Thursday, 9 August 2012

How Cliches Get That Way

Cary Grant said that cliches become cliches because they're true. Rudbeckia 'Goldsturm' and aster 'Mönch' or else 'Little Carlow' have become gardening cliches, or if you prefer a classic plant combination, because they work so well together. 

Rudbeckia fulgia 'Goldsturm'
Rudbeckia fulgia var. sulliviani  'Goldsturm',  photo by Lukas Riebling

Aster x frikartii ‘Mönch’'
The two work so well together because the aster not only looks good with the rudbeckia, its blue cooling the  other's brassy yellow, but because it can stand up to the somewhat bullying demeanour of black-eyed susans, who tend to run at the roots. Although, having said that, 'Goldsturm' is pretty well behaved. It runs a bit, but not uncontrollably.

They`re also both extremely generous flowerers, going on and on from about July to October. They coexist well in the garden too, each finding its way into the other's arms.

They flower when blue is at a premium, while yellow is on discount. There must be some reason why there's so many yellow daisies around at that time of the year. I`ve always liked Carol Klein`s comment that if yellow is the colour of spirituality, then rudbeckia fulgida must be the most spiritual of all plants.

Here's another picture I found online while researching this. Those who find 'Goldsturm' and similar rudbeckias too strongly coloured might want to consider this pairing. These green-eyed susans, such as 'Irish Eyes' have a subtler colour, and in zones 7 and 8, will overwinter. I used to try to grow these next to my yellow daylilies and green-flowered kniphofia, but it was too shady, and they would end up flopping over on the grass. You can't help but love something that looks so cheerful and is so willing to flower, though.

Rudbeckia and Stokes' Aster
Rudbeckia and Stokes Aster by Melody Lee, Flickr
I haven`t tried to grow Stokes`aster, but it looks pretty in a powder-puff sort of way. It`s named for Dr. Johnathan  Stokes, a 19th century botanist. They also flower from July to October. (And, I`m sorry to say, Stokesia laevis is not really an aster.) Another name for it is the cornflower aster, and the flowers do look a lot like centaurea montana.

All the plants mentioned in this post are extremely easy to grow, and reward you with loads of flowers. So for once a cliche worth repeating?

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Eurybia divaricata (Aster divaricatus)

The white woodland aster, or eurybia divaricata, is a quiet beauty. It has sprays of white, starry flowers from June to October in England, from late summer through the fall in North America. 

Eurybia divaricata Aster divaricatus
Eurybia divaricata, photo by Tom Potterfield, Creative Commons
The leaves are heart-shaped, with a slight twist at the pointed end, as if someone had tweaked them. They also have a surprisingly spring-like fresh green to them all season long. The purple-black stems are twisty, with the flower sprays pointing this way and that. These stems are what give the plant part of its name, since divaricata means "straggly, sprawling, or spreading". The leaves and stems have also provided common names for the plant: Heartleaf Aster and Serpentine Aster.

What Colour is Alma?

When I was first planning my magenta border, I knew that I would have to have some asters to finish off the season. There are a lot of good ones out there, and one in particular, aster novae-angliae 'Andenken an Alma Pötschke' sounded great. Both Sarah Raven and Christopher Lloyd described it as 'magenta'. Nobody else did, but then people tend to shy off that particular word. Everyone agreed it was a great plant.

Aster 'Andenken an Alma Potschke'
Picture by Joan Hall, Creative Commons

Fall rolled round, and the asters began to flower. Alma flowered, and she looked fine. Magenta, however, she was not. At the time I found it mildly disturbing, because I couldn't think how to describe the colour it actually was. All I knew was that it looked wrong. 

Later, I would read Allan Lacy, who described it as "vivid, saturated cerise". Which, once I figured out what cerise was, seemed pretty accurate. Alma has a a very intense colour. Sequim Rare Plants, however, get the prize: they called it "vivid watermelon pink".

You can see why it had to go. It's not actually a salmon-pink, whatever the RHS says, but it looked like it surrounded by purples and pinks and magentas. It looked strange. It's such a contradictory colour that Graham Stuart Thomas described it as "cerise-scarlet", two colours which straddle the blue - orange divide in the red zone.

It's funny how even now that vivid colours have come back in, I had a hard time finding out which flowers were actually magenta-coloured. I find it ironic that I should be complaining about a plant being labeled as magenta. But if you're not colour-theming your garden, I can recommend Alma: it has great flowers, it's got striking colour, and it keeps its leaves, unlike a lot of asters. But it's not magenta.

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Spacing - Not an Exact Science

Ever had the experience of having to fill in space between plants? Maybe something died, or you hated it and hauled it out. (If it died, maybe it hated you. I should really write a post on plant suicide sometime.) Or perhaps you're starting from scratch and grappling with those wonderful books where they tell you how big and how wide your plants will get. They usually go on to tell you to map out your new garden on graph paper, using the measurements to figure out how many of each you need.

I don't want to knock the graph-paper method, but the problem is that once you've got the plants in the ground, they tend to have their own ideas about how big (or not) they want to be. There's only so much you can do about that.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Learning from Your Mistakes

As you've probalby noticed if you've visited this blog before, it's been redesigned. I ran it through a readability test, and failed. Too dark, too many colours, too confusing. (I would love to give you the link for the test, but I've lost it.)

I read a few pages on blog design, and learned a great deal. No more than three colours, Keep it light, keep it simple. So the new version has a lot more white in it, and I've changed the font. I feel embarrased about how it looked before now - but what can I say, I love colour. 

Hope you like it, and feel free to let me know what you think.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

More Impurity

On the subject of "impure blue", I saw the following discussion on GardenWeb, and enjoyed it immensely, although one sentence from Kirk Johnson really stood out:
Blue is one color and purple is blue with red thrown in. Why do all the gardening publications insist on calling purple "blue" when they don't call orange "red"? Why pretend?

Monday, 23 July 2012

Kniphofia: Not So Scary? or, My Cold Green Poker

I always thought of kniphofias as red-hot pokers. You know, orange and yellow, tall, and ugly.

kniphofia 'Green Jade'
Kniphofia 'Green Jade', Creative Commons, photo by dracophylla 
Then I bought one. Not just any one, but 'Green Jade'. Which caused a problem, because what do I call it? My cold green poker? I've always liked the American name, torch lily, but that doesn't really apply either. So I'm back at the Latin name, which is the correct way to refer to it, except no one knows what I mean by it.