Three Neat Plants – Late May

Iris pallida Aureovariegata and Symphytum Axminster Gold May 28 08

Text and photos ©Nancy J. Ondra

Ah, so many neat plants, so little time. I’ve been saving up a few of my current favorites to share with you, starting with the two above: variegated sweet iris (Iris pallida ‘Variegata'; also sold as ‘Aureovariegata’) on the left and ‘Axminster Gold’ comfrey (Symphytum x uplandicum) on the right. (Yes, yes, I know the rules say that you shouldn’t plant variegated plants right next to each other, but I do think these two work.)

Iris pallida \'Variegata\' late May 07

Iris pallida 'Variegata' foliage mid May 07Variegated sweet iris has been in full bloom for about a week now, with relatively ordinary blue-purple blooms that offer one special feature: a great grape-popsicle scent. It’s very pretty in flower, but it’s even better as a foliage accent through the growing season, with a wide creamy yellow stripe on each grayish green leaf. Its bold striping brings it perilously close to being gaudy, but somehow, it never seems to cross the line (or at least, it hasn’t yet for me). This one reaches about 16 inches tall in leaf and 24 to 30 inches tall in bloom.

Iris pallida \'Argentea Variegata\' with Salvia \'Caradonna\' and Salvia argentea May 28 08

Iris pallida 'Argentea Variegata' late May 07There’s also another form of variegated sweet iris: I. pallida ‘Argentea Variegata’, shown above and at right. This one tends to stay much shorter here: to about 1 foot in leaf and maybe 18 inches in bloom. Instead of the creamy yellow, it has an icy white stripe on each leaf. I like this one too, but not as much as ‘Variegata'; the overall appearance of ‘Argentea Variegata’ just seems somewhat cold and stiff, while ‘Variegata’ is much more cheerful and lively.

It’s usually not hard to find either of these locally, I think, but if you want to mail-order them, Greenwood Daylily Gardens is one source that carries both, though their order form doesn’t seem to be active at the moment. (Note that they list ‘Aureovariegata’ as ‘Zebra’ and ‘Variegata’ as ‘White Zebra’.) These two irises grow well for me in full sun to half-day sun (either morning or afternoon) in average, well-drained soil.

Symphytum \'Axminster Gold\' with Rosa \'Guinevere\' late May 07

Symphytum 'Axminster Gold' foliage mid May 07Now, it’s a bit unfair to show and tell you how wonderful ‘Axminster Gold’ Russian comfrey is, because it’s apparently very difficult to find. But if you enjoy variegated foliage, you’ll know it’s worth every bit of effort you spent finding it once you grow it for yourself. Unlike other comfreys, this one stays where you put it. I truly wish it would spread a bit! The large grayish green leaves are broadly bordered with a nice lemony yellow that softens toward more of a butter yellow toward bloom time. Mine’s been in bloom for about a week now. In another week, I’ll cut the whole thing to the ground, then let it resprout for a good mound of fresh foliage that looks good through the summer.

‘Axminster Gold’ reaches about 30 inches tall in bloom for me, and fills a spot about 30 inches across. Full sun with moist soil is fine, but afternoon shade would probably be an excellent idea in sites that dry out occasionally, because the leaves can be prone to scorching otherwise. Compost-enriched soil that stays somewhat moist (but not soggy) seems to be ideal. If you want to try ‘Axminster Gold’, Seneca Hill Perennials lists it but says that they’re sold out until next spring, so maybe you’d want to try to get on their waiting list, if they have one. I see the Variegated Foliage Nursery has it on their web site as well.

Lamium orvala early June 07

Lamium orvala in bloom late May 07And one more plant that I think is neat, even though it’s not variegated (oh, if only it were…): Lamium orvala. I have very little shade here at Hayefield, but this gem gets my prime shady spot, with a few hours of morning sun and bright shade for the rest of the day. It grows fine for me in average, somewhat moist but well-drained soil, though it also seems to tolerate some dryness as well as occasional sogginess. Its prime feature is the clusters of relatively large, rosy pink flowers, which appear through most of May here, but its dense, upright, 1-foot-tall clumps of neatly tiered green leaves also look good through the whole growing season. This lamium has stayed in distinct, non-running clumps for me. I find a seedling or two once in a while, but not nearly as often as I could wish.

Well, darn, I just tried to track down a source for this one, and it’s harder to find than I thought. Seneca Hill Perennials offers it, but like the comfrey, it’s sold out until spring of 2009.  Oh, yay, I see that Arrowhead Alpines apparently has it available too! I used to also have a white-flowered form known as ‘Silva’, but finding a US source for that seems to be a lost cause. Sure wish I’d kept a better eye on it when I moved, so I still had it. But really, it wasn’t nearly as lovely as this pink one.

15 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Lisa at Greenbow on May 31, 2008 at 10:24 pm

    Nan, I have one of these varigated irises and it isn’t even setting blooms yet. I have always wanted one of those varigated comfrey’s and haven’t run across one yet. I finally have a place for one now. Maybe I will have to look around a little more. Lamium is one that doesn’t do well in my dry shade. I have several but none have lived up to the invasive reputation they have in other gardens.

    Hmmm…maybe the iris isn’t getting enough sun? That’s all I can think of. I think it’s pretty even if it doesn’t bloom; the flowers don’t last long anyway.

    I think I need to start a nursery again and sell just ‘Axminster Gold’!
    -Nan

  2. I really like the foliage of the ‘Axminster Gold’. It could look great with all sorts of plants. The irises are great too!

    It really is a beauty, Dave. I’m not sure how it would handle your heat, though. The iris would look really good in your garden, I think!
    -Nan

  3. Posted by ourfriendben on June 1, 2008 at 8:56 am

    Ah, yes! I also love Iris pallida ‘Variegata’, and have been hard pressed not to swipe a rhizome from my neighbor’s water garden. But since he’s been lusting after ‘Gerald Darby’ from the second it showed up here (and *many* thanks for that!!!), perhaps I can arrange for a swap. I love all comfreys, and have four or five here at Hawk’s Haven (mercifully, I can give leaves to the chickens or add them to the compost, so I don’t have to worry about them taking over the world). Now I’ll have to look for ‘Axminster Gold’ to add to the national comfrey collection! Thanks (I think…).

    If your neighbor isn’t in the mood to share, I may be able to part with some later this summer. Maybe you need ‘Belsay Gold’ comfrey too (new foliage is chartreuse). It’s a spreader, though.
    -Nan

  4. Finally emerging from the fog of too much work, not enough Internet (my ISP has had some issues) and other dramatics. I’m really glad to hear about the Axminster Gold comfrey, because I’ve looked at it a few times and been tempted, but also didn’t want to chase it around the property. Now I’ll go get some, so thanks, Nancy!

    Good to see you again, Jodi. Yes, if you can find ‘Axminster Gold’, grab it!
    -Nan

  5. I like the two variegated plants side by side. It works for me. I have a variegated iris. Love it.

    Welcome, Jane Marie! Normally I agree with the “keep variegates separate” approach, because I like to be able to admire each individually, and that often means giving them solid-color companions. But when they’re as similar in color but different in form, as these two are, I can sometimes make an exception.

    I’m glad you’re growing and enjoying the iris too!
    -Nan

  6. Ha! You answer a question I wasn’t even actively asking – I received Iris ‘Aureovariegata’ in a nice trade last year, but was wondering why the stripes weren’t yellow. Now I know I have the Argento version. I also know I should be sad that my Lamium orvala seed didn’t sprout.

    Hi Rob! I think the lamium seed has to be *very* fresh to have any hope of sprouting. Some reports claim that it self-sows freely; I don’t think I’d mind if it did that for me.
    -Nan

  7. Hey, I live fairly close to the Variegated Foliage Nursery! I will have to take a ride so thank you for that tip and those great combinations.

    Ooh, lucky girl! I hear that’s the best way to get plants from them. Let us know what you find.
    -Nan

  8. Ooooh… you have an ‘Axminster Gold!’ And, even better, you gave me a source for it–thank you!!! I have seriously coveted that plant ever since I saw it at the Cleveland Botanical Garden last year. (Before that, it was a little flicker of desire. After seeing it in person, full-on plant lust.)

    Yep, you *need* it, Kim. If you have trouble tracking down a source, let me know.
    -Nan

  9. Took that ride today and am now the proud owner of ‘Axminster Gold’, a new dogwood and a simple little Kolkwitzia.

    Wow, that was quick, Layanee! It’s super to know that they really do have it available. It’s expensive but worth every penny. Enjoy!
    -Nan

  10. Please Lord—let my garden grow up and look like Nancy J Ondras!!! Oh my goodness yes you can put anything beside anything you want to. It all looked so good. Right now I’m watering cause it’s drought time. I sure am thankful I hauled in a bunch of good mulch last month. Thanks for all the pretty pics.

    Oh, Anna, you’re funny. We’ve been very lucky to have lots of rain recently, but we’re at the beginning of an extended hot period, and I just finished by spring planting, so I’ll be watering soon too.
    -Nan

  11. I’m so glad to see that you combine variegated plants. I have started doing that (or rather the plants have done it), but then I like breaking rules. And a non-running Lamium – I might have to make room for that. Maybe it’ll cross with all my other Lamiums (which have crossed with each other).

    Oh, MMD – if we could get a Lamium orvala with the silver markings of Lamium maculatum, that would be awesome. I hope you can find the orvala and get it established in your garden so the bees can get busy.
    -Nan

  12. I like these 2 variegated plants together. I agree..they look good! Lucky Layanee to live close to a source for the Axminster Gold! My wish list grows every time I visit your blog, Nan :)
    You’re right about the yellow/green iris..it’s definitey more cheerful than the staid Argentea, although they’re both pretty.
    My 2 lamiums self-sow and spread quite freely. Both are variegated and very pretty (White Nancy, and a pinkish purple..not sure of the variety). We’re thinking of planting some on our front bank.

    You know me, Kerri: always glad to enable others’ plant obsessions!
    Your lamiums sound lovely. I just don’t have enough shade for them here.
    -Nan

  13. I have to second Anna’s comment. Every time I read your posts I get major plant lust; I definitely have a strong case of the “grass is greener” when I see what kinds of fantastic plants you gardeners in cooler climes can grow. Of course, it’s not just about the plants you have but the way you put them together.

    I do grow one variegated plant that mild blend in with the iris and comfrey, I think, a variegated American agave. I’m not that fond of agave but it’s what survives here.

    The feeling is mutual, mss: You have oodles of cool stuff that won’t thrive for us. But, at least we can enjoy them vicariously through each others’ blogs. You’re right that the yellow-variegated agave has a somewhat similar look to the iris. Come to think of it, I have a white-variegated American agave too, and that one is correspondingly kind of similar to the white-variegated sweet iris.
    -Nan

  14. In 2005 I got Iris laevigata ‘Variegata’ from Seneca Hill, which originally came from Joe Eck of North Hill fame. It has yet to bloom for me, partly because it got swamped by another plant and I almost lost it. It is a white striped variegation. I have it situated near enough to a clump of variegated bulbous oat grass that you can see them in the same glance. As you say, similar in color, different in form.

    Hi Kathy! Yep, the variegated laevigata is even showier than the white-variegated pallida. You know, I wasn’t even sure the variegated laevigata flowered, because it hasn’t for me. But at the place I’m working now, they have huge clumps of it that are loaded with buds, so I’ll get to see lots of it in a week or two. I like your idea of echoing it with the variegated bulbous oat grass.
    -Nan

  15. Posted by Bruce on June 23, 2009 at 9:30 am

    Hi – I’m trying to find Axminster Gold’ Russian comfrey. I just started growing comfrey, and I love it, but I find that it’s hard to find. Any help with finding comfrey source with different varieties, or online retailer would be greatly appreciated. Thanks for all your help.

    Thanks ever so much – Bruce

    You could try Variegated Foliage Nursery. Good luck!
    -Nan

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