Specimen plants are those grown by themselves as focal points in the landscape. They are the opposite of bedding, edging and border plants and are usually something interesting that is planted alone for ornamental effect. The word specimen comes from Latin meaning “to look at.”
Specimen plants can add height or drama to a blank space. They can bring color to a green space. They can give dimension to a lawn and shade to your home. They can frame a gate. Blooming specimens can even add color and fragrance to your landscape.
These plants can be trees and shrubs, especially flowering cultivars, and even grasses.
Examples of great specimens are dogwood, weeping willow, corkscrew filberts, hollies including sky pencil, smoke bush, gardenia, cinnamon fern, Japanese maples, Harry Lauder’s walking stick and pampas grass. And the list can go on and on. They can be flowering shrubs or trees or even trees with peeling bark or twisting branches. They also can be Arkansas blue star and zebra grass — my nemesis.
Although fall is the ideal time to plant many of these, this topic came up because of lessons learned — the hard way.
Like some other gardeners I know, I don’t always read the label thoroughly before planting. And this can be a costly mistake — not so much in money, but in time and backbreaking work.
I love Arkansas blue star (amsonia) for its name, its blue flowers and its dainty green foliage in summer that turns golden in the fall. It looked so cute in its gallon pot and seemed perfectly at home in the front of a bed. The first year, everything was OK. By year No. 3, it was more than waist high and flopped over covering half the bed and smothering other plants.
The solution to this problem involved a sharp shooter shovel and lots of heavy womanpower. The woody rootball was at least 14 inches wide and about that deep. Even after removal, the chore was not over. Since no one wants a plant that size, the next step was a sledgehammer and ax to whack the rootball into useable transplants. Ignore those do-it-yourself instructions using a knife or two garden forks — they don’t work on this plant. However, once the job was completed, they became nice passalongs.
The zebra plant is another awesome perennial. And it does stand out with creamy golden stripes cut horizontally across the otherwise green blades and an arching form that develops flower heads of tiny white blooms in late summer. Although not located in a flowerbed, it grew so large that it was unmanageable. The removal process was the same. And while it is still a favorite, zebras are now growing in containers sunk in the ground — hopefully, making it a lot easier to dig up when it tries to go out of bounds.
So the moral of this story is: read the instructions (all of them) before selecting a planting site. If the tag says height can be 15 feet and width 12 feet, chances are it’s going to reach that size. Otherwise, invest in a good sharp shooter shovel.
Often when we gardeners are discouraged by all the work during the summer, Mother Nature sends us a little “miracle” that revives not only our enthusiasm but also our energy.
Several of these mini-miracles occurred recently. First, an echinacea — my first online purchase — started blooming prolifically. It is Razzmatazz, advertised as the world’s first fully double echinacea, and in 2004, I had to have it. It has lived and produced a few blooms, but never like this year. The bloom has a dense purple pompom and lighter pink petals that dangle like fringe.
Second, new buds are appearing on one of the daylilies passed along from my late friend, Charlie Morehart. This cultivar blooms prolifically for three weeks in late June — and never after that during the 10 years in the garden. In fact, this is the time to divide daylilies — not to enjoy more blooms.
The third occurred in a reader’s yard. A strange plant appeared in her garden. It grew by leaps and bounds, finally topping off at nearly 10 feet (she is 5’8” and held a four-foot yardstick above her head for measurement). Not until a giant sunflower bloomed, did she learn what it was. She loves it and hopes to save seeds for next year.
Mother Nature was very kind this spring and larkspur sprouted everywhere, including Leroy’s rose garden. Usually, other plants are unwelcome in the rose bed, but this year, I let the larkspur grow. And they loved fraternizing with the roses. There was plenty of seed to share. If you want larkspur seed, send a stamped, self-addressed envelope to Gardening for the Record, c/o Steve Peterson, P.O. Box 1359, Fort Smith AR 72902. Larkspur seed should be planted in October.
Truly, this has been a summer to remember.
You can find specimen plants at local garden centers and at the Master Gardener fall plant sale from 8 a.m. to noon Oct. 7 at The Learning Fields at Chaffee Crossing, 7300 Gardener Lane. Plants will include trees (tulip poplar, oak and redbud) shrubs (abelia, rose of Sharon, itea, boxwood, pomegranate, beauty berry and butterfly bush) and an assortment of perennials.
In addition to the plant sale, the annual Honey Bee and Pollinator Festival will be underway from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., with presentations specializing in pollination. There will also be an information booth manned by beekeepers, games for children and face painting. And it’s all free, including the hot dogs.
A project of River Valley Master Gardeners, The Learning Fields is the site of the official Honey Bee Colony of Fort Smith, a butterfly habitat demonstration garden, Monarch Waystation and the Gelene MacDowell Wildflower Meadow as well as 19 other demonstration gardens and a fig tree trial.
Next week, the topic will be: deer-proofing your garden!!!!
Lucy Fry of Fort Smith is a level 4 Master Gardener and writes the area Master Gardener newsletter. Her column, Gardening for the Record, runs weekly in the Times Record. Send questions to email@example.com.