave a comment and consider subscribing using the yellow 'Follow' button in the bottom, right-hand corner of your screen. You will receive an email every time I post something new.

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13 comments On "First Timers"

  1. All great plants! Usually it is worth the wait, and you’re right, most people expect instant gratification in the gardens today (like with everything else 😉 You would be surprised to find out that is very hard to procure Spigelia here, although a NA native! I hope it will grow well for you.

    1. I am a little surprised by that. It’s not common at all here – I think maybe 8 nurseries in the UK offer it. I have discovered that Spigelia makes a good cut flower too, as the stems that snapped off last weekend are continuing to look pretty arranged in a green glass bottle.

      1. Hard to believe but that’s the reality. Here might be towards its northern limit – it shows up very late in the spring. Hard to do by cuttings, doesn’t clump fast enough to divide, and seeds I never had…

    1. I am getting the impression it’s more special than I thought. I was just bowled over by the jazzy flowers, I’m so shallow! Must find out how to propagate it. If I am passing the nursery again soon I will get you one.

  2. Hi Dan, I’ve just finished a really great book called ‘The Brother Gardeners’ by Andrea Wulf. It’s the story of how plants from abroad were introduced to Britain in the 18th century through the efforts of several enterprising botanists. I think you may enjoy it as you are a fan of exotic plants, just like they were. If they could see what you are growing in your garden today, they would be truly astonished! Helen

    1. Thanks Helen. I shall add this to my reading list. I will be going off on my travels for work in October so am starting to accumulate a few good reads.I have just ordered ‘Where Do Camels Belong’, which is about invasive species. Have you come across this one? Dan

      1. Funnily enough it was on my holiday reading list but I decided to be sensible and read some of the books I had already. Let me know what you think of it, if it’s good I may have to start an early Christmas list! Helen

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