November 2015 Plant Profile: Danae racemosa

November 3rd, 2015 by UWBG Communication Staff

By Roy Farrow

Danae racemosa photoNovember, I’ve found, is a difficult month to choose a garden highlight. The glory of autumn color is passing as the storms of our historically wettest month remove the most stubborn holdouts from the branches of our Acer, Stewartia, Oxydendrum and Fothergilla. Those same storms presage the return of honest-to-goodness mud, while the uplifting gems of winter such as Helleborus, Galanthus, Cyclamen and Hamamelis are still just distant dreams. Most people of sound mind are driven inside at this time for a much deserved break from the garden.

However, it is just these conditions that can spotlight the rare jewel for people still out and about. Danae racemosa is just such a jewel. During the summer months, its only request is that you keep it out of full sun. In the right shade, Poet’s Laurel is a fine, arching, bamboo-like mass of lush green foliage all year. Take a closer peak at the “foliage” and you might notice something odd. The leaves are actually just flattened stems called phylloclades. Danae spreads slowly by rhizomes.

A monotypic genus, Danae has but the one species. Currently listed in the family Asparagaceae, it has previously been located within Ruscaceae and even Liliaceae. Danae is closely related to Ruscus which also uses phylloclades rather than leaves, though Danae has terminal racemes of 1/8 in. flowers rather than have the flowers and fruit magically appear in the center of the “leaf” as with Ruscus. While the foliage of both Danae and Ruscus is quite long lasting even when cut, the fruit set of bright orange-to-red berries of Danae tends to be much more impressive than Ruscus, mostly because Ruscus requires both a male and female plant to be present, while Danae does not.

Come visit the Witt Winter Garden and you will see Danae racemosa growing in close proximity to both Ruscus hypoglossum and Ruscus aculeatus.

Name: Danae racemosa

Family: Asparagaceae (prev. Ruscaceae, Liliaceae)

Common Name: Alexandrian Laurel, Poet’s Laurel

Location: Witt Winter Garden, Washington Park Arboretum

Origin: Turkey, Iran

Height and Spread: 3’x4’

Danae racemosa with berries

Danae racemosa in the garden

October 2015 Plant Profile: Cucurbita maxima

September 29th, 2015 by UWBG Communication Staff

squash photoBy Sarah Geurink

Beautiful, packed with calories and vitamins, and easily stored for up to several months, winter squash is one of the most rewarding crops for vegetable gardeners to grow. One of our favorite squash varieties grown at the UW Student Farm at the Center for Urban Horticulture is Confection Squash. Similar to Crown Prince, popular in England, New Zealand, and Australia, Confection is a beautiful blue-grey, squat kabocha-type squash most notable for its incredible flavor, rich sweetness and texture, and edible skin. Confection squash is versatile, too—a perfect ingredient for savory soups or sweet pies alike. Note that Confection squash actually becomes more flavorful the longer it is stored, and will usually sit happily in storage throughout the winter. It is worth the wait!

Winter squash seeds should be sown in the spring, after your last spring frost and not less than 14 weeks before your first fall frost. Grow your winter squashes in a sunny area with fertile, well-drained soil with a pH between 6 and 6.5, and water your plants regularly. Confection squash is ripe when the fruit has taken on a blue-grey color, the stem has browned a bit, and the skin cannot be easily pierced with your fingernail. Expect to harvest 3-4 Confection squash fruits per plant.


Family: Cucurbitaceae
Genus: Cucurbita
species: C. maxima
Common Name: Confection Squash
Location: UW Student farm at the Center for Urban Horticulture

September 2015 Plant Profile: Acer japonicum ‘Aconitifolium’

September 8th, 2015 by UWBG Communication Staff

By Ray Larson, Curator

maple photoIn honor of the annual Elisabeth Miller Memorial Lecture on September 10 in Meany Hall, this month’s plant profile features one of her favorite trees, and perhaps the plant most associated with her:  Acer japonicum ‘Aconitifolium.’

At the UW Botanic Gardens, we have a grove of 6 planted in the Dorothy McVay Courtyard.  These trees were included at Mrs. Miller’s suggestion when Iain Robertson developed the garden design for the courtyard in the mid-1980s.  Betty Miller’s famous garden just north of Seattle includes over two dozen of the trees, which are among the very best small trees for texture and outstanding fall color.

They begin coloring in late July and slowly build to a crescendo of fiery reds ranging from flame orange to deep maroon.  They are among the most reliable trees for fall color in the Pacific Northwest, and generally at their peak in mid-October.
maple photo

As an added benefit they have small but showy flowers, which appear in early spring right before the leaves unfurl.  The shape of the leaves gives the tree its common name, and the scientific name refers to their resemblance to monkshood foliage (Aconitum).   They grow well in part shade to sun, with longest and best fall color appearing in more sun.  One of the best small trees for urban gardens, either singly or in a grove.  This is the most commonly grown Acer japonicum, but the UW Botanic Gardens has several other varieties, including impressive specimens of A. japonicum ‘O-isami’ and A. japonicum ‘Takinogawa’ in the Woodland Garden.  Acer japonicum ‘Aconitifolium’ received an Award of Garden Merit (AGM) from the Royal Horticultural Society in 1984.  It is reputedly hardier than other forms of Acer japonicum, and is rated down to USDA Zone 5.

maple leaf photoCommon name:  Fernleaf fullmoon maple
Family:   Sapindaceae
Location:  McVay Courtyard at the Center for Urban Horticulture
Origin:  The species is native to mountain forests of Japan, Manchuria and Korea.  According to Arthur Lee Jacobson’s North American Landscape Trees, this form was introduced to cultivation around 1888 by Parsons Nursery in Flushing, NY.
Height and spread:  Generally 12-18’ high and as wide
Bloom time:  Late March-early April
Bloom color:  dark red, and showy for a maple

McVay maples photo

August Plant Profile – Lagerstroemia indica x fauriei ‘Sioux’

August 6th, 2015 by UWBG Horticulturist


BloomIf this year’s hot and dry summer is a climate change omen for Seattle and the greater PNW, then here’s the tree of our future: Lagerstroemia spp and its many hybrids and cultivars. Commonly known as crapemyrtles, these trees are tolerant of hot and dry summers and offer appeal throughout the seasons. They have lustrous foliage and large colorful flowers in the growing season (spring and summer); in the dormant season (fall and winter), the foliage and bark provide interest.

‘Sioux’ is a National Arboretum Fauriei Hybrid crapemyrtle introduction from the 1950s that produces an abundance of large, bright pink flower clusters  during summer. Its foliage is the darkest green of any crapemyrtle and turns to a handsome purple color in fall. The bark is tan in color and the twigs have a reddish color. See National Arboretum link below for more information on the Fauriei hybrids.

Common Name: Sioux Crape Myrtle

Location: Center for Urban Horticulture, west end of Douglas Greenhouse parking lot

Origin: National Arboretum Introduction. Name registered May 1, 1992.

Height and Spread: 12′-15′ tall; 8′-10′ wide. Multi-stemmed small tree, large shrub

Bloom Time: Summer, extended out as long as temperatures remain warm.

Specimen at CUH

Specimen at CUH






Plant Profile: Stewartia monadelpha

June 5th, 2015 by Jessica Farmer, Adult Education Supervisor

This small tree, commonly grown for its stunning reddish-brown bark, offers exceptional features throughout the year. Stewartia monadelpha, otherwise known as tall stewartia or orangebark stewartia, is just getting ready to come into bloom this month. Its white camellia-like flowers burst forth in early summer, followed by interesting brown seed pods and rich russet fall color. This species is planted in UW Botanic Gardens’ collections at both the Washington Park Arboretum and Center for Urban Horticulture.

Stewartia monadelpha is a member of the Camellia family. The small, white cup-shaped flowers last up to four weeks and have petals with smooth edges. This tree is best grown in partial shade but can handle full sun in the Pacific Northwest. It makes an excellent specimen tree for the home landscape.

Common Name: Tall Stewartia or Orangebark Stewartia
Location: Washington Park Arboretum: Camellia collection, Winter Garden; Center for Urban Horticulture: Event Lawn
Origin: Japan
Height and Spread: 20-25’ tall, 15-25’ wide
Bloom Time: June

Summer blooms of Stewartia monadelpha

Summer blooms of Stewartia monadelpha

Exfoliating bark of Stewartia monadelpha

Exfoliating bark of Stewartia monadelpha

Stewartia monadelpha fall color

Stewartia monadelpha fall color

Stewartia monadelpha in winter

Stewartia monadelpha in winter

May 2015 Plant Profile: Paeonia suffruticosa subsp. rockii

May 6th, 2015 by Soest Gardener, Riz Reyes

IMG_0069The peony has been a staple in gardens for hundreds of years and the UW Botanic Gardens has a wonderful representation of the genus this month at both the Washington Park Arboretum (WPA) and the Center for Urban Horticulture (CUH).

This month we are highlighting a spectacular peony that’s currently in bloom in the Pacific Connections Entry Gateway. Visitors stopped in their tracks by the large, dinner plate-sized blooms  which emit a wonderful scent. This is a pink form of the typically white flowered P. rockii. Found in Northwest China in Gansu Province. This species is characterized by a deep purple pattern in the center of each petal.

This type of peony is referred to as a “Tree Peony” by most gardeners. Although it’s not technically a tree, it is a woody shrub that does not die back and should not be cut down in the autumn like the more common bush peonies many people know. But like the bush form, it takes a few years before the plant is established and starts blooming well.

Both types are generally planted in the fall, but potted plants can be purchased and planted just about any time of year (except when the ground is frozen).


Genus species: Paeonia suffruticosa subsp. rockii
Common Name: Rock’s Peony, Joseph Rock Peony, Ziban Mudan
Location: WPA – Pacific Connections – China Entry Garden
Origin: NW China, Gansu Province
Height and Spread: 5-7′ height x 6′ width spread on mature, undisturbed plantings
Bloom/Fruit Time: April-May


April 2015 Plant Profile: Anemone nemorosa ‘Viridiflora’

March 23rd, 2015 by Soest Gardener, Riz Reyes

Anemone nemorosa 'Viridiflora' Wood Anemones are wonderful, easy to grow, spring ephemerals that require patience to get established, but once they get going, they form wonderful clumps in moist woodland conditions. What makes them sought after by gardeners is their ability to thrive in dry shade underneath mature trees. They have delicate fern-like foliage which set off the drifts of flowers that light up the spring landscape!

A. nemorosa flowers come in shades of blue, white, pink, with singles, doubles, and this most unusual form. This species has a remarkable tendency to mutate and the cultivar selection ‘Viridiflora’ (“green flower”) is a great example! What typically would be petals are actually modified leaves know as bracts. This creates an unusual moss-like texture and it’s absolutely charming combined with all the other plants in the garden as they burst into growth in spring. As with all wood anemones, they will begin to naturally die down in late spring and will rest until the following spring so be sure to mark where they are planted.

Anemone nemorosa 'Viridiflora'

Genus species ‘Cultivar’: Anemone nemorosa ‘Viridiflora’
Common Name: Green flowered Wood Anemone
Location: CUH Soest Garden – Bed 7
Origin: Native to Europe, but selection may be of Garden Origin
Height and Spread: 4-5″ height x 24″ width spread on mature, undisturbed plantings
Bloom/Fruit Time: March-April


March 2015 Plant Profile: Arctostaphylos densiflora ‘Sentinel’

March 3rd, 2015 by Soest Gardener, Riz Reyes

Arctostaphylos 'Sentinel'The manzanita is one of the most iconic of all West Coast native trees and shrubs, yet they are rarely ever seen in gardens. Like their famous relative, Arbutus menziesii (The Pacific Madrone), they’ve earned a reputation of being slow and difficult to establish. But with a strong emphasis in introducing more of our native flora into our gardens and the constant demand for drought tolerant plantings, the wide range of Manzanita species and hybrids have really started to come to the fore and gardeners are rediscovering their unique and stately presence in the landscape.

We have several specimens slowly getting established the Center for Urban Horticulture’s McVay Courtyard and one of the standouts is A. densiflora ‘Sentinel’. An upright grower discovered in Sonoma County, CA, it is one of the faster growing selections and it is also one of the most adaptable of the genus. The clusters of pink-to-white, urn-shaped flowers appear in later winter into spring like many in the genus, but the year round attraction is the evergreen foliage and the smooth and dramatic trunks with the often peeling, russet red bark. The older the specimen, the better they become.

Manzanitas require full open sun and very well drained soil that’s relatively lean. Avoid adding too much organic material to your soil and though they are drought tolerant, regular irrigation and fertilizer the first 2-3 years will get them going. They highly resent heavy root disturbance so take care when planting and avoid having to transplant it once its established in the ground. Staking of younger plants during planting is beneficial until they fully root in and settle.


Genus species ‘Cultivar’: Arctostaphylos densiflora ‘Sentinel’
Common Name: Sentinel Manzanita
Location: McVay Courtyard – CUH
Origin: CA, USA
Height and Spread: 4-6′ height x 6′ wide
Bloom/Fruit Time: Late February-March



February 2015 Plant Profile: Sarcococca

February 3rd, 2015 by Soest Gardener, Riz Reyes

Sarcococca ruscifoliaWinter garden in the Pacific Northwest seems incomplete without this landscape standard. It has lush, glossy, evergreen foliage year round, takes dry shade conditions, and flowers in the wintertime with a powerful scent that perfumes the landscape. Sweet Box comes in two basic forms for the home gardener: the tall form and short form. The tall form (S. ruscifolia and S. confusa) get to about 2-3 feet in height and wide. The short form (varieties of S. hookeriana) makes somewhat of a groundcover with underground stolons that form a clump no taller than 12 inches and can spread about 3 feet.

In the garden, the ideal location for Sweet Box is under part shade with regular irrigation the first few seasons to get it established. It works well as a foundation planting up against the house and in mixed beds in a shaded woodland garden. Despite its common name and close relationship, Sweet Box can’t be treated like regular boxwood (Buxus sempervirens) and be sheared on a regular basis. To keep the size and shape in check, prune only the tall forms and prune shortly after they’ve finished blooming (March-April). This forces new growth and stems that will then flower the following winter. Pruning during the summer and fall will remove the new growth; therefore, the flower buds are sacrificed.

Genus: Sarcococca
Common Name: Sweet Box
Location: Fragrance Garden
Origin: Eastern and Southeastern Asia, Himalayas
Height and Spread: Tall (2-3′ height x 3′ spread) – Short (1′ height x 3′ spread)
Bloom/Fruit Time: Late December-late February



January 2015 Plant Profile: Helleborus x ericsmithii ‘Shooting Star’

December 31st, 2014 by Soest Gardener, Riz Reyes

Helleborus Shooting StarThe first of the year starts off with a bang with a most wonderful hellebore hybrid to ring in the new year showing the first blossoms of the season. Here at the Center for Urban Horticulture, we’ve acquired quite a selection of hellebores thanks to Skagit Gardens and Northwest Garden Nursery. ‘Shooting Star’ is one that’s been under our watchful eye for its third season now and we’ve been impressed with its excellent foliage and vigor along with the early flower power it possesses in the garden. We have it growing in three different locations at the Center for Urban Horticulture and each specimen is thriving, making it a stand-out in the winter landscape.

All types of hellebores are beginning to pop up at local nurseries. Many will be in full bloom, so you can select from hybrid seed strains or clones such as ‘Shooting Star,’ which will be all identical compared to the seed-grown strains. Hellebores make wonderful container plants and can be potted up or safely planted into the garden as long as the ground is not frozen.

‘Shooting Star’ opens to a pale blush pink with just a hint of green. As it ages, it slowly turns greener and the pink is accentuated. These “antiqued” blooms last into March.

Companions: Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’ (black mondo grass), Cyclamen coum, Acorus gramineus ‘Ogon’ (sweet flag), Pulmonaria hyrbids (Lungwort)


Genus: Helleborus
Species: × ericsmithii
Cultivar: ‘Coseh 790’   Shooting Star  USPP #22424
Common Name: Lenten Rose
Location: Douglas Parking Lot, Soest Garden South Slope, Miller Library North Foundation Plantings
Origin: Garden Origin
Height and Spread: 10-12 inches high and about 1.25 feet wide
Bloom/Fruit Time: Late December-early March