I added a new short flower to my garden last spring, Callirhoe involucrata, and without testing it first, immediately included it in two garden compositions that I did for others. The flower color was so intense that I just could not wait an entire season to see how this plant performed. My initial gut reaction turned out to be accurate because when my clients saw it growing in their garden, they were joyful. It was the fuchsia-magenta color of the blooms that got to them, just as I had been enchanted when the plant was first delivered.
The irony is that I have been avoiding this perennial for some time. Its photo in the supplier’s catalogue has always been downright boring. Nevertheless, on a rainy day, with nothing else to do, I began to go through that catalogue with the proverbial fine tooth comb, except that this time the comb teeth were even finer and I gathered more information than I expected.
The spec list for this perennial indicated that it would bloom from June until August. I had not read that information, in the past, because the catalogue photograph had been so unflattering that I ignored it. However, that was information I needed to know. There may be very severe guidelines for what I plant, but a perennial that will promise three months of blooming deserves a chance, no matter how insipid it appears in a catalogue and no matter how short it will grow. Immediately, I added it to my rainy day plant order. Unfortunately, we had unusually hot weather this past summer and, like many newly planted perennials, this one stopped blooming in July. Online research indicates that this is a cold climate plant and, had the summer been cooler, it might not have stopped blooming. Growers in warmer zones don’t consider Callirohe to be an extended bloomer at all; they only promise two months of flowering. This plant will need another summer for me to determine which grower's catalogue contained the correct information. My supplier has confided in me that, very often, the attributes of plants are overstated by growers to encourage sales and within a year or two most catalogues need to be revises to reflect the truth.
Another fact that I learned, while researching this plant online, is that it spreads. No one is labeling it as aggressive but the word vigorous has been used and it is considerd easy to control. Vigorous is an unwelcome attribute because, by next season, I expect that the fastidious clients will be calling, asking me to remove the plant because it is messy. I hope that they don’t. The coloration of the plant is too powerful; it deserves a chance.
The gardening tip for using a low mounding spreader, such as this one, is to plant it where it can be appreciated up close, perhaps on the border of a nearby flower bed or beside a path. In the two gardens where it was placed, I made sure that it would be the first thing that the homeowners would see when they opened their front doors.
Gardeners that will experiment with this plant need to know that it is hardy in Zones 4 to 8, grows mat like, forming a low foliage mound from 6-9" tall on procumbent stems which spread along the ground to 2’ or 3' wide. Let’s hope it stops at three feet. Solitary, upward facing, cup-shaped, five-petaled, poppy-like, magenta flowers (to 2.5" wide) continuously appear on thin stems above the foliage from mid-spring to fall. This sun loving plant, which might self seed under ideal conditions, is indifferent to soil, which is a plus, and once established it is drought tolerant; a tap root allows it to grow with minimal irrigation. However, tap roots make perennials difficult to transplant. Therefore, gardeners should carefully consider Callirohe’s placement in the garden. Damaging a tap root during transplanting, and that is very easy to do, significantly stunts the growth of the perennial – it can take up to two years to regain its size. In addition, it will self propagate in its previous location because abandoned, buried root material eventually produces another plant.
Growers consider Callirhoe to be a good native ground cover suitable for border fronts, rock gardens, native plant gardens, wild gardens, naturalized areas or meadows or sprawling over a stone wall. Suppliers would like us to see this plant as fitting in well into both formal garden areas as well as wild or naturalized areas. I am skeptical about its place in a formal garden because it might require a lot of trimming to keep it neat. Of course, that won’t be know for certain until it has matured in my test garden. I don’t regret the cavalier attitude I took by planting this perennial without prior experience. The ecstatic expression on my clients’ faces was worth the risk.