Leycesteria formosa

Leycesteria formosa      Family: Caprifoliaceae
(ley-ses-TER-ee-uh  for-MOH-suh)

Common name: pheasant berry; Himalayan honeysuckle; Himalayan nutmeg; flowering nutmeg
Zone: USDA 7 – 10
Height: 6-8 ft (1.8-2.4 m) Spread: 5-6 ft (1.5-1.8 m)
Aspect: full sun; partial shade
Soil: moist; fertile; well-draining
Water: moderate  

Description: Deciduous shrub with hollow, bamboo-like, gracefully arching, light green stems adorned with opposite medium-green, ovate, tapering leaves. Pendant racemes of deep red bracts above mildly-scented white flowers appear in summer. Reddish-purple berries start to appear in late summer, maturing to a deep maroon colour in fall. Ripe, soft berries are edible with a caramel-like taste.


Special Notes: Native to forested regions of the Himalayas and southwestern China. This shrub is tolerant of average or clay soils, although it will do better in moist, fertile soil. Relatively drought tolerant once established. In colder regions where temperatures dip to -9.5 °C (15 °F) it is advisable to apply a layer of mulch to protect the roots. Cut branches back to 10 – 12 inches (25 – 30 cm) above soil level in early spring. Flowers on new growth.

Pest and disease resistant. Resistant to slug and snail damage. Propagate by fresh seed sown in pots in fall and placed in a cold frame over winter; by division in spring; by softwood cuttings in summer.


In our zone 7a garden: We are in the northern part of this shrub’s growing zone so pruning technique is dictated by how severe our winter has been in any particular year. If severe, most of the branches will die back to the ground, or at least some of them will. In less severe winters, John only takes off the brown dead parts of the branches. We have never mulched our shrub but are re-considering our game plan after all the branches died right to the ground and new growth was late to appear in the spring of 2019 after we hit a record low temperature of -18.5 °C (1.3 °F) for 3 days that winter.

The berries of Leycesteria formosa are edible, but I am not sure about other Leycesteria species. I find they taste like burnt caramel which I happen to like. However, the taste may not be to everyone’s liking as our taste buds are indeed unique.


Awards: Great Plant Pick 2012


Posted on August 26, 2020


Ilex crenata

Ilex crenata           Family: Aquifoliaceae
(EYE-lecks  kree-NAH-tah)

Common name: Japanese holly; box-leaved holly
Zone:  6 – 8
Height: 5-10 ft (1.5-3 m)   Spread: 5-10 ft (1.5-3 m)
Aspect: full sun; partial shade
Soil: moist; slightly acidic; well-draining
Water: moderate     

Description: Dense, multi-branched, evergreen shrub. Glossy, deep green leaves are ovate to elliptical shaped and spineless. Cymes of 3 to 5 (male plant) or 3 to 7 (female plant), small, four petaled, white flowers appear in mid-May through into early June. Small round black inconspicuous fruits, or drupes, to ¼ inch (0.6 cm) in diameter, mature in fall on pollinated female plants.


Special Notes: Native to forest and mountainous slopes of Japan, China, Korea and parts of eastern Russia. Slow growing, this shrub will tolerate poor soil conditions, shady locations and drought, once it is established. Dioecious, with male and female flowers on separate plants. Female needs pollination in order to produce fruits. Good shrub for topiary as it will tolerate significant shearing and pruning. A favourite plant species in formal-type gardens.

Good pest and disease resistance although may suffer from spider mites in high heat and humid gardens. May need some protection from drying winter winds. Severe winters in Zone 5 regions can cause foliar burn and damage branches. Stressed plants can also suffer twig dieback caused by blight. Leaves will turn yellow in high pH, or alkaline soils.


In our Zone 7a garden: Love this plant! Evergreen interest in a largely perennial garden. Initially planted sandwiched between a large Damera peltate and a much-used path at the bottom of the pond, it did not seem to suffer from repeated shearing to keep its size down to about 3 ft (0.9 m) high and wide. It has been re-located to a more appropriate location in one of the border beds and is flourishing nicely.

What I most love about this plant is the number of bees it attracts in spite of its tiny flowers. 


Posted on August 6, 2020


Geranium sanguineum ‘Max Frei’

Geranium sanguineum 'Max Frei' Geranium sanguineum ‘Max Frei’ 
(jer-AY-nee-um  san-GWIN-ee-um)
Family: Geraniaceae

Common name: bloody cranesbill; bloodred geranium
Zone: 3 – 8
Height: 6-9 in (15-23 cm)  Spread: 9-24 in (23-60 cm)
Aspect: full sun; partial shade
Soil: moderate; well-draining
Water: moderate   

Description: An herbaceous perennial with a compact, clump-forming habit. Foliage consists of small, shallowly cut, dark green basal leaves and thinner, more deeply cut stem leaves. Round, 5-petalled, purple-pink, flowers to 1.5-inch (3.8 cm) in diameter and marked with darker veining, are formed singly on lax inflorescences. Prolific bloom period from mid-spring through summer and into autumn. Wonderful foliage colour changes to shades of red and orange in autumn given adequate sun.


Special Notes: Unknown origin other than it is a cultivar of the slightly taller species, Geranium sanguineum which is native to Europe and Asia. Excellent plant for front of borders. Very easy care but be sure to give it good drainage. Relatively pest and disease free. Rabbit resistant. Deer may nibble on hardy geraniums. Drought tolerant once established. Propagation by division in early spring or autumn.


In our Zone 7a garden: This is a beautiful workhorse in our landscape design. Truthfully, it is a fuss-free plant and looks good throughout the season with its long bloom period.


Posted on July 9, 2020


Arisarum proboscideum

Arisarum proboscideum Family: Araceae
(ay-ri-SAR-um pro-bos-SID-ee-um)

Common name: mouse plant; mouse tail plant
Zone: USDA 7 – 9
Height: 4 – 6 in (10-15 cm) Spread: 18 in (45 cm)
Aspect: part to full shade
Soil: humus-rich; moist; well-drained
Water: moderate; drought tolerant

Description: An herbaceous, tuberous-rooted, ground-hugging woodland perennial with glossy green, arrowhead-shaped leaves. Flowers are maroon and white with a unique tail-like tip which can stretch to 6 inches (15 cm). The whole floral effect is of a the back end of a mouse diving underground with its tail waving in the air.


Special Notes: Native to Spain and Italy, this plant is related to Arisaema triphyllum (jack-in-the-pulpit) which is native to eastern North America. It is winter hardy to USDA Zone 7…Zone 6 if given some protection. This is a spring ephemeral, appearing in early spring and disappearing below ground in the heat of summer.

Flowers are complete… having both male and female sexual organs. Fertilization is accomplished when the flowers attract small fungus gnats which subsequently become trapped within the flower and, in their struggle to escape, they inadvertently spread pollen from the male organs to the female.

Relatively drought tolerant once established. Pest and disease resistant.


In our Zone 7a garden: First signs of emergence start in the first two weeks of spring with tiny green spires of furled leaves appearing. Flower stems and buds show up shortly after. Bloom time begins about the second week of April and lasts remarkably well through to about the end of June. As soon as the heat really begins to ramp up, the whole clump disappears until the following spring.

I should mention…my one clump of mouse plant is situated in almost complete shade. Sun only reaches it in late winter and early spring and number of duration days only extends until the surrounding herbaceous perennials appear and leaf out and the chestnut tree leaves reach out to full canopy limit.


Great Plant Pick (GPP) 2008


Posted on April 2, 2020


Cylcamen coum

Cyclamen coum flowers Cyclamen coum Family: Primulaceae
(SIK-la-men KO-um)

Common name: Persian violet, eastern sowbread
Zone: 5 – 9
Height: 3 – 6 in (7.5-15 cm) Spread: 6 in (15 cm)
Aspect: sun; partial sun; shade
Soil: fertile; humus-rich; well-draining
Water: drought tolerant once established

Description: Tuberous perennial with round or heart-shaped dark green leaves which may have some silver or grey markings. Flower colour ranges from white through shades of pink with darker staining at the base of the petals. This is a spring ephermeral…flowering from December through March, depending on region, and going dormant through the summer.


Special Notes: Native to the Mediterranean, this delightful winter-blooming perennial does well as an understory specimen in rhododendron, maple, birch, Douglas fir and western red cedar plantings.

Self-seeding, this plant naturalizes nicely with the help of ants who are attracted to the sugary coating on the seeds. Tiny seedlings start to appear in late fall. Once the plants are established, they are drought tolerant.

Generally, disease- and pest-resistant; deer resistant.


In our Zone 7a garden: I have a slowly increasing patch of Cyclamen coum flowers underneath the Acer campestre, (European hedge maple), which are purely delightful when they come into flower in the middle of winter for us.

This bed in the garden landscape is a difficult one due to the maple roots sucking up all of the nutrients…leaving little for the other plants residing there. Because of this, I am always impressed by the plants who manage to survive such harsh treatment.


Awards: Named by the Royal Horticultural Society as one of the top 200 plants of the last 200 years.


Caution: Toxic to dogs and cats if ingested.


Posted on February 19, 2020



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