Text and photos ©Nancy J. Ondra
I have such a backlog of neat plants to write about that it was tough to choose just three for this edition, but I think I’ve found some winners to amuse and delight. First up is a little cutie: pink knotweed (Persicaria capitata; also known as Polygonum capitatum). I know, I know, knotweeds can be scary with their propensity to spread, and if I lived where this one was hardy (mostly USDA Zones 8 to 11), I doubt I’d find it so cute. But here in mid-Zone 6, it reseeds very modestly, and I count myself lucky to get a few seedlings each year.
I first acquired pink knotweed six or seven years ago, from seed from Chiltern. It had the cultivar name ‘Afghan’, but I can’t find any indication how (or if) it differs from the species, or from the other strains sold occasionally (such as ‘Pink Bubbles’). I planted the seedlings along the edge of my viburnum border, and they made a great edging. They reseeded nicely the next year – into the bark-mulched path, of course, not in the border, but that was fine, because they grow barely 3 inches tall.
The following year I almost lost them, because I spread a new layer of mulch on the paths in spring, and apparently it smothered most of the seeds. Fortunately, one seedling did appear and grow to flower and seed, and I’ve had a few seedlings each year since then.
The self-sown seedlings don’t appear until late June or early July, and they’re hard to see, because the leaves are deep green with deep brown markings, so they almost blend into the mulch. The plant grows in a gradually expanding, ground-covering circle, rooting along the stems, then tiny, light pink flower balls start appearing at the shoot tips. The clump above is one seedling in mid-September, covering a space about 3 feet across. Below is a closeup of the blooms.
Gradually, the flowers start popping up toward the middle of the plant, forming a pink-dotted carpet that looks great until a heavy freeze. See, it’s just…well, cute! If you want to try this little charmer, JL Hudson has seeds for sale (as Polygonum capitatum ‘Afghan’). I’d say full sun to partial shade for this one.
Next, something a little more in-your-face: ‘Dancing Flame’ scarlet sage (usually listed under either Salvia splendens or S. vanhoutii). This stunning variegated-leaf form was barely available by mail-order last year; this spring, I snatched up a few at a local greenhouse and saw it a few other places as well. The bright variegation – yes, it looks just like a classic mosaic virus pattern, but let’s not think about that – really stands out from a distance.
It’s been nice for the summer, reaching about 30 inches tall and mingling well with the near-black leaves of ‘Purple Knight’ alternanthera (Alternanthera dentata) and a solid-yellow ‘Hint of Gold’ caryopteris. But it really wowed me in early September, when it finally started to flower – yowee!
If you want to try ‘Dancing Flame’ next year but can’t find it locally, you may be able to get one through Logee’s Greenhouse. My plant gets only afternoon sun (about 1 pm to sundown), but I think it would be even happier in full sun.
And finally, another new acquisition for me this year: Leavenworth’s eryngo (Eryngium leavenworthii).
Pretty cool, huh? But what’s even cooler is that it’s an annual! I adore sea hollies, but I have a really hard time convincing them to overwinter. With this one, though, I can enjoy the fantastic blooms every year. I started the seeds indoors in early April and set the seedlings in the garden in the third week of May. Each sent a single stem upward and formed a bud, which then turned brown after a few weeks of drought in August. As the stems branched out, they gradually sprawled but then mostly righted themselves again to about 2 feet tall, and the silvery green flowerheads began appearing by the end of August. By mid-September, they started to purple up as the flowers began to open, and now the maturing blooms are absolutely amazing.
This beauty thrives in full sun and average to dryish soil. Want to try it for yourself? Check out Thompson & Morgan for seeds.