Louis Raymond experiments in his own gardens like

a mad scientist, searching out plants that most people have

never seen before & figuring out how to make them perform.- The Boston Globe

…Louis Raymond ensures that trees can grow in Brooklyn…

or just about any other place where concrete consumes

the dirt and skyscrapers shield the sunshine.- USA Today


NEW Trips to Take!

Myrtle's easy when the conditions are right.


NEW Plants to Try!

Louis tries to capture the exact words to describe the fleeting but deep pleasures to be found in these Summer-into-Autumn incredibles.


New Gardening to Do!

Allergic to bees? You can still have an exciting garden, full of flowers and color and wildlife.


Plant Profiles

Today in the Garden of a Lifetime: Red-Stemmed Virginia Cup Plant in Flower & "in Stem"

Silphium perfoliatum var. connatum red stemmed 070915 640


Its tall, thick, square stems remain erect even in death, giving Virginia cup plant architectural presence throughout the Winter. That's a rare talent for any herbaceous perennial. But this stem is anything but erect—and, in contrast to the species' green stems, it's also a thrilling burgundy that looks particularly vibrant above the brightly-variegated colony of 'Geisha' gooseneck. Even better, the dark stem is also in classic contrast to the yellow flowers it is just starting to bear.


Another one of these burgundy stems is leaning outward just enough to be in frame with the 'Red Pygmy' Japanese maple, the brilliant near-white foliage of gold-leaved siberian dogwood, and the yellow spike of verbascum flowers. In such a vivid setting, the silphium's flowers will be just icing on the cake.


Silphium perfoliatum var. connatum red stemmed overal 070915 640


Back to the mystery here: Cup plant stems are famously upright Summer and Winter, but these burgundy ones are floppy. Handily, there are all-green stems nearby to show the difference.


Silphium perfoliatum var. connatum red and green stemmed 070915 better 640


The green stems are of the straight species, Silphium perfoliatum var. connatum. Years ago, I purchased the red-stemmed form from Seneca Hill Nursery, which didn't provide a cultivar name. The plant was called, simply, red-stemmed form. I planted it near the all-green straight species with hopes of removing that form in its favor. Then, I forgot. Then (still snoozing in Forgetfulness City), I had the thought to cut all stems down in late May to see whether they would branch more compactly. Year after year, I proved that the answer was "No." And because the burgundy is expressed most fully just in the stems' upper portions, the two chopped-back colonies didn't look any different. So, I forgot for another year or so. Next, there was a Summer of existential medical dramas bookending my wedding. Too busy to notice red stems that season!


But this Summer, happily, I didn't get around to continuing the failed experiment with the Spring cut-back. And so, finally, I unknowingly permitted—right in front of my eyes (and knees)—the full-on synergy of the stems' burgundy coloring and floppy habit. At the left side, those sprawling burgundy Silphium stems are nearly blocking the bluestone pathway.


Kniphofia uvaria Echo Mango Origanum vulgare Aureum Indigofera incarnata Alba Boussingaultia basseloides 070815 640


On the right side of the pathway, yellow oregano and dwarf indigofera are doing their best to complete the blockage. Gleeful spillover of herbaceous plantings onto paving that was installed, in part, just to make possible such barely-possible passage? One of the holy grails of gardening. And when the spillover also knocks some sense into the gardener—as in, "Hey, big guy: We're the rare red-stemmed Virginia cup plant. What more can we do to get you to take notice?"—it's a great day, indeed.


Sprawl seems baked into the cake of this red-stemmed form and, as I've proved year after year, this perennial doesn't respond to cutting back by growing side stems that are lower and more self-supporting. But post-sprawl staking is almost impossible to implement without the plant's looking disciplined or even victimized. Plus, while most sprawl is just messy, this sprawl embodies voluptuous and even transgressive vitality, as in "I'm so damned fabulous I'll do just what I want and still look hot."  


So, this "lounge-about" form of Silphium perfoliatum demands to be handled on its own terms, by providing neighbors that look comfortable while functioning as its arm rests, banquettes, and throw pillows. The dense and irrepressible Japanese maple and 'Geisha' gooseneck are peerless. (Before my years of forgetfulness, I seem to have put some good thought into this grouping.) After I relocate the nearby clump of green-stemmed Silphium perfoliatum, a 'White Gold' spirea will become a more accessible arm rest for a couple of red-stemmed elbows while, at its rear, a tall standard of American wisteria can be the beginning of the backrest. Next Spring, I'll extend the backrest by putting in two six-foot stakes and stringing twine between them. Then, the rear-most of the red stems can lean back proprietarily as they grow, without eventually falling completely from view.



Here's how erect and sculptural the square stems of the green-stemmed form of this immense perennial are throughout the Winter.


Here's how to grow this perennial's remarkable cousin, prairie dock.  The two have the same interest in full sun, and the same flexibility when it comes to soil. Prairie dock's flowering stems are leafless, but can be even taller than the leafy flower-tipped stems of Virginia cup plant. Alas, the prairie dock stems are round, and have none of the persistent erectness of stems of the cup plant's all-green form.

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