Evelyn Lauder, A Real Life Hero Dies at 75

Evelyn H. Lauder, Champion of Breast Cancer Research, Dies at 75

I was saddened to hear the news this morning that Evelyn Lauder had died after a battle with ovarian cancer. She was the co-creator of the Pink Ribbon campaign and founder of The Breast Cancer Research Foundation

Under her guidance The Breast Cancer Research Foundation raised over $350 million for cancer research while maintaining an A+ rating from CharityWatch and being the only  cancer organization to receive Charity Navigator's highest rating of four-stars for eight consecutive years. She was a woman with vision and integrity! 

I had the pleasure meeting Mrs. Lauder in New York through the Proven Winners InvincibelleSpirit Campaign for BCRF. She and the Foundation staff were thrilled that garden centers and nurseries across North America had teamed up to support breast cancer research by hosting Pink Day fundraisers. She was also surprised when we raised over $440,000 in just two years. 

Pink Day at DeGroots Nursery in Ontario, Canada

It was my hope to see her again when we reached our one million dollar goal and to present her with one of those big cardboard checks. She would have been so pleased. Not just for the donation, but because an entire industry had joined together with her in the fight against breast cancer. She would have said "Thank you, to everyone involved, to all of the growers and to all the employees of the 160 plus garden centers that hosted Pink Day events."  

Thank you Evelyn, for inspiring us all!

Otten Bros. Garden Center & Landscaping, Inc.  Long Lake, MN

Full Speed A Hedge

In all my dealings with plant breeders and nursery people, I  never met anyone who  believed in their new plant as much as John Houser. Certainly every plant breeder feels his or her new invention is the best, but how many would postpone their retirement at age 85 to start up a nursery based on it. Houser did and said, “I’m too old to work hard, too mule-headed to retire.”

You see, John knew in his heart that he had found his “one in a million shot,” when he discovered an unusual branch mutation on an arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis) on his property. That mutation was an ultra-fast growing branch sport with a dense, narrow growth habit.  
“This particular arborvitae will withstand extremes of heat, cold, and moisture, making it a candidate for home landscapes, and screening situations in most of the lower forty-eight states.  Other plants commonly used for screening purposes, such as hemlock and pine, have diseases that are depleting their usefulness.  Leland cypress is being attacked by the lethal Cercospora needle blight which is now widespread across the South and East.  The American Pillar Nursery is positioned to fill the demand for a better, disease-resistant replacement plant.”  John Houser
Full Speed A Hedge is perfect for hiding bad views PDQ

In August of 2009, just days after Thuja ‘American Pillar’ was granted U.S. Plant Patent number 20,209,  Houser called to sell me on ‘American Pillar’. At the time, I eschewed arborvitae because one variety, Emerald arborvitae, dominated the market. It was the only cultivar our customers wanted to buy, grow, or sell. Selling a new cultivar would be difficult if not impossible. But John was, well, mule headed. He was not about to take no for an answer. He wore me down; I acquiesced and sent him a trialing license and he sent me 100 trial plants. I soon discovered that  John was right. His plant was very special. With a growth rate of a meter (nearly 40”) a year, ‘American Pillar’ was the fastest arborvitae I had ever seen; much faster than ‘Green Giant’ and narrower too. And when it comes to screen and hedging plants, fast and narrow is what every one wants: growers, landscapers and homeowners. And because of its ‘Hetz Wintergreen’ bloodline, John’s plant was both hardy and heat-tolerant. Most definitely, there was a market for this plant.    

In the meantime, John was ramping up his business, planting, hiring and selling to everyone in the greater Atlanta area. McMansions were being built at a crazy pace and these people wanted fast privacy. Of course, John was more than happy to help.  He developed a software program (AsICit) that landscapers used to show people how an ‘American Pillar’ hedge would look in their yard. 

He took before and after pictures to show everyone how fast his plant grew. And his dogged persistence and old-fashioned work ethic paid off. Growers and landscapers began to discover this super fast growing plant. Today, landscapers are buying every, decent sized plant available. Demand has been incredible.  

Mavis Houser next to an American Pillar Hedge.

But you don't have to be a professional landscaper to have access to this new, fast growing privacy plant. And you don't need to buy large, expensive landscape grade plants to get the same results. A new online retail program called Full Speed A-Hedge offers a tray of (8) 2 Qt sized plants that will quickly make 20 feet of privacy hedge. Plant them at 2 1/2 fee apart and 8 plants = 20 feet of privacy. The beauty of these smaller plants is that they're easy to plant and they establish faster than larger, more expensive plants. Below two photographs of a hedge at my brother's house. He had a neighbor that was, dare I say, a jerk, who put up an ugly, eighty foot long, 5' tall cyclone fence. To hide the fence and the neighbor I gave my brother four trays of the Full Speed A Hedge. In 2 1/2 years, planted 2 1/2 feet apart these little 2 quart plants had hidden the fence. In two years the plants were taller than the fence. In less than four years, you could not longer see the neighbors house or pole barn. Problem solved.  

American Pillar planted as Full Speed A-Hedge plants after two years reaching the top of a 5' fence

My wife standing next to the same fence and "Full Speed A-Hedge" after only four years

The key to getting the fasted possible growth is to make sure the plants get watered regularly when young. The soil should be moist but not soaking wet. Fertilize them in early spring. I recommend a high nitrogen fertilizer at label rates. Keep the plants free of weeds! Weeds will rob your plants of growth by competing for water, nutrients and sunlight. Mulch is a good way to prevent weeds. A two inch layer of composted wood chips will do the job and help retain water. That's it.  

John, like most people that develop new plants, never got rich. But for plant breeders it’s not about the money. It’s about that special feeling you get when you invent something useful, something beautiful, something that your fellow man appreciates. It’s about that one-in-a-million moment when you drive through a neighborhood and see your plant in someone’s yard. John got to experience that before he died last August. Some 70 years since he pulled his first paycheck from the landscape trade in 1938, John Houser has retired and is at rest, but his plant lives on. 

To locate plants for purchase visit FullSpeedAhedge.com     

I didn't have to travel far to find these new plants

You don't have to get on a plane and travel to an exotic location to find great new plants. Here in West Michigan we are blessed with many fine nurseries that develop or introduce new plants. The relatively mild climate, an abundance of water and our Dutch heritage have all contributed to the local nursery industry.

Walters Gardens, which is located about 20 minutes south, in Zeeland, Michigan, has a long history of introducing new perennials. Walters is introducing some 30 new plants under the Proven Winners brand in 2012. Here are some of my favorites.     

DECADENCE™ ‘Blueberry Sundae’

Baptisia is one of my favorite perennials. It is adaptable, easy to grow and once established quite drought tolerant. The Decadence series brings us an array of vibrant colors, attractive blue-green foliage and a more compact plant that is better suited for the garden.

  • Spikes of deep indigo blue blooms provide superior floral display from late spring to early summer
  • Blue-green foliage forms a more compact, uprightmound with excellent branching
  • Low maintenance and drought-tolerant
  • Vigorous grower
  • Zones 4-9
  • 36" height; 30-36" spread
  • Part to full sun
DECADENCE™ ‘Cherries Jubilee’

  • Unique flower color features deep maroon buds that open to bicolor maroon and yellow blooms
  • Secondary branching on the flower stems makesthis variety especially floriferous
  • Superior floral display from late spring to early summer
  • Well-branched stems form a bushy, upright spreading mound of foliage that is relatively short for Baptisia
  • Zones 4-9
  • 30-36" height; 36" spread
  • Part to full sun
DECADENCE™ ‘Dutch Chocolate’

  • Rich velvety chocolate-purple blooms on upright stems provide superior floral display from late springto early summer
  • Foliage remains densely compact as the plant matures, making it ideal for smaller urban gardens
  • Leaves start lower on the stems, covering the base of the plant better than other Baptisias
  • Low maintenance and drought-tolerant
  • Zones 4-9
  • 30-36" height; 24" spread
  • Part to full sun
DECADENCE™ ‘Lemon Meringue’

  • Spikes of lemon-yellow blooms provide superior floral display from late spring to early summer
  • Forms an upright, vase-shaped mound of attractive blue-green foliage
  • Long, charcoal-colored stems offer a stunning contrast to the lemon flowers
  • Vigorous grower
  • Zones 4-9
  • 36" height; 36" spread
  • Part to full sun

Hosta ‘Empress Wu’

I'm crazy about plants with bold foliage and Hosta Empress Wu is in my mind a most have perennial. Weeds don't stand a chance against this large leafed beauty.

  • Huge, thick, dark green, deeply veined leaves can measure 18" wide and long
  • Strong, upright habit forms a massive clump topped with pale reddish-violet flowers in early to midsummer
  • Zones 3-9
  • 3-4' height; 5-6' spread
  • Part to full shade
‘Autumn Frost’

Don't you just love the foliage on this plant. Autumn Frost is a bold plant that offers gardeners season long color. 

  • Leaves emerge frosty blue with a bright yellow, extra wide margin that lightens to creamy white during the summer
  • Forms a medium-sized mound topped with light lavender flowers in mid to late summer
  • Zones 3-9
  • 12" height; 24" spread
  • Part to full shade
Wedding Ring Boxwood

Wedding Ring boxwood comes from a small nursery down the road in Spring Lake, Michigan. There are other variegated boxwood out there but none are as hardy and attractive as this compact boxwood. Its rich glossy green foliage has a lime margin that matures to gold as summer progresses. It holds its color well in summer and winter. This is an excellent addition to formal gardens, or as a year-round accent plant in any home landscape.

  • Huge, thick, dark green, deeply veined leaves can measure 18" wide and long
  • Strong, upright habit forms a massive clump topped with pale reddish-violet flowers in early to midsummer
  • Zones 5-9
  • 1-3' height; 2-3' spread
  • Part sun to shade
North Star Boxwood

This cold hardy boxwood comes from the same nursery as Wedding Ring. It is a dense globe that requires little if any pruning to form a low, dense, thick hedge. Shiny dark green leaves maintain good winter color. Use NORTH STAR™ as a low-growing hedge, or even to create the borders of a formal herb garden. It’s a beautiful evergreen that will provide four seasons of enjoyment in the landscape. Plus deer won't eat it!

  • Dark green foliage remains attractive though the winter
  • Extra hardy and dense growth habit
  • Zones 5-9
  • 2-3' height; 2-3' spread
  • Full sun to part shade
Pinky Bells Abelia

This flowering shrub originates even closer to home as it is a plant that I hybridized here at Spring Meadow Nursery. It is a cross between Abelia Bumblebee and Abelia Little Richard. This resulted in a compact plant with the largest flowers I've ever seen on Abelia. The flower buds are purple and open to a purplish-pink. 

    • Big, colorful flowers mid-summer to fall. Attractive reddish new growth.
    • Extra strong root system and dense growth habit
    • Zones 6-9
    • 1-3' height; 2-3' spread
    • Full sun to part shad

Why Madonna Loathes Hydrangeas

Madonna was caught on camera emphatically stating that she “loathes” hydrangeas. And while some have criticized her for her harsh words, I don’t begrudge her. After all, she was only expressing a view shared by millions of people. Yes, millions for people loathe hydrangea. So how can it be that a beautiful flowering shrub evokes such disdain? It’s simple, really. For years, Martha Stewart and her East Coast friends have shown us an endless stream of outrageously beautiful hydrangeas, covered with big, colorful blooms - but they failed to tell us something important. We need to move to Cape Cod to get them to flower.  That’s right, you have to move to the coast to get hydrangeas to bloom like they do in the magazines! That’s because these bigleaf hydrangeas, Hydrangea macrophylla, have evolved in the mild maritime climate of coastal Japan. These plants detest the harsh continental climate of the Midwest with its wacky spring weather that ping-pongs between 85 and 20 degrees; their flower buds swell up and are zapped like flies in an electric bug killer. The dirty little secret is that we don’t live in Japan, or Cape Cod, or the Hamptons, and our climate is perfectly suited for killing hydrangea flower buds. This is why Madonna is so pissed off!  She’s sick and tired of being teased with the promise of beautiful, bodacious blooms only to be fooled, faked, and frustrated by season after season of flowerless foliage.  

Some would argue that the new reblooming hydrangeas have solved the problem. Sure, the industry has selected and hybridized remontant (reblooming) varieties such as Endless Summer®, Forever & Ever®, Mini Penny® and the remarkable Let’s Dance® series, but have we really solved the problem?  Are people suddenly happy with their hydrangeas?  Has Madonna changed her tune?  No.  Not really, because while all of these hydrangeas rebloom to some degree or another, they typically don’t live up to expectations.

The problem remains that our crazy spring weather kills the old-wood flower buds (or stems) of these new varieties just as well as it killed the buds (and stems) of the old varieties. Unless we have an unusually mild spring or lots of snow-cover, the flower buds are killed and you don’t get the reblooming flowers until late summer or fall.  And this sparse, late season flower display looks nothing like the June blooms  they get in Cape Cod.  No wonder Madonna loathes hydrangea: she’s from Michigan, not the East Coast!    

What Madonna doesn’t know (and Martha never tells us) is that there are other species of hydrangea that are adapted to our crazy climate and that flower reliably every year. My dear Madonna, here are some hydrangeas that will satisfy all your needs and change the way you feel about this shrub:

Limelight Hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’) is hardy from Maine to Mobile, Alabama. It even thrives in Madonna’s hometown of Saginaw, Michigan. The flowers emerge in mid-summer a rich lime-green, lighten as the summer progresses, then turn shades of pink and green in autumn. And just like you, this plant is adored by millions of raving fans. If you want a smaller version of the same plant, try Little Lime™ Hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata ‘Jane’ ppaf). It has all the same wonderful attributes of ‘Limelight,’ but at about one-third the size.

Madonna, since you sang “Incredible” (and dress the way you do), you are certain to fall in love with a hydrangea called Incrediball® (Hydrangea arborescens ‘Abetwo’). 

You’ll love its big, sexy blooms and stiff stems. This improved ‘Annabelle’ hydrangea is rugged, fool-proof and will flower for “Everybody.” You’ll appreciate its artistic flower coloration that starts out bright green, matures to pure white and then ages to a rich kelly-green. The show begins in mid-summer and last through winter as the flowers remain attractive even after the snow flies. This super hardy hydrangea thrives in full sun and is pretty much guaranteed to flower every year.  

I think you should also grow Invincibelle® Spirit Hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens ‘NCHA1’). This plant is a game changer, just like you. It’s the very first pink-flowered form of the ‘Annabelle’ hydrangea, which in layman’s terms means you’ll get lots of colorful pink blooms, year after year, even in chilly zone 3. A single mature plant can produce well over 100 blooms.  If you want even more flowers, just prune off the old ones and watch as every stem flowers a second time! No other hydrangea gives a repeat performance like this one. Seriously, have you ever given an encore like that?

Madonna, I know that you’re a big supporter of breasts and breast cancer research. So you’ll appreciate that Invincibelle Spirit Hydrangea supports an important cause. Each plant sold raises a $1.00 for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. As part of the national Invincibelle® Spirit Campaign, garden centers have joined the “Celebration” by hosting “Invincibelle Spirit Pink Days” to raise additional funds for breast cancer research. How can you loathe a hydrangea that has generated over $200,000 for the cause?  I urge you to join the campaign, visit http://invincibellespirit.net to learn more.

The only hydrangea that helps find a cure.

Now I don’t want to preach, but come on, Madonna! From one Michigander to another, please “Don’t Tell Me” you loathe hydrangeas anymore.  Get “Into The Groove” and “You’ll See” that if you just “Promise To Try” these hydrangeas they’ll “Open Your Heart.”  They’re “True Blue” plants - so give hydrangeas just “One More Chance.”

A Walk Through Our Test Garden.

One of my favorite things about working at Spring Meadow is spending time in our test gardens. Dale Deppe, the owner of the nursery, does all the work of planting, pruning and weeding and I get to enjoy the fruits of his labor. Here are a few plants that are looking especially nice right now.

Lo & Behold 'Purple Haze'
Lo & Behold 'Purple Haze' Buddleia is a wonderful spreading form of Butterfly bush. It is a seedless plant and as a result it flowers continuously from mid-summer until frost. The Lo & Behold series has been approved for sales in Oregon where Buddleia davidii has been banned. 

Vanilla Spice Clethra
Vanilla Spice Clethra is one of my favorite summer plants. The fragrance is remarkable and the flowers are especially large. The foliage is dark, glossy green even on non-acidic soils. 

Azurri Satin Hibiscus
Azurri Satin Hibiscus is looking lovely right now. This beauty was developed in Belgium and its noted for being the only seedless, blue-flowered Rose of Sharon.

Let's Dance Moonlight
This bed of Let's Dance Moonlight has flowered every year for the last four years since we planted them. A remarkable feat in Michigan.   

Little Lime Hydrangea
This is Zoe, the nursery dog. Here she is giving her approval of Little Lime Hydrangea. She likes this selection because stays small and holds it blooms up so nicely.
Good Vibrations Gold
I don't normally get excited about junipers, but I'm crazy for Good Vibrations Gold. This soft, low growing, native evergreen looks especially good planted next to the heat tolerant Luguna Lobelia.

Knockout and Other Easy Growing Roses

It wasn't that long ago that roses were just a pain to grow.  I've overseen two public rose gardens and have been a AARS rose judge so I know all too well how difficult roses can be. 

Not so long ago, roses were not gown on their own roots. They were grafted or budded and you had to worry about the hardiness of the graft union or about root suckers. They had to be winter protected with mounds of dirt or mulch. You had to carefully prune them into the spring. And once they started growing i the spring you had to spray them once a week, and after every rain, or else they would become infected with black-spot and their leaves would fall off. Oh the joy!

But roses have come a long way in the last 15-20 years. The best roses are now grown on their own roots. This new breed of roses does no longer needs to be sprayed with fungicides. Breeding for disease resistance has become the new standard.

The flowers of these new roses may not resemble the archetypal Mr. Lincoln, but the plant overall is much improved in terms of habit and branching. These roses are much better plants providing season long color with very little effort. Here are a few roses that represent the very best breeding I've come across. 

Knockout was the beginning of the new rose revolution

Home Run Red is the most free flowering rose I know.

Home Run Red thrives in harsh growing conditions
Home Run Pink is perpetual flowering and
disease resistant just like Hone Run Red. 

Oso Easy Cherry Pie can be stunning when planted in mass

Oso Easy Fragrant Spreader - is a great landscaping, ground cover rose.
It is the most fragrant rose I know. Plant it near a walk or entrance to
take full advantage of its spicy sweet fragrance. 

Oso Easy Honey Bun has superior disease resistance and loads of blooms

Oso Easy Mango Salsa is new rose with hot orange and pink flowers

Oso Easy Strawberry Crush and Oso Easy Peachy Cream

Oso Easy Paprika is a favorite for many people. 

The Oso Happy Series originates in Minnesota
and offers superior hardiness and disease resistance.
 This is Oso Happy Petit Pink 


Interesting Plants Seen in Germany

Spring is a busy time so I'm not going to do a lot of writing today, but I did want to share  a few plants that I saw while in Germany. There is not much rhyme or reason to this group of plants other than they were looking good enough for a picture and that I found each plant attractive and interesting. 

It was fun to see the Cydonia in bloom. I've never seen this species of common quince in flower and at first glance I thought it was a Philadelphus (Mock-orange) with soft pink flowers. The Exochorda Korolkowii (Turkestan Pearl Bush) was a show off plant the caught my from a distance and was worth a picture. I am really pumped about the breeding going on with pearl bush and I think once people get to know they will grow it.  I had never seen Poncirus (Japanese Hardy Orange) in flower so this too was a treat. 

Cydonia oblonga 

Exochorda korolkowii

Poncirus trifoliata

Poncirus trifoliata

Prunus lannesiana Washinowa

The low growing shrubby Amelanchier ovalis (Showy Mespilus) is a favorite of mine. I fell in love with the plant when I was an intern at the Chicago Botanical Garden. Since that time I've been working very hard at switching over to digital images and taking new pictures is a lot more fun than scanning slides.

Amelanchier ovalis

As far as the perennials go, I've always loved Primula denticulata (Drumstick Primrose) and Rodgersia aesculafolia (Rodgers flower). 

Rodgersia aesculafolia

Primula denticulata
The peony was a new find for me. It is a Ukrainian species that was labeled as Paeonia daurica, but I understand it is now called Paeonia mascula subspecies triternata. Regardless of the name it was quite beautiful and look very healthy.  

Paeonia mascula
Trillium sessile Snow Queen