Posts Tagged ‘Full Sun’

Perennial Cornflower blooming in late May, 2014 around the ruined foundation of an old ranch house near Roberts Lake.

Centaurea montana – Perennial Cornflower blooming in late May, 2014 around the ruined foundation of an old ranch house near Roberts Lake, northeast of Williams Lake, B.C. Obviously a relic of a one-time cherished garden, for nestled in the grass growing over the tumbled foundation stones we also found creeping sedums and a solitary Dianthus deltoides (Maiden Pink), as well as the ubiquitous rhubarb plants and a few straggly lilacs. Image: HFN

Perennial. Zone 2.  Asteraceae. Europe, “from the Ardennes in Belgium south to the Pyrenees in Spain and east to Poland and Yugoslavia, growing in subalpine meadows and open woods, flowering in May-July”, according to the reliable Roger Phillips and Martyn Rix, in their two-volume masterwork, The Random House Book of Perennials.

This is a clump former which spreads to 2 feet or so in diameter where happy, depending on stoloniferous underground stems to slowly expand its girth every year. Though not exactly shy about advancing on its garden neighbours, it is easy to keep in check in the garden by some judicious trowel work in the spring.

Deep green, silky-haired, broadly lanceolate leaves alternate up the multiple sturdy stems, which are topped by numerous black-bracted buds. These open into large, electric blue cornflowers in late May, and continue well into July.

Some years the plants may “bird’s nest” in heavy rainfall. If this happens, ruthlessly shear the whole plant back to 6 inches or so, and tactfully ignore it for a week or two; it will quickly recover and regrow into a much more tidy clump, and will usually rebloom later in the season.

An excellent bee plant and attractive to numerous species of butterflies.

Esteemed Ontario gardener Patrick Lima, in his 1987 book The Harrowsmith Perennial Garden, has this to say about the Mountain Bluet:

Early in June…and for almost a month, 2½ foot stems rise up, carrying the many dark blue thin-petalled blossoms that always remind me of little jets of flame.

Perennial cornflowers look best set in groups of three or more – a single plant makes little show – just back of front [in the border] in company with poppies, irises of any colour, dianthus and the like…They might be left out of smaller garden in favour of something showier…but are a good choice for next-to-no-maintenance flowerbeds that could include Siberian irises and daylilies.

Although they are not spectacular, perennial cornflowers are practically indestructible; A. Clutton-Brock says in Studies in Gardening (1916) that if the hardy cornflower “were not so easy, it would be prized, and it deserves to be more prized for its easiness.”

There is a white mutation of the common blue variety, ‘Alba’, which is very pretty, and a number of recent hybrids, of which the purple-centered, white-petalled ‘Amethyst in Snow’ shows great promise in my garden. There is also a golden-leaved, blue-flowered form, ‘Gold Bullion’, which looks rather interesting. These last two are patented hybrids from the venerable Blooms of Bressingham in England, and are often found in the “premium perennials” section of our better nurseries. (Try Richbar Nursery in Quesnel, and Art Knapp’s in Prince George.)

Flower bud detail showing the distinctive bracts. The Centaureas are also known as "Knapweed", and the highly invasive range Diffuse and Spotted knapweeds, Centaurea diffusa and Centaurea biebersteinii, are serious rangeland invaders, being highly unpalatable to grazers and browsers both wild and tame. We pulled some knapweed last year which appeared on the side of the railroad tracks which pass through Hill Farm, and the plants left a bitter residue on our hands even through our leather gloves, which took several days to completely subside despite numerous scrubbings. Our garden denizen Centaurea montana does not appear to be quite as unpalatable, but keep an eye on it and confine it to your garden, just to be on the safe side.

Flower bud detail showing the distinctive bracts. The Centaureas are also known as “Knapweeds” due to these overlapping bracts, and the highly invasive Diffuse and Spotted knapweeds, Centaurea diffusa and C. biebersteinii, are serious rangeland invaders, being completely unpalatable to grazers and browsers both wild and tame. We pulled some knapweed last year which appeared on the side of the railroad tracks which pass through Hill Farm, and the plants left a bitter residue on our hands even through our leather gloves, which took several days to completely subside despite numerous scrubbings. Our garden denizen C. montana does not appear to be quite as unpalatable – I have seen sheep eat it with great relish – but keep an eye on it regardless and confine it sternly to your garden, just to be on the safe side. Image: HFN

This Centaurea will be very familiar to those who garden in the Quesnel and Prince George regions, as it thrives in the cool, moist subclimates of the aspen-forested areas, and in some places has escaped gardens to form thriving naturalized colonies along road edges and in ditches, where it is very lovely in its long bloom season. There are some handsome specimens growing in Wells-Barkerville area gardens, and it grows up on the hillside behind the Barkerville Heritage Site buildings, where it coexists quite nicely with native lupines, Indian paintbrush (Castilleja), arnica and wild valerian.

The invasive plant people are keeping an eye on it, being concerned that it might some day become a pest, but I am not overly worried about it, as it has been grown in our region for well over a century, and its “naturalization” appears to be confined to areas of disturbed soil, or places where there have been previous gardens. In my own microclimate it has in fact proved rather difficult, apparently not caring much for my clay soil and sun-baked summers.

Sun to light shade; average soil and moisture. Very long-lived.

Naturalized at the site of an old garden, near Roberts Lake, B.C.

Naturalized at the gone-to-bush site of an old garden, near Roberts Lake, B.C. Image: HFN

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Eryngium planum 'Blue Cap" - thriving in less than ideal conditions at the 108 Heritage Site, Lac La Hache. We planted the raised perennial beds at the rest stop over 10 years ago with "tough, no-maintainence" plants, and it is quite interesting to see what has survived and, in some cases, thrived. This sea holly and Achillea filipendulina, Salvia nemerosa, Lychnis coronaria and Silene maritime, a goodly number of columbines, Erigeron 'Pink Jewel' and various sedums are hanging right in there. Exposed site, no supplementary water or fertilizer, and lots of traffic back and forth - we're pretty happy with how this planting has held up.

Eryngium planum ‘Blue Cap” – thriving in less than ideal conditions at the 108 Roadhouse Heritage Site, Lac La Hache. We planted the raised perennial beds at the rest stop there over 10 years ago with “tough, no-maintainence” plants, and it is quite interesting to see what has survived and, in most cases, thrived. This sea holly and Achillea filipendulina, Salvia nemerosa, Lychnis coronaria and Silene maritima, a goodly number of columbines, Erigeron ‘Pink Jewel’ and various sedums are hanging right in there. Exposed site, no supplementary water or fertilizer, and lots of traffic back and forth – we’re pretty happy with how this planting has held up. Photo taken in the late evening while stopping by for a quick break to stretch our road-trip weary legs, mid-August, 2012. Image: HFN

Perennial. Zone 2. Apiaceae. Central Europe, from Germany and Austria eastward to Russia; throughout the Caucasus Mountain region and into central Asia, where it grows happily in grassy meadows and on rocky, sun-baked hillsides.

I’ve been a die-hard fan of the sea hollies in general and this species in particular ever since my mother planted one out on her difficult-ground shale hillside north of Williams Lake over four decades ago. It self seeded about, and made a thriving colony, and provided untold hundreds of sturdy bloom stems which ended up being dried and made into everlasting wreaths and arrangements which Mom then gave to friends and sold at various arts-and-crafts sales.

It really is as blue as it looks, and the stems carry that cobalt blush as well, almost as if the whole thing were dusted with spray paint by someone seeking to enhance things.

Leathery, silvery-green, rounded leaves in basal rosettes send up 18-24” tall multi-branched stems topped by loose clusters of bristly, bracted, cone-shaped flower heads summer through fall.  Stems and flowers are flushed a deep electric blue. A very long season of bloom through summer into autumn.

An excellent cutflower and everlasting. A popular bee and butterfly flower, always alive with insect activity.

‘Blue Cap’ – translated from ‘Blaukappe’ – is a premium German selection of the species, and is even more compact and floriferous (and darker blue) than its attractive ancestor. A number of other E. planum cultivars have appeared in recent years, such as the very dwarf ‘Blue Hobbit’, and white forms such as ‘Silver Salentino’ and ‘White Glitter’.

A variegated form, ‘Jade Frost’, with pink-blushed, white-edged foliage, has been appearing in garden centres for a few years; I have a small planting of this cultivar and am at this point not terribly impressed, as one of the original trio mysteriously withered and died, and the other two are less vigorous than I had hoped for from this generally reliable species.

Sun; any soil; drought tolerant. Fantastic xeriscape plant. A generous self-seeder, but not a “runner” – individual plants stay put, and are tap rooted and very long lived. Oh – and it is reasonably deer resistant, too!


Definitely approved by bees! A late evening forager on ‘Blue Cap’ Sea Holly at the 108 Roadhouse Heritage Site at Lac La Hache, B.C., mid-August, 2012. Image: HFN

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Perennial. Zone 2. Lamiaceae. Native to Great Britain, Europe, West Asia, North Africa.

Deep green, pebbly-textured, rather pungently aromatic foliage is arranged in basal rosettes. The plant sends up numerous multi-branching stems to 2 ft. or so, which produce hundreds of large “dragon’s head” flowers from late spring into summer. These are a bright violet blue in the original species, and shades of indigo-violet, mauve-pink and white in a number of named cultivars.

Meadow Clary is very showy during its bloom phase; the spent flowers drop neatly off and new buds at the top of the bloom spikes open in succession for many weeks. These flowers are alive with bees and butterflies on sunny summer days, and are frequently visited by hummingbirds. Meadow Clary is also reported to be a deer resistant plant, which may be of interest if you are one of the many Cariboo gardeners besieged by our increasingly bold garden-invading deer population.

Historically, Meadow Clary was used by brewers as a substitute for true Clary Sage, Salvia sclarea, as a flavouring in beer making. Though there are a few mentions made in literature of its medicinal use, generally in cough mixtures and so on, Salvia pratensis is not considered a medicinal herb. Its centuries-old inclusion in gardens must therefore be assumed to be purely for the pleasure of its blooms, and quite possibly for its attractiveness to bees.

There are a number of modern named cultivars of Meadow Clary. ‘INDIGO’, a deep rich purple-blue, has received the coveted Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit. The ‘Meadow Ballet’ series is an excellent group, and includes ‘SWAN LAKE’ (pure white), ‘ROSE RHAPSODY’ (soft mauve-pink), ‘SWEET ESMERALDA’ (warm rich reddish violet), and ‘TWILIGHT SERENADE’ (soft violet blue). ‘MADELINE’ is a bi-coloured violet and white, and ‘MIDSUMMER’ is a pale violet-blue. There are numerous other pratensis cultivars available, especially in Germany, where the “meadow garden” incorporating ornamental grasses and grassland flowers is something of an art form. Some exciting new inter-specific crosses are being introduced which I will be watching for, such as a pratensis x sylvestris ‘ROYAL CRIMSON DISTINCTION’, a rich red-violet.

The original “unimproved” wild variety is also a very lovely thing!

Though the wild plants are reportedly very rare now in much of the former native range, Salvia pratensis and its cultivars are highly valued in ornamental gardens. I have grown this species and its cultivars for many years, and have found it easy, reliable and very lovely; it blooms with the earliest rugosa roses, and the rich violet blues, soft mauves and pure whites of the Meadow Clary set off the roses beautifully. Meadow Clary is also an excellent cutflower. Sun to very light shade; average soil & moisture. Drought tolerant once established. Mature plants are hardy and long lived, and self-sown seedlings are easy to either relocate to a desired location, or to weed out.

The plants will self-sow, but as the seeds take some time to fully ripen and drop, clipping off the bloom stalk when the last blossoms fall will prevent its seeding, if this is a concern. To purposely save seed for re-sowing, it is best to examine the maturing bloom stalks fairly frequently, and clip or pinch off the individual florets as the seeds, four small nutlets in a tight cluster, turn from tan to black. These should be further dried (I use paper lunch bags to allow for good air circulation) before storing away. Salvia pratensis germinates readily at warm temperatures, and the large seeds pressed gently into the surface of a flat of starter mix (light is beneficial to germination of all Salvias) should show sprouts within a few days.

Note: Though Meadow Clary has been grown worldwide in gardens for centuries as an ornamental, with the recent hyper-awareness regarding non-native (“exotic”) invasive species, there is some concern in parts of the United States that this species might naturalize and become a noxious weed in rangeland areas. It is therefore suggested that gardeners be aware of the self-seeding tendencies of their plants, and  prevent spread of Salvia pratensis (and, indeed, any ornamental plants) beyond the garden area. Clipping the bloom stalks after flowering is the best way to ensure this, though modest self-seeding within the perimeters of the garden is often encouraged by gardeners. I include this note not because I have found this species to be a problem in my garden, or in any others that I am aware off, but merely in the interests of “responsible gardening” at large.

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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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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.


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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