I appreciate having instant access to my blog stats every time I log in to WordPress, but I’m not sure what to make of the fact that I get more visitors on the days that I don’t post than the two or three days a month that I do. Talk about an incentive not to post! Nevertheless, a couple of cool plants have been on my mind recently, so I’ll post anyway and risk scaring off visitors for a few days. First up is an oddball perennial groundcover: Phuopsis stylosa.
This plant has a lot going for it, so I have to think that the main reason for its relative obscurity is the lack of a pretty name. I can’t imagine many gardeners begging their local garden center to order “long-styled crosswort” or “creeping crosswort.” If you bragged to your neighbor about your phuopsis, they’d probably think you had some sort of contagious skin disease (along the lines of scabiosa or scrophularia). And its alternate scientific name, Crucianella stylosa, sounds more like an incantation that students at Hogwarts would learn in their Defense Against the Dark Arts class than a plant name. (A swish and a flick of your trowel, and you can instantly apply the cruciatus curse to pesky little weeds?)
I’ll admit that poor phuopsis does have one other slight flaw, which would perhaps make its name appropriately announced “pee-yew-opsis”: the foliage has a somewhat skunky odor that can be noticeable from a few feet away. As far as I’m concerned, however, the odor isn’t that objectionable – no worse than that of boxwood, certainly.
Apart from all that, phuopsis really is a nice plant. It grows in dense mats of upright to trailing stems carrying whorls of bright green foliage.
From May into August or September, the stems are topped with showy clusters of pink flowers, for a total height of about 8 inches.
The overall effect is that of a very long-blooming, pink-flowered version of sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum), a close relative of phuopsis. I see that one nursery was even selling phuopsis as “pink woodruff,” which is a great solution to the poor-name problem. Like sweet woodruff, phuopsis can spread at a pretty good clip once established, easily expanding 6 to 12 inches in all directions each year. It thrives in Zones 5 to 9 in full sun but can tolerate partial shade too, and it adapts to a variety of soil conditions. (Though it’s supposed to require well-drained, not-very-fertile soil, it’s thriving here even in my winter-waterlogged garden.)
I can’t find any mail-order sources that currently sell phuopsis plants, but I see that Annie’s Annuals and Perennials has listed it at some point, so it might be worth checking with them. I did find the seeds listed here, and at Chiltern Seeds too. I’ve never tried the seed route, but it may be worth the experiment if you want to grow phuopsis in your own garden.
Next up, something a bit more subtle: the pink Tangier pea (Lathyrus tingitanus ‘Rosea’).
This annual vine is basically a “something different” in the sweet pea category. I find it to be a vigorous grower to about 8 feet tall, with the usual tendril-climbing stems. It’s not as free-blooming as the usual sweet peas and doesn’t have the great fragrance, but the individual flowers really are exquisite, so it’s a nice addition to the garden.
Give pink Tangier pea a trellis or let it scramble up through a shrub or small tree. If you want to try it, seeds are available through Thompson & Morgan. They’re a bit flatter and more square than those of regular sweet peas, but they’re just as easy to germinate.
I like to start all my sweet peas by placing the seeds on damp paper towels in plastic bags and setting them in a warm spot, then picking them out and potting them up as they sprout.
For the last cool plant, an agastache.
No, wait – it looks like an agastache, and it’s in the same family, but it’s actually a shrub: mint shrub (Elscholtzia stauntonii).
It can grow to about 6 feet tall, but for me, it’s been staying more in the 3-foot range. I treat it like a caryopteris, cutting it back to about 6 inches just as new growth starts in mid- to late spring. From then through the summer, the plant is nicely bushy and the mint-scented leaves are tidy-looking: attractive but not especially interesting.
Dense spikes of tiny, purplish pink flowers appear at the shoot tips around early September, and the bloom season continues through October, at least.
So, why try to track down mint shrub when you could grow an easier-to-find agastache, like ‘Blue Fortune’? Well, for one, it’s nice having the fresh-looking flowers late in the growing season, when anise hyssop is usually winding down for the year. For me, the biggest plus is that it’s been much longer-lived than any agastache, seemingly not minding the winter wet and never needing deadheading or division (or, in fact, any other maintenance besides the single spring trim).
Mint shrub grows best in full sun. It’s been fully hardy here in mid-Zone 6 and can apparently overwinter as far north as Zone 4, growing down through Zone 8 too. Plants are available through Lazy S’s Farm and Companion Plants; seeds are available through J.L. Hudson.
Written for Hayefield; text and photos ©Nancy J. Ondra