From the Garden Gate: More for the Border

Jul 18, 2013

Credit SEWilco, Wikimedia Commons

This week's From the Garden Gate topic revisits an earlier one, about recommendations for the border of your yard. Murray resident Roy Helton divides his time between teaching in the English Department at Murray State University and indulging his passion for gardening.

Well, here I am, still on the topic of tall plants. Over the years of arranging and rearranging plants and a whole lot of trial and error, I’ve grown fonder of lots of these large plants as the backbone, and even middle ground, of the border.  As my own garden matures, and the beds continue to fill in, these plants serve as a backdrop to set off the shorter flowers in the front.  

That use is pretty obvious, but I’ve also noticed that these bigger plants can be used to make little alcoves, almost like containers, for the smaller plants.  The pastel flowers and glossy foliage of periwinkle  are like the little kids who get to sit on the front row for the family reunion portrait, with the taller paprika colored yarrow and the spiky pink liatris and the vermillion phlox standing protectively behind them.

In addition to tall plants like Tansy, Yellow Flag, Ironweed, and perennial grasses that I have mentioned before, another excellent back-of-the-border nominee is Filipendula.  And since I am a natural sucker for plants with wonderful old common names, Filipendula suits me just fine.  This plant has most frequently been called Meadowsweet, but it also responds to Queen of the Meadow, Pride of the Meadow, Meadow-Wort, Meadow Queen, Lady of the Meadow, Meadsweet, and Bridewort.

Meadowsweet grows anywhere from three to seven feet tall, depending on the particular species.  The stems are erect and furrowed, reddish to sometimes purple. The leaves are dark-green on the upper side and whitish and downy underneath.  The most common form has delicate, graceful, creamy-white flowers clustered close together at the very top of the plant. They have an airy, cotton candy-like quality that reminds me of the flowers of Astilbe. The variety in my own garden has pink flowers that give off a strong, sweet smell.  The literature says that meadowsweet blooms from June to early September though at my location the flowers are spent by mid-July.

In recent years I have come to love a plant that I discovered several years ago when my daughter took me on an excursion to Yew Dell Gardens just outside of Louisville.  It’s called Rudbeckia Maxima, and it is bound to get attention in any garden.  The plant is also called Giant Coneflower, Great Coneflower, and Giant Brown-eyed Susan.  The names give you a clue why I have nominated for the back of the border.  It is said to grow from five to seven feet, though mine have shot up to eight feet in this very cooperative growing season. 

Rudbeckia Maxima is an incredible wildflower, tall and bold, with huge basal leaves of powder blue with giant stalks that rise straight up, bearing deep golden coneflowers. The central cones of Rudbeckia Maxima are 4-6" tall making it a real conversation piece. It’s an excellent addition to naturalized areas, wildflower meadows, prairies, cottage gardens, and borders. And I prefer to let the seed heads remain after the blooms are gone because they attract goldfinches who seem to love the seed. Though the plant is native to swampy areas in Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Arkansas, it seems to do just fine in relatively dry spots like my sometimes neglected side yard.  It will take either full sun or partial shade with no complaints.  And it will definitely cause your friends to stop, look, and say, “What on earth is that?”  Now, really, who could ask for more?

Well, here’s to you—from the garden gate.