Awkward spaces just the place for large plants

Sometimes, there is an awkward space in the garden that needs a large plant to fill it. There are tall and wide-spreading plants that will serve the purpose.

A tall specimen is the plume poppy or Macleaya, which grows very fast and will reach 7 or 8 feet. It is primarily a foliage plant with large, lobed leaves, insignificant small white flowers, and is apt to spread, so be sure to pull out new shoots unless you want to cover a larger area. This plant is very hardy and pest-free, and if you want something to hide a compost bin or a garbage can, this may be your solution.

Hollyhocks also will provide height in the back of a flower bed, and come in many attractive colors. My trouble with them is the rust caused by a fungus which shows up in early summer and spoils the appearance of the plant. The leaves develop orange or reddish brown pustules and soon wither and fall off.

A quick spray of a fungicide will prevent new infections, but does not affect leaves that already are infected. Planting something of a medium height directly in front of the hollyhocks will help to disguise the problem, but I have given up on them. I see healthy specimens growing wild in alleys uptown, but it seems that once the fungus has attacked in an area, it is very difficult to eradicate.

Hollyhocks are true biennials, producing blossoms in the second year, but they are apt to grow stems up from the roots, and so will be perennial in the proper place. The flowers come in just about every color but blue.

Then, of course, there are sunflowers. Easy to grow, plentiful and with large seeds that are easy to plant, they are favorites of mine (and of the birds), and I grow them all along the side of the house.

I planted some seeds indoors in February, and then great-granddaughter Sophia enjoyed planting the big seeds so much that she filled an entire flat while I was not watching, so I planted the seedlings out in late spring and will have a large number of sunflowers growing on all sides of the house this year. Most of them are Russian mammoth, and so they will make a great showing when they bloom.

If you are looking for an herb that will grow big and fast, lovage should fill the bill. The leaves and stems smell and taste something like celery. It will grow in full or part shade, and will tolerate wet soil. In fact, lovage has such a strong will to grow that you can plant it just about anywhere and be sure that the space will be filled in a few weeks.

The hollow stems make excellent straws for a bloody Mary or plain tomato juice, providing a tangy flavor, and for every stem you cut for this purpose, three or four more will pop up. And I have read that lovage is unusually long-lived, lasting 20 years or more.

One of my favorite big plants is the perennial sunflower, Maximilian. I have it right outside my kitchen window, and by mid-August hundreds of bright yellow flowers light up the space. It is four years old now, and I have fencing in front and behind to keep it upright.

From one original six-inch cutting, it now reaches 8 feet tall and about that wide, growing larger every year. It does need staking or fencing in as the heavy flower-ladenstems are apt to fall or bend over.

If the recent storm took down any tall plants, these are some suggestions for filling the space quickly and dependably.

Janet Del Turco is a local gardener and a graduate of the Ohio State University Master Gardener program.

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