Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Upper South
August, 2009
Regional Report

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Use tall plants, like Joe Pye weed, to give bold, dramatic effect to your garden.

Tall and Terrific

For years now, the trend in flower breeding and selection has been to make plants smaller and more compact. But short, dumpy mounds do not always a garden make. Tall and statuesque can be a good thing, even in a small garden. Tall perennials, especially, bring bold architectural drama and structure to a garden space in a way that no short plant can.

Allen Bush, special projects manager for Jelitto Perennial Seeds and previous owner of Holbrook Farm and Nursery, wrote in the June 2009 issue of American Nurseryman about some of his favorite "High and Mighty" plants. Some of these are widely available and well known, while others are more esoteric. Pick and choose, perhaps starting with using just a few as accents. Over time, you might find that you want to add more and more. One key factor to remember is that taller plants may need more staking and support structures. But, I think you'll find this effort is well worth the time.

Some of Allen Bus's Favorite Tall Plants
Hollyhock. This old-fashioned favorite instantly provides a cottage-garden look. Granted, they are short-lived, attract Japanese beetles, and may get fungal diseases, but they do naturally self-sow and have a special charm. Try Alcea rugosa, which grows over 6 feet tall with 6-inch-wide, yellow flowers from May through July.

Angelica. Besides the herb angelica, there are several ornamental species. The Korean species, Angelica gigas, has large red-purple clusters of small flowers. The Chinese Angelica dahurica is a stunning and majestic biennial that grows to 6 feet tall with large, dark green, divided leaves and massive heads of small white flowers.

Tall tickseed. Growing over 6 feet tall, Coreopsis tripteris has relatively fine-textured, three-parted leaves with light yellow daisy-like flowers from July to September. Tall tickseed is native to much of the eastern North America in places like bluffs, thickets, and rocky, open woods -- all rugged conditions that should make it a cinch to grow in home gardens.

Joe Pye weed. For years, gardeners generally ignored this eastern North American native. Then, The Royal Horticultural Society bestowed its prestigious Award of Garden Merit on Eupatorium maculatum 'Atropurpureum' in 1993, so now Joe Pye weed is widely available at nurseries and garden centers. And, yes, there are now shorter-growing varieties, but the original is hard to beat. Growing over 6 feet tall, with huge, dusky mauve clusters of flowers atop wine-red stems from July through September, Joe Pye weed is a beautiful, reliable giant.

Cup plant. The common name for Silphium perfoliatum is due to the large leaves that clasp opposing sides of the stems, forming a natural cup that catches rainfall. Another 6-foot-plus plant, it has large branching clusters of yellow daisy-like flowers from July to September. This North American native was originally found on the prairies.

Ironweed. Blooming from August through September, the slender but sturdy stems of Vernonia noveboracensis reach almost 7 feet tall. The purplish-magenta flowers attract butterflies. Autumn's morning mist on fields of ironweed are one of nature's most lovely creations.

Some Other Tall Plants
Some of my favorite tall garden plants include the taller-growing lilies, especially rubrum lily and the Orientpet hybrids, plume poppy, queen-of-the-prairie, patrinia, golden glow, and daylily 'Autumn Minaret'. Of course, no discussion of tall garden plants would be complete without mentioned the many ornamental grasses now available. Especially look to the varieties of switch grass, or panicums.

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