It seems we chose too many...
... as we selected from all the new
You took pictures of some plants in my garden when it
was on tour, and said you would write about them for your Michigan Gardener
magazine article. I watched for them but didn't see them. What
issue were they in? - S.B. -
This issue, right here.
We are very glad to write for the Michigan Gardener
magazine and work with its excellent publisher and editor. One of
the things we love there is being allowed and even encouraged to
freewheel. We even have some flexibility in article length.
However, there are times when the ideas we submit and available
pages don't fit. Then some of our words and pictures end up on the
cutting room floor.
For instance, here are perennials, including yours, that did not
make one of those final cuts. They remain on our new plant wish
list but didn't make it into our Michigan Gardener
article, Remarkable, unusual plants on our wish
We're holding a good sized, sunny space for "new" natives
"New" and "Native" may seem contradictory but what's been around
since before civilization can still be new when it's first brought
into garden cultivation, and again when a plantsperson hybridizes
or selects for special characteristics among seedlings.
It's very good to see that a lot of native species selection has
been going on recently. For too long, natives have been overlooked
and left standing in the field with names that draw sniggers:
Ironweed, beardtongue, papoose root, etc.
All the plants below need full sun -- that's six or more hours
each day of cast-a-shadow-light. In addition, all require very well
drained soil and enough water to prevent complete dry-down in their
Selections and hybrids of false indigo (Baptisia
False indigo is a big
plant, five feet tall and wide, which is why most gardens have room
for only one Baptisia. We tend to place this plant where
we need a pseudoshrub in snow-piling areas. It's plant with a
steady, significant presence even after bloom that can also be cut
right out of the picture every winter.
Right: This false indigo hybrid with bicolor flowers made
our new plant wish list. It's Baptisia x variicolor
'Twilite Prairieblues'. The plant itself is a good anchor for
any combination, with clean blue-green foliage and sturdy stems.
The bloom is icing on the cake, each blossom on the tall spike
blue-violet with a yellow streak. (Photo ©2012
Plenty of other false indigo hybrids are breaking onto the
garden scene. If purple and yellow aren't right for your color
scheme, Baptisia varieties can still fit the bill. There
are cultivars with cream, yellow and blue- white bicolor
Gaura (G. lindheimeri) 'Crimson Butterflies'
Gaura's floppiness always put us off, even more than its
tendency to come and go in northern hardiness zones. (Who can blame
a Texas native for preferring the South?)
Then we met 'Crimson Butterflies', just 18" from the ground to
the tips of its dark pink flower stems. The maroon foliage is
gorgeous and it has a very long bloom season.
Right: Gaura 'Crimson Butterflies' is a good
front-edge, fine texture, long bloomer, as here at the feet of this
We joked once while touring English gardens, "These Brits are
loopy for our North American Penstemon!" (The common name
is "beardtongue," referring to a velvety strip that lines one petal
like a furred tongue. Yet we've never heard anyone call it by that
Now it seems we've caught that fever. What you see here
(below, left) is a selection of foxglove beardtongue
(Penstemon digitalis) called 'Pretty Petticoats' in a
garden we planted two years ago. It grows about 3 feet tall, blooms
for a long time in early summer if it's deadheaded, and will
rebloom in fall as you see here if the growing is good in late
summer. (Photo taken in October.)
Above, right: Then there's Penstemon barbatus 'Pina
Colada'. Luscious! (Photo ©2012 PerennialResource.com)
We can say of these, "They are fine, upstanding garden citizens
in a clay loam and full sun," but we think we hear floodgates
creaking open. Perhaps we'll become beardtongue goofy now, and
start planting all the other, more finicky, shorter-lived
Penstemons. Ah well.
Culver's root (Veronicastrum virginicum)
Culver's root (Veronicastrum virginicum) is native all over eastern North America.
We love its neatly whorled foliage and thin white candelabras
(below) held at eye level in July. It's a welcome fresh
face and clean lines during the time when a perennial garden makes
its annual transition to more-things-done-than-still-to-come.
Once in a while you see a bit of pink in the flower of this or
that Veronicastrum seedling, so it's not surprising that
someone found a dark-leaved, pink-blooming type in the Asian
counterpart, Veronicastrum sibiricum, and propagated it as
'Red Arrow.' It doesn't qualify as a native but it's a plant
Janet's drawn to on many levels and is looking to include in her
personal heritage garden.
Showy goldenrod (Solidago speciosa)
There are so many beautiful goldenrods only a full-blown
Solidago review could properly honor them. We'll do that
one day. The list will certainly include
favorite edger (S. sphacelata), most dependable
accent (the hybrid 'Little Lemon'), a reminder that
the plant is not a
cause of hay fever, and our latest pick, this shining star:
Showy goldenrod (S. speciosa).
Right: Showy goldenrod (Solidago speciosa) is
featured here in seed, still passing in form and color for a
blooming plant. We think it's great with the red-gold fall color of
little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) to the left and
(Asclepias tuberosa) blushing seedpods in the
This five-foot plant is native just about everywhere east of the
Rockies. (It skipped Florida and Alabama, and blessed Ontario while
snubbing Saskatchewan and Alberta. Pondering the why of that is
another example of the great mental stimulation gardening offers.)
It's showy in golden bloom in August and continues to glow right
into October as yellow seedheads. Its dense flower heads are a
welcome switch from the feathery explosion-type goldenrods (top of
the page) that have already stepped from wildflower to mainstream
This is a plant that spreads by rhizomes (root-like underground
stems), but its vigor, speed and controllability track more closely
with blackeye Susan and daisy than the "weed" goldenrods.
When a bit of moxie is a good thing: The aggressiveness of
some goldenrod species can be a good thing. We featured the
struggle between this goldenrod and a Virginia creeper vine in an
article about managing wildflower plantings in What's
Letterman threadleaf ironweed
(Vernonia lettermanii 'Iron Butterfly)
The trouble with many sunny Midwest native plantings is that so
few of the plants are short, or even mid-sized. Any group of
massed, tall plants tends to strike the common viewer as weedy.
Most Vernonia species (let's ditch the common name,
ironweed) are so tall that gardeners seeing one for the first time
will usually remark on height even before noting the desirable
bloom time and color. They say, "What is that very tall plant with
dark purple flowers in August?"
However, our choice of threadleaf Vernonia is a variety
called 'Iron Butterfly' and only about three feet tall at maturity.
Long lived like peonies, these plants take some time to bulk up
below ground before they hit their full height. Those
pictured here are in their first year, still under 18 inches and
just beginning to bloom in late September. They offer nectar for
the last flight of Monarch butterflies.
As these plants age we'll probably pinch them once or twice
in late spring and early summer, or forgo rabbit protection until
Independence Day. Then they'll bloom short and late, just like the
native Joe Pye (Eupatorium species) and other later
bloomers do when treated this way.
'Iron Butterfly' Vernonia may be at the edge of its
hardiness in USDA zone 6. The jury's still out. We follow the lead
of growers such as Tony Avent of Plant Delights nursery to say,
"Give it a try! Tell us what happens. We'll compile and pass along
Most of my garden contains ignorant plants. Fortunately since
they cannot read the books, they do not know they shouldn't be able
to exist in my garden." - Dennis Groh -
"New" and "Native" makes a never ending list
There are other native species on our current Wish List. If
you'd like to beef up this "new" native planting, check into Choosing
perennials for our picks of new plants from the native
species Coreopsis, Gaillardia, Heuchera,
marsh mallow Hibiscus, and mountain mint
(Pycnanthemum). All hail from North America; all except
Heuchera occur naturally in the Great Lakes region.