Monday, January 18, 2010

For your consideration: Baptisia

Yellow foxglove is stealing the show here, but that blue at left is Baptisia australis.

I always knew baptisia was a winner and this year the Perennial Plant Association says so, too. Baptisia is the group's choice for perennial of the year for 2010.

Baptisia australis, blue false indigo, was among the first perennials planted at sillydoggarden before it was sillydoggarden. It took several years for the original plant to get itself solidly situated, but now it anchors a corner of the garage. Even though it's not full sun, the plant performs well there in ordinary soil with minimum care. It's a powerful plant, dying back completely in winter, sprouting like a dark blue-black version of asparagus spears in the spring and then morphing into a shrub for the rest of the growing season. It can get a little floppy so last summer I experimented with growing it through a peony grid to help maintain a tidier appearance. The foliage is clean and clover-like and at first blush the flowers look like sweet peas or lupines (both of which are in the same family -- Fabaceae -- as baptisia). In the fall, the seed pods turn black and rattle in the wind -- it can be a little spooky at night if you're not familiar with it.

You can see the seedpods at right; they'll turn black later in the season and eventually crack open and spill the seeds.

Baptisia also readily self-sows. I'll pot up seedlings, grow them on and plant elsewhere around the garden or give them away. Self-sown seedlings have grown into charming companions for 'Grand Cru' lilies and daylilies.

But wait! there's more. Holly Scoggins over at The Garden Professors writes about baptisia cultivars and hybrids, including 'Twilite Prairieblues' which in a few short years has become one of my very favorite perennials. The color is a moody, dusky purple that I can't get enough of. Tony Avent at Plant Delights Nursery says that baptisias root easily in spring when stems are still soft. Use a rooting hormone and high humidity and in about 8 weeks you should have roots. Now, for a plant like this, that's definitely worth trying.

'Twilite Prairieblues' is a stunner in late June.

'Twilite Prairieblues' mixes it up with chives (left) and some declining daffodil foliage (right) in late June.

And the same plant (back left) in early September. It's really filled out. That's summer savory in front and clethra at back right.


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