Seed-swapping is one of the great traditions of gardening and gardeners are generous souls. I’m very pleased to be growing plants from seeds obtained from gardeners around the country–specifically Nancy Ondra at Hayefield, Alicia Maynard at Sweetbay and Rob Broekhuis at Rob’s Plants. They have introduced me to many fine garden plants–several now indispensable. Here are some that did well in my northeastern Kansas garden in 2014.
– Verbascum thapsus ‘Governor George Aiken’ (Click title for photo at Hayefield.)
I had long heard tales of a white-flowering Mullein, Verbascum thapsus, and came across a picture of V. ‘Governor George Akin’ on the Hayefield blog in 2013. As luck would have it, Nancy was giving away seeds of that same Verbascum, and even more luck produced nine healthy plants set out last Fall. I’m hoping for five-foot spires of snow-white flowers from June through September but V. thapsus is tricky in the garden. These are not plants to be coddled. They grow in profusion in sun-blasted, bone-dry rubble along train tracks and riverbanks, but too much shade and water in the garden and they soon rot away. I planted them in sun-scorched earth but Kansas winters are wet and mucky, so fingers crossed for the Governors.
– One Plant, Three Seasons: Amsonia hubrichtii (Click title for article and photos.)
“Here in southeastern Pennsylvania, Arkansas bluestar comes into bloom in the first or second week of May and continues into the first or second week of June. Its light blue color looks great with white, silvery, and pastel partners. …After the bloom period, the key summer features of Arkansas bluestar are its rich green color, its fine texture, and its dense, mounded habit. …Toward the end of the growing season, Arkansas bluestar really takes center stage.” – Nancy Ondra, Hayefield.
A Winter-sowing of Amsonia hubrichtii yielded 13 plants, nine making it through to wispy, foot-tall youngsters in gallon pots, now buried and mulched to overwinter. Amsonia seed need cold to germinate, barely covered and pressed into the soil. Sow seeds in pots no later than early January (I sow in Autumn), put them outside, and start looking for seedlings as weather warms up at the end of March. My two-year-olds should make airy 3′ x 3′ mounds in three years, with pale blue, star-like flowers in May and brilliant yellow foliage color in Autumn. The young plants hinted at their forthcoming glory last Fall, bright yellow threads in the dying grasses. I’ll follow Ondra’s lead and inter-plant my patch of Amsonia with blue asters. You can’t go wrong with yellow and blue.
– One Plant, Three Seasons: Patrinia scabiosifolia (Click title for article and photos.)
“Is it possible for any gardener to have just one favorite plant? For most of us, I imagine, it’s tough to get closer than a top 5 or top 10. But if you asked me that question at this time of year and insisted on one top pick, I wouldn’t hesitate to choose Patrinia scabiosifolia (or scabiosaefolia, as some sources prefer to list it).” – Nancy Ondra, Hayefield.
I now have seven plants of Hayefield’s Patrinia, four of which bloomed last year. The tallest reached seven feet before toppling in a storm. The flat-topped clusters of small, chrome-yellow flowers looked great against vines of white morning glory and orange black-eyed susan, and the foliage turned bright red in October. Like the chartreuse bracts of the Euphorbia clan, Patrinia‘s bright flowers complement most color schemes. A good see-through plant–I have several at the front of a border so passers-by can observe the great variety of insects swarming the flowers. So far in this garden, Patrinia rivals Sedum x ‘Autumn Joy’–now Hylotelephium telephium ‘Autumn Joy’–as a bug attractor.
Patrinia transplants best in early Spring, just as the leaves emerge, and goes into a deep sulk otherwise. I agree with Nancy Ondra: this is a Top 10 plant.
– Sanguisorba tenuifolia var purpurea, Japanese Burnet (Click title for picture at Hayefield.)
“Sanguisorbas are the height of fashion right now, and deservedly so, for they provide flowing movement and have an elegant willowy presence. They have finely toothed pinnate foliage, above which long-lasting flowers hold themselves high on wiry stems. They associate brilliantly with equally tall, airy grasses, spired and whorled veronicastrums, and taller daisies.” – Telegraph
I planted four young Sanguisorba tenuifolia purpurea, Japanese burnet, among Miscanthus, Gaura, Nepeta and white Verbascum last Autumn, germinated from a Winter sowing in early January 2014. Might be too hot and dry for them in Summer, though extra mulch and water will help. I’m hoping they’ll be as tough as Hayefield’s Patrinia.
– Fields of Gold: Bidens aristosa (Click title to link article at Sweetbay.)
“April/May and September are peak months in my garden. In September the big star is Bidens but there are other things in bloom too. All of that golden yellow needs some contrasts.” – Alicia Maynard
Three years ago, Alicia Maynard of Sweetbay sent me seeds of Bidens aristosa after I expressed admiration for her spectacular Bidens borders. I now have plenty of Bidens and the September garden shimmers. Almost too much of a good thing; Bidens self-seeds easily and several species are considered invasive. In garden beds, it takes diligent weeding to keep in check but three-inch seedings pull up easily and transplant fairly well. Bidens is a great asset to the Fall garden, masses of mustard-yellow flowers, and an end-of-the-season boon for insects. I did some research on Bidens in a previous post: Three Bidens: aurea, aristosa, coronata.
– Eryngium yuccifolium, Rattlesnake Master (Click title to link article at Rob’s Plants.)
“Scattered along the stiff, upright stem of this unusual perennial are tough, blue-green, yucca-like, parallel-veined leaves. Smooth, rigid stem bearing thistle-like flower heads made up of small greenish-white florets mingled with pointed bracts. The individual, greenish-white flowers cluster into unique, globular heads. These occur on branch ends atop the 6 ft. plant.” – Native Plant Database
Seed for Rattlesnake Master–Native Americans reputedly used it as a snakebite antidote–came from Rob Broekhuis of Rob’s Plants four years ago. I now have a 5′ x 4′ clump of three plants that bloom reliably in late July–insects love the branching scapes of spiny, spherical flowers. A member of the Carrot family, it does indeed resemble a fleshy Yucca with barbed, glaucous leaves–a somewhat modest plant after flowering when it tends to flop and flatten smaller neighbors. Plant something substantial around Eryngium yuccifolium or use twiggy branches for support. Good mingling with roses.
– Calamintha nepeta subsp. nepeta, Lesser Calamint (Click title to link article at Rob’s Plants.)
“The LESSER CALAMINT (Calamintha nepeta) is a variety of the herb possessing almost superior virtues, with a stronger odour, resembling that of Pennyroyal, and a moderately pungent taste somewhat like Spearmint, but warmer. It is scarcely distinct from C. officinalis, and by some botanists is considered a sub-species. The leaves are more strongly toothed, and it bears its flowers on longer stalks. Both this and the Common Calamint seem to have been used indifferently in the old practice of medicine under the name of Calamint.” – Botanical/A Modern Herbal
Rob sent seed of the species Calamintha nepeta subsp. nepeta three years ago and Calamint is now an indispensable plant in the garden–over two dozen plants to date. Fragrance, flowers, butterflies and bees, tough and compact, great filler, makes good tea… A beautiful, useful, care-free plant. Mine get to about 18 inches tall and wide, a bit sprawly but smaller and bushier if cut back by half in May. The cultivars ‘Blue Cloud’ and ‘White Cloud’ are tidier.
Drought-tolerant Calamint prefers full sun in its Mediterranean home but in Kansas requires little water when mulched and grown in some afternoon shade. If it wilts, water quickly, nip off withered stems and all will be well. It seems to like my barely amended clay soil and starts blooming here in early July, tiny bluish-white flowers borne in thousands, a low haze in the border. Calamint propagates easily through division and cuttings, and regularly self-sows–it is a mint, after all. If you don’t want volunteers, shear the plants immediately after flowering.