Paul James answers questions about blue evergreens, ferns and much more.
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Q: Blue is my favorite color. What do you consider the best of the blues among the evergreens?
A: Well, there are a number of great choices out there, but here are a few that I suggest you seriously consider. The blue Atlas cedar (Cedrus atlantica 'Glauca') is hard to beat, whether in its upright form or as a weeper.
The blue Atlas cedar or the weeper (see image at right) need at least a half-day of sun and both are hardy to at least Zone 6. A word of caution about this upright form; it can grow quite large--up to 120 feet.
And let's not forget Colorado blue spruces; 'Chattanooga' is a beauty. 'Howell's Bi-color' spruce, is both blue and green.
However, at least in my humble opinion, the bluest of the blues is this cool little spruce known as 'Hoopsii'. It's so blue it almost deserves a category unto itself.
Q: I dig ferns, have you seen any lately that I must have in my garden?
A: As a matter of fact, there are three new ferns that I recently planted at my place and I suggest you give at least one, if not all of them, a try. The first is this little cutie known as 'Lady in Red,' a member of the Athyrium genus. It gets its name from its reddish stems.
You might want to plant one of these Alaskan ferns, or Polystichum setiferum, which has an interesting and unusual shape. And all three ferns are hardy to at least Zone 5; just make sure you give them plenty of good, rich soil, steady moisture, and perhaps more importantly, only a couple hours of morning sun followed by shade the rest of the day.
Q: My wife saw a "lucky bean" plant at the nursery the other day. Have you ever heard of it?
A: As luck would have it, I have. It's in the genus Castanospermum, and it's a native Australian tree that grows to about 60 feet tall and is hardy only in Zone 10. It's seen quite a bit as a landscape plant in south Florida and portions of southern California, but most of us can only grow it as a patio plant or houseplant.
The Castanospermum is still worth growing, if only for its rather bizarre seed pods from which the stems emerge. It's fairly easy to grow; just place it in a spot that gets filtered light and keep the soil moist but not soggy.
Q: Is it safe to drink water from a garden hose?
A: Actually many modern hoses, especially those designed to remain pliable in cold weather, contain chemicals that are dangerous to your health. A sip now and then may not be a big deal, but drinking repeatedly from a garden hose is definitely not a good idea.
Q: Is the grass formerly known as Stipa now a new genus?
A: Why yes, the grass was in the genus Stipa for decades and has been reclassified in the genus Nassella. I don't know why it was re-classified, but it certainly doesn't change my appreciation for this wispy beauty.
Q: What's new in your gardening world?
A: There's so much that's new, I don't know where to begin. This plant is an absolutely gorgeous annual known as 'Purple Majesty' millet (Pennisetum glaucum), and yes, these are part of the same millets grown commercially for their seeds, which are a common ingredient in birdseed mixtures. I love everything about this plant, from its drooping one- to two-foot-long leaves to its brilliantly colored seed heads.
And I love the way it combines beautifully with other plants, in particular this chartreuse sweet potato vine.
Something else new is this set of geese that I stuck in my front yard. I think they're adorable, modern-day alternatives to pink flamingos.
Don't let plant names fool you. Some names have nothing to do with their species or location of origin.