11 April 2007
A book of blue flowers
While we wait for the snow to melt—and it is melting, though perhaps not as rapidly as we’d like—I take great comfort in reading the blogs of other garden-obsessed individuals. There are some wonderful blogs out in the blogosphere, and some marvelous writers, whose prose lifts my soul, makes me laugh, moves me to tears, teaches me all kinds of things…so in honour of those talented individuals, I’ve created a separate set of links for the blogs I love. I hope you’ll visit them all. Like snowflakes, kittens or wildflowers, no two are exactly alike, but each has their charm. Who knows how many of these souls I’ll ever get the pleasure of meeting face to face—we’re flung across this country, and our southern neighbour, like dandelion fluff? But across the miles, we connect and share our gardening victories, challenges, puzzles and solutions.
This morning, following a comment on one blog, I ended up at Our Little Acre, written by Kylee in northwest Ohio. She’s about to embark on adventures with the exalted diva of the garden, Meconopsis betonicifolia. Blue poppies. Yup. Been there, done that, continue to do it, always will, so I share her enthusiasms.
What IS it about blue flowers? I mean truly blue flowers, not flowers that are violet but called blue, or lavender, or mauve, or otherwise not-blue? No slight to them, but those of us who crave blue in our garden get absolutely giddy when confronted with it. Perhaps because, relatively speaking, blue flowers are rare—consider the quest for the blue rose, as nebulous a challenge as finding the fountain of youth. Compared to other colours, it’s not widespread throughout the plant kingdom. And of the families where blue flowers are found, many of the genera are less than easy to grow in any climate.
Consider delphinium. Those tall, statuesque beauties do have some lovely blue cultivars, but can be a challenge to grow in warmer climates. We do fine with them, but invariably when they and the peonies are in bloom, we get clobbered with a real good summer storm that does its best to beat them down. One way to get around that is to grow the Chinese delphinium. They aren’t tall, and their flower spikes aren’t as showy, but they are blue and they won’t break off in a rainstorm.
Likewise, Lithodora is one of those plants with lovely, cobalt blue flowers and deep green leaves; but it’s only hardy to about zone 6a, or 5b if you’re very lucky and have good drainage and protection from winter cold and wet. Happily, it’s not expensive, so my philosophy the past several years has been to purchase a couple plants and treat them as annuals, either planted in the garden or in containers.
Gentians are sometimes tricky, although of the few I’ve tried, we’ve had pretty good success. To be honest, we probably would have had more success in years gone by if I’d realized what was coming up WAS a gentian, and not a weed. They tend to do fine here because they are slow to emerge in spring, and by the time they do decide to come up, the weather has gotten halfway sensible and not so apt to kill more tender perennials. I’m going to try several different ones this year; my favourite for ease and showyness is the willow gentian, Gentiana asclepiadea; it has never faltered since first being planted some years ago.
Those blue poppies..well, I’ve told my tale of woe about them in the past, but we’ve gotten a few established now so we’re blessed with a few stunning blue flowers each year. Last year, I also got a cultivar that has purple flowers, almost the colour of Patty’s Plum poppy. Quite lovely, especially since it was planted near a variegated Japanese Forest grass and the electric blue corydalis, C. elata (hardier and more consistant a performer here than C. flexuousa. And fragrant too.)
In the annual world, there are several blue flowers that I can’t be without. One is the dainty blue woodruff, never a showy performer but a dainty and steadfast one. Another is the Chinese Forget me not, which I understand can be an overachiever in some parts of North America, but has only selfseeded occasionally and a little here. California bluebells, Phacelia sp., are gorgeous gentian-blue beauties that I’m growing from seed this year for the first time; and some of the trailing and upright lobelia make me very happy. Heavenly Blue Morning Glories also make me wander around with a beatific smile on my face.
But my favourite blue annual, hands down, is the delightfully named Poor-man’s lookingglass, Anagallis, or blue pimpernel. I first saw it in a book a few years back, then got one plant somewhere—I forget where. Then I discovered how easy it comes from seed. It’s a sprawling plant, somewhat messy in containers but because of that deep, gorgeous, intoxicating blue. The flowers close up in cloudy or rainy weather, hence the common name. There’s a cultivar called ‘Skylover’ that I love just for its name, but there are also two ‘Wildcat’ cultivars that are wonderful. ‘Wildcat Blue’ is the rich cobalt blue, while the other is ‘Wildcat Orange’. They look terrific together. I’m serious. Colour theory isn’t my thing, but blue and orange are opposite one another on the colour wheel, so they make a striking study in contrasts. This year I plan to sow orange California poppies with the anagallis, just to make my heart glad.
There actually IS A Book of Blue Flowers, written by Robert Geneve and published by Timber Press, that oh-so-wonderful publishing house for all things horticultural. I bought the book earlier this year—yes, dear readers, bought it rather than requesting it as a review copy—because I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to review it, but knew it needed to be in my library. I highly recommend it as a reference book for those who share my love of blue garden flowers. There are well over 100 species/cultivars listed, along with cultivation notes, so that any of us can grow blue flowers, regardless of where we live. True blue forever…