What Allan Armitage taught me

For some reason, I’d never read Armitage before, but I’m now a convert.  He’s a knowledgeable and strong-minded horticulturalist (reminiscent of Michael Dirr)  with lots and lots of good information. Though he’s writing about native plants, he’s clearly wary of native plant fanatics.  He’s also made a point of including only those plants you can actually buy somewhere.  Plus, since he gardens in Athens, Georgia, he’s well aware of what our heat and humidity can do to the garden.

What I’ve learned so far:

Baptisia tends to look awful in the fall, so it’s not that it has a disease, its just that the stems and fruit wither and turn brown.  “Dead stems should be cut to within about 18″ of the soil.”  I don’t remember this happening before but glad to know it’s normal.

It’s not a helenium (sneezeweed) that’s tumping over, it’s a helianthis (sunflower).  I did have a helenium ‘Butterpat’ on my list but it was out of stock when I was planting the new garden.  Will I have room for it??  Armitage: “…up to 5 feet tall.  Its stiff stems are ideal for cutting.”  Interestingly, the helianthis I have (‘Lemon Queen’) is not a variety included in Armitage.  Not a native?

Yes, those are aphids on the milkweed, and they’ll usually arrive at some point in the summer.  “Having any form of milkweed in the garden almost guarantees you’ll be an aphid farmer as well.”  Spray them away with water, or live and let live.  The remnants of tropical storm Lee took care of them (6″ plus!).


I’m not crazy about all these hybridized heucheras which, to my eye, exhibit garish colors and insignificant flowers.  From Armitage I learn that it’s the sanguinea species that I like and that’s probably the passed-along variety I have in the front garden.  ‘Vesuvius’ is a dramatic purple-leaved variety with coral red flowers and without the manufactured look of the modern heucheras.  Worth a try.

Other plants worth seeking out:

Monarda bartlettii instead of the more common didyma:  less mildew and less invasive.

Pachysandra procumbens: the native spurge to replace the ginger in the shrub border?  A slow grower.

Penstemons:  I thought these were a western specialty, but Armitage says they grow “in meadows, plains and open woods…south to Virginia.”  ‘Husker Red’ is the classic choice (its flowers are white, foliage maroon to purplish). Pallidus does well in heat and humidity.

Of all the phloxes, try phlox stolonifera, creeping phlox.  ‘Bruce’s White’ would be pretty under the oak tree.

Ruellia humilis (fringed petunia): is this the blue-flowering plant Biffy gave me?  “..they can reseed everywhere…”

Salvia greggii (Texas sage) ‘Cherry Queen:’ “An absolutely outstanding plant for southern gardens. ”

Spigelia marilandica (Indian pink) has been on my maybe list for years, but clearly now I need to take action!  “I buy every plant of indian pink I can lay my hands on…best in moist woodland or along shady paths…a hummingbird magnet…afternoon shade and consistent moisture result in faster growth.”  The latter may be the kiss of death, but I’ll give it a try.

Tiarella ‘Spring Symphony.”  I’m already a foamflower fan, but I must try this one.  “…the best foamflower and the one I recommend to my daughters.  Good-looking foliage, astounding numbers of flowers, and the longest flowering time of any I have tried.”

Veronicastrum virginicum (Culver’s root): “upright architectural habit.”  Needs full sun.  Looks a bit like actea…

Labrador violet: I always worried that my garden is too dry for this, but he’s a champion.  He grows his under a dogwood and says they are “doers.”

Finding ferns that tolerate heat and drought is almost impossible, though the marsh ferns that Martha gave me do pretty well.  He recommends Woodwardia areolata, netted chain fern.  “I like them better than sensitive fern because they are more compact, fill in rapidly, don’t need wet soils, and, if necessary, can be removed more easily.  Just a good doer for the partially shaded garden.”

Finally, my flirtation with yuccas is endorsed by Armitage.  The one I liked in his book I also liked in the succulent book.  ‘Bright Edge’ is a smaller variety with “broad, dull golden margins.”

Here’s a sign of a good book:  lots of stickies marking information to save. Plus, doesn’t he look like a friendly guy?

2 responses to “What Allan Armitage taught me

  1. Pingback: The Helen Dillon Garden | Caroline's Garden Record

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