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Persicaria amplexicaulis ‘Firetail’: Is This Perennial Too Good to be True?

Image: vivaces.netTwo summers ago, I planted Persicaria Firetail with some trepidation; I wasn’t convinced that it would grow in my area. Some sellers promised that it is winter hardy to USDA Zone 4 while others suggested Zone 5. Lucky for me, it survived its first winter in Zone 4, and by the end of the second season, it had grown sufficiently to be propagated.

I was attracted to this plant because of its casualness and its long bloom period. It appears to be the sort of perennial best suited to a cottage garden. It is also ideal for a flowerbed with a meadow theme, as it looks stunning when combined with ornamental grasses.

image: defriesgardens.comThe most impressive characteristic of this plant is that by insinuating itself among other perennials – it must be seen to be believed - it weaves a theme of crimson through my garden to anchor all of the other hot colored flowers that bloom there.

Firetail will spread to 4 feet in diameter. By its second year, most of that spread appears to have taken place above ground. I cannot report with any accuracy if its root base, growing exponentially from its center, will also spread that wide underground. Nor am I able to predict if it will, or will not, choke out neighboring plants. More growing time is required to accumulate that information.

image: flowerfarmandgardens.blogspot.comCrimson is not a color I would embrace in my English style pastel gardens, however, the brown fence that separates me from my neighbor calls for yellows, corals, and red flowers. Consequently, the flowerbed located in front of the fence has become home to yellow helianthus, heliposis, vivid achillea, and a variety of coral, tangerine, and scarlet-colored hemerocallis.  A crimson plant, like Firetail, that can hold its own in this tropically colored setting, is a welcome addition.

The second most impressive characteristic about this plant is the longevity of its flowers; it blooms June to October and sometimes to the first frost. In the future, I will have to decide if its extended bloom period warrants growing such a spreading plant in an urban flowerbed.

Firetail in my garden in September, after all other perennials have finished blooming.The third most impressive characteristic about this sprawling plant is the root ball. While fleshy and dense, it is easily divisible from its extremities.

Persicaria amplexicaulis Firetail, also known as Polygonum amplexicaule Firetail, is a tall, upright, spreading perennial, which forms large, dense, bushy clumps of leathery dark green leaves, typically 3 to 4 feet tall. This tall foliage supports bottle brush-shaped crimson flowering spikes, up to 6 inches long, which bloom all summer.

This plant needs elbow room to achieve its potential. Without ample space, it will weave itself among other perennials, which, frankly, is a rather artistic way to grow this plant.

As it crochets its way throughout my flowerbed, it is about to enter year three of its growth. Therefore, I am unable to report on its long-term development. One of the problems with recently introduced varieties is that there is no established garden lore to guide us. Who can predict how it will behave when it matures?

Sellers recommend this plant for massing in moist areas, but I have grown it in a rather dry location. Perhaps that is why it took two years to make its presence felt.

Unlike its white, spectacular cousin, the strongly territorial Persicaria polymorpha, this cultivar is not too aggressive. However, like its cousin, it needs lots of space to grow. While this plant is a steady spreader, it is not considered to be invasive. Only time can judge that characteristic, because one gardener’s spread might be considered another gardener’s invasion.

Firetail grows in sun and part shade, in normal, sandy, or clay soil providing the earth is moist. It attracts butterflies, and is deer and rabbit resistant. Due to its spreading habit, some might consider experimenting with it as ground cover.


How to Design Exciting Flowerbeds Throughout the Seasons; a book review for

Perennial Companions: 100 Dazzling Plant Combinations for Every Season, Tom Fischer, Richard Bloom & Adrian Bloom, Timber Press

Tom Fischer never fails to dazzle us when he produces his little gems of garden books. This publication contains unusually beautiful photographs that reproduce the intense pleasure that only flower gardening can provide. There are one hundred plant combinations portrayed in this book, not only to admire, but also to inspire readers to create their own beautiful flowerbeds throughout the blooming seasons. For sourcing these exquisite images, we are grateful to the very talented Richard Bloom and Adrian Bloom.

a midsummer to late summer combinationPhoto credit: Richard Bloom and Adrian Bloom, used with permission.Once the gardener has become accustomed to selecting, planting, growing, and caring for perennials, the next step is to use plants to compose visually exciting compositions. Some call it nature’s eye candy. For this project, the garden is a canvas, and the plants are paint colors and texture. This is about flowerbed design and one does not need a Bachelor of Fine Arts with a major in Design to understand or master it. All it takes is patience and a love for experimentation. Moving plants around, until a beautiful combination is achieved, is not difficult work.

Composing with flowers and foliage is an opportunity for gardeners to connect with the creative side of their brain and to have some fun. By using one’s imagination, one’s eyes, and a shovel, the experimentation does not have to be hard work. If anything, it is quite enjoyable and rewarding. Given the thousands of perennials available for us to work with, and the extraordinary range of plants' shapes, colors and textures, the possibilities for beautiful flower combinations are endless.

early summer combinationPhoto credit: Richard Bloom and Adrian Bloom, used with permission.The purpose of this book, therefore, is to act as inspiration, to help unleash the creativity that lays hidden deep within all of us. No one is exempt from creativity. It is there; one just has to find a way to connect with and coax it out. The visual inspiration contained within this book is for just such a purpose. Open up any page and, instantly, one may become smitten by the beauty of the seasonal compositions.

To achieve this powerful affect, Richard Bloom and Adrian Bloom photographed eye-catching flowerbeds in many world-class gardens. In the UK they found :- Bressingham Gardens, in Norfolk, Eastgrove Garden Cottage Nursery, in Worcestershire, Glen Chantry, in Essex, Hulwood Barn, in Suffolk, Lady Farm, in Somerset, Merriments Garden, in East Suffolk, The Picton Garden, in Worcestershire, RHS Wisley, in Surrey, Scampton Hall Garden, in North Yorkshire, and The Thumbit, in Suffolk.

In the USA, the gardens that were sourced are: - Chanticleer Garden, in Wayne, Pa., New York Botanical Garden, in Bronx, NY., and Dennis Schrader’s and Bill Smith’s Garden, in Mattituck, NY. Some of the designers whose work is represented in this compilation of seasonal beauty include Adrian Bloom, Judy Pearce, Tom Stuart-Smith, Piet Oudolf, and Ann James.

mid-spring to late spring combinationPhoto credit: Richard Bloom and Adrian Bloom, used with permission.So that there is no mistake about the artistic purpose of the book, only some technical information about portrayed plants is provided; the author wisely recommends further online research for any needed elaboration. After all, this publication is a visual stimulant, not a primer.

Although I have written about this before, it must be repeated that the beautiful graphic design, that identify Tom Fischer’s Timber Press books, transform them into thrilling must-haves for gardeners - books so versatile that they may also serves as hospitality gifts, token presents, and stocking stuffers.



There's Mammoth Pleasure to be Had from Chrysanthemum "Mammoth"

What thrills a gardener most is to see a perennial in bloom exactly the way it appeared on the photo tag, that was attached to the plant at point of sale. The thrill is even greater when the perennial performs according to the media publicity that first brought it to gardeners’ attention.

I experienced that delightful, satisfying feeling last summer when the three Chrysanthemum Mammoth varieties I planted - only two months before - began to bloom. These perennials delivered almost everything the publicity promised.

My experience with the chrysanthemum family - before it was subdivided into new, unpronounceable family names, such as Dendrathema, Leucanthemum , and Chysanthemum -  had not been newsworthy. Dendrathema Clara Curtis, with vivid warm pink flowers that are exciting enough to stop traffic, sprawls too much for an urban garden, where a flowerbed must appear neat at all times. It broke my heart to dig it up and throw it on the compost heap. Not even the neighbors wanted such an unruly plant.

Similarly, Leucanthmum varieties, also known as daisies, need staking and the stigma this family of plants carries is regrettable. Some gardeners believe that a daisy is a wild flower or weed and that there is no place for it in the formal garden. Others, like me, accept the flower for what it is, an attractive perennial with a short life that cheers up any flowerbed. Since we unknowingly grow other flowers that were once considered weeds, why single this one out for prejudice? Besides, in naturalized meadow gardens, this plant grows carefree.

Finally, there are the well-known autumn chrysan - themums. I still haven’t figured out if they are now labeled Dendrathema or not; but it doesn’t matter much because most cannot overwinter here in USDA Zone 4b. In my climate, we buy them in September as blooming throwaway plants to decorate the garden until Halloween, when the night frost kisses them goodbye.

I became excited when I read about the introduction of a new Chrysanthemum cultivar, labeled Mammoth. It was hailed as neat and majestic, and was touted to overwinter in my climate. The hype was almost too good to be true. It promised not to be messy. It isn’t messy. It promised to grow into a large neat mound paved with flowers that completely hide the foliage. It did. It promised not to require staking. It is carefree. It promised large flowers. They were. No pinching, no pruning, and no dead heading required. Yes, Yes, and Yes!  A dense dome of color? Wow, was it ever. Overwinters in USDA 4b? We shall see, after the snow melts. Blooms for more than a month in August, September and October? Well, not quite; at least not last season.

The one-gallon plants I received were too lush when they arrived in May. That’s always a bad sign for an autumn-flowering plant. The pumped-up appearance indicated they were fed too much fertilizer to make them attractive, an action that usually results in perennials with a shortened life cycle in the first year of growth. My Mammoths bloomed too early and faded before their designated time. This coming season, they will have a natural life cycle undisturbed by excessive nutrients. Then, I hope they will provide the three months of bloom promised by the promotional hype.

The interesting characteristic about this plant is that not all varieties bloomed equally attractive. The supplier offered five: - Coral, Dark Pink, Lavender, Yellow Quill, and Matchsticks, [yellow quill with a fluted red tip].

Chrysanthemum Mammoth Coral, a trade photo.I reluctantly vetoed Coral because the supplier flagged it as the only one requiring dead heading. Therefore I can report nothing about it.

Chrysanthemum Mammoth Lavender. a trade photo I nixed Lavender because there are many similar lavender colored asters in the garden that bloom in fall. I cannot comment on this variety.

Chrysanthemum Mammoth Yellow Quill, a trade photo.Yellow Quill bloomed true to hype but not worthy of mention, at least not in the first season. I expect that, when it and the others reach a mature mound height of just below three feet, they will make quite an impression – even on those who dislike yellow flowers. However, I will not be a fan of this plant. The yellow quill-shaped petals are too scrawny for my liking; furthermore, they do not remain front-facing all day long, even when planted with a southern exposure  

Chrysanthemum Mammoth Dark Pink, a trade photoThe Dark Pink variety was magnificent. Its petals were so perfect in bloom that they hardly look real. The image above, while supplied by the trade, is an accurate replica of what I saw growing in my flowerbed. A digital dream factory could not have made them appear more beautiful. In addition, the petal color is so versatile; it blends well into most English style gardens.

C.Mammoth Dark Pink, from my garden.I was unable to photograph my own plants when they were at their best due to recurring, heavy rain storms. However, the image above, taken in my garden, shows the Dark Pink variety, just past its peak, as it is entering the last stages of its bloom cycle.

Chrysanthemum Mammoth Matchsticks, a trade photoMatchsticks, however, was my biggest disappointment. When nature combines red and yellow on one petal, the results can be harsh. Add to this visual uneasiness a flower whose petals are partly quilled and partly fluted and the result is chaos. Even though the bloom pictured above appears tame, multipy that image by hundreds and the result may be unpleasant. All together, this variety appeared unattractive in the flowerbed; and its visual energy was too high. Its frenetic appearance made me uncomfortable.

Furthermore, like Yellow Quill, Matchsticks is sensitive to the path of the sun; in the afternoon, it turned away from view. That only worsened the plants appearance. I expect that I will have to remove it from my flowerbed because not only is it disturbing to see but it also disrupts the serenity of the surrounding plants. In all fairness though, most garden writers have been delighted with Matchsticks bold and aggressive performance, so I suspect that I am the lone voice to reject it.

Now, the only characteristic that remains to be confirmed is whether my favorite, the Dark Pink variety, will propagate as easily as Clara Curtis does. With Clara, one only has to lift up one side of the plant, to remove an easily accessible root shoot. Then, the mother plant is repositioned easily into the soil and the cutting, now a new infant perennial, is transplanted. I can hardly wait for spring to determine if Mammoth Dark Pink will give up offspring as easily. I hope it will cooperate because I’d like several more for my garden – it’s that beautiful.


Plant a Perennial Garden that Flowers for Eight Months; a book review.

A Recipe for Continuous Blooms, Lorraine Roberts, published by Plant Paradise Country Gardens, Caledon, Ontario, Canada, L7E 0Y9.                    

The easiest way to ensure a continuously blooming perennial garden, from the earliest spring until fall, is to buy a copy of this book. Thank you, Lorraine Roberts, for making it so easy for new gardeners to create continuous-flowering gardens, in temperate and colder climates.

Paeonia suffruticosa Chojuraku, Blooms May - June. Grows to 4 feet. Sun/Pt.Shd. Image copyrighted by Lorraine Roberts.Before the publication of this manual, whenever neophyte gardeners wanted to create three-season flowerbeds, they were compelled to muddle through encyclopedic photo-lists of plants. The first step was to make a list of those flowers that were appealing. The second step was to edit the list to eliminate plants that were inappropriate for one’s growing zone.

The tedious chore continued with a third step - the preparation of yet another list - because the remaining plants had to be categorized by bloom period. The gardener needed to ensure that appropriate plants were selected to provide continuous flowers for about twenty-two overlapping, blooming periods. Usually, these begin in March and stop at the end of October.

Until now, this three-step procedure proved to be one of the most time-consuming aspects of planning a garden. It doesn’t have to be that way, anymore.

Sanguisorbia menziesii. Blooms June - August. Grows to 3 feet. Sun/Pt.Shd. Image copyrighted by Lorraine Roberts.The publishing concept for A Recipe for Continuous Bloom is brilliant in its simplicity. First, each suitable perennial is presented on a separate page, dedicated to the appreciation of one plant at a time. Second, the growth season for both sun and shade gardens are sub-divided into twenty-two easy-to-distinguish bloom periods, in sequential, chronological order.

For example, to ensure that flowers bloom throughout the month of May, one starts with recommendations for plants that begin blooming April - May. Then one turns the page to discover plants that will bloom in May only. Turn another page and, viola! Here are the plants that bloom May- June. The reader then proceeds to recommendations for May - July until reaching suggestions for May - October. That sequence adds up to seven varying bloom periods associated with the month of May alone.

Salvia sclarea turkestanica. Blooms July - August. Grows to 4 feet. Sun/Pt.Shd. Image copyrighted by Lorraine Roberts.The process is repeated for the month of June, and again for July, and continues for each subsequent month as overlapping bloom periods flows seamlessly, from one to another, until the blooming seasons end.

The author’s ingenious idea of a chronological sequence of pages – and one plant per page - makes it easy for new gardeners to plan flowerbeds that, in some locations, will provide attractive plants for eight months of the year. However, readers who live in areas that experience accumulating, winter snowfalls that are late to melt [e.g. Montreal] should not expect the recommended plants for March to bloom at all, unless they are planted up against a sunny house foundation where the radiating warmth of the home, plus the sun, will accelerate the melting of the snow.

Artemisia lactiflora Guizhou. Blooms July - September. Grows to 5 feet. Sun/Pt.Shd. Image copyrighted by Lorraine Roberts.Accompanying each photo are technical specifications such as height, width, type of soil required, and growing zone. American readers should lower the numerical value of the mentioned growing zones by a factor of one because they are presented here in Canadian values, determined by a protocol different from the one used in the USA. Therefore, a plant designated in the book as Zone 5, is USDA Zone 4.

Suggestions are also offered for temperate and cold-climate plants that attract butterflies, for drought – tolerance, hummingbirds, long – blooming, native to North America, moisture – tolerance, beneficial insects, great foliage, cut flowers, and for plants that are deer-resistant.

Astilbe x "arendsii" "Color Flash". Blooms June - July. Grows 20 inches tall. Shade/Pt.Shd., Moist soil. Image copyrighted by Lorraine Roberts.The color shot for each recommended perennial is set up to present a flower at the height of its glory. The plants are portrayed with such attention to detail, that new gardeners, who have not yet established their favorites, might fall in love with all of them. It is a tribute to Ms. Roberts’ photographic talent, for painstakingly showcasing her selection of perennials so that each one becomes an object of desire.

Tiarella "Spring Symphony". Blooms May- August. Grows 12 inches tall. Shade/Pt.Shd. Image copyrighted by Lorraine Roberts.

Order this book directly from the author at


Are You a Collector of Day Lilies or Do You Grow Them for Pleasure?

H. Angels Gather Round, (Smth 08 ) Tetraploid, Evergreen, Mid Season bloomer, 30 inch scapes, flowers 5.5 inches diameter, smooth peachy-pink self and green throat with ruffled iceberg lettuce-green edge. Image:-daylilyfans.comThe new day lily mail order catalog that arrived this week contains more technical information than I will ever require. Based upon the list of newly introduced varieties, and by paying attention to the details that accompany each plant, one comes to realize that day lily growers target several kinds of gardeners.

First is the nursery owner who is prepared to nurture a plant until it matures to make an impressive display, second is the gardener wishing to add a very specific perennial to the flowerbed, and third is the collector.

Acquiring new and unusual varieties of day lilies is a serious hobby similar to collecting orchids or antiques. It differs from conventional gardening in many respects because it places greater emphasis on the thrill of the hunt for the rare and the unknown, the excitement of discovery, the satisfaction of exclusive ownership, the pleasure of the new and different, an eternal sense of incompleteness - because collecting never ends, and the now-rarely observed trait of one-upmanship.

Collectors also assign a higher market value to desirable plants than traditional gardeners do. Such plants might be difficult to propagate, they may differ dramatically from previously introduced cultivars, or they may combine, in one plant, superlatives of all of the desired traits of the species.

H. Stella d'Oro, (Jablonski '75), diploid, Dormant foliage, Early-Medium-Late bloomer, scapes are 17 inches high, blooms are 3.5 inches diameter, Repeat [continuous] bloomer, gold-yellow trumpets, compact habit. Images:- only has to study the cost of the unusual cultivars to realize that the traditional gardener is not the intended market for many of the newly introduced plants. The prices confirm that collectors are prepared to pay a premium for one that is out of the ordinary. For example, in the above-mentioned catalog, the supplier charges only $4.00 for a clump of several fans of H. Stella d’Oro, but quotes $75 for a single fan of H. Angels Gather Round. I have seen Angels listed as high as $125 from other sources.

While some weekend gardeners may select a day lily based upon a few details such as color and price, here are some of the characteristics that collectors consider when choosing a new cultivar:

Number of Chromosomes  Tetraploid plants have twenty-two pairs of chromosomes while diploids have only eleven.

A.H.S.  Some cultivars are registered with the American Hemerocallis Society, while others are not. For some collectors, registration is important.

 Foliage   A plant may be classified as evergreen, semi-evergreen, or dormant. This designation refers to the hardiness of a plant in colder climates and the sustainability of foliage in warmer areas. Dormant varieties are the hardiest and evergreens may require mulch where winters are severe.

 Bloom Time   In my growing zone of USDA 4, early varieties (E) bloom from June to beginning of July, mid-season plants (M) bloom from mid-July to mid-August, and late varieties (L) bloom in August and September.

 Double   This adjective describes a variety with a higher number of flower petals than others have. Some double blooms will resemble miniature old roses or tiny azaleas.

High Bud Count Some cultivars have a greater number of buds per scape than others. [A scape is a stalk that shoots up from within the clump of leaves and holds the flower buds at its top.] This designation indicates the intensity of the color output (multiple blooms per day) during a plant's bloom period. Because beauty is subjective, a high bud count is no guarantee that a day lily will be appreciated. The gardener must first be attracted to the flower’s overall appearance for the high bud count to have any value.

Reblooming  A variety that will send up new scapes after its first blooming period

Repeat Blooms A variety that sends up new scapes continuously beyond its first blooming period. When designing flowerbeds, most of my focus is on this group of day lilies. If the color is suitable for the composition, it is sheer pleasure having a plant that sustains flowers over an extended period.

Sculpting  A variety with petals that are pleated or covered with relief either at the base of the petals or anywhere on the petals’ surface. One can appreciate this feature when the lily grows at close proximity. From a distance, this characteristic is hardly noticeable.

Spider A variety with long, thin petals – like skinny pinwheels - with a ratio of at least 4:1, that is, the petals are at least 4 times longer than they are wide. Flowers in this group lack the velvety beauty of traditional day lilies and do not project from afar as powerfully as the trumpet varieties do. Spiders compensate for their scraggliness with bold colors, long bloom periods, and tall scapes.

Unusual Form  A variety, usually Spider, whose thin petals are spatula-shaped, or pinched, or twisted, or cascading, or crispate.

Collectors are also interested in knowing if a day lily is very fragrant, if it will bloom in the early morning, if it remains open late into the evening, the name of the hybridizer, the year the plant was registered, the height of the scape, and the diameter of the flower.

 A large day lily flower is a beautiful sight and tall lilies that loom and bloom over other perennials can be very effective in the perennial flowerbed.