Whenever I receive a catalogue from an online nursery, my first action is to search for perennials I’ve never seen before. I pay attention to those that are considered hardy in USDA Zone 4 [Canada Zone 5]. I delve into details to select only flowering plants with a long bloom period. Finally, for those that appear to have potential, I evaluate for attractiveness and for colors that work well in the English-style flowerbed.
Photos used in the above-mentioned publications are often deceptive. An image may reflect a close-up of a petal or floret that in real life has no visual appeal. An image may have been captured with a lens filter that alters the plant’s true color to make it appear more attractive in print. Occasionally, the plant is staged with hidden props to hide an unattractive growing habit. Computer technology may be used to transform a plants image into a vision the human eye can never see. Rarely are we informed that a perennial is messy, aggressive, invasive or short-lived.
One requires courage to experiment with newly introduced plants and, like inside the now-proverbial Forest Gump box of chocolates, one never knows what one is going to find. Even though no amount of technical prowess could hide the fact that Lespedeza was not an attractive perennial, I ignored cautionary guidelines when I first noticed it and bought blindly.
My onlione provider did not mention that it was bushy. The close up of Lespedeza thunbergii Gibraltar showed no sign of weeping or cascading. The small image of a floret close-up looked enticing as did the hype in the catalog informing me that this perennial would
- Bloom at the end of the season and for several months when little else is in bloom. It did.
- Flower in a rich, vivid color making it attractive from afar. It was, if one likes harsh tones.
- Spread at least five feet in diameter. It did.
- Cascade over sunny slopes. It does.
- Sport foliage that would remain attractive and disease free all summer, even in hot, humid climates. It did.
Unfortunately, before the first season was over, I realised that Lespedeza is not a perennial for my neat city English-style garden. It belongs either in a rural setting where it might be valued for its practicality rather than for beauty or in a meadow-like garden where unpretentiousness is a virtue.
Lespedeza Gibraltar is too robust for the pastel, polite and strategically planned urban theme. Its multidirectional growth and intense purple-pink coloration generate energy that prevents gardeners from combining it into pleasant plant compositions. In bloom, the pea-like florets appear scraggly even from afar and sorely wilted for a long while when flowering is over.
There has to be a reason why this perennial doesn’t show up on most nursery offerings. Perhaps one explanation is that in fact it is a low growing, messy, flowering shrub that needs to be cut down to the ground every autumn. It’s a perennial want-to-be.
Yet, in the context of a meadow garden, or in a matrix of a Piet Oudolf inspired composition, this plant has merit. When planted on a slope to cascade visually unobstructed, its texture and color interact well with other low growing plants. The harsh tone of its flowers blends well among the mellow hues of ornamental grasses and appear to glow happily next to bold native flowers. Lespedeza Gibraltar is a perennial that holds its own in the company of other robust garden personalities and proves once again that, in the plant world, one gardener’s nemesis is another gardener's friend.