Archive for the ‘Tall’ Category

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Image: HFN

Perennial. Z2. This is a relatively new cultivar, introduced in 1998. It is a hybrid of the gorgeous bicoloured monkshood, Aconitum cammarum, and a Himalayan species, A. spicatum. The individual hooded flowers look rather like bleached out versions of its variegated parent, being grayish white with faded purple veins, with a darker stamen cluster, but the overall effect is really something quite wonderful. Instead of the loosely arranged florets of A. cammarum, ‘Stainless Steel’ produces densely flowered spikes.

The plant is very vigorous and reliably sturdy, and the 3 to 4 foot stems stand tall without staking. It blooms for me for a very long time, through July and August, with reliable autumn rebloom if the first spent spikes are trimmed back. It sets abundant seed, but so far I have not seen any seedlings; I suspect that it may be a sterile cross. The photo included here is of the secondary bloom; the first spikes are much more lush and full.

If you see this one anywhere, buy it! It’s an excellent Monkshood. I may have a few divisions to spare this spring, as I’m thinking of moving my 5-year-old parent plant, but this depends on what I find when I get the clump out of the ground. Some Aconitums divide quite readily, while others are difficult to separate without damaging the crowns. I’m including it in this list just because it is so grand, and I’d like to recommend it, even if it’s not for sale from us!

Site carefully, as it does take a few years to really get going, and will resent being moved around too much, if it’s anything like its relations. Light shade is best, with good soil and some summer moisture. Note: All monkshoods are poisonous in all of their parts. Keep this­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­ in mind when dividing, and if you garden with very small children.

Edited April 13, 2013 – I have been poking around in the garden and – such a disappointment! – it looks like ‘Stainless Steel’ did not make the (very mild) winter of 2012-13. Which was completely unexpected, as it had seemed quite happy and had reached quite a magnificent size. Monkshoods in general are tough and long-lived, so not sure what this is all about. I’ll be looking for another one; my recommendation still stands. Just one of those things in the perennial plant world, I guess…

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Althaea officinalis – Marsh Mallow. Hill Farm, summer 2010. Image: HFN

Perennial. Zone 2. Malvaceae. North Africa, Western Asia, Europe. 

This ancient medicinal herb makes a pleasant border background plant. It’s definitely not showy but it has a certain presence about it. The plant forms a long-lived, many-branched clump of 6 foot tall stems lined with  maple-leaf-like, soft, grey-green foliage.

The rather small, inconspicuous, white to pale purple flowers like miniature single hollyhocks are produced over a very long season, from summer well into fall.

An “innocent” plant, as the old herbalists called it – all parts are safe to consume, with no harmful properties. The soothing properties of the plant made it a popular and reportedly effective treatment for sore throats, and it was one of the herbs grown in the monastery gardens of Medieval times.

The plant was also used to produce original “marshmallow” confection, with the roots yielding a mucilaginous sap which was mixed with honey by the ancient Egyptians to form a candy. French confectioners of the 1800s whipped the root extract with sugar to form a frothy dessert. Eventually the plant sap itself was replaced with egg white and sugar, and the popular snow-white marshmallow candies we know today were developed.

A highly adaptable clump former which thrives with some moisture and can tolerate some standing water, Marsh Mallow is just as happy in dry garden soils, though it will be shorter. The occasional seedling may appear, but never enough to cause a problem.

Sun to light shade; average conditions.

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Biennial or Short-lived Perennial. Zone 4. Boraginaceae. Mediterranean region.  A.k.a. ALKANET, ITALIAN BUGLOSS.

Clusters of intensely cobalt-blue flowers rather like large forget-me-nots appear late spring into summer on 4 foot plants. Deep green, bristly, elongated foliage. It is related to Borage, and so it is no surprise that it is much beloved by bees.

A selection of the Italian wildflower,  ‘Dropmore Blue’ is an excellent Canadian cultivar introduced in 1905 by the famed Agricultural Research Station in Dropmore, Manitoba.

Anchusa is beautiful with yellow grandiflora foxgloves and other early summer flowers. I fell in love with this years ago during a late June visit to Butchart Gardens, where it was in full bloom in the rose garden – it was absolutely stunning with the rosy reds and pinks! You do see it occasionally in botanical and show gardens, but though once popular in home plantings, Anchusa is now quite rare; not many are familiar with this pretty plant.

The roots of the wild Anchusa are used to produce a red dye; apparently this trait carries over in the domesticated strain. There are also medicinal uses as a wound herb. I find that I need to be cautious when handling the bristly leaves, for, as with Borage, I have developed a sensitivity to the bristly hairs and break out in a mild but annoying rash from over-exposure. I would recommend wearing gloves when pruning or tidying up this one, just to be on the safe side.

Cut back after blooming for new flowers on fresh, lower growth in autumn. Anchusa is tap-rooted, so do not attempt to move plants once established, and transplant seedlings with care. It may sometimes self-sow modestly.

Anchusa generally acts as a biennial, though some plants may overwinter a third and fourth year, so keep an eye out for seedlings, or collect the large, black seeds to re-sow next season.

Plant in full sun. Thrives in any average soil with good drainage. Quite drought tolerant once established.

 

 

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Vernonia noveboracensis – Ironweed – University of British Columbia Botanical Garden, Vancouver, B.C. – September 2008. Image: HFN

Perennial. Zone 3.  Asteraceae. Eastern North America.

In the months of lavender, late summer

and early fall…

…in the ageing fields

ironweed opens bright fur to nectar moths…

Purple Asters ~ Robert Morgan ~ 1981

My first glimpse of Ironweed at the UBC Botanical Garden in Vancouver left me completely smitten. I’d certainly heard about it before, often recommended as a back-of-border fall-bloomer, but the reality of the eye-popping neon purple and the intricacy of the flower clusters was hugely more appealing than any of the rather washy photos I’d seen.

Vernonia is a huge genus estimated at over 1000 species worldwide. A number of the tropical species are important food plants, producing edible foliage. I have not yet heard of a similar use for any of the more temperate varieties, though a study of ethnobotany would doubtless find culinary and medicinal uses on this continent as well.

Of the 17 Vernonia species documented in North America, noveboracensis is probably the best-known. It is named after the English botanist William Vernon who first collected specimens of the plant in Maryland in 1698. The specific name, noveboracensis, refers to its wide occurrence in the state of New York, and indeed through a large range on the eastern seaboard from Massachusetts to Mississippi. It does not appear to be native to Canada, though it is now widely available from specialist nurseries in this country.

Ironweed’s common name most likely comes from the rusty-red colour of the seedheads. As the vivid purple petals eventually wither and turn brown, clinging to their calyxes, small puffs of rather dandelion-like seed clusters emerge. These are eagerly consumed by chickadees and other small seed eaters, who love to perch on the sturdy ironweed clumps to forage for food and to survey their surroundings from a safe height.

The stems of ironweed are also iron-strong, as one of the UBC gardeners joked to me. This is not a flower to be casually snapped off – pruning shears are definitely in order when harvesting blooms for bouquets. And you will definitely want to do that. The vivid purple tassels contrast perfectly with other fall bloomers; the paler mauve Joe-Pye Weed, any of the Rudbeckia, Echinacea and taller Sedums, late-blooming Phlox paniculata, plume poppy, the Michaelmas daisies and the last of the annual sunflowers all combine to make a sweetly fragrant and long-lasting autumn arrangement.

Ironweed is definitely a wildflower; unkind souls might even dismiss it as rather weedy. Undeniable – I certainly would not place it in a front-row position. At the border back it provides a nice foliage presence to frame more “domesticated” earlier flowers, and, once these are over, a welcome burst of colour to usher in autumn.

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A closer look at the bloom clusters. Note the unique “checkering” of the buds. Image: HFN

                         October inherits summer’s hand-me-downs: the last of the ironweed, its purple silken tatters turning brown, and the tiny starry white asters tumbling untidily on the ground like children rolling with laughter…

Rural Free ~ Rachel Peden ~ 1961 

This is a rambly sort of Plant Portrait; I really do like this plant. Perhaps I should concentrate on its garden attributes. Read on! (If you so wish.)

Brilliant purple, sweetly fragrant tassel-flowers emerge from clusters of elongated, geometrically-checkered buds mid-August through September.

Foliage is undeniably rather coarse. Heavy, pointed and lightly serrated 6 to 8 inch long, lanceolate leaves are dark green with paler undersides. THese are arranged alternately along the sturdy stems.

This ironweed is a sturdy clump-former, 4 to 6 feet tall, with a 2 to 4 foot spread. It grows largest on moist soils. It does not run from roots. It may self seed, but is not invasive in my experience.  For shorter, bushier plants, cut back when 24″ tall; new growth will quickly re-sprout and produce double the flowers in late summer on more compact plants.

Handsome in its own rough way, Ironweed is best sited as a back-of-border or wild garden plant. It comes into its own in late summer and fall when the main perennials bloom seasons is over.

Rather similar in effect and garden use to Joe-Pye Weed (Eupatorium) but colour is much more vibrant, being a “neon” shade of bright purple. Blooms fade to red-rusty brown, which is likely the reason for the common name.

A grand bee and butterfly flower, and an important nectar source in late summer. It is visited by migrating hummingbirds as they travel southward. The seed heads may be left on plant to provide seed for wild birds (though this may result in self-sown seedlings next year), or clipped off. Sturdy stems stand up to heavy snowfall; a favourite perch for small seed-eating birds if the seed heads remain.

Oh, and it’s deer resistant.

Widely adaptable to most situations. Likes moisture but tolerant of dryness. Prefers soil on the acidic side, but happily tolerates alkalinity.

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