Archive for the ‘Mid Height’ Category

Perennial. Zone 4. Labiatae. Central and southern Russia, Romania, most notably in the Transylvanian Alps.

We are fortunate in the Cariboo in regard to our many summer perennial plant choices. The Salvias in particular appreciate our generally hot and dry summer season, and this handsome species puts on a grand show in July and August.

Large, dusky indigo-blue-violet flowers, “dragon head” shaped as is typical of all members of the Salvia genus (the Sage Family), are produced in loose whorls on multi-branching 18 to 24 inch tall bloom spikes. These arise from substantial rosettes of long, prettily wrinkled, rather hairy, deep green leaves. Foliage is slightly aromatic when touched, but is much less pungent than many of its relatives. A vigorous plant can be 2 feet or more in diameter, and rather sprawling in habit. Great on a slope, or under high-pruned, not-too-dense shrubs such as roses or spirea.

Transylvanian Sage blooms for a long period in summer, and, if spent spikes are clipped off occasionally, well into autumn. Grand for a sunny border, and drought tolerant enough to be a good xeriscape plant.

Plant it under roses in the traditional border, or with sedums and ornamental mulleins in the dry border. The colour harmonizes marvellously well with almost anything, and can be used for gentle compliment of other pastel shades or to set off hotter colours.

I have found that Salvia transylvanica overwinters extremely well as a young plant, but sometimes tends to bloom itself out, so I do not consider it particularly long lived. Allow it to set seed, and you will find enough babies to keep it going in your garden. These transplant well if you move them at a young age. Older plants should be left undisturbed; I wouldn’t recommend transplanting or dividing.

Sun is best, though very light shade is acceptable. Average to well drained soil; average fertility; average watering. Nicely drought tolerant once established.

Salvia transylvanica in full summer show in a Williams Lake garden, July 2014. Image: HFN

A Hill Farm-sourced Salvia transylvanica in full summer show in a Williams Lake garden, July 2014. Image: HFN

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Biennial/Monocarpic Perennial. Zone 3. Campanulaceae. Bosnia and Herzegovina. Syn. Campanula hofmannii. A.k.a. PENDULOUS BELLFLOWER, HOFMANN’S RINGED BELLFLOWER.

Most people are not terribly familiar with any of the Symphyandra, for while they are widely grown in botanic and alpine gardens, the genus is rather rare in the mainstream plant trade. But there are many keen gardeners who grow the various species with great pleasure, including well-known British Columbia garden writer, Helen Chestnut. Here is what she had to say in her column in the Victoria Times Colonist, July 17, 2008:

The description of a Campanula relative, Symphyandra hofmannii (pendulous bellflower), in a 2006 seed catalogue caught my attention. Placed in the front garden early last summer, the plants resulting from those seeds are pure enchantment this summer. They have grown to form slender pyramids of soft leaves and stems heavily hung with large, creamy white, bell-shaped flowers. My plants are about 40 cm (16 inches) high. They are very unusual, and utterly charming.

“Charming” is indeed an apt word for this quietly pretty flower, in any of its dozen or so species. Symphyandra hofmannii is particularly nice.

The plant is monocarpic, which means it dies after flowering and setting seed, and therefore is generally classed among the biennials.

The first year long-leaved, rather wrinkly foliage rosettes form. The second year brings the bloom. Many upright-to-gently-arching 12 to 18 inch long stems arise from the basal clump. These are lined with inflated, down-facing buds, which open into a succession of large, ivory white blooms for a long period in summer.

Symphyandra hofmannii is happy in sun to part shade, in good soil with average moisture. It will set seed generously, and may be allowed to self sow to perpetuate itself in the garden. Clipping off the bloom stalks before seed matures may allow another season of bloom, but then again your plant may decide to expire without replicating itself, having done its best to bloom itself to death as its nature intends it to, so I don’t recommend this.

A note on nomenclature:

Symphyandra is as close as close to Campanula. In fact, by the time of this writing, the genera may again be combined, as botanists play their endless game of familial and generic splitting and lumping, aided (encouraged?) by botanical DNA analysts.

What separates the sheep from the goats – er – the Symphyandra from the Campanula – is a small detail regarding the anthers, the parts of a flower’s stamen which produces pollen. In Campanula the anthers are separate. In Symphyandra they are united to form a tube surrounding the style. (I should probably stop here, unless I want to add diagrams. Probably too much information already!) In any event, this explains the genus name, from the Greek symphio – “to grow together” – and andros – “anther”.

The specific name commemorates botanist Florian Hoffmann, who collected this plant in the mountains of Yugoslavia in the late 19th Century; the name was first assigned in 1881.

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Biennial. Zone 2. Caryophyllaceae. Dianthus barbatus originated in the mountains of southern Europe.

‘Sooty’ is often billed as the “black” Sweet William, but in reality it is a deep, rich crimson, with nicely contrasting pure white stamens. Though ‘Sooty’ is often described as “new and improved”, in reality it is almost indistinguishable in my experience from the venerable English heirloom variety, ‘Dunnett’s Deep Crimson’, introduced in the late 1800s.

Many heads of clove-fragranced, velvety crimson flowers are produced in midsummer of the plant’s second year. Foliage shows a distinctive dark red blush, as do stems, particularly at the leaf joints. ‘Sooty’ tends not to be as tall or as substantial in form as many of the other traditional Sweet Williams, reaching only 12 to 18 inches tall, and proving occasionally rather lax in habit.

‘Sooty’ blooms for a fairly extended time. You may get a few flowers in autumn of its first year, but the best show comes in year two, when the cluster-heads bristling with dark-blushed, sharply pointed, modified leaflets unfold their blooms from early June and well into summer. For continued flower production, promptly deadhead when the clusters finally fade, or harvest at peak perfection for bouquets.

Something of a curiousity in the garden, though a very pleasant one.

I must confess that I have sometimes found ‘Sooty’ a little difficult to place. Self-sown seedlings generally manage to find a niche where they can blend well with their neighbours, but my greatest success with Sweet Williams in general, including ‘Sooty’, was way back when I grew ambitious vegetable gardens, which always included several rows of annual flowers for cutting. For a few years I included “biennial rows” which I planted out in late summer, full of Sweet Williams and Canterbury Bells and their like. With abundant fertility and regular watering, these bloomed the following spring and summer with great vigour, providing armfuls of flowers for arrangements. In the mixed border, fighting it out for growing space among various companions, I find that the Sweet Williams don’t reach such majestic proportions as when treated more as “crop” plants.

A true biennial which may carry on by offsets, but usually by self-seeding, so allow a few bloom heads to mature seed to re-sow.

Sun is best, though light shade is tolerated.  Good soil and moisture are appreciated.

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Lychnis chalcedonica - Scarlet Maltese Cross - Prince George, B.C. - July 2013. Image: HFN

Lychnis chalcedonica – Scarlet Maltese Cross – Prince George, B.C. – July 2013. Image: HFN

Perennial. Zone 1. Caryophyllaceae. Russia, Northern Asia. A.k.a., according to the Royal Horticultural Society, an astounding number of common names, among them: Cross of Jerusalem, Fireball, Flower of Bristow, Flower of Constantinople, Gardener’s Delight, Great Candlestick, Knight’s Cross, London Pride, None-Such, Red Robin, Scarlet Lightning,Tears of Christ.

If I think back to the gardens of my childhood, during the late 1960s and early 1970s, Maltese Cross is ever-present. My mother grew it and viewed it with great fondness, as did all of her gardening friends. It flourished in its scarlet glory in remote ranch gardens on the Chilcotin plateau as enthusiastically as it did in the town gardens we frequently visited in Williams Lake and 100 Mile House.

I sometimes muse on what a recreated Cariboo heritage garden would contain. Always a lilac bush, of course, and a massive clump of rhubarb. Red currants drooping with their luminescent clusters, promises of sweet jelly and mouth-puckering cordial to come. Raspberries, in generous wire-supported rows. Golden Glow lolling brightly by the fence, tied back with a length of sisal baler twine. In spring, a profusion of grape hyacinths, Johnny-Jump-Ups, striped ‘Pickwick’ crocuses, under a pinker-than-pink Flowering Almond bush. Red and yellow tulips. ‘Persian Yellow’ roses, blooming for a brief but wonderful time in June. Red-and-black oriental poppies, royal purple Cluster Bellflower, those ubiquitous purple and white bearded iris smelling strongly of grape Kool-Aid to my childish nose, identified in later years as the venerable variety ‘Wabash’. Double-flowered Achillea ptarmica – I can’t remember a common  name, though it must have had one. Did Mom call this one ‘Baby’s Breath’? I think she might have, though she had “real” baby’s breath, too – Gypsophila paniculata. Lanky delphiniums in shades of the sky. A colony of tall, pale purple phlox, alongside a fragrant yellow daylily. Columbines everywhere. Canterbury Bells and Sweet Williams. Orange tiger lilies in late summer. Cerise Rose Campion in the most unexpected places, and, inevitably, a sturdy clump of quite ridiculously red Maltese Cross.

My goodness. I should stop right there, before a tear comes to my eye. Our gardens are indeed full of memories…

Lychnis chalcedonica in a contemporary garden setting, in te perennial border at the University of Northern British Columbia in Prince George, July 2013. Image: UFN

Lychnis chalcedonica in a contemporary garden setting, perfectly combined with tall ornamental grasses in the perennial border at the University of Northern British Columbia in Prince George, July 2013. Image: UFN

 

So – here are the basics regarding Lychnis chalcedonica.  It forms strong clumps to 2 feet or taller. The sturdy stems topped by domed heads of brilliant scarlet, cross-like (though 5-petalled) flowers for a reasonably long period in mid-summer, 3 to 4 weeks. It reliably reblooms if cut back.

Maltese Cross prefers full sun, good soil, and average amounts of moisture. Mature clumps may be carefully divided, but so easy from seed that I never bother with division. Not at all invasive; well behaved in all its habits. You may wish to unobtrusively stake it, as it can occasionally birdsnest with summer thundershowers. But it is a truly sturdy thing, and requires minimal fussing.

Garden legend has it that this was one of those plants brought back to England from the Holy Land by returning Crusaders, but this is apparently not the case. More likely it came via regular trade routes from European travellers; the species originated in Russian and northern Chinese forests and steppes, and still can be found growing in the wild. Its first mention in garden literature predates the 1590s.

Can you see the cross-shaped form that leads to the common name? The fact that the blooms actually have five lobes versus four is a bit of a surprise - the effect is definitely geometric and cross-like. Image: HFN

Can you see the flower form that leads to the common name? The fact that the blooms actually have five fused petals versus four is a bit of a surprise – the overall effect is definitely geometric and cross-like. Image: HFN

Siting Maltese Cross in the contemporary garden can prove something of a dilemma, mostly for those who worry about colour harmony and contrasts. Here are some wise words from Cape Breton garden writer Jo Ann Gardner, in her 1992 book, The Heirloom Garden:

I have found folk gardeners to be less intimidated by Jerusalem-cross’s brilliant colour than are contemporary gardeners, who are often afraid of offending sensibilities by planting it near the varicoloured flowers of early summer and mid-summer. But it blends surprisingly well with soft pink Musk Mallow (Malva moschata), Lupines of all sorts, Siberian Iris, Bellflower, Foxglove, the lilac-white plumes of Clary Sage, and the yellow daisy-flowered Golden-Marguerite. One is often advised to banish Jerusalem-cross to the to the safety of low-growing evergreens, where its glowing colour will be reduced or neutralized. Consider that Gertrude Jekyll, the mistress of colour in the garden, grouped it among orange Daylilies, Dahlias, Marigolds and Nasturtiums…

There are a number of variations of Lychnis chalcedonica which you may find interesting. Last heard of in the 1920s and possibly lost forever – though one can hope they exist in some isolated cottage garden, waiting for their rediscovery – are double scarlet (first written about in 1629) and double white (1772) forms, but we do have some pretty singles to console ourselves with. A blushing pink – ‘Morgenrote’ a.k.a. ‘Morning Red’, sometimes sold as ‘Dusky Salmon’ – and a pristine white – ‘Raureif’ a.k.a. ‘Hoarfrost’, sometimes sold as ‘Snowbird’ – are still in the seed trade, and just a year or so ago I saw mention of a more compact scarlet variety, ‘Burning Love’, reported to be a compact 12 to 18 inches tall – perhaps easier to tuck into a small suburban planting?

Lychnis chalcedonica 'rosea' - 'Morgenrote', a.k.a. 'Morning Red', a.k.a. 'Dusky Salmon'. Image HFN

Lychnis chalcedonica ‘rosea’ – ‘Morgenrote’, a.k.a. ‘Morning Red’, a.k.a. ‘Dusky Salmon’. Heads of pale, rosy-salmon-pink blooms change colour as they age to give a variegated effect to the bloom clusters.  Williams Lake, B.C. – July 2014. Image HFN

 

 

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Annual. Papaveraceae. Syn. Argemone platyceras, A. intermedia, A. intermedia var. polyanthemos. A.k.a. WHITE PRICKLY POPPY, BLUESTEM PRICKLY POPPY. North America; Eastern base of the Rocky Mountains and throughout the Great Plains. Argemone is from the Greek argema, referring to an eye cataract, as the sap from the plants was once used to treat that ailment. Polyanthemos = many flowered.

The North American prickly poppies are surprising things. Stems, foliage and even the flower buds are wickedly armoured with thorny spines, yet the large blooms are silken textured and fragile-looking out of all expectation. The weaponry is obviously there to protect against grazing animals, and that useful adaptation has me wondering what purpose the showy flowers fulfill. Perhaps as a beacon and landing stage for pollinating insects, which may be scarce in Argemone‘s desert and near-desert natural habitats?

Whatever the reason for the extravagant floral display, the beauty of this wildflower and its equally attractive relatives is without debate, and it has become a treasured garden annual in botanical and collectors’ gardens around the world.

Grey-green, white-veined, relatively softly spined foliage clumps produce elongated bloom stalks topped by clusters of spiky buds. These bud sheaths break apart to release large, pure white, golden-eyed blooms in June, July and August. Petals are silken-sheened and wonderfully crinkled; the golden stamen clusters release their pollen to colour the flower centers a delicate yellow tint. Pollen darkens with age, tipping the central stamens with burgundy. Individual blooms last only a few days each, but are continually followed by others, for a prolonged period of show.

If you have occasion to snap off a leaf or stem, you will notice the sticky, bright yellow sap. This was once used medicinally by First Nations peoples for a variety of complaints, including eye ailments, and as a remedy against nervous irritability. Argemone polyanthemos is currently used in herbal medicine as a non-opioid, non-addictive, reportedly highly effective pain reliever, similar in action but not in side-effect to that other famed poppy product, morphine. However the body apparently quickly builds up a resistance to the effects of Prickly Poppy’s active alkaloid, argemonic acid, so it is useful for short term effects only. It also is reported to have no effect (beneficial or otherwise) on those already habituated to morphine and codeine use.

Argemone polyanthemos is quite a large plant, from 2 to 4 feet tall. It frequently branches out from a central stalk to form a somewhat bushy clump, though it is in general taller than it is wide. Crested Prickly Poppy fits in well with perennials in the permanent border, or among other annuals.

Reblooms if deadheaded, but leave a few pods to set seed, for if you are fortunate this will self-sow.

Poppies in general are notoriously difficult to transplant, so handle potted seedlings very carefully to avoid disturbing the delicate tap root, and try to get to self sown seedlings when they are still tiny, taking a generous trowel-full of soil with each baby you wish to relocate.

Sun; well-drained soil; drought tolerant.

 

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Polemonium pauciflorum - Yellow Jacob's Ladder - Hill Farm, June 2011. Image: HFN

Polemonium pauciflorum – Yellow Jacob’s Ladder – Hill Farm, June 2011. Image: HFN

Short-Lived Perennial. Zone 4. Polemoniaceae. Arizona, New Mexico, Texas.

This is a Jacob’s Ladder with a difference. Instead of the usual clusters of blue and lavender wide-open flowers, P. pauciflorum produces graceful downfacing sulphur yellow trumpets, blushed with dusky red.

The specific name, pauciflorum, translates as “few-flowered”, but this is a relative designation. There may be few in each cluster compared to the dense arrangements of many of its relatives, but there are many blooming stems produced. So many, in fact, that Yellow Jacob Ladder frequently “blooms itself to death”, fading away completely after its exertion.

Delicate, many-leafleted foliage in lush 12-inch wide clumps. The graceful flower clusters on slender, 12 to 18 inch stalks appear in spring and early summer.

A very nice little plant, rarely found commercially but popular in the “plant fanatic” seed exchange world, which is where I originally obtained mine, from a gardener in Wales. (A rather roundabout trip from its native home in southern North America!)

Polemonium pauciflorum frequently blooms profusely in its first season, so may be treated as an annual, though technically it is perennial. Allow it to set seed and self sow to ensure its continued presence in your garden. If collecting seed for sharing or growing out, be aware that it has a short viability period in dry, cool room temperature storage, of 6 months to a year at most in my experience.

Sun to light shade; average soil and moisture.

This plant's membership in the Phlox Family is very evident from the appearance of the tightly furled buds - something I hadn't really noticed regarding other species. Image: HFN

This plant’s membership in the Phlox Family is very evident from the appearance of the tightly furled buds – something I hadn’t really noticed regarding other species. Image: HFN

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Star-of-Persia - Allium christophii - June 6, 2014

Star-of-Persia – Allium christophii. Summerland, B.C., June 6, 2014. Image: HFN

Perennial. Zone 4. Liliaceae. Syn. Allium albopilosum Originally native to Iran, Turkey, and central Asia – general region of ancient Persia.  This lovely plant has been grown in western gardens since its first introduction to England in 1884.

I first grew this beautiful ornamental onion over 20 years ago, and I well remember how the reality of it exceeded my already high expectations. It is a wonderful thing.

This is a spectacular allium, gorgeous in all its stages, bud to bloom to seed head. Clumps of long (to 20 inches), grey-green, strap-shaped leaves appear in early spring, soon followed by 12 to 24 inch stalks topped by a quickly expanding sheathed bud, which explodes in late May into a huge bloom cluster – up to 12 inches in diameter – which consists of many pale lavender star flowers.

Allium christophii - unfolding star flowers - a beautifully fascinating process. Image: HFN

Allium christophii – unfolding star flowers – a beautifully fascinating process. Image: HFN

These continue to look good for weeks, gradually transfiguring into plump green seed pods, which can be left alone to eventually dry in place, giving a rather surreal accent to the border. (Or they can be harvested just as they start to turn yellow and hung to dry as unique everlastings.) The fresh and green seed stage blooms are wonderful as cutflowers, too.

The foliage quickly withers and is gone by midsummer, by which time other plants have filled in to hide the yellowing leaves. Where happy, on well-drained soil in full sun, these bulbs will slowly reproduce to form an increasingly large colony.

Bulbs may be lifted in midsummer to early fall, and (if they have formed a cluster) separated and replanted. Because of the size of the blooms, it is best to space them fairly generously, up to a foot apart, or a bit closer if you are going for a cluster effect.

Sun; average soil & moisture. Quite drought tolerant. Appreciates good drainage.

A flourishing colony of Star-of-Persia in the Summerland Ornamental Garden. June, 2014. Image: HFN

A flourishing colony of Star-of-Persia in the Summerland Ornamental Garden. June, 2014. Image: HFN

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Achillea filipendulina – ‘Cloth of Gold’ Fernleaf Yarrow. Hill Farm, July 2014. Image: HFN

Perennial. Zone 2. Compositae. Syn. Achillea eupatorium (obsolete). Eupatorium referred to the plant’s native presence around the city of Eupatoria (Yevpatoria) on the Crimean coast. The species is native to Europe’s Caucasus Mountains, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia, and Afghanistan. There are a number of improved cultivars which are widely grown in gardens. ‘Cloth of Gold’ is a well-known older variety, which received the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit in 1999.

Poor Fernleaf Yarrow – it seems to be named mainly for its resemblance to other plants! The specific names filipendulina refers to its foliar similarity to Meadowsweet, Filipendula species. The common name “Fernleaf” needs no explanation.

Esteemed horticulturalist William Robinson, in his 1883 masterwork, The English Flower Garden, had this to say:

Achillea eupatorium (sometimes called A. filipendulina) is a tall-growing, vigorous, herbaceous plant, somewhat woody in its lower growth. Its flowering corymbes are flat, bright yellow in colour, and elevated on stout stems to a height of 3 ft. to 4 ft.; they retain their beauty and freshness for at least two months. This is admirably adapted for a shrubbery border, where its brilliant yellow flowers and its erect habit of growth show to wonderful advantage amongst the evergreen foliage. It is native to the shores of the Caspian Sea, and is one of the finest of perennials.

Shining yellow flowers in flattened domes top strong 24-inch or taller stems. In habit, Fernleaf Yarrow is a non-invasive clump-former. Foliage is light sage-green, and warmly aromatic.

This is a superb everlasting and cutflower – heads can reach 5 inches or more across. Some years ago, when I was growing everlastings and making wreaths and arrangements for sale, this was outstanding for its effect and attractive colour.

Close-up of the tightly packed flower head, with 6-legged visitors.

Close-up of the tightly packed flower head, with 6-legged visitors. Completely pest-free, though frequented by insects of all sorts seeking nectar and pollen. Hill Farm, July 2014. Image: HFN

Fernleaf Yarrow is one of those bombproof plants which just keep on looking good (or at the very least decent) even in challenging conditions. It has times of great beauty – new spring foliage is downy-soft, pleasingly aromatic, and elegantly fern-like, while the huge corymbes of tiny, bright yellow flowers remain gloriously untarnished for an astounding length of time – but even when the gold fades to brown and the leaves get a bit dusty-looking round about the beginning of autumn it remains upright and respectable.

This plant is a star of the xeriscape garden, thriving in sunny and dry locations, though it is appreciative of some supplemental moisture at summer’s peak. However, too rich a soil and too much moisture will cause Fernleaf Yarrow to produce lush foliage at the expense of flowers.

This plant is reputed to be very deer resistant, likely because of its downy foliage and high aromatic oil content.

 

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Aconitum lycoctonum ssp. vulparia; syn. Aconiyum lamarckii. Hill Farm, August 2011.

Aconitum lycoctonum ssp. vulparia; syn. Aconitum lamarckii. Hill Farm, August 2011. Image: HFN

Perennial. Zone 2. Ranunculaceae. A.k.a. NORTHERN WOLFSBANE, FOXBANE, YELLOW MONKSHOOD. The Aconitums are in general a rather complex genus, with much natural adaptation and inter-species hybridization, so this species (or slight variations thereof) may appear under various names. A. lycoctonum is frequently thought to be synonymous with A. lamarckii and/or A. pyrenaicum and/or A. ranunculifolium (obsolete); it may also appear under the name A. vulparia. This somewhat variable species is native to Southern Europe, being found in the wild in France, Spain, Morocco, Northern Greece, Bulgaria and Romania. It grows in high-shade forest, in meadows and by stream sides, and flowers in July and August.

The genus name Aconitum is thought to come from the ancient Greek village of Akonai, the site of which is now in Turkey. Nearby is a cave which was said to house the entrance to Hades, which was famously guarded by the three-headed dog Cerebus. The places where the froth from Cerebus’s maddened slavering fell to earth was thought to have been marked by these plants, which were notorious for their poisonous properties.

The species name lycoctonum originates from the Greek: lycos = wolf, and kteinein = kill, which is the origin of the common name wolfsbane, as the roots were used to formulate arrow poisons, and were added to meat left out to bait wolves and foxes.

The many members of the large Ranunculus (Buttercup) Family are in general excellent garden plants for colder regions such as the Cariboo-Chilcotin, and this unusual Monkshood is no exception, being hardy, attractive, and trouble free.

The foliage is lush, dark green, and raggedly cut. It forms clumps to 2 feet tall and wide, from which many slender stems arise in early summer. These produce clusters of intriguing greeny-yellow buds, which slowly expand into elongated, pale sulphur yellow, hooded blooms in mid and late summer. The bloom stalks tend to overbalance themselves when flowering is at its peak, so sturdy neighbours or a bit of modest staking is beneficial.

Buds and blooms are often tinted green. Hill Farm, August 2011.

Buds and blooms are often strongly tinted green. Hill Farm, August 2011. Image: HFN

Margery Fish, writing in 1964 in  A Flower for Every Day, has this to say:

Aconitum lycoctonum may not have enough colour for everybody, but some of us enjoy the greeny cream narrow flowers, perched like birds on rangy stems. It is not a compact plant and likes to behave in our gardens as it does in its native Austria. It doesn’t take kindly to restraint, so the thing to do is to grow it with perennials with which it can intermingle and make a pleasing picture. I have it in front of tall species Phlox paniculata, which has soft lavender flowers, and behind that is a big clump of Achillea [filipendulina] ‘Gold Plate’.

I share Margery’s fondness for this quietly attractive plant, and have a single sturdy clump which I rather cherish. It is very long-lived, and prefers a permanent garden spot where it can be undisturbed. I have occasionally moved my plant, and, several years ago, decided that it was large enough to divide for sale. I chopped it into what I thought were generous clumps and replanted several after potting up the majority of the divisions. While all took this treatment with fair aplomb, the pieces I replanted sulked flowerless for several years, obviously needing to get their roots well down until putting energy into blooming. The plant appears to be happy again, giving me a nice display in 2014, but I will think hard before I dig it up again. I may try it from seed in order to increase it for the nursery; there are some ripe seed heads now in October which I intend to shake out into a flat to stratify over winter.

Blooming stalks reach 4 feet or so, but are rather airy in effect, so mid-border is a good location. Aconitum lycoctonum appreciates humus-rich soil and generous summer moisture. It is happy in full sun to high shade, and would be perfect in a woodland garden setting.

Though one should definitely be aware of the plant’s potential toxicity, unless one gardens with small children prone to random leaf sampling, there should be no issues with using it in the flower border. The foliage is extremely bitter to taste and accidental poisonings are very rare; one would definitely notice something amiss very early on. Be careful when pruning and transplanting, wear gloves if you will be in contact with the running sap, don’t plant it in the culinary herb garden, grow it mid-border – away from small visitors and chewing puppies – and you should be fine.

Hill Farm, August 2011.

Yet another picture of the bloom cluster. Check out the typical “monk’s cowl” (or “birds-on-a-branch”) flower structure, as well as the developing bud cluster at bottom right. Hill Farm, August 2011. Image: HFN

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physostegia variegate fall 2011

Variegated Obedient Plant – Physostegia virginiana ‘variegata’ – Hill Farm, late September 2011. Image: HFN

Perennial. Zone 3. Lamiaceae.  The species is native to eastern North America. This cultivar is a stabilized sport and is found only in gardens.

Clump former to 3 or 4 feet tall. Spreads slowly by creeping rootstalks. Sun to light shade; any soil fine; appreciates summer moisture in hot regions.

The genus name comes from the Greek: physa = bladder and stege = covering, referring to the inflated calyx at the base of each floret.  The common name comes from the hinged sockets which attach each floret to the main cluster; these can be gently twisted and turned, with the new configuration remaining for a few moments until the bloom slowly returns to its original position.

This handsome plant is one of my favourite fall bloomers. It starts to send out intricate bud spikes in August; these slowly extend and enlarge until mid-September when the first bright purple, cheerfully freckled, snapdragon-like flowers start to open. It is in peak bloom by Canadian Thanksgiving, lighting up the garden in stunning contrast to the yellowing foliage of the perennials around it.

physostegia variegate sept 2011

Variegated Obedient Plant reaches full glory as its garden neighbours start to fade, setting off their yellowing foliage to perfection. Here at Hill Farm it shares a bed with tall Joe-Pye Weed, Eupatorium purpureum, another eastern wildflower, taking over the show as its neighbour goes to seed. Image: HFN

Very cold tolerant, and lasts until the hardest frosts which finally blacken it in November.

In its native habitat Obedient Plant is found in meadows, open woodlands, and along stream banks. It is very adaptable, though it prefers not to be too dry in summer. The variegated cultivar is restrained in its spread, though it will expand to a sizable clump over the years. Keep an eye on more delicate neighbours. My treasured clump is due for division soon, as it is finally encroaching on its companion, an equally treasured clump of early spring blooming Liverleaf, Hepatica nobilis, after growing side by side with no conflict for the past 5 years.

Reaching a respectable 4 feet tall where happy, this plant tends to flop under the weight of its bloom spikes, so an unobtrusive staking mid-summer is a good idea. Years when I forget to do this I am punished for my neglect by the snapping off of full-flowered bloom stalks at their bases. Luckily it makes an excellent cutflower so all is not lost; however its value in the garden exceeds any bouquet so this is a situation one should strive to prevent.

As with many variegated plants, it is not as vigorous as its plainer relatives, so will take a few years to reach its full potential. The plus side of this is that it is very maintenance free, despite the staking recommendation and the occasional need for curbing/division in full maturity. Physostegia virginiana in all of its varieties is long-lived, and completely pest and disease free.

A grand plant, not terribly common in Cariboo-Chilcotin gardens, but very suitable for our conditions.

physostegia variegata close up 2 sept oct 2011

Just coming into bloom, September 2, 2011. Image: HFN

physostegia foliage detail variegata august 2011

The variegation extends to every part of the plant, including the intricately symmetrical bud spikes which start to form in August. Image: HFN

physostegia variegate close up 2 oct 2012

Another detail of the fascinating blooms and white foliar variegation. Hill Farm, October 2, 2012. Image: HFN

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