Until a few days ago, I was seriously considering skipping this post. There’s so much about this last month I would like to forget: nearly 6 weeks with no rain, frost as late as May 18, nights in the low 40s even last week, an explosion of aphids, and having to wear a mask to be out collecting seeds on days with hazardous air quality due to wildfire smoke. Oh yes, and managing to lock myself out of most of my website for several panicked hours this week, so I couldn’t even start a new post until last night. But that’s fixed now, and we finally got 2 inches of rain a few days ago, with a bit more today and the hope of more over the next week. Though the sky has been darker, the prospect for happier plants is a whole lot brighter, and I am fully prepared to celebrate whatever looks even halfway decent. Instead of presenting the plants by color this time, I’m going to group them by their personalities: the exuberant, the serene, and the quirky.
Big, Bold, or Otherwise Attention-Grabbing
You have to love the plants that never fail to catch your eye because of their generous size, their brilliant colors, or their striking shapes.
‘Superbissima Cosmic Cherry’ is absolutely massive for a petunia, with super-vigorous, well-branched plants and huge, ridiculously ruffled blooms easily 6 inches across. I normally wouldn’t have given a hybrid petunia a second look but fell for the seed catalog description, which described it as an “edible flower” with a “delicious flavor.” Sadly, I haven’t detected any delicious flavor: To me, the flowers taste just like you’d expect a petunia flower to taste from the smell of the foliage, which is to say, NOT delicious. So pretty, but so very disappointing. I ended up pulling out most of the plants but kept a few in this planter just to marvel at the vigor.
‘Spanish Dancer’ toadflax (Linaria reticulata) is also new for me this year, and I have nothing but good things to say about this easy and eye-catching annual. It flowered beautifully for a full month, and the slender, 12- to 16-inch-tall stems stayed remarkably upright until just now, when the combination of rain and developing seedheads started to weigh them down. It has been equally terrific in a container and in the ground. Though the individual blooms are tiny, they are so bright that they could never be overlooked.
Planning plant combinations can be tricky, but this pleasingly simple pairing has returned like clockwork for many years with no work from me. Bloody cranesbill (Geranium sanguineum) and Magic Carpet spirea (Spiraea japonica ‘Walbuma’) are marvelous together whether in flower or not, thanks to the contrasting foliage colors and textures.
Though the blooms of ‘Gold Foil’ foxglove penstemon (Penstemon digitalis) qualify as dainty, the bright yellow foliage ensures that the plants always stand out.
Here’s another example of can’t-miss foliage color: golden hop-wafer tree (Ptelea trifoliata ‘Aurea’).
The bright and bold foliage of ‘Sunny Side Up’ golden pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) looks totally tropical, but it’s a seed strain of a hardy native perennial.
‘Hopleys Variegated’ dayflower (Commelina tuberosa Coelestis Group) will flower the first year from seed, with a dramatic combination of brilliant blue flowers and yellow-striped foliage. But it’s even better the second spring, when the entire plant is much larger and more vigorous. Look how showy it is even before bloom! It’s supposedly hardy in Zone 7 but I grow it in a pot, bringing it indoors and letting the soil go dry for the winter.
Horned poppy (Glaucium flavum) offers the unexpected combination of rubbery-looking, silver-gray-blue, lacy leaves and silky-petaled blooms. I received the seeds as G. flavum var. aurantiacum, but the first time the plants flowered, the blooms were all soft orange, so I thought they were actually ‘Flavum’. Now this year, the same plants have definitely darker blooms—maybe because they are flowering earlier, while it’s still cool-ish?
White lace flower (Orlaya grandiflora) earns a place in this category for it large, broad heads of brilliant white blooms. In this photo, they’re flowering against ‘Lena’ broom (Cytisus).
Giant starflower (Ornithogalum magnum) is also a wow plant in flower, with its bright white blossoms held in spiky, pyramidal racemes.
And here’s another vivid vertical: Carolina lupine (Thermopsis villosa).
Most dianthus don’t qualify as bold, but I have to include Carthusian pink (Dianthus carthisanorum) here for its height, bright color, and overall exuberance.
Tuberous-rooted Jerusalem sage (Phlomoides tuberosa) isn’t much to look at in leaf, but its tall stems topped in these wonderfully whorled blooms make it quite a sight.
On the Quiet Side
Of course, not all of us can be be stars: the supporting cast is also valuable. In the garden, plants that bloom in muted colors, that are dainty in size, or that are otherwise demure or dreamy also have their place and earn my appreciation.
‘Blue Ice’ bluestar (Amsonia) is often described as being sterile, but I once worked with a plant that did produce seed. It took four years, but the seedlings are finally starting to bloom. Most have produced shades of blue, like the parent (left), but this seedling is more on the soft pink side.
I wish I had an exact ID on this lovely flax. I do know that it’s not Linum grandiflorum ‘Charmer Mix’, as was indicated on the seed packet label. I’m pretty sure it is common flax (Linum usitatissimum)—an annual—since it didn’t overwinter, as perennial L. perenne has done here in the past. Whatever it is, it’s a dreamy sight in the morning garden.
There was a time when I wouldn’t have appreciated the quiet charm of divaricate phacelia (Phacelia divaricata). I’m glad that my taste in plants has matured: this sweet little spring annual is so pleasing.
This year, I’m growing the typical species form of Clarkia tenella—the lavender-cupped one shown above—for the first time. Its habit is more loosely upright than the red-flowered form.
I adore brilliant orange blooms but also appreciate the softer peachy ones, like giant collomia (Collomia grandiflora).
Rock harlequin (Capnoides sempervirens) is simply sweet, with its dainty, pink-and-yellow blooms over powder-blue foliage.
Pink hawksbeard (Crepis rubra) looks much like a dandelion, but in a pretty pastel pink instead of bright yellow.
The shaggy, whorled blooms of eastern beebalm (Monarda bradburiana) rank high on the quirkiness meter, but I put them in this category for their soft shades of pink.
Flowering here for the first time, hairy beardtongue (Penstemon hirsutus) produces masses of soothing, lavender-purple blooms.
The soft yellow of straw foxglove (Digitalis lutea) is so pretty!
“Dreamy” is the word that comes to mind whenever I see squirreltail grass (Hordeum jubatum) in bloom.
Venus’ navelwort (Iberodes linifolia) is an easy annual just coming into flower now, with crisp-and-clean, dainty white blossoms over grayish green foliage.
For some reason, I always expect purple rocket (Iodanthus pinnatifidus) to be fragrant. It isn’t, but this native perennial is still a wonderful choice for late spring elegance.
Bowman’s root (Gilia trifoliata) is another native perennial that looks dainty but is surprisingly tough. The drought didn’t phase my established plants at all.
The well-named love-in-a mist (Nigella damascena)—this one is ‘Cramers’ Plum’—has a marvelously hazy look.
A year or two ago, I found a plant of love-in-a-mist (Nigella damascena) with white-variegated leaves. I meant to collect seeds but forgot. I don’t know how it happened, but a patch of them appeared this year in a completely different spot!
Nottingham catchfly (Silene nutans) is new-in-bloom for me this year, and I hope it will always be around. New flowers open each evening, releasing a light fragrance. The spidery petals curl back as the blooms age.
I can’t help thinking “Awww, so sweet!” when the German chamomile (Matricaria recutita) begins to bloom. The dainty daisies are wonderful in arrangements, and they have a pleasant, fruity scent.
With its distinctive combination of butter-yellow standards and soft purple-blue falls, ‘Edith Wolford’ is one of my favorite bearded irises.
I’m also keen on the lemon meringue blooms of ‘Butter and Sugar’ Siberian iris (Iris sibirica)—especially on this particular clump, which always blooms at the same time as eastern bluestar (Amsonia tabernaemontana).
Years ago, I sowed some gift seeds of a Siberian iris, planted out the seedlings near another clump of ‘Butter and Sugar’ Siberian iris, and then lost the label. I almost didn’t notice them when they flowered for the first time this year, since the coloration is similar. These blooms are about half the size, though, and the thin petals are so elegant. I will have to move them to a spot where they can show off better—perhaps near something with chartreuse foliage to echo the color in the iris.
And here are some not-yet-in-bloom stems of lamb’s ears (Stachys byzantina): the epitome of soft in both color and texture.
I’ve always enjoyed horticultural oddities, so it’s fair to say that my garden has more than its share of quirky plants. If it’s an odd shape, an unusual color, or otherwise weird, I simply can’t resist.
I was tempted to try ‘Envy’ pansy (Viola x wittrockiana) by the catalog photo. Having seen it in person, I think there might have been a fair bit of color editing to make it look greenish in the picture. I don’t mind, though, as it’s intriguingly variable in real life, depending on the temperature and sunlight. Each dark-eyed bloom is basically yellow with shadings of orange (producing a brownish cast) or blue (giving grayish tones).
Allegheny vine (Adlumia fungosa) is definitely something different. In the wild, this native biennial tends to be kind of stringy and sprawling. But if you put it in the garden, with good soil and regular watering, the plants can create a surprising contrast, with dainty pink “hearts” and lacy, grayish green leaves on stand-back-and-let-’em-climb vines.
Indigo bush (Amorpha fruticosa) took several year to reach flowering size from seed, but it was worth waiting for. I’m already in love with the fluffy flower spikes on this native shrub.
Downy wood mint (Blephilia ciliata) is another fluffy-flowered native, with the added quirk of opening its blooms in whorls.
Strawberry blite (Blitum capitatum) is a simply silly-looking annual, with berry-like blobs of seeds along its slender stems. It declines pretty quickly once these start to form, but it’s weird and whimsical while it lasts. The edible “berries” are seedy and not particularly flavorful but worth trying at least once.
Annual Palm Springs daisy (Cladanthus arabicus) has a super-quirky flowering habit, with new flowering stems shooting out from the base of the first daisy. Then those bloom and send out more radiating shoots, and so on.
Dragon arum (Dracunculus vulgaris) has a mega-cool name and an even cooler bloom, with a spiky, practically black spadix and huge burgundy spathe. It smells like road kill but lasts only a few days, then the entire thing goes dormant soon after flowering. It’s quite an experience during its brief but exciting life above ground.
Does this even look real? The dark tracery on the white blooms of calico monkey flower (Diplacus pictus) almost appears to be hand-drawn.
Prairie smoke (Geum triflorum) certainly qualifies as whimsical, whether it’s producing its nodding blooms or its wispy bed-head seedheads.
Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca) is interesting in flower but not particularly distinctive in leaf—except in the case of ‘Grobbebol’, a seed strain with curiously curled and crinkled foliage.
Why did it take me so long to grow this gorgeous thing again? Burgundy loosestrife (Lysimachia atropurpurea) looks almost unreal, with marvelously wavy-edged, gray-green leaves and wine-colored blooms. My favorite part, though, is the way that the spikes nod in different directions, giving the impression of a plant eager to converse with itself and everyone around it.
Yellow fennel flower (Nigella orientalis) definitely deserves a spot by a path or bench, so you can more easily appreciate the transition from intricate flowers to spiky seedpods.
White false hellebore (Veratrum album) could qualify as dramatic based on its striking spikes or quiet based on its subtly intricate flowers, but I’m putting it in the whimsical category because it has been teasing me for so long before finally flowering. I must have planted the seedling at least 6 years ago, admittedly in a less-than-ideal spot, and each year it would send up a single stem just 2 or 3 inches taller than the year before, so I wasn’t expecting it to bloom this spring. I wonder how long it will make me wait before producing a second stem.
Caucasian crosswort (Phuopsis stylosa) looks much like sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum) in leaf, but when it’s in bloom, you can’t confuse it with any other perennial. It’s scent is pretty memorable, too: a bit “eau de skunk.” It’s not bad enough to put me off growing it, though; I just love the long-whiskered flowers.
‘Sugar Magnolia’ pea (Pisum sativum) is both edible and ornamental, with pretty two-toned blooms, deep purple pods (a little later), and lots of tendrils, which give the vines a wonderfully wispy appearance.
Tiny ‘Tom Thumb’ pea (Pisum sativum) is just too cute. This petite heirloom variety is a perfect option for a pot, planter, or window box.
New for me this year is widow’s cross (Sedum pulchellum). This native species has chartreusey green foliage and sprays of dainty pink blooms on stems to about 6 inches tall. From what I’ve read, it normally acts like a winter annual, dying after flowering and setting seed, then germinating in fall and overwintering as small plants. I didn’t get the seeds until midwinter but had equally good luck with winter-sowing in late December (with germination in early March) and indoor sowing in early March (germination in just 4 days).
I adore Farnsworth’s jewel flower (Streptanthus farnsworthianus). This easy spring annual starts out as lacy green leaves, then sends up 12- to 18-inch-tall stems that carry relatively broad bracts. The bracts are usually a rich purple covered with a grayish “bloom.” Ornamental in their own right, they also create an excellent backdrop for the intricate white flowers, which are popular with honeybees and bumblebees.
Isn’t that absolutely exquisite? It’s the big and beautiful bloom of an out-of-the-ordinary edible: salsify (Tragopogon porrifolius). It’s open for just one morning. A few days later, it produces a huge puffball of tuft-tipped seeds, kind of like a gigantic dandelion seedhead.
Well, that was fun! I can already see the garden responding to the returning rains, so there should be lots of exciting things going on for next month’s Bloom Day. In the meantime, I wish you all much joy in your garden today, and I thank you for visiting.