18 July 2010

I like Spikes...

One of my favourite garden writers/designers/plant people is Dutch master Piet Oudolf. He writes in a very approachable way, his design ideas make perfect sense to me (where the writings of some others tends to obfuscate what they think they're trying to tell us) and he focuses on structure and texture as much as on flower colour. I am learning, slowly but surely, from reading his books and looking at gardens he has designed and talking to others who like his work.

From him, I've been learning to focus as much on the shape of plants and their flowers as on their bloom and foliage colours. Right now, I've been intensely interested in plants with spike-like flower shapes. I can't give you the whole logic behind them other than they give a nice vertical effect in my gardens. And even the ones that are shorter than I am do that. The delphinium and the veronicastrum (above) are not shorter than I am.

I have several different types of agastache, also known as hyssop and hummingbird mint, around the gardens. Waiting anxiously for 'Golden Jubilee' to come into bloom, but for now, the standard blue-flowered types are just fine.

I have four different types of ligularia around the garden, including 'The Rocket', which is busily doing its thing, rocketing skyward with spikes of brilliant yellow flowers. Interestingly, some of the others, including 'Othello' and 'Desdemona' have larger individual flowers, not spikes like these. I'll show them off in another post.

It's entirely possible that this is a wild mullein, as I don't remember buying this one. And I'm okay with that. Talk about structure! This plant's flower spike is taller than I am, and its velvety leaves are striking even when it's not blooming. The pollinators love this plant, which is good enough for me.

I have half a dozen hardy sages throughout the gardens, including this lovely pink one, the name of which has long ago gone into LoLa-land.

This purple sage is probably 'Mainacht' but I really don't know. What I do know is that it works very well with the yellow aconitum that flowers at the same time. Many of the sages will rebloom if you deadhead them faithfully.

This is Japanese bottlebrush, or Sanguisorba. I have two different species, (or maybe cultivars, as they have LoLa too). They're real charmers and I think rather underutilized perennials.

Some people cut the flower spikes off their lambs-ears (Stachys byzantina), because they think they're ugly. I find the bees like them so very much that I leave them on the plants until they are spent. (Disclosure: this is actually a clump at the Rock Garden at NSAC, not my patch).

Despite the fact that aconitums are very toxic and should be handled with care (such as using gloves when working with them), they are one of my favourite plants. Mostly because I don't go around eating garden plants (for those who don't understand my sarcasm, media in my part and other parts of Canada have flipped out in the last week or two about giant hogweed, which has only been around here for about a hundred years or so, and IS toxic, and DOES spread, but people, have a little common sense...end rant) Anyway, to continue: I like monkshood a lot, for the shape of the plant's flower spikes, for the bloom colours, for their long-lasting appeal...this one is 'Stainless Steel', nicely framed against one of our rambunctious clematis.

Veronicas are very nice plants for adding shorter clumps of vertical flower spikes and hot colour. Butterflies and bees and hummers love them too. This is 'Red Fox', possibly my favourite.

And this is wooly speedwell. I have several varieties just coming into bloom, including the new-to-me 'Purplicious', which is looking very promising for being a flower colour between pink and this blue-purple.

We'll cool things off a little bit now with the petite, pale yellow blooms of the straw foxglove, Digitalis luteum. My D. grandiflora, the larger-flowered yellow foxglove, isn't blooming just yet. D. parviflora 'Milk Chocolate', the chocolate foxglove, is just beginning to open its flowers.

This white mullein, (Verbascum) has been in the garden for about ten years now. It pops up here and there from seed, and is beloved by my precious pollinators, and is an easy perennial to grow for me. So what's not to like?


  1. Well you have sold me on adding more spikes. They do give great structure in the garden and such a variety of heights and color..what's not to like.

    I really need a valley day to see what's on offer in the nurseries there.

    Thanks Jodi! Great post,..encouraging.

  2. A beautiful post/photos, jodi. Enough to know I like spikes too and so important, as you mentioned, in the vertical effect of my garden. Enjoy the remains of July.

  3. I love your spikes, Jodi. I need to get better at thinking of plants in terms of their shape and texture; I think I should add Piet Oudolf to my must read list. -Jean

  4. Hi Jodi, you have the most beautiful "spikes collection" i've seen here in blogworld. I certainly agree with you that they are absolutely beautiful, most especially for me because we don't have them here. Even the butterfly bush which i love to have for butterflies are not plantable in this part of the world, haha!

  5. I like spikes too! Especially the ones in your pictures! Beautiful!

  6. Lovely spikes. One of my favourite container combinations is prurple sage together with purple surfinia. The green and greyer green leaves, plus the purple, plus the differences in form of the spikey sage with the bell shape surfinia flowers make a great mix.

  7. Me too, I like Spikes. They add so much contouring n variation to the Garden. Thx for sharing via this informative blog

  8. Tall, stately, soaring spikes - you've added some adjectives which I should use in my plant selections more often. Thanks for the ideas.

  9. Gorgeous spikes...and so many varieties! I agree with looking at all the different aspects of a plant...so many views! It's never boring, that's for sure!

  10. Jodi girl I might have said this before but forgive me, it has been stretched at my neck of the woods ? LOL .. in any case, WOW ! on the new look of your blog : )
    Spikes .. and that whole cuffuffle on that ridiculous Hogsweed stupidity .. DUH ??
    I have my favorite Monkshood Aconitum carmichaelii back in my garden .. yes I too let some of my Lamb's Ear flower as well for the pollinators ..different sages and salvias .. and those gorgeous hyssops Blue Fortune and Golden Jubilee, you will love yours ! : ) I so love the licorice smell of them .. Jodi, I can't imagine a garden without all sorts of different vertical interests ? How could you NOT have them ? LOL
    Great post and I really enjoyed the poke at the "hog" LOL
    Joy : )

  11. "Snap!"

    I was around the garden today thinking that I am very good with vertical plants - as I always choose them over any other form or shape - I love them and it is a delight to see all your spires! You pipped me to the post with writing about them :)

  12. We like, no make that LOVE them all Jodi, including our guy Piet! There is something about those spikes, and the way he uses them together with grasses that is so appealing in all seasons. Covered with frost, they give structure and meaning to the winter garden. For those of us without feet of snow cover, that is. :-)

  13. Ah, the spikes, like exclamation points in the garden. I enjoyed that ramble through your garden very much, Jodi, and have now got a new one on my *List* (I decided that to console me for the move, I'll begin to create a dream garden on paper for wherever we end up next). That Veronica 'Red Fox' is now in the "Pretty Please" column. ;)

    You know, Amy over at Go Away, I'm gardening was showing her lamb's ears blooming earlier this year, and I was sure I'd never seen one bloom before. But it turns out that my mother and others I know who grow them do snip off the bloom stalks. Now that I've seen them literally covered with bees at the Botanical Gardens, though, I won't ever do that, myself.

  14. I am lovin' those spikes, especially the delphinium and that Japanese bottlebrush. Those would be lovely additions to my garden. I have tried delphinium before. Our hot dry humid summers don't make for good delphinium growing.

  15. Hi Jodi, Spiky flowers add so much to the border, I agree. The catmints and lavateras and hollyhocks and gauras.... I sure like that lavender pink Salvia and your Sangisorba!!

    Easy to grow and a lot of bang for your buck.

  16. I saw the Japanese bottlebrush or Sanquisorba in a garden tour recently. I loved its little bristly head and vowed I would get some for my garden. I have "Plantting the Natural Garden" by Piet Oudolf and Henk Gerritsen. It is very inspirational.

  17. Oh, they are all so lovely, and so eye-catching, Jodi! You've reminded me what it is I'm lacking in my shade garden--some vertical interest. Are any of these especially good in the shade? I do envy those blue, blue delphiniums--I've tried to grow them here several times without any luck. Maybe my luck will turn one of these days.

  18. Rose, some of these are quite shade tolerant, including foxgloves, ligularia, and Veronicastrum; they may sometimes be a bit floppier and you may choose to stake them, but I grow these in shade as well as sun, primarily moist shade. I also have the Sanguisorba shown in a partially shady site,and another one in full sun. Both seem to be thriving, because they get adequate moisture. Another great choice that I didn't include here is Actaea, or Cimicifuga. I have that in full sun as well as in partial shade, and they all do fine. Leaving the flower spikes on hostas will also help to provide vertical interest in the shady spot. Those are a few off the top of my head.

  19. Hello Jodi! It's been ages since I've been able to visit~Your tall architectural plants are gorgeous~I've been adding more spires and towers to my garden and love them~I do admit to a tiny bit of envy over the ligularia~I love the flowers and the leaf shape would add a textural dimension and help me with the little leaf syndrome. It's not to be! LOL gail

  20. I've just been reading an Oudolf book and was getting a bit frustrated because most of the flower shots are masses, and I'd never even heard of half the species before. Thank you for the lovely closeups of sanguisorbas and the rest; I think the sanguisorbas are my favourites.

  21. Thank you for sharing. Wonderful post. I appreciate it.


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