Monday, May 9, 2011

Are the oldies goodies? You decide.

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. 

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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.

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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….

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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.

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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?

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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?


  1. I love the oldies! Delphiniums are my favorite. I love how they reseed in my perennial garden. Shasta Daisy is another favorite.

  2. Definitely they are goodies! All of them except maybe the columbine - beautiful when in flower but I've never had any luck getting it to look like anything after... perhaps that's just the way it is!

  3. @Carolyn,
    I love the look and presence of Delphs, but having spent a few summers staking and only staking, I gave all but three away. I'm a Delphinium quitter, I admit it.

    @Calgary Garden Coach,
    Thanks for weighing in on this one, Janice. The flowers of the Columbine are just so darn cute, that I can't help but have one or two around as long as they're good and short. I know, I know. I should be more ruthless, but the birds keep foiling me by planting Columbines here and there.


  4. Christine, we moved from Camps Bay. With a howling southeaster in summer, once took the roof off our neighbour's house. Hot yes, but the sea keeps the air moist. In Porterville we were glad to leave the wind behind, mostly. But trying 'oldies' leaves me taking stock at the end of summer. What didn't make it? As you do, after winter.

  5. It seems that every garden around here has coreoposis. Something I can't grow well in my garden.

  6. @EE,
    And sometimes, what made it a little too well.

    @Lisa at Greenbow,
    Add me to the list of the coreopsis killers. And I'm probably not smart enough to stop trying....


  7. I love old heirloom flowers. So all the old flowers are great to me. I love daylilies, irises & daffodils. Heck, I love them all!!!

  8. Just found you, thanks to Calgary Garden Coach! We're moving from SE England to Calgary, and I'm soaking up as much information as I can about gardening in zones. Interestingly, though, clicking on this link I wasn't expecting to find the staples that hold my garden together! How funny. Maybe gardening in Alberta won't be that different after all.

  9. It's interesting how certain places favour certain plants. When I lived in British Columbia rhododendrons were in every single front border along with japanese laurels. When we moved to PEI neither of these plants were to be seen anywhere. Instead it's spireas and weiglas everywhere!

  10. @Dirt Princess,
    Can you believe it, daylilies never do anything for me here as far as blooming goes. I suppose I should give up gardening if I can't even grow a daylily properly.

    Moving from England to Alberta? Just pare down the list of plants you can grow by 2/3 and you should about have it. Or perhaps there are zone 7 areas in Alberta? If so, maybe I'll pack up and move there myself, zone 3 can be rather trying....

    Spiraeas we have a ton of, laurels and rhodies, not so much. I enjoy the really garishly clad foliage of the lime and yellow spiraeas. Not as well when the pink flowers open.


  11. Well, I'm a huge fan of bleeding hearts -- have had them in every home we've ever lived but I've never planted one! The gardeners before me took care of that easy chore.

    Columbines, most definitely. Pasque is another goodie. Blanket flowers and hollyhocks, I suppose, are two more oldies but goodies that always make me smile.

    Oh! And, Peonies! :)

  12. Beautiful blooms, the oldies are absolutely the goodies - tried & true. :)

  13. @Kate/High Altitude Gardening,
    I knew I'd forget one: peonies are enormously popular and long lived here. They definitely belong on the list. If I can ever get ahold of a short, squatty one, that I don't have to stake/cage, I may try them again.

    @Rebecca/In The Garden,
    25% of Alaska agrees with you. The other 75%? They don't garden, unless you count turfgrass and junked cars and snow machines....


  14. Good post- some plants are just plain loyal, I think. In New England, it seems like everyone relies on forsythia, daylilies and lilacs for a spring/ early summer lift in the garden.

  15. Dear Christine, I love all the flowers on your list. However, in an effort to simplify, I am trying to eliminate the difficult ones. It's a problem. P. x

  16. I love all your selections. I wish I could grow the stately Delphinium. I made the mistake of planting oxeye daisy once. Ha, ha, ha. I'm still seeing its progeny. :0

    BTW, my blog address is NOW I'm just letting everyone know. Thanks.


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