A new color is gaining favor in my gardens. I planted a few dark red perennials this past summer and I am pleased with their performance. They seem to integrate well into most color schemes. Knautia macedonia is one of those perennials.
The scabiosa-like, pin cushion heads of this flower bloom in a color that is rarely seen in the perennial garden: dark but vivid cherry-red. The flowers are double, dense, measure about one inch in diameter and hold their color well even when dried. This plant has a very long blooming season that extends into late fall. Individual flowers, though, last only two weeks and then transform themselves into spherical seed-heads. These enhance the overall look of the plant and provide food for birds, bees and dragonflies. Dead-heading should be avoided because this perennial needs to self-seed. It is a short lived perennial and naturalization through self propagation will ensure longevity in the garden.
The plant spreads out from a central clump into a broad, chalice-shaped bush while each shoot branches again and again to form a broad wiry network of stems. Every shoot and side-shoot terminates in a flower. Established plants produce literally hundreds in a season. The basal leaves of this plant reach 2 to 3 feet in height and width which explains why some gardeners describe this plant as round, neat and bushy. Don't believe it! The wiry flower stems can reach 6 feet high and have a tendency to sprawl.
What is interesting about the sprawl is how the airy network of stems allow the flowers to insinuate themselves into neighboring plants without being pesty. The resulting unplanned composition is not neat but it is not messy either. It works well as a casual English garden look. Include this interesting intrusion when planning the garden.
Knautia may develop powdery mildew when grown in congestion. It is important to allow air to circulate around it. The surrounding empty spaces that are reserved for this ventilation also serve as a second home for the sprawling stems. Knautia needs sunshine but will tolerate a little shade. It also requires good drainage. Once established as a sturdy clump, it will remain fairly drought tolerant with occasional deep watering. It is hardy from zones 5 to 9.