Prairie Smoke – an underused perennial
Meleah Maynard, a Minneapolis Master Gardener has a list of what she calls underused perennials. She named six in a recent article in the Northern Gardener. You may want to try them in your garden.
The first is Bowman’s Root (Gillenia trifoliata). This is a mounded plant with upright stems topped with white five petal- flowers in late spring. This is a native to the eastern states. You may have to get it from a catalog as it is hard to find locally. It grows to two to three feet tall in full sun to part shade and is a zone 4 plant.
Culver’s Root (Veronicastrum virginicum): Meleah plants this in dappled shade although the suggested location is in full to part sun. In July, it spikes vertical spires of white flowers that are quite showy. It can tower to six feet tall or only two feet depending on how much sun it gets. It tolerates dry or wet soil and is also a zone 4 plant.
Grape Leaf Anemone (Anemone tomentosa ‘Robustissima’): This is a fall flowering, zone 3 plant that needs to be planted in the spring as do all fall flowering plants. Its showy dark pink blooms top dark green foliage in late summer. This plant likes afternoon shade or full shade.
Prairie Smoke (Geum triflorum): This is a native plant for zone 3. It is named for the feathery pink seed heads that look much like a plume of smoke. It likes dry well drained soil. Even though it spreads slowly by rhizome, it can be used as a ground cover as it is only six inches tall before it blooms. Plant in full to part sun.
Variegated Jacob’s Ladder (Polemonium reptans): This plant is a cultivar of an eastern wildflower. The spring foliage is yellow and green with pink edges. The pink fades as the plant comes into bloom. It flowers in early summer with pale blue flowers. If you like pastel flowers you will like this plant. It is not very showy but if you are looking for color and texture in full to part shade you will like Jacob. Depending on the soil and light he will grow to between 6 to 14 inches tall.
The last bloom is White Cups (Callirhoe involucrate): This plant is also called poppy mallow as its foliage looks much like a poppy’s. This is a delicate-looking plant with pink-red flowers on spreading foliage. It will grow most anywhere in full sun. It likes to flop so plant in on top of a retaining wall so it can cascade over the side. It is 6 to 12 inches high and a zone 4 plant.
With a little fall mulching and careful siting, that is protection from winter winds and early spring thaws, most zone 4 plants will live happily here. The nice thing about perennials is, if you decide you don’t like them, or just hate their shape, color, or creep, you can usually find a fellow gardener who just loves the plant. If not, compost the darn thing. You don’t need to live with a plant just because you purchased it. Life is too short to look at an ugly plant.