Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Western Mountains and High Plains
July, 2010
Regional Report

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True blue flowers in the heat of summer from my favorite Gentian.

A True Blue Perennial Favorite

The dog days of summer don't have to be dull in the perennial flower garden. There are a variety of perennials that thrive in the heat and put on a vibrant display. But if it's blue flowers you want, then consider a wonderful alpine plant, the Gentian. The blossoms are truly blue and will compete for attention with our clear blue Rocky Mountain sky.

If you're a newcomer to this plant family, it is best to start with one of my favorites. Adapted to a wide variety of growing sites, it's called the "Everyman's Gentian" (Gentian septemfida). I've found that it does best in a sunny exposure, but can also be grown in a site that receives part sun. The trumpet-shaped blue flowers are borne on a short plant, between 8 to 12 inches in height, which makes it ideal in the front of a perennial border or in an alpine garden tucked among rocks. When not in bloom, the foliage of the Gentian is rather attractive with a deep green, glossy appearance.

When selecting a site for this Gentian, choose a sunny to part sun area to ensure the plants grow vigorously and show off their spectacular flowers. Most gentians perform best in sandy loam or gravelly loam soil. Clay soils will need to be amended with perlite, sharp sand, or pea gravel to ensure proper drainage. Compost and sphagnum peat moss should also be included in the mix to help retain moisture and provide nutrient availability. Be careful not to overwater established plants as they can be temperamental and suffer from crown rot.

This durable Gentian is generally not bothered by insect pests, although the ones in my garden have been nibbled on by browsing rabbits. My planting took a few years to fully develop to a spread of a foot or more. Now the stems are covered with an abundance of blooms starting in early July and continuing into August.

Plant this wonderful perennial in rock gardens, mountain perennial gardens, and near rock features. Combine it with other wildflowers such as wild geranium in alpine rock gardens, or place in the front of a perennial border where the blooms are best displayed. Everyman's Gentian is a great perennial to plant with ornamental grasses, particularly with a variety of blue fescue called 'Elijah Blue'.

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