After drooling over plants on that trip, most of which I would have a snowball's chance in hell of growing in my own garden, I decided I wanted to walk on the wild side and try growing Tetrapanax papyrifer in my central Connecticut garden.
If you follow this blog, you know that I moved last year. Even though the USDA zone map for Connecticut illustrates that my zone did not change, I suspect that may not be the case. I commute about 25 miles each way to work now which is relatively close to my old garden stomping grounds and it's always consistently warmer by four to six degrees.
Below are just a few of the plants that caught my eye on that trip. We always want what we can't have, right? When it comes to plants I'm always on the hunt for something different.
Melianthus major 'Purple Haze' was one of those plants. Melianthus major can be purchased in some of the better greenhouses as an annual in New England in the spring but I've never seen the cultivar 'Purple Haze'. Two winters in a row I had M. major return in a pot that was stored in my detached, unheated garage. Maybe there's hope in a cool basement because there is no hope at all outside.
|Melianthus major 'Purple Haze' with Imperata cylindrical 'Red Baron' at Far Reaches Farm in Port Washington|
A second plant I absolutely lusted after was Lobelia tupa. Just about every garden we visited featured large, well grown specimens of Lobelia tupa. My pictures below taken at Linda Cochran's garden and at Far Reaches Farm in Port Townsend, WA don't do the plant justice.
Linda Cochran places Lobelia tupa on her list of top ten favorite plants. Far Reaches lists it as zone 8a. Both Kelly and Sue, at Far Reaches honestly didn't think I had a prayer of overwintering Lobelia tupa in central CT even with protection so I guess I'll just have to admire this one from afar.
|Lobelia tupa in Linda Cochran's former garden on Bainbridge Island|
|Lobelia tupa in the display garden at Far Reaches Farm|
A third plant that stopped me in my tracks because I'm a sucker for bold foliage was Tetrapanax papyrifer. Hmmm, somewhere in my travels I vaguely remember reading that with winter protection, Tetrapanax could be grown successfully in CT. Louis the Plant Geek grows it in Rhode Island. Rhode Island is not that far away. If Louis could grow it maybe I could too.
|Tetrapanax papyrifer in the former garden of Linda Cochran|
All went well the first year except I did not get around to shoring up winter protection until well into winter.
|Tetrapanax emerging in May 2014|
Despite my botched protection attempt, in late May of 2014 a small unfurling Tetrapanax emerged! It had died back to the ground over the winter but was returning from the roots. Maybe Louis the Plant Geek was right.
I wasn't encouraged though. My Tetrapanax was alive but it was acting more like a ground cover than a bold specimen plant. I suspected my garden nemesis, lack of sun was the likely culprit but in my overplanted quarter acre garden I had no better spot.
|Tetrapanax in my Connecticut garden in September 2015|
Much to my surprise, in July of 2015 it came back again but never grew much more than a about a foot. In the fall of 2015 I didn't even bother to protect it. At that point I knew I was moving and I knew a zone pushing plant like Tetrapanax wouldn't take a late season move-especially to a colder location.
Did my poor tetrapanax come back in 2016? I couldn't tell you. I moved out of my house in May, closed in July and was so overwhelmed with moving that I didn't even think to look. I'm going to assume it did though because the 2015-2016 winter was relatively mild..
So what did I learn?
With winter protection and proper siting I believe it's possible to grow a sizable Tetrapanax papyrifer in Connecticut zone 6. The way the schedule is unfolding, I won't have a good spot for one in my current garden until fall. Fall planting won't work for a borderline plant like Tetrapanax though so realistically I'm looking for a spring 2018 planting.
Fortunately gardeners are patient people and I'm no exception.