Every area has it’s classics, the plants that are de rigueur, be the home a cottage or manor house. Sighting one of these standbys can conjure up feelings of nostalgia, reminiscences of the hardships endured by the pioneers to the area, and satisfaction at the longevity of perennials.
Such plants can also inspire dread at the chores involved (pests, staking, fertilizing, etc.), disdain at the short flowering season and uninteresting foliage, and resignation at the futility of trying to introduce/try/share the joys of growing something new or different in the area. But this is supposed to be a touchy-feely post, so I shan’t dwell on that last bit. Onward, to Alaska’s most time honored perennials.
1. Delphiniums. We grow these better than anyone, save perhaps the English. A staking nightmare, but we can’t have everything now can we? (Though a gardening staff would be helpful if you’re growing more than three.) Watch out for Delphinium defoliators as well. In many colors and flavors: white, green, blue, purple, pink. Don’t even get me started on “bee” colors. Lots of choices.
2. Trollius. If it likes the spot, it may seed around a bit. Emerges earlier in the spring, a bonus for Alaska when all we have to look at is brown dirt. The classic yellow gold and orange colors are pretty common, but if you’re searching for something a bit less conspicuous, try the creamy ‘Cheddar’.
3. Iceland Poppy. Or Papaver nudicaule, for those that speak Latin. The Iceland poppy is so happy here, it seeds around in ditches. The most often sighted colors are orange, yellow, and white, but they come in a range of warm tones. Buy in flower, as they are most often grown and sold as mixed colors. Look out for the more unusual champagne, peach, or scarlet.
4. Siberian iris. Many have a fondness for Iris sibirica, I must conclude, as I see them in nearly every Alaska garden. The Siberian iris will be here, along with cockroaches, and coyotes, after a nuclear annihilation. It is tough. We have a native iris also occurring in large numbers on the Palmer Hay Flats and surrounds, Iris setosa. It is very lovely and occurs in purple and blue shades (and the occasional white). Needs division pretty frequently to look it’s best.
5. Bleeding heart. Good old Dicentra spectabilis, never lets you down in the shade. Seeds a bit when it’s happy, too. I had the white flowered form growing in rocky crevices at my old place. So sublime in spring! Not much happening after flowering….
6. Geraniums, called cranesbills by some, are represented by four species here, including an introduced weed (thanks a lot!) from across the pond. This pioneer plant, brought into the garden from the forest, is G. erianthum. Seen in light violet and occasionally white. I know it’s not PC, but I prefer cultivars like ‘Johnson’s Blue’. I’ve found the native plants a bit sparse foliage-wise and shy of flowering. [There, I said it. The native plant purists, with accompanying sharpened trowels and pitchforks, may now be sent for…. ]
7. Ox-eye daisy, or Leucanthemum vulgare, or whatever the taxonomists are calling it today. White flowering and often found growing in ditches. People often lift it (or the birds plant it) and it can become quite a nuisance in cultivation. Don’t you be fooled. A weed.
8. Columbine, or Aquilegia. Very common, and very charming in a mix of colors. Not much going on after bloom, except defoliators and leaf miners. Hooray?
9. Pasque flower, or Pulsatilla vulgaris, is a spring bloomer, most often sighted flowering in white or purple, but also available in pink or red. I love the fuzzy look of this one and surprise, the seed heads are interesting as well. Rather a shocking trait in a spring bloomer, at least to this jaded gardener.
10. Meadow rue, another one Alaskans grow better than anyone (why are all such plants requirers of arduous and complicated staking?), comes in a range of sizes. If you’re Latin, you call this one Thalictrum. There was a specimen of T.rochebrunianum (Lavender mist) at the Alaska Botanical Garden that must have been nine or ten feet tall. Boy, did I feel sorry for the poor sap that had to stake that thing. A lot of work for not much payoff, in my humble opinion. Try one of the smaller species unless you enjoy staking plants.
Luckily, at my new place, we’ve only numbers 2 through 4, so the staking chores are still nonexistent. Now what to do with the hundreds of Iceland poppies popping up everywhere?! Guess I’d better get the hoe out, or have a plant sale….
What are the classics in your area, and do you like them? Alaskans, did I miss any?