Three Neat Plants – Mid-August

Ceratotheca triloba 'Alba' at Hayefield

I’ll be putting up my Garden Bloggers Bloom Day post up over at Gardening Gone Wild this month, but there’s so much going on outside that I was able to pick out three pretty cool plants for a post here as well. Two of my mid-August picks have great flowers and one has…well, it’s hard to explain why I like it, so I’ll save it for last.

Ceratotheca triloba 'Alba' at Hayefield

This first one I’m absolutely in love with: white-flowered South African foxglove (Ceratotheca triloba ‘Alba’). I have mixed feelings about white flowers, but I adore this one without reservation: The blooms open a bright, clear white and generally stay that way for a few days before dropping off neatly, so there are no ugly browning blooms to spoil the pristine appearance. I also appreciate the fact that this plant lets me pretend that I can actually succeed with foxgloves (my luck with the classic Digitalis purpurea is irregular, at best).

Ceratotheca triloba 'Alba' at Hayefield

I started the seeds for this elegant annual indoors in early March and set out the seedlings about 1 foot apart in the third week of May, once it seemed unlikely that we’d get any more frosts. The seedlings took a few weeks to settle in and start growing vigorously, but by mid-July, they were about 3 feet tall and opening their first buds. Now, a month later, they are still flowering freely, and they’re closer to about 5 feet tall. The plants will keep flowering until frost and top out at about 6 feet tall. (If you prefer plants that are lower and bushier, you can pinch out the shoot tips in early to mid-June to promote branching.)

South African foxglove grows well in either full or half-day sun and average garden soil. ‘Alba’ is simply stunning, but the straight species, with its pale purple blooms, is a beauty too. I can’t imagine why it’s so hard to find seeds of South African foxglove: The plants set seed generously, and it’s easy to collect. (If you let some drop, the plants may self-sow as well.) At the moment, I can’t find any commercial sources for ‘Alba’, but you can often get it through the Hardy Plant Society – Mid-Atlantic Group’s seed exchange (one of many excellent reasons to join). Select Seeds may have plants and seeds of the straight species for sale; check here for more information.

Patrinia scabiosifolia at Hayefield

My next current favorite is not all that unusual, but I like it anyway: golden lace (Patrinia scabiosifolia). I remember first learning about this perennial back in the early 1990s, through the catalog of the now-closed and much-missed Holbrook Farm and Nursery in North Carolina. I tried to get it going in my old garden but gave up after a few unsuccessful attempts. I tried again here at Hayefield a few years ago and finally got lucky, I think because I started with a fairly small plant and left it in one spot. (I’ve found that the seedlings move fairly easily, but once they have more than 6 leaves or so, they seem to sulk for a while when moved and sometimes just disappear altogether. However, I’ve heard of other gardeners having the opposite experience – poor  luck with seedlings and good luck setting out established plants – so you may need to experiment to see what works for you.)

Patrinia scabiosifolia at Hayefield

As you can see in this photo, the seedlings vary in height and habit: Some tend to be tall (to 5 or 6 feet) with small flower clusters, while others are more compact (closer to 3 or 4 feet), with broader flower heads. I think they’re all great, and they’re very popular with insects too. The effect is much like that of dill, but the color lasts much longer (here in PA, it’s usually in bloom from mid- or late July well into fall). The reddish to orange fall color of the foliage and stems can be exceptional, too.

Patrinia scabiosifolia at Hayefield

Golden lace is fine in average, well-drained garden soil and adapts to either full sun or light shade in Zones 5 to 9. Two on-line sources for the plants are Digging Dog (which lists it with the eccentric common name of “camel’s cover” – don’t ask me!) and Plant Delights. I should give you one warning about golden lace: There are reports that Patrinia is an alternate host for the fungus that causes daylily rust, though what effect that may have on daylilies in American gardens seems to be inconclusive at the moment. I leave it to your own conscience whether you feel irresponsible growing it. For more information, you may want to check out the page on Daylily Rust on the American Hemerocallis Society site.

And now, my third pick: false hemp (Datisca cannabina). I first learned about this one through Piet Oudolf’s Dream Plants for the Natural Garden, and generally, I’ve found that if he likes a plant, it’s worth a try. Plus, I get a pathetic little thrill from growing plants with, you know, *that* word in the botanical name, such as hemp dogbane (Apocynum cannabinum), hemp agrimony (Eupatorium cannabinum), and hemp-leaved hollyhock (Althaea cannabina). For the most part, that bit of name-naughtiness is about the best reason I have for growing this plant, because as far as I can tell, it doesn’t look that much like you-know-what.

Datisca cannabina at Hayefield

False hemp produces upright, 6- to 8-foot-tall, green stems that carry bright green, deeply cut, pinnate leaves and yep, greenish flowers too, so basically, it’s just green. One point of interest is that some plants are male and others are female: the former have somewhat denser bloom clusters, while the females have stringier clusters that develop into chains of small, green seed capsules. The weight of these capsules tends to weigh down the stem tips, so they develop an attractive arching effect.

Datisca cannabina at Hayefield

False hemp grows fine for me in full sun to light shade in average, well-drained soil. It’s listed for Zones 8 to 9 in Oudolf’s book, but it’s been fully hardy here in mid-Zone 6, and I’ve seen references to it being hardy in Zone 5 as well. It’s not a plant you’d depend on for a focal point, but it’s something different for the back of perennial or mixed border. Seeds are available from Plant World Seeds. Plants are available from Plant Delights.

11 responses to this post.

  1. I like the split rail fence that adds to the balance and elegant verses rustic look. All your plnats are unusual and happy looking. I love white and once did an all white garden. It was at its best during dusk.

    Thanks for visiting, Anna. It’s funny: I hardly notice the fence anymore, but it does show up in a lot of the pictures I take here, I guess because there’s so much of it.
    -Nan

  2. Posted by Sylvia (England) on August 15, 2008 at 6:04 am

    Thanks Nan, three plants I hadn’t heard of. Ceratotheca triloba ‘alba’ looks lovely but I can’t find any source for the white version. Foxgloves grow easily for me so I will not miss it too much. I do like growing annuals but usually start off more than I have room or time to plant out!

    Lovely pictures of three very nice plants – Thank you. Best wishes Sylvia (England)

    I still envy you and others the ability to grow true foxgloves well. The flower spikes of the African foxglove aren’t nearly as large or full, but at least the effect is somewhat similar.
    -Nan

  3. Hi Nan, you have shown me one plant I have heard of but never see in garden centers, I used to order from Holbrook’s too, the Patrina. I like the flower form and tallness. I have never heard of the other two, and like them both, although the hemp is a bit course for most of my beds. And thanks again for the seed folding packet, I am making some to hold seeds today! They are so elegant.

    When I pot up patrinia seedlings, they always seem to look miserable; maybe that’s why large-scale growers don’t produce them? I do agree that the false hemp is rather too large and gangly for most beds. It’s not bad in a shrub border, though; mine are mixed into a row of viburnums. I’m glad you’re having fun with the seed packets!
    -Nan

  4. I’m writing down the Latin name of that African false foxglove. I haven’t had good luck with real foxgloves here either, so this looks like a good alternative. I’ll be content with the purple form until the white becomes more widely available. I wonder if that last plant is called false hemp because of its flowers. Please don’t ask why I would think this. I refuse to answer on the grounds that it may tend to incriminate me.

    I meant to mention that I plan to collect seed from the white African foxgloves and should have plenty, so I’d be delighted to share. And uh, sure, I’d never ask why you’d think it might be the flowers that give false hemp its name. I know it can’t be due to the leaves, because, well, you know, I’ve seen pictures of them in my old textbook from Field Crops class.
    -Nan

  5. The false hemp looks like it might make a good candidate for dried arrangements.

    Hmmm, I hadn’t thought of that. Maybe I’ll cut one or two of the females and see how they dry. Thanks!
    -Nan

  6. I’m with you on the white flowers, but I’ve learned that you really need a few to enhance the colors of the others. This foxglove is a wonderful white though. It looks very stately and regal.

    It’s not nearly as full and showy as the “real” foxglove, but it does have an elegance of its own. I’m glad you liked it too!
    -Nan

  7. Nan: You are a wealth of knowledge and I always, always, learn something new here. The foxglove looks like a winner. Will have to try some seeds.

    The offer’s good for you too, Layanee, and for anyone else: If you want to try some of the seeds, let me know your snail-mail address at ondra at verizon dot net, and I’ll send some along later this fall.
    -Nan

  8. Posted by ourfriendben on August 18, 2008 at 10:47 am

    Hey Nan! Boy, do those photos of patrinia and mention of Holbrook bring back memories! (Remember my White Trash Terrarium?) And, well, could it be that your last plant is called “false hemp” because the fibers from its stems can be used like its namesake to make rope? Just a thought.

    Oh, gosh, the terrarium – how could I have forgotten? I’ll look into the possibility of datisca being used for fiber. That’s how the hemp dogbane (Apocynum cannabinum) got its name, apparently, since it clearly looks nothing like the true hemp plant. Thanks for the suggestion!
    -Nan

  9. I wasn’t familiar with any of these plants. I really like the golden lace plant and I love the way you have used it along the fence. Very pretty!

    Thanks, Phillip! I think the patrinia would look great in your garden. Do try it if you get a chance.
    -Nan

  10. Posted by Nancy on August 21, 2008 at 12:48 pm

    I’m so thrilled by the plants you feature! I’ve grown ceratotheca in the past both in narrow columnar containers and this year out in the open garden. I love the fuzzy but elegant flower spikes. I, too, have been frustrated in my various hit-or-miss attempts over the years to keep digitalis growing/going, and have found that ceratotheca is not miffy about growing in various shady and not so shady locations in my CT garden. Fortunately for me, a grower near here has plants available in both lavendar and white colour forms every year, since recently I haven’t been able to find seed on-line.
    I’ve loved patrinia since I first saw it in a garden center a year or so ago. I bought it precisely because in flower it reminded me of dill. Currently, I have it happily consorting with heleniums and various “blue” flowered asters and taller growing cranesbills, backed up by a wiegela with yellow-variegated foliage in my wildish garden and am loving the plants “mixability” — and all the happy bees and butterflies that have stopped in to check out the show!

    Welcome, Nancy! Apparently we share similar tastes in plants. Your patrinia combos sound great. I think you need to start your own blog so you can share pictures with the rest of us!
    -Nan

  11. Posted by lisa at greenbow on August 23, 2008 at 8:11 pm

    I just love the foxglove. I have never seen it before. I would love to give it a try. My garden is so dry not much is blooming.

    We’re terribly dry here too, and the African foxglove is still performing well, considering. I think I still have your mailing address; if not, I’ll get in touch at seed-sharing time.
    -Nan

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