I know, I know…it’s time for Bloom Day. But look, I’ve got nothin’. There isn’t anything that I haven’t already shown multiple times, and I’m at a total loss for a creative way to present the same old things. Still, it’s hard to break years of conditioning, so I’m posting on the 15th anyway. But this time, I’m taking a different tack on the magical number of three: Instead of three different neat plants, I’m looking at one plant at three different times during the year. My first subject: ‘Blue Fortune’ hybrid hyssop (Agastache).
To be honest, this plant isn’t one that immediately comes to mind when I think of my top favorite perennials. The fragrant foliage is a treat, and the bloom spikes are magnets for bees and butterflies. Its flower color, however, is a washy purple-blue that’s anything but “wow”; to my eye, it usually reads as a hazy gray, and I much prefer bright, rich colors. I can appreciate its subtle beauty, though, particularly when it’s paired with similarly soft colors.
The midsummer combination above is a perfect example. Here in Pennsylvania, the carpeting Wlassov’s geranium (Geranium wlassovianum) starts flowering in late spring, but it blooms over such a long period that there are plenty of flowers still around when ‘Blue Fortune’ begins to flower and ‘Skyracer’ purple moor grass (Molinia caerulea ‘Skyracer’) starts sending up its wispy plumes by early July. This full-sun-to-partial-shade combination certainly wouldn’t stop traffic; it has a lot of quiet charm up close, though. While the colors are harmonious, there’s pleasing contrast in the forms of the plants and flowers. Plus, they all flower pretty much continuously into fall.
My preference for midsummer interest is the full-sun combination featured at the very top of this post: ‘Blue Fortune’ paired with ‘Anthea’ yarrow (Achillea). Both colors are still on the pastel side, but there’s contrast in both color and form, so it’s far more dramatic. On the down side, I find ‘Anthea’ to be fairly floppy (probably because my soil is on the moist side), and though it reblooms to some extent if cut back in early August, it never repeats the glory of the first flush. Still, it’s a great show for a good part of high summer.
By late summer, the spikes of ‘Blue Fortune’ continue to elongate. The tiny flowers drop off as they age, but the remaining parts still keep some color, and new blooms keep forming.
This late August grouping of ‘Blue Fortune’ hyssop with honey bush (Melianthus major) and ‘Ruby Perfection’ cabbage is another study in subtlety: not much color from the flowers, but good foliage and forms.
Fast-forward another month, and ‘Blue Fortune’ can still be looking good. If you choose to snip off the flower spikes in mid- to late August, it’s back in bloom by late September and usually looks as good as it did in its first flush, with the added benefit of staying a more-compact 2 to 3 feet. This is the same combination shown above for midsummer interest; nearly three months later, all three plants are still in bloom. In a few more weeks, the moor grass will take on a nice yellow fall color, and the geranium leaves take on some bright red tints. ‘Blue Fortune’ too has some yellowish fall color, but I think of it more for autumn flowers than foliage.
Left unpruned, ‘Blue Fortune’ keeps elongating its flower spikes, to the point that heavy rains can knock them askew, and their weight can cause the 3- to 5-foot-tall stems to sprawl, as evident in the late-September combo of ‘Blue Fortune’, Salvia guaranitica, ‘Redbor’ kale, and parsley above. They usually perk up once they dry, though, and some judicious trimming can repair the shape well enough to keep the clump looking decent for a few more weeks.
This extended period of flowering interest is dependent on your getting the true ‘Blue Fortune’, which is a cross between A. rugosum and A. foeniculum and is supposed to be sterile. That means the plant puts its energy into producing new blooms instead of seeds, and you’re spared dealing with dozens of self-sown seedlings each year. If someone offers you seed or seedlings with this cultivar name, you’re probably not getting the true ‘Blue Fortune’.
This perennial is usually rated for Zones 5 through 10, though it has a quirky habit of sometimes dying over winter even in zones where it’s fully hardy. I’d guess that it’s like blanket flowers (Gaillardia) and some coreopsis that way; it puts so much energy into flowering that it doesn’t store enough energy to get through the dormant season. Giving it a break by shearing off the flowers in August seems to improve the chances of successful overwintering. Frequent division (every 2 to 3 years, in spring) seems to help too.
‘Blue Fortune’ is available from many local and mail-order sources, but if you really want to be sure you get the right plant, look for a nursery that promises cutting-propagated plants, as High Country Gardens does.
Text and photos ©Nancy J. Ondra, Hayefield