perennials, blue flowers, garden, design
Unusual perennials for the garden

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Jennifer Moore
You need this in your perennial border.

People are wanting plants that are a little more unusual in their gardens. Hybridizers are changing commonly see plants; developing variegated foliage, producing unique blossom colours and changing flower shapes and sizes. Even though these old varieties are becoming new and are in demand again, some unchanged old varieties, not commonly seen are making their way back into gardens.

Most perennials are adaptable to sun or shade, various soil and water conditions. Some perennials change their leaves to gold or russet in autumn, while others stay evergreen, thus making the garden enjoyable and adding interest in the fall and winter months.

As nurseries and plant growers are trying to keep up with the demands of gardeners, wanting something "different" for their flowerbeds, I have listed a few to tempt you to investigate the different varieties available.

Moonflower - As the name suggests, this plant only flowers in the late evening. Its finely cut leaves resemble the dandelion's, yet are finer still. The blossoms are silky, four- to five-petalled and soft yellow which emerge from the center of the plant, reaching only 5 to 6 inches tall. It grows in full sun to part shade in various soil environments, with the only "predator" being the grower, removing it by mistake thinking it is a dandelion.

Bear's Breeches - This dramatic looking plant is better suited in a large garden, as its roots can become invasive. A single specimen can spread 3 feet across and 4 feet tall, yet can still be used in a small garden if properly pruned. This unique plant flowers in late summer; flower blossoms are creamy white with mauve caps and are frugally placed up the stem above glossy green foliage. It is best suited in a sunny, well-drained site. Be sure to provide a heavy mulch for its first winter.

Italian Arum - This spring flowering gem has been known since the 1600's and yet I'm surprized it isn't seen often. This plant's arrow-shaped leaves are spotted cream and grey, with the flower appearing in early spring. The leaves die down for the summer, then reappear in the autumn with bright red berries. It is best suited in a moisture-retaining location in either sun or part-shade, and grows approximately 1 foot tall.

Clematis heracleifolia - Commonly called the "Tube Clematis", it is a summer flowering, sweet-smelling border perennial. Not a climber like its cousins, it instead grows flower "tubes" in ringed clusters up the 2 to 4 foot tall stems. Available in a bright blue with purple undertones, this plant is a show stopper when mass planted. After the initial flowering, fluffy seed heads take their place in the glory, looking like soft cottonballs. Needing soil enriched with compost or manure and a sunny location, this plant is one to please.

Crocosmia - Resembling Gladioli leaves, the dark green leaves first appear through the soil from small corms. Then bright orange-red trumpets-shaped flowers appear mid- to late summer on 3 foot tall stems. The fragile-looking flower stems arch over gracefully with their blossoms opening at the base first. Best planted in large clumps, the corms need a sheltered spot in sun or part-shade, with well-drained sandy soil to ensure they pull through the winter. It is the water-logged soil that causes them to perish, not necessarily the cold and frosts. Well worth any effort to brighten a dreary corner.

Joe-PyeWeed - This 5 to 6 foot tall perennial grows wild in North American ditches and yet it does well in the perennial border. This plant stands out with its tall, upright purple stems and purplish foliage. Enhancing this plant even further, the stems are adorned with fluffy pink-mauve flower heads that appear in early autumn. The gardener must remember to plant it well at the back of the border because of its size, or shorter plants in front will be hidden. It requires rich soil and needs to be given compost or well-rotted manure mulch in the spring.

Euphorbia "Fireglow" - A member of the Spurge family, this plant makes a statement all on its own. The asparagus-like shoots appear in a burgundy colour, turning to dark green as they grow taller. In early summer, bright brick red "flowers" appear, actually not flowers at all, but bracts of the plant. This 3 foot tall plant grows best in a sun or part-shade location and is best suited as an accent plant. Its roots can become invasive, yet are easily controlled as they spread slowly with underground shoots.

White Mugwort - A herbaceous perennial, its glorious, scented white plumes are seen in September among asters and chrysanthemums. Growing 5 - 6 feet tall, it is best placed at the back of the border, in part-sun or part-shade. It will thrive in full sun if the roots are given adequate moisture or the deeply cut leaves will look untidy.

Garden Phlox "Orange Perfection" - Not really an unusual species, but the colour is the reason for listing it. Usually seen is the pink, lavender or white varieties, but this is an apricot-orange colour that stands only 2 feet tall. It flowers in the summer, large heads of clustered five-petalled blooms, and does best in full sun. As with most varieties of Phlox, water should not be splashed onto the leaves and good air circulation should be given to prevent mildew from appearing.

Chameleon Plant - Called Houttuynia cordata 'Chameleon' in latin, this vigorous grower can thrive in wet conditions beside a natural pond or stream, or in a flowerbed with mulch. Its heart-shaped leaves are a greenish-blue with cream and reddish-pink markings. The flower is a very small cream bloom that appears in mid-summer on the very tip of the stems. It grows 6" - 12" tall in full-sun or shade locations and is hardy in zone 4 .

Variegated Solomon's Seal - These perennials are native to North America and various parts of Europe. They grow best in part-shade, and can grow up to 3 feet high with a 1-foot spread. Its lance-shaped, slightly fuzzy, bright to dark green leaves are edged in bright white and are arranged alternately on the stems. In late spring, the arching stems carry drooping clusters of small, tubular flowers that are white tipped with green. These plants are nice to group in open spaces among trees, or in an informal part of the garden. They can spread quickly, therefore adequate room is needed around them. It should be planted in any good, moderately fertile soil that will stay moist, but not waterlogged.

Astrantia - These fascinating, 2 foot tall perennials originate from Europe and Asia. They have dark green leaves that are divided into 3 to 5 coarsely toothed lobes, with tiny, greenish-pink florets, which are surrounded by long, papery, white and pink, green-tipped bracts produced in the late summer. They grow best in part-sun with a moisture-retentive soil. The flowers of these plants are valued for drying and using in arrangements. There is a variegated form that has yellow and cream splotched foliage.

Ornamental Rhuem - seen growing wild in Siberia, China and the Himalayas, this plant should be only grown in a large space in part-shade or filtered sun. Large palmate leaves are the main attraction of this 5 foot tall plant, then attractive crimson flowers bloom above the leaves. This plant needs a deeply-dug hole prior to planting, watering in very dry spells and shelter during the winter winds. It does need to be well-spaced in the garden, as it can grow 4 to 5 feet wide.

Russian Vine - Called Polygonum baldschuanicum in latin, it produces bright red stems with long, heart-shaped golden leaves. It has creamy white with pink tinged flowers that appear through the summer and autumn. A rampant climber, it is ideal for covering walls and fences, reaching a height of 24 feet. It is best planted in part- to full-sun in any good soil and should be pruned slightly after flowering to keep it under control.

Many extraordinary plants available are fabulous to plant in your flowerbed and are not only interesting to look at, but a great conversational piece as well. When looking for different perennials, expect to pay a little more or see a little less plant in the pot, but think of the rewards of having that extraordinary plant in your yard.

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