June 16, 2009

Of Bellflowers, Foxtails and Shooting Stars

Tall spires of Eremurus, the Foxtail Lily is indeed in the Lily family, yet still, a plant which is rarely seen in many zone 5 gardens. This plant demands fast drainage, or disaster is unavoidable. I plant the dormant crowns in pure gravel, in dug pits that are two feet deep, to ensure fast drainage in the winter, and wet spring, for the desert native plant.

The romance of common names can both inspire and mislead a gardener, but sometimes it's just hard to resist the charm and old-fashioned innocence of names like "the Bellflowers of June", or ' arm fulls of golden Foxtail Lilies that were brought down from the mountains". Still, In this busiest of floral months, a time when each garden calls early in the morning asking to be replanted, weeded, edged, deadheaded, admired, photographed, cut, or enjoyed, the reality is that there is no Month quite like June in New England for horticultural richness and excess, and perhaps there is no week in June, more excessively floral than the third week, near the solstice of Summer.

The flower head of the ornamental Onion known as Allium schubertii is far too impressive when picked and held in hand, or brought into the office where its 1 foot wide explosion of bloom can be enjoyed. In the garden, it is sometimes lost.

I'm not one for Penstemons. Maybe if I lived in Colorado or in the Rocky Mountains, since growing any of these dry-loving species in our wet climate is useless. But, after complaining today, I was able to pick a few stems from various rock gardens from around the yard. Of course, each plant looked quite pathetic, nothing like the drifts we saw in Arizona or in Aspen.

Not a true Campanula but a member of the family Campanulaceae, this plant is clearly very closely related, welcome to the genus Edrianthus. Alas, this alpine Edrianthus pumilio has grown in three years into a stunning little alpine bun, nice and dense and tight, even when not in bloom. I think that the buds just before opening, were equally as beautiful in character to what a classic high elevation alpine plant should look like. Native to Croatia, this plant is being grown in Tufa rock, one of the pre-planted Alpine Rocks available from the fine alpine plant nursery Wrightman Alpines. For a rock that arrived in the mail three years ago, it now makes me look like an alpine expert! I can't wait to see what it does next year, since I keep these troughs open to the snow and elements year round. The trough is a Betsy Knapp trough, I think the best one can buy. I think next year I will order more of this species, t has everything going for it.
I am also not one to preen over Campanulas, but I do keep a few species and hybrids in the rock garden, planted stone walls and in the troughs, where the high alpine forms actually seem to do quite nicely, especially when planted in Tufa rock.

The easy to grow Campanula portenschlagiana has self seeded nicely in a shady curve in our planted alpine rock wall along the foundation of the greenhouse.

A new plant for me, I carelessly, lost the tag on this white Campanula on purpose ( I hate white tags in troughs, and felt that no tag was better than even one of my black ones. Perhaps this is C. "Hilltop Snow? Or C. alpina? It's a plant from Mont Echo Alpines...any ideas? These new troughs are currently planted on the shady side of the house, but once our new deck is finished, I think I will be relocating them to the Eastern exposure, where they can receive at least a bit of sun.

Common? yes. Lovely? yes. campanula glomerata, a species from France is contributing it's very Campanulacious blue to the Blue and Gold garden this year. I really don't care if it spreads!


  1. Matt, Thanks for the Eremerus planting trick; mine always seem to languish after a year or so...I need better drainage!!I want CLUMPS of them...of course.What about planting them with Campanula americanum? They enjoy a bit more moisture, but I think it's a good pairing. Brian

  2. Matt, forgot to say what a beautiful post,so thoughtful and well done.

  3. I live in Iowa. I saw some foxtail lillies in a garden and was awe struck!! I found out what they were and have had mine for 2 years. I've been keeping my fingers crossed. Pure gravel< very interesting. I'll try planting my next one this way. I'mm hooked on them.

  4. Peter Paul10:38 PM

    Hi Matt,
    If you really want to try Penstemon in damp conditions, try some of the native species - P. digitalis, P. laevigatus and P. pallidus are facultative wetland plants. I've been encountering flowering wild laevigatus in soggy to flooded clay meadows recently in Maryland - great garden potential.


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