Every day now, more perennials are popping up in the flower borders. Each year, I like to try out some unusual plants, and some of them are successful while others are of the "try again" persuasion.
One that grew very well for me last year was the cerinthe, also known as purple bells. This plant germinates quickly and reliably, and although the seed packet states cerinthe does not transplant well, I have grown seedlings in peat pellets, moved them to small pots, and then planted them outside in mid-May.
Several plants together in a container make an interesting display.
Cerinthe starts with normal green leaves, which turn blue-green later in the summer, and the small flowers are blue. It grows to about 30 inches, but may need staking to reach that height as the stems are floppy. It prefers a poor soil, which makes it ideal for spots where things generally do not grow well. It is an annual in our zone, and seeds are available from www.rhshumway.com.
An interesting flower I am trying for the first time this season is the Maximillian Sunflower. This plant reseeds generously, and will return every year. Maximillian grows to an amazing 10 feet tall, and is covered with small yellow flowers from mid-summer into fall. It also attracts butterflies.
My daughter has grown some in Nashville, and although their summers are warmer and longer than ours in zone 5, I am expecting mine to do well. Hers had two main stems last summer, and this year she has at least 10 of them. I bought mine as a bare root plant from www.gurneys.com.
And then, of course, I am experiencing my annual attempt to grow a meconopsis betonicifolia. I know many people here and in England who wage this war every spring, but have not yet found anyone who has successfully grown this Himalayan blue poppy to maturity. Please contact me if you have.
The poppy would probably be an annual in this part of the country because it is marked as hardy to only zone 6.
But, the packet I have this year says optimistically it "may survive north of zone 6 with winter protection." The beautiful blue poppy needs light shade and well-drained acid soil, and is said to grow to 36 inches with sky blue blossoms. I have got a few seeds to germinate, but they are very susceptible to damping off, and have never lived to make the move outside.
People have given me all kinds of advice involving winter storage in the refrigerator, but when pressed, all of my advisors admit reluctantly they have never actually grown one
themselves. I have another packet of seeds to try yet this year, and keep hoping.
Be aware that if you introduce a plume poppy, or Macleaya, into your garden, it will be very reluctant to leave.
It is a great perennial for the back of a border, if only it were content to stay there.
A strong stem bearing large round grey-green leaves will grow to more than 5 feet tall, and maybe much taller, in one summer, topped with a feathery plume of small white flowers. The leaf shape is distinctive, and so when dozens of seedlings appear in succeeding years, they are easy to identify and pull out or pot up.
(Hint: there will be a number of them available at the Master Gardener plant sale at the flea market May 16-17.)
It is always fun to grow something new in the flower beds along with all the familiar favorites. Look around at the garden center this spring, and see what you can find.
Janet Del Turco is a local gardener and a graduate of the Ohio State University Master Gardener program.
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