Posts Tagged ‘Summer’


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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