Another Perfect Plant: Cryptomeria japonica ‘Black Dragon’

Cryptomeria japonica 'Black Dragon' 2.jpg

Cryptomeria japonica ‘Black Dragon’

A smaller cultivar of what can be a towering species, Cryptomeria japonica ‘Black Dragon’ maxes out its growth at about 10’. A useful screening tree for a sunny location out of strong winds, the darkly colored black foliage provides an excellent background for lighter colored plants in front of it.

The species is native to Japan where forestry policies after WWII encouraged extensive monocultural plantings to rebuild the timber industry and reforest barren hillsides. This had a number of ecological ramifications but the most significant problem for humans happened once the trees matured – clouds upon clouds of pollen. Pollen is a powdery substance produced by plants that when ingested can cause the body to produce antibodies to combat the invading allergen.

The allergic reaction can cause a myriad of symptoms familiar to most sufferers – itchy eyes, sneezing, and runny nose. Though this can be a problem where the trees have been planted over hundreds of acres, it isn’t usually a problem in the home landscape and should not discourage you from planting an otherwise unique and lovely tree.

John Hopkins Medicine
The New York Times

Photo reference:
Gardener Direct





Another Perfect Plant: Eurybia divaricata

 The long flowering  Eurybia divaricata  (white wood aster) still blooming strong in December on the Pike Street Hill Climb in Seattle, a landscape recently renovated by Land Morphology.   

The long flowering Eurybia divaricata (white wood aster) still blooming strong in December on the Pike Street Hill Climb in Seattle, a landscape recently renovated by Land Morphology.   

Previously known as Aster divaricatus (see Potentilla post for explanation of botanical name changing), this east coast native is a star in the fall woodland garden. Its short, unassuming form is covered in masses of white flowers at a time in the garden when other plants are already dormant. This versatile plant can be grown in wet or dry shade where its white flowers light up the understory.

White wood asters are one of fifteen plants the National Park Service is monitoring in an ongoing phenology study to examine the effect of climate change on plant habitats. Phenology studies cyclical natural cycles like flowering and leaf emergence – as the climate changes phenologists are noting and recording when plants bloom to get a better understanding on how climate change could affect agriculture, allergies, and ecological population dynamics.

Ongoing environmental projects that effect national interests have historically been monitored by the EPA. 


Missouri Botanical Garden
National Park Service
National Phenology Network



Another Perfect Plant: Acer rubrum ‘Franksred’ RED SUNSET

Red Maple 'Red Sunset', Acer rubrum, 'Franksred', 1999-104, 1 October 2012  DSC_3400.jpg

Acer rubrum ‘Franksred’ RED SUNSET

This cultivar of the red maple (Acer rubrum) certainly lives up to its common name – the fire engine red leaves put on a fabulous show in the fall. This highly adaptable tree can be used in a variety of situations from standing water to parking lot medians. Fall foliage color is dependent on species, temperature, sunlight, and soil moisture.

Leaves are green because they have chlorophyll in them. As chlorophyll production slows in the fall, the underlying yellow (xanthophyll) and orange (carotenoid) pigments are unmasked. The brilliant red colors maples turn in the fall are produced by anthocyanins, thought to act as a sort of “sunscreen” for leaves though their purpose is not fully understood. When the weather conditions come together the fall show can add an additional element of interest to the garden, especially in a time of year when many blooming perennials and shrubs are slowing down for winter.   

University of Florida / U.S. Forest Service
Harvard Forest


Photo reference:
The Brenton Arboretum


Another Perfect Plant: Potentilla fructicosa ‘Kupinpa’ Happy Face Pink Paradise

The rather long and convoluted name for this cultivar of shrubby cinquefoil (Potentilla fructicosa ‘Kupinpa’ Happy Face Pink Paradise) belies a lovely, drought tolerant plant. Short, rounded, and long flowering, Potentilla is an excellent shrub for a diversity of locations – perennial border, foundation plantings, highway medians, etc. As long as there is plenty of sun and a well-drained soil Potentilla should thrive. Potentilla is one of many horticultural plants that have seen scientific names change over time. Currently there are thirteen synonyms for Potentilla fruticosa though the most common are Potentilla and Dasiphora.

Taxonomic name changes can happen for a variety of reasons, including the rule of priority (someone else named it first), initial misidentification and subsequent large scale propagation, or advances in current understanding of how plant families interact. As scientific advances improve DNA sequencing, botanists are finding connections between plant families that were previously unknown and which require shuffling of the family tree. Though it often seems like name changes happen to keep taxonomists in business and annoy gardeners, they actually help further our understanding of botany and how the plant world interacts. 

Green Acre Farm and Nursery
Burke Museum
Pacific Horticulture

Photo reference:
Spring Meadow Nursery


Another Perfect Plant: Spotlight on the New Pike Street Hill Climb Plantings

Land Morphology’s redesign of the Hill Climb’s plantings features many colorful perennials.  Today’s Another Perfect Plant features Echinacea ‘Balsomador’ Sombrero Adobe Orange.  It’s already brightening the corridor between the market and the waterfront.

 Newly planted  Echinacea  ‘Balsomador’ Sombrero Adobe Orange on the Pike St. Hill Climb

Newly planted Echinacea ‘Balsomador’ Sombrero Adobe Orange on the Pike St. Hill Climb

Advances in plant breeding have added many new color options to the classic red/pink of Echinacea purpurea, the purple coneflower. An American native and a staple in the perennial border, coneflowers are long lasting, floriferous plants that like full sun and not a lot of competition from other plants. The Sombrero series, bred by Ball Seed, is developing shorter, stockier plants with longer bloom times in a diversity of colors – red, orange, peach, yellow, and white. Adobe Orange is a complex hybrid between Echinacea purpurea and E. paradoxa. As a hybrid it tends to be either self-incompatible or totally infertile. With the proper licensing, plants can be propagated through tissue culture or division - rarely do they come true from seed.

University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service
Plant Delights
Ball Seed

Photo reference:
Rotary Botanical Gardens Horticulture Blog


Land Morphology's Garden

Land Morphology moved to a new office space a little over a year ago. One of the best features of the storefront space adjacent to Seattle’s soon-to-be-demolished viaduct is the garden. We’ve had fun developing it and watching it evolve over the past year.


Like all gardens, there are challenges to overcome and particular requirements to meet. In our urban space we have a large itinerant population with occasional nocturnal activities; and that’s just the rabbit. The rabbit is an unexpected visitor, considering our space is surrounded by buildings and concrete. Fortunately the rabbit prefers the northern planting bed and leaves the southern garden to the neighborhood dogs.

Our garden beds are a testing ground for us to experiment with plants before we recommend them to clients: on one side are our more formal perennials and some smaller shrubs, as well as existing katsura (Cercidiphyllum japonicum) trees, while on the other side we’re developing a looser, meadow-y garden.The glue that ties these two beds together is the proliferation of bulbs. As gardeners are wont to do, our first fall/winter in our new home occasioned the planting of over 1,000 spring and fall blooming bulbs.


All 1,000 of these bulbs were put into an area slightly larger than a city-sized front garden and still didn’t entirely fill up the space. Our early flowering season began with an explosion of beautiful crocus (C. vernus ‘Jeanne D’Arc) and muscari (M. armeniacum ‘Saffier’). Last year the show continued with two lovely Northwest natives Camassia leichtlinii ‘Alba’ and Brodiaea ‘Ruby’ (syn. Triteleia) but petered out into the summer. To remedy this we’ve added perennials like Geranium ‘Blue Sunrise’ and Lavandula x intermedia ‘Alba’, as well as two standard knockout roses to act as living sculpture.

 Daffodils brighten up our garden in the shadow of the viaduct.

Daffodils brighten up our garden in the shadow of the viaduct.

We’ve taken over the beds on the opposite side of our path to give us a part shade/shade place to plant. We’ve added in Astilbe ‘Visions in Red’ and many types of groundcovers including Ajuga reptans ‘Black Scallop’ (underperforming) and Erodium x ‘Album’ (good performer). We’ve had to use smaller statured shrubs to limit potential hiding places and have had good luck with Sarcococca humilis var. humilis and discovered that rabbits enjoy Styrax japonica ‘Fragrant Fountain’ and Hebe pinguifolia ‘Sutherlandii’. In true Daphne form one of ours has found its niche, while the other three have sulked their way into the compost bin.

 We are currently waiting for all our tulips (in Land Morphology orange!) to push their heads further out of the ground.

We are currently waiting for all our tulips (in Land Morphology orange!) to push their heads further out of the ground.

And, because you can never have too many bulbs, this past fall found us out planting another 2,600 to ensure there was plenty of color for our neighbors to enjoy. and should the sun ever shine in Seattle again, it will reflect off the 250 daffodils (Narcissus ‘Tete a Tete’ and ‘Thalia’) we’ve planted in rivers of sunny color through our shady beds. If you’re driving on the viaduct going south take a peek over the side and check us out!