The Passionate Gardener’s Top Ten: Great plants you’ve never heard of!

First and foremost, I am a plant person! Although I love creating a beautiful flagstone pathway, or concentrating on rock placement in a dry creek bed, it isn’t nearly as exciting as scoping out new plants. My garden is almost like a catalogue; full of new varieties that struck my fancy in nurseries far and wide. (Years ago, I had a job that required a lot of travel, and so I have purchased plants from Medicine Hat to Grande Prairie, and even brought home a Japanese maple from Vancouver on the plane!
Here are some of my favorite unusual perennials. They are generally easy to grow, but are not commonly seen in Calgary Gardens.

Number 10: Chelone obliqua/ obliqua “Alba”: This is a cool plant that I first discovered in a client’s garden in Mount Royal.  The plant is very stately, with upright stems and perfect dark green leaves.  It slightly resembles a snapdragon.  It prefers moist soil, and I recommend putting it in a sunny and protected area, as it blooms late in the year, and may be affected by frost.  It is a native of the Eastern United States.

Chelone or Turtlehead

Also known as Turtle heads, Chelones are tall, late blooming perennials.

Number 9: Hepatica nobilis: I’ve said it many times: “A flower in April is worth 10 flowers in July.”  If you find you’re losing hope that spring will ever come to Calgary, plant some Hepaticas or liverworts.  They have dainty three lobed leaves, and purple daisy shaped flowers only 2 or 3 inches tall.  When they poke up through the snow in my rock garden, they cheer me up immensely.  If you have a forest garden, great swathes of them can be planted on the forest floor.  They are slow to multiply, so the best displays of them are in mature gardens. Check them out at the Reader Rock Garden in Calgary.

Beautiful hardy perennial for Calgary

Hepatica nobilis, blooming thorugh the snow at only 2-3 inches tall.

 

 

Number 8: Brunnera macrophylla “Jack Frost”:  Foliage is important, because it lasts far longer than flowers.  If you design your garden to look beautiful when nothing is in bloom, you will never be disappointed.  One of my favorite plants for  transforming a shady or partly shady garden is the Brunnera; it has lovely large heart shaped leaves, is hardy, and has a neat and tidy clumping habit.   “Jack Frost” has silver leaves with green veins.  The flowers are quite tiny, but come in a lovely shade of blue.  Here’s a picture that really shows how beautiful they are:

Shade perennial for Calgary

Brunnera "Jack Frost" is an ideal plant for shady or north-facing gardens.

Number 7:  Astrantia major “Ruby Cloud”:  Astrantias bloom for a long time, and they also make excellent cut flowers.  They are too subtle to be the star of a garden, but make a great backdrop, with their jaggedy leaves and strawflower shaped blooms.  They do well in partial to full shade.

Drought tolerant, late spring blooming perennial

Astrantia major "Ruby Cloud"

Number 6:  Penstemons, especially Penstemon digitalis “Husker Red”: This is a unique perennial with gorgeous beet red foliage, and upright flower stems smothered in little bell shaped flowers that are white to very pale pink.  It loves full sun, and looks lovely planted in groups near the edge of a pond.

Tall beautiful perennial with red tinged leaves and white flowers

Gorgeous red tinged leaves, and attracts hummingbirds too!

Number 5: Primulas: All sorts of Primulas. If I had to pick a favorite genus, this might be it!  There are many kinds of primulas that thrive in Calgary.  You’ve probably seen Primula auricula in many gardens, with it’s fleshy evergreen leaves, and bright coloured blooms in early May.  Rarer in Calgary, is the Primula vialli, with longer, crinkled, strap like leaves in a rosette, and candle shaped flowers with florets that are red in bud, and slowly open in a lilac purple, giving the flower a two toned look from top to bottom.  Primulas generally love full sun to part shade, and generally appreciate moist soil.  You’ve probably seen Primula vulgaris sold in garden centres as blooming houseplants; they come in a wide range of colours; blue, red, yellow, pink and white.  I enjoy these as a houseplant, but generally find that the forced plants do not live very long outside of the greenhouse.

Gorgeous, spring blooming perennial

Primula vialli

Number 4: Eyringium: I get asked about this plant whenever I plant it.  It looks vaguely thistle like, with its spiky leaves.  The colour is amazing, an almost iridescent blue.  The plants are extremely drought tolerant once established, and do well in full sun.  This is an airy plant that looks great rising behind smaller bolder flowers.  For a great primary coloured combination, plant it behind  Lychnis “Molton Lava” and in front of Heliopsis ” Venus”.  It makes an excellent cut flower, and also looks good all winter long, especially when combined with tan coloured dried grasses.  P.S.  It’s pronounced “yur-RIN-gium”, or you can call it Sea Holly.

Drought tolerant plant perfect for Calgary

Commonly known as Sea Holly, very drought tolerant with long lasting blooms.

Number 3: Lychnis “Molten Lava”: I only recently discovered this plant, but I have fallen madly in love with it.  It makes people stop in their tracks.  About a foot tall, it has deep purple leaves and big scarlet flowers arranged in loose corymbs.  Its cousin is the Maltese cross, but “Molton Lava” is much neater in habit and showier.

Perennial for Calgary

Lychnis Coronaria "Molton Lava" Great plant for sunny dry locations, stunning in bloom

Number 2: Epimedium: Epimediums are low key plants.  They have narrow heart shaped leaves that emerge in colourful shades of brown and green in the early spring, with tiny ‘X’ shaped flowers hiding underneath.  Then they proceed to enlarge over the course of the summer, and don’t cause any trouble whatsoever.   They tolerate dry shade very well, and are also said to be deer and rabbit resistant.  Epimediums work really well with spring bulbs such as daffodils and tulip, because they increase in size when the bulbs are fading, to camouflage the yellowing foliage.  Google them to discover their more colourful names!

hardy shade perennial for Calgary, dry shade

Epimedium rubrum, an excellent perennial for dry shade.

And my NUMBER ONE favorite plant you’ve never heard of is: The Hellebore!: I’ve always loved hellebores.  There’s something so magical about their spotted flowers and big fingered leaves.  The flowers last for months, first with pollen filled centers and later with seed pod centers.  They also bloom in very early spring, generally as soon as the days get warmer.  Most types are evergreen or semi-evergreen, so their leaves are also out very early on.  There are many different types, and not all of them are hardy here.  (If you really want to see them at their best; head to Vancouver or Victoria!)

Lovely early spring blooming perennial for Calgary

A lovely, early spring blooming perennial, very low maintenance.

 

 

Posted Sunday, January 1st, 2012 under Gardening ideas, Uncategorized.

3 comments

  1. I’m avid gardener in Calgary. Although most of my garden is doing well, there are always areas that need reworking or that one has grown tired of. I may have to give some of these a go.

  2. Sean Rooney says:

    Wonderful article. I know many of these plants and I have to agree with you that they are excellent choices for Canadian gardens.

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