Plant Focus: Hakone grass

hakonechloa-macraGeorge Papadelis
Hakonechloa macra
Terra Nova Nurseries
‘All Gold’

by George Papadelis

Ornamental grasses have become increasingly popular. Few plant groups can provide winter interest, ease of care, versatility, and an enormous palette of various heights, colors, and flowers. When most people think of ornamental grasses, they imagine the classic sun-tolerant perennial species like maiden grass (Miscanthus), switch grass (Panicum), fountain grass (Pennisetum), or feather reed grass (Calamagrostis). However, many gardeners are not familiar with the more diminutive, shade-tolerant species. Lily turf (Liriope), sedge (Carex), and hakone grass (Hakonechloa) grow in shade or part shade and offer many of the same qualities as the traditional sun-loving grasses.

The Japanese native hakone grass has glossy, soft leaves that grow upright and then cascade or “waterfall” horizontally. This effect lends itself very well for use on slopes or as an edging plant. The slow-spreading clumps are not invasive. In fact, full pots of hakone grass can be difficult to find at your local garden center. High quality plants typically draw a premium price compared to other ornamental grasses. Young plants often disappoint the impatient gardener during the first season or so. However, two or three years in moist, well-drained, and fertile soil will yield lush mounds of beautiful leaves. Hakone grass turns pinkish-red each fall, then bronze, then tan during winter dormancy. The blowing, rustling leaves are pleasant all winter long until early spring when plants should be cut down to about an inch or two tall. The fresh foliage returns by late May.

hakone-grass-aureolaEric Hofley / Michigan Gardener
has no major insect or disease problems that would warrant concern. In my yard, however, rabbits feast on the spring leaves and can delay the anticipated display of an established plant. The application of an effective animal repellent can solve that problem.

Four different types of hakone grass are available and all grow about 12 inches tall. In my opinion, the species Hakonechloa macra is very underused. It has shiny, bright green leaves that work well with almost any other foliage color or texture. The popular H. macra ‘Aureola’ has gold and green leaves that glow in the shade from spring until fall. The cultivar ‘All Gold’ clearly describes its primary attributes. ‘Albo-striata’ is rarely available but has green and white bicolored leaves.

All Hakonechloas bring a beautiful texture to the shady garden that looks best when contrasted with other foliage. Ferns have fine-textured leaves that look gorgeous up against the long, linear leaves of hakone grass. The large, bold leaves of hostas are equally excellent companions. Try a blue hosta with the gold leaves of either  ‘Aureola’ or ‘All Gold’ hakone grass. Or perhaps try gold hosta with the green leaves of H. macra. The popularity of lace-leaf, red Japanese maples gives many of us an opportunity to underplant with the vibrant leaves of a gold hakone grass.

hakone-grass-columbusEric Hofley / Michigan Gardener
Hakone grass is a great perennial for the shade. Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’ is shown here with a hosta and variegated pachysandra.

Keep in mind that there are hundreds of flowering perennials for shade, many of which are underused. Foliage plants will usually create the foundation or backbone of the shady perennial bed. Like hostas and ferns, I can’t imagine a shady garden without hakone grass.

George Papadelis is the owner of Telly’s Greenhouse in Troy, MI.


Try this combination

One of the most beautiful (and useful) late summer-blooming perennials for shade is plumbago (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides). This slow-spreading groundcover is covered with fluorescent blue flowers from late July until fall on 8- to 10-inch tall plants. When temperatures drop in late September and October, the plants continue to flower but the leaves turn a lovely russet red. This plant is perfect alongside a mound of hakone grass.

At a glance: Hakone grass

Botanical name: Hakonechloa macra (ha-kone-ee-KLO-uh MAK-ruh)

Plant type: Perennial grass

Plant size: 12 inches tall, 12-18 inches wide

Habit: Layers of cascading foliage

Hardiness: Zone 5

Leaf color: Bright green or yellow; yellow, white, green variegations

Leaf size: 10 inches long, 1/2 inch wide

Light: Partial shade to shade

Soil: Moist, fertile, well-drained

Uses: Slopes, edging, shade garden, containers

Companion plants: Hostas, ferns, plumbago

Remarks: Pinkish red fall color, bronze color in winter. Cascading habit makes them great for slopes or edging. Takes 2 to 3 years to establish.

hakonechloaGeorge Papadelis
Hakonechloa turns from pinkish-red to bronze, then finally to tan in the winter.

Plant Focus: Blue mist spirea (Caryopteris)
‘Dark Knight’
by George Papadelis

When fall approaches, many gardeners believe it’s time to hang up the trowel and bring an end to another growing season. Fall, however, offers us many opportunities to enhance our landscape. Most plants allocate their energy to developing strong root systems in the late season. This, along with the cooler, less stressful growing conditions, makes fall an ideal time to plant. Cooler weather also means more comfortable temperatures for garden “work.” The ever-expanding palette of late-season annuals like flowering kale, flowering cabbage, dianthus, dahlias, petunias, verbenas, and so many more are increasingly available to brighten flowerless voids and refurbish tired window boxes. Let’s not forget pansies and bulbs. Fall-planted pansies will often bloom until the holidays and then begin blooming again early next spring.

caryopteris-flowerJonathon Hofley / Michigan Gardener
‘Worcester Gold’
Besides the popular garden mum, there is also an enormous selection of late-season perennials that are often underused. The list of shade lovers includes anemones, toad lilies (Tricyrtus), perennial lobelia, snakeroot (
Actaea or Cimicifuga), yellow wax bells (Kirengeshoma), certain hostas, and many, many more. The list of late-season bloomers for sunny locations is even longer and includes blue mist spirea (Caryopteris), a reliable performer and a beautiful addition to the autumn landscape.

Most blue mist spireas grow about 2 to 3 feet tall and wide, and have powdery blue flowers. Tight, one-inch clusters of tiny blue flowers develop in profusion along woody stems. Flowering lasts from mid-August well into October. The fragrant foliage of the more common varieties is a silvery blue-green, but others may be gold or green and white variegated. They thrive in any well-drained soil and prefer full to part sun. They flower on new wood, so pruning the plant in early spring to about 6 inches should yield excellent results.

Most plants that are referred to as “perennials” have stems that die down to the ground every winter. Blue mist spirea, however, is like lavender, butterfly bush (Buddleia), roses, and Russian sage (Perovskia); it develops woody stems that, to at least some extent, stay alive through the winter. In a severe winter, these stems can suffer, but a few inches of soil mounded directly over the plant’s crown in late November will insulate it. This discourages severe temperature fluctuations and reduces damage from drying winds. In spring, simply remove the soil from the plant’s base. When the new growth becomes apparent, prune away the dead stems. Additional pruning may be necessary to shape the plant and/or control its size. This same technique works well for roses, butterfly bush, Russian sage, lavender, and other vulnerable woody plants.

caryopteris-dark-nightEric Hofley / Michigan Gardener
‘Dark Knight’
Blue mist spirea is usually propagated by rooting soft tip cuttings. Some gardeners, however, will be rewarded with seedlings that develop at the base of the plant. Pollinated flowers will produce seed that is very viable but also variable. When these grow to a few inches tall, they can be transplanted to a permanent location and evaluated for potential future use.

Two readily available varieties are ‘Longwood Blue,’ with light blue flowers and gray-green leaves on plants that grow about 3 feet tall, and  ‘Dark Knight,’ which boasts similar but deeper blue flowers on slightly taller plants.

caryopteris-foliageJonathon Hofley / Michigan Gardener
‘Worcester Gold’
For beautiful golden foliage, ‘Worcester Gold’ is wonderful from spring until fall. It also has blue flowers in August and September on 3-foot tall plants. A newer gold cultivar called ‘Sunshine Blue’ has even more intensely gold foliage on 3-foot tall plants. Its amethyst blue flowers in August and September glow against its attractive foliage.

‘Snow Fairy’ is the first variegated leaf selection. It has brightly variegated green and white foliage that alone warrants the use of this plant. It produces clear blue flowers, and grows taller, to about 4 feet. Two new blue varieties include ‘Grand Blue,’ with dark blue flowers above dark green leaves on plants that only grow 2 feet tall and wide, and ‘First Choice,’ which produces rich, cobalt blue flowers on a more freely branching, compact plant that is just less than 3 feet tall.

Companion plants
‘Longwood Blue’
The flowers of blue mist spirea make a wonderful companion to other late season perennials and annuals. Most ornamental grasses are at their peak in September and may offer a perfect backdrop. Switch grass (Panicum) has erect, green to blue-gray stems and leaves topped by sprays of burnished bronze seedpods. Several varieties offer heights ranging from 3 to 7 feet tall, but ‘Shenandoah’ or ‘Heavy Metal’ would be the best Caryopteris partners. Shorter maiden grass (Miscanthus) like ‘Adagio’ and ‘Little Nicky’ offer silvery or pink flower plumes that blow in the wind. Feather reed grass (Calamagrostis) like ‘Karl Foerster’ offers stiff, wheat-colored plumes in June that last for almost a year on 4- to 5-foot tall plants. Fountain grass (Pennisetum) grows about 3 feet tall and produces fluffy, bottlebrush flowers of burgundy, beige, or black. All of these ornamental grasses are outstanding perennials to grow with a blue mist spirea. More importantly, each fall, ornamental grasses leave behind beautiful faded plants that last throughout the winter. These tan mounds of leaves and flowers provide even more interest when sprinkled with fresh snow or covered in glistening ice.

For a flowering blue mist spirea companion, you have many choices. Mums and fall-blooming asters come in an enormous color range and grow as low as 12 inches to as tall as 3 or 4 feet. The gold to orange flowers of Helen’s flower (Helenium) stand atop erect plants growing 3 to 4 feet tall. The goldenrod (Solidago) cultivar ‘Fireworks’ offers airy sprays of tiny yellow flowers that last throughout September. Windflower (Anemone) will thrive in sun or shade and produces masses of pink or white flowers to accent your blue mist spirea blooms.

Autumn is a great opportunity to spruce up flowerbeds and begin planning for next year’s garden. Plant some spring-blooming bulbs, think about trying some pansies, and don’t forget those mums. With these and the myriad of fall bloomers, all of us should have a spectacular September garden. A plant like blue mist spirea adds some excitement to our palette of late-season choices.

George Papadelis is the owner of Telly’s Greenhouse in Troy, MI.


At a glance: Blue mist spirea, bluebeard

Botanical name: Caryopteris (ca-ree-OP-tur-iss)

Plant type :P erennial

Plant size:2-4 feet tall and wide

Habit:Rounded bush

Hardiness:Zone 5

Flower color:Various shades of blue, from light to dark

Flower size:1-inch clusters

Bloom period:Late summer to fall

Leaf color:Gray-green, gold, white & green variegated

Light:Sun to partial sun


Uses :P erennial border

Companion plants:Medium-sized ornamental grasses, late-blooming perennials such as Helen’s flower, goldenrod, windflowers 

Remarks:Stems dieback depending on the severity of the winter (similar to Russian sage and butterfly bush). Blooms on new wood, so prune in early spring.

Plant Focus: Angelonia

angelonia-carita-deep-pinkThe Flower Fields
‘Carita Deep Pink’

by George Papadelis

Angelonia is one of the most versatile plants available to today’s savvy gardener. When planted in the sun it blooms effortlessly all summer long and can be used a number of different ways.

The common name for angelonia is summer snapdragon, but most gardeners are comfortable with the scientific name. The individual flowers actually look more like tiny orchids than snapdragons, but they develop on long stems just like snapdragons. Unlike snapdragons, however, angelonia performs beautifully in the summer heat. Removing the spent blooms will promote additional flowers but is not necessary. Simply plant in rich, well-drained soil with some sun (at least 6 hours) and fertilize every few weeks. Angelonia will do the rest.

Varieties are available in about 5 colors that include shades of white, pink, blue, purple, and a unique purple and white bicolor. Most varieties are upright growers that reach a height of 12 to 18 inches. These are by far the most popular and versatile cultivars. Their stiff stems are strong enough to prominently support the beautiful flowers in severe rain, but also pliable enough to sway in the wind without ever breaking. The three most common series are the Angelface, Carita, and AngelMist.

angelonia-angelface-whiteProven Winners
‘Angelface White’
There are also cultivars that were bred for a cascading habit. These can be used by themselves in hanging baskets or they may be incorporated into mixed planters as a trailing accent. The AngelMist series offers Basket Purple and Basket White. The Carita series offers Cascade Deep Pink, Cascade White, and Cascade Deep Purple. These perform just as effortlessly as the upright cultivars but are used in a different way.

As far as the uprights go, they are extremely versatile. I have seen mass plantings of angelonia that look just as gorgeous up close as they do from a hundred feet away. A sea of vibrant, orchid-like flowers clustered on upright stems can be stunning. Angelonia can also be used as an annual border plant. Use them just as you would medium height snapdragons, but with a more limited color range and superior performance.

They may also serve as an upright element in the center of a combination planter; it’s far more interesting than a spike. For example, a white angelonia can certainly be used with a red geranium. Better yet, try the white angelonia with a rose-colored geranium and a trailing blue fan flower (Scaevola). Maybe even add some trailing silver from a lotus vine or a lamium. The blue angelonia looks great with pinks, whites, and a splash of silver or dark foliage.

Now here’s an added bonus: For you perennial purists who are open-minded enough to have read this far, angelonia could be your best friend. Since it is underused and has a perennial-like appearance, it can serve as a graceful, perennial border filler with easy flowers from spring until fall. Other exceptional annuals for the sunny perennial border include tobacco flower (Nicotiana) , Amaranthus, the tall ageratum ‘Blue Horizon,’ tall verbena (Verbena bonariensis), spider flower (Cleome), and many more. As the lines between annuals, perennials, and tropicals continue to blur in American gardens, angelonia will become more and more popular.

George Papadelis is the owner of Telly’s Greenhouse in Troy, MI.



Simply Beautiful
‘AngelMist Basket Purple’


Angelonia pricing 

Angelonia plants available prior to 2006 were grown from cuttings. Plants propagated from cuttings are more expensive to grow and are usually offered in pots (as opposed to flats) that are sold at a higher price, which makes them economically impractical for mass plantings. In contrast, seed-grown annuals are usually offered in flats (as opposed to pots) that are sold at a much lower price per plant. As such, seed-grown annuals are more economical for larger plantings.

The good news is that a seed company started offering angelonia from seed during the 2006 season. The series is called Serena and it comes in four colors (lavender, lavender pink, purple and white) and a mixture. They are only 12 inches tall and grow about 12 inches wide. This means that you will be able to buy a flat of beautiful angelonias and use them for a reasonably-priced mass planting. As you can see, plant breeders have recognized the value and potential popularity of angelonia. They continue to dedicate themselves to broadening the uses and color range, so keep an eye out for exciting future introductions.


At a glance: Angelonia

Common name: Summer snapdragon

Botanical name: Angelonia (an-jeh-LOW-nee-uh)

Plant type: Annual

Plant size: 12-18 inches tall

Habit: Upright; some varieties are cascading

Flower color: White, pink, blue, purple, purple & white bicolor

Flower size: 3/4 inch wide

Bloom period: Summer

Light: Sun

Soil: Fertile, well-drained

Uses: Annual, filling in gaps in the perennial border, containers (both upright & cascading varieties)

Remarks: Does well in the heat of summer

Plant Focus: Creeping phlox


K. Van Bourgondien & Sons / 800-622-9997
Phlox subulata

by George Papadelis

We’ve all seen it: that glowing mound of flowers that catches your eye each spring. It’s impossible to miss an established planting of creeping phlox, even when driving 40 miles per hour.

Creeping phlox is the name often used to describe several species within the huge genus Phlox, which includes perennials such as the tall garden phlox (Phlox paniculata and Phlox maculata) and the annual phlox (Phlox drummondii). Few perennials, however, can produce flowers as densely and reliably as creeping phlox.

There are several species of phlox that are low growing. The most popular is Phlox subulata which bears the common name moss phlox or creeping phlox. This easy to grow plant thrives in sun and is not particular about its soil, although good drainage is preferable. The small, starry flowers come in many colors and the fine foliage can be dense or airy depending on the cultivar. Spring temperatures determine whether your phlox will bloom in late April or as late as mid May. Flowering only lasts for about 3 to 4 weeks. Most grow 4 to 6 inches tall and stay extra compact, especially if lightly sheared after blooming. They can spread up to 2 or more feet wide in just a few years.

Phlox subulata is native to the eastern United States but is hardy enough to withstand much colder climates. Pest and disease problems are rare. This is part of the reason that moss phlox is one of the most popular rock garden plants. It is also used in troughs, as an edging plant, in wall gardens, and in the perennial border. It doesn’t grow from seed, but mature plants can be divided after they flower.

The two most popular varieties of Phlox subulata are the blue ‘Emerald Blue’ and the pink ‘Emerald Pink,’ due to their bright, clean flowers and their dense, low leaves. ‘White Delight’ is the most popular white and ‘Atropurpurea’ is the most popular red. For interesting bicolored flowers, try ‘Millstream Coral Eye.’ It is pure white with a crimson eye. ‘Millstream Daphne’ is clear pink with a darker rose eye. One of the most striking cultivars is ‘Candy Stripes,’ with a distinctly star-shaped pattern.

There are many early-blooming plants that make wonderful partners for moss phlox. As far as bedding plants are concerned, pansies are certainly the most diverse and dependable phlox companions. They come in an almost infinite range of colors and color combinations, and they will tolerate the occasional frosts and freezes of early spring. Early-blooming perennial companions include bugleweed (Ajuga), pasque flower (Pulsatilla vulgaris), and a very broad range of bulbs. Blue or pink moss phlox underneath the blooms of yellow daffodils makes an impressive combination.

Phlox douglasii is another available species that is also called moss phlox and grows almost exactly like Phlox subulata. Phlox douglasii is even shorter, rarely growing over 4 inches tall. Only a few cultivars exist, but ‘Crackerjack’ has near red flowers and ‘Rose Cushion’ has delicate, soft baby pink flowers that are very unusual. They only grow 10 to 12 inches wide, making them even better for smaller crevices or troughs. These varieties also benefit from shearing after blooming.

For shade or partial shade, we have Phlox stolonifera, commonly known as creeping phlox. This was the very first plant chosen to be the Perennial Plant of the Year by the Perennial Plant Association back in 1990. Its low, spreading stems are adorned with leathery, almost round leaves. The stems are referred to as stolons since they will root at the stem nodes and tips. Stem tips will turn upright and produce clusters of sweetly fragrant flowers in May. Plants will grow 6 to 12 inches tall and spread indefinitely to form a groundcover.

Phlox stolonifera makes a great companion for spring-blooming shade plants such as primrose, lungwort (Pulmonaria), foamflower (Tiarella), and shade-tolerant bulbs such as scilla and daffodils. Selections include the white ‘Bruce’s White,’ the pink ‘Pink Ridge,’ the blue ‘Blue Ridge,’ and the purple ‘Sherwood Purple.’ These, like Phlox subulata and Phlox douglasii, are best propagated by division. Also, rooted stolons (stems) can be separated from the main plant and grown on their own.

All of these phlox are very easy to grow. Their dense flowers, reliability, and ease of cultivation make them valuable perennials. Try some and you too could have a carpet of traffic-stopping blooms in your spring garden.

George Papadelis is the owner of Telly’s Greenhouse in Troy, MI.


At a glance: Creeping Phlox

Phlox stolonifera (floks sto-lo-NI-fer-a)
Phlox subulata (floks sub-ew-LAH-ta)

Common name: Creeping phlox, moss phlox

Plant type: Perennial

Plant size: 4-12 inches tall

Habit: Creeping groundcover

Hardiness: Zone 2

Flower color: Wide variety: lilac, pale blue, mauve, pink (many shades), white, red

Bloom period: April-May

Light: P. stolonifera: partial shade to shade / P. subulata: sun

Soil: P. stolonifera: rich, moist, well-drained / P. subulata: well-drained

Uses: Evergreen groundcover, edging, woodland garden, rock garden

Companion plants: P. stolonifera: early spring-blooming bulbs and perennials for shade, such as lungwort (Pulmonaria), foamflower (Tiarella), scilla, many others. P. subulata: early spring-blooming bulbs and perennials for sun, such as pansies, ajuga, daffodils, many others.

Remarks: Keep P. stolonifera out of full sun. P. subulata is drought-tolerant once established.

Plant Focus: Perennial Forget-Me-Not (Brunnera)

brunnera-jack-frostTerra Nova Nurseries
‘Jack Frost’
By George Papadelis

brunnera-fernsEric Hofley / Michigan Gardener
Brunnera and ferns make great companions in the shade garden.
(Brunnera macrophylla) is an outstanding perennial for the shade garden. Its common names are Siberian bugloss, heart-leaf brunnera and perennial forget-me-not. The word “perennial” is important to note here because there is another forget-me-not that is not a true perennial. Myosotis is the biennial forget-me-not. Its flowers are usually soft blue in spring on plants only about 6 to 8 inches tall. After flowering, that forget-me-not will usually die, but only after it drops seeds everywhere. The seeds will usually grow and form plants that will bloom the following spring. Brunnera macrophylla, the perennial forget-me-not, will last for years and years, promising beautiful flowers and foliage season after season.

Brunnera produces clouds of baby blue flowers each May. Each flower only measures about 1/4 inch across and has a tiny white eye in the center. The flowers rest above furry green, heart-shaped leaves measuring up to 8 inches across. As the flowers fade, the leaves grow larger and form attractive rounded mounds that grow about 12 to 15 inches tall and spread 24 inches wide.

brunerra-bloomsJonathon Hofley / Michigan Gardener
Brunnera has small, delicate blue flowers in May.
Several years ago, a variegated version of Brunnera came along. The wide white edge of Brunnera macrophylla ‘Variegata’ made this plant a collector’s item almost immediately. This mound of striking foliage looks exceptionally attractive when topped by the baby blue flowers. After the spring blooms, the foliage flourishes and persists until late in fall.

A less common cultivar called ‘Dawson’s White’ has similar bicolored leaves with a slightly more creamy margin. ‘Hadspen Cream’ has lighter green leaves with creamy white edges. Another interesting variety called ‘Langtrees’ has dark green leaves with silver spots along the border. All this foliage looks wonderful when contrasted with fine-textured leaves (such as sedges, astilbes, and ferns) or sword-like leaves (like Siberian iris).

There is also a beautiful silver-leaved version of the perennial forget-me-not called ‘Jack Frost.’ The green-veined leaves are very unusual and provide an excellent source of silver in the shade garden. A newer variety called ‘Looking Glass’ has even less pronounced green veins and slightly cupped leaves.

brunnera-looking-glassTerra Nova Nurseries
‘Looking Glass’
Only a few perennials such as dead nettle (Lamium), Japanese painted fern, and lungwort can provide silver in the shade. Try these silver leaves against a big blue hosta, a bright green maidenhair fern, a black-leaved snakeroot (Cimicifuga ramosa ‘Hillside Black Beauty’), or a purple-leaved coral bells (Heuchera). Even without flowers, the leaves of the silver-leaved brunnera will steal the show.

The perennial forget-me-not will thrive in moist soil and should have less than about six hours of sun, preferably in the morning. Soil that is filled with moisture-stealing tree roots will probably prove to be too dry. Amend sandy or clay soil with organic matter such as aged pine bark, compost, or peat moss. Trim back the dead leaves in fall, and await the showy spring blooms. No matter how you use it, the perennial forget-me-not is a shade garden favorite with its excellent foliage and showy flowers.

George Papadelis is the owner of Telly’s Greenhouse in Troy, MI.

At a Glance: Brunnera

brunnera-variegataEric Hofley / Michigan Gardener
Common names
: Siberian bugloss, heart-leaf brunnera, perennial forget-me-not

Botanical name: Brunnera macrophylla (BRUN-er-uh mak-ro-FY-luh)

Plant type: Perennial

Plant size: 12-15 inches tall, 24 inches wide

Habit: Mounding

Hardiness: Zone 3

Flower color: Light blue

Flower size: 1/4 inch wide

Bloom period: May

Leaf color: Green, variegated (green/white, green/cream), silver

Leaf size: Heart-shaped, up to 8 inches wide

Light: Part shade to shade

Soil: Moist, well-drained

Companion plants: Hostas, ferns, sedges, snakeroot, coral bells

Remarks: Great foliage plant for the shade garden. Should have ample moisture and not too much sun—otherwise, on the variegated brunneras, the lighter leaf edges can scorch and turn brown.