Saturday, July 31, 2010

Let's Talk Tall Plants

I love tall plants, and below is a tour of some of the more interesting and robust ones that work for me. And we're talking herbaceous perennials, ones that grow 4, 6, 10 feet in a single season. Without this added height, I'd have to wait a decade for shrubs and small trees, and wouldn't benefit from a long bloom time, or even any blooms at all. These tall perennials add much needed structure, a sense of privacy, safe perches for birds, and are pollinating insect magnets.

Eupatorium purpureum
Joe Pye Weed

There are lots of eupatoriums, and I have several species. It's fairly familiar, I think, but it's important because every species I have draws in the bugs like crazy. The Joe Pye in the foreground will get to 10', the one further back is at 7' and I figure it's maxed out. A stunner Joy Pye is E. altissimum 'Prairie Jewel,' whose Jackson-Pollock-speckled green leaves erupt with white blooms. Unfortunately, for some reason, my 5' beauties this year have all struggled out of the gate and only one is doing ok, but only at 3' tall. Too much rain I figure.

Coreopsis tripteris
Tall Tickseed

Last fall I put in a half dozen plugs of this coreopsis not expecting to see 7' tall whispy stands this summer. Whoa. I am in love with this unique coreopsis. Holds up very well to our high Nebraska winds, and it takes up so little space.

Filipendula rubra ‘Venusta’
Queen of the Prairie

I can't stand the Barbie-pink blooms in May, even though they smell like roses (when roses used to have scent, remember those days?). The second image shows the much more interesting copper after-blooms that last all summer. There are short cultivars, notably Filipendula ulmaria 'Flora Plena' which blooms white, but there are also white blooming and gold-leaved cultivars out there that get to 4'.

Liatris ligulistylis
Blazing Star

If you plant milkweed and liatris ligulistylis together, you are guaranteed monarchs all day long. This liatris, among all others, draws them in (see?). It's a thin, tall plant that doesn't take up much space, so you can plug one in anywhere. The seed heads are also nice. Blooms now into September.

Cassia hebecarpa
Wild Senna

Bees love this unique foliage plant. And look at the seeds. Neato. It gets a bit wide, 4' in one direction for me in year 2, but its foliage is a nice change of pace while the blooms take their time in mid summer.

Verbena hastata
Blue Vervain

I admit the blooms of this guy are boring--you can't see them unless you have a zoom lense. However, it's candelabra winter form is appealing to me, and I use it to brace other tall perennials nearby, like ironweed and monarda.

Vernonia fasciculata
Prairie or Common Ironweed

V. missurica
Missouri Ironweed

V. noveboracensis
New York Ironweed

Ironweed gets its name from the color of its post bloom / pre seed color, not its ablity to stand straight, which it doesn't after the first windstorm. The blooms are purple and brief but glorious and always awash in bugs come early July.

Monarda fistulosum
Wild Bergamot

This native bee balm blooms a few weeks after the more common red, and is a much more appealing color than those gaudy pinks of the newer cultivars. It loses its leaves as you go down the stalks, like most monarda seem to do, so it's best to have something 2' tall in front of it. It stands strong fairly well.

Sanguisorba menziesii ‘Dali Marble’
Variegated Burnet

This bloom is from another burnet, since 'Dali Marble' blooms in mid to late fall for me, just barely sneaking in before frost. The foliage, in the first image, is tipped in cream. A robust grower and stands strong, as well.
There are many other tall plants that grow well for me, and provide unique foliage and blooms across the season. I particularly like fall flowers, so Salvia azurea 'Nekan,' a Lincoln, NE native found just minutes from my house, is a good bet with its sky blue blooms (really!) and 4-5' height. It's also a space saver. Below is a list of plants I have, all alive, all thriving:
Thalictrum ‘Black Stockings’
Brillaint mauve blooms on top of sturdy black stems

Thalictrum ‘Elin’
Meadow Rue
Late spring, dainty / whispy blooms

Thalictrum glaucum
Yellow Meadow Rue
Late spring bloomer, nice blue leaves

Liatris aspera
Rough Blazing Star
I call it the shorter cousin to L. ligulistylis, blooms mid to late summer as well

Chelone glabra
White Turtlehead
Another favorite, white turtle heads on sturdy and thin stalks. Blooms August to September. Bumble bees like the challenge.

Veronicastrum virginicum
Culver’s Root
White-spiked blooms in mid to late summer, takes its time flowering while bees and wasps gorge

Agastache cana ‘Sinning’ Sonoran Sunset
Giant Hyssop
Very giant for me in its spread and height

Aster puniceus ‘Eric’s Big Blue’
Love this guy! Similar to A. tataricus below but doesn't take up as much room

Aster tataricus
Tatarian Aster
Blue / violet blooms from September to frost

Aster tataricus ‘Jindai’
Dwarf Tatarian Aster
Blue / violet blooms from September to frost

Rudbeckia maxima
Cabbage Lead Coneflower
Large blue leaves, blooms in late June / early July (zone 5)


Carol said...

Terrific post! I love these tall tall plants. Eupatorium purpureum is a favorite and I will have to try the Coreopsis. Your Cassia is very interesting.

Unknown said...

I must need some liatris... because the monarchs totally avoid my asclepias. :(

Great post on tall plants. I love them, too--and I hate hearing from people at the garden center who are afraid of going "too tall" in a smaller garden. Nonsense!

Val at The Illustrated Garden said...

Wow. What a great, information-packed post. Thanks for commenting on my blog, which allowed me to discover yours!

greggo said...

Great info Ben. I am in awe of your writing and photo skills, as well as your attention to detail. Your garden must be great therapy for you. I too am interested in adding height to my garden with some form of Eupatorium, maybe 'Gateway'. In process of adding a small 'meadow garden' on my small corner lot. Thanks again for the info. Greggo

Corner Gardener Sue said...

Hi Benjamin,
You have an awesome assortment of tall plants. That Joe Pye weed is taller than any I've seen. I think that some of your Culver's root is in the background of at least one photo. I want to find some of that to grow. Do you grow rudbeckia 'Herbstonne'?

I know I break some rules of design with some of my tall plants, because the beds they are in are not as wide as they should be. Still, I get a lot of enjoyment from the few tall flowers I have.

I have been admiring a 4 or 5 foot tall rudbeckia that I'm thinking is 'Goldquelle' on 32nd and Vine. Saturday, on the way home from the farmer's market, Larry, my husband, agreed to stop so I could ask to get some seeds off the plant. It was a duplex, and no one answered, so I took a few seedheads off. I want to go ahead and get some of them planted this week to see if they come up.

Thanks for visiting my blog. I've been seeing a monarch or two every day, and a few others kinds of butterflies. I can see why they'd love your place!

Benjamin Vogt said...

Carol--I am very impressed at how strong the coreopsis is in 20-40 mph winds. A pleasure, so please try it. And the cassia--so many ineresting bugs on it.
Kim--Exactly! All small gardens with similar heights bore me to tears. Now get some liatris (but keep in mind thos emonarchs are fewer thsi year, especially the further northeast you go in the U.S.).
Val--Thanks for bugging on over here!
Greggo--I wish I could give you even more info, especially pics of the other plants, but most are out of season right now for me, early or late.
Sue--Yes, culver's root. It's packed with insects all the time. My joe pye, the shorter one, was supposed to be 'baby joe' at 4' tall, but it's 7 or 8' now! I do have a herbstonne I just got, at full height in a small container at Campbells, and so in the heat it's not doing well now. And good for you for seed stealing! :) (I'm noticing a siginifcant uptick in monarch eggs the last few days, but I'd expect nothign less in August, even this year.)

Rob (ourfrenchgarden) said...

A proper gardening post:- I must try writing one.

Really useful info, I tried growing Verbena hastata 'pink spires' from seed, not one germinated!!!


Benjamin Vogt said...

Rob--You could try, but your photos of French country life are pretty darn good, too. I just dont' bother growing things from seed--it never works for me, likely the clay soil which is either a swamp or dust bowl, never nice loam.

Gail said...

Benjamin, I love these flowers and try to grow as many as I can, but they never get quite as tall as yours...I want the prairie soil you have! A really terrific post. gail

Andrew said...

Great post, there are a few here I know and love, a few I've seen but haven't tried, and a few I don't know much about. There's a Rudbeckia maxima near my house that must be getting closer to 8' this year, it's amazing.

Benjamin Vogt said...

Gail--You can have my clay! 7" over for rain this year, and I had leaning moldy plants until this week, which marks 2 weeks of no rain and cracking clay soil.
Andrew--I wish my R. maxima were 8'! Nice.

Kathleen said...

I grow quite a few of these but I'd love to add the Liatris and coreopsis you featured. I'm picking Jagged Ambush bugs off the Veronicastrum & Joe Pye right now ~ they can be deadly to your beloved Monarchs as I witnessed first hand one year.
Too funny you don't like Filipendula in bloom. It's one of my faves but I'm sort of a "barbie" girl...

Benjamin Vogt said...

Kathleen--I've been picking off ambush bugs, too, but then I figure they'll just go right back. I try to catch monarch eggs, tiny caterpillars as soon as I can, but I just have too many milkweeds. Lost a monarch to tachnid fly yesterday. YES, plant that liatris! I had 6 monarchs yesterday feasting on them!

Country Mouse said...

I grew up in small homes with handkerchief gardens - bit of lawn edged with alyssum and lobelia, livingstone daisies, stock. Now on 3 acres of CA wilderness with trees and big shrubs all around - I have a really hard time landscaping UP. I'm like an inhabitant of Flatland! This post was very - therapeutic! Thanks - lovely flowers.

James Golden said...

I'm surprised you aren't growing any silphiums, being a prairie guy. Especially, Terebinthenaceum (sp?), though it takes a while to establish, and Perfoliatum. Or did I miss them in your list?

Benjamin Vogt said...

I just planted those this summer, James. My list is 18 months out of date (I'm a bad gardener). But I'm worried they won't come back, jammed in among the more established, tall plants around them.