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Design Ideas from Butchart Gardens (3): Goldenrod in the Garden

September 30, 2009

Goldenrod and Helenium (photo credit: Jean Potuchek) This is the third in a series of posts about design ideas for my own garden that were inspired by my recent visit to Butchart Gardens in British Columbia (see Gardens Worth Visiting). This one focuses on the use of goldenrod (Solidago) in the garden.

I have goldenrod growing in my garden now. When I planted the blue and yellow border, goldenrod was already growing there at the edge of the woods, so I incorporated it into the garden design. But the variety of goldenrod that grows on my property is only about 3’ tall; what I saw growing at Butchart Gardens was twice that height. Their goldenrod was a tall, impressive presence growing with such companion plants as Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium). asters, and Helenium (sneezeweed).

In the 2nd edition of Herbaceous Perennial Plants, Allan Armitage notes the neglect of goldenrod as a garden plant in the United States:

…The genus has been all but ignored as a garden flower in the United States. Perhaps because goldenrods have been unfairly accused of causing hay fever…, or because they are common roadside fixtures, few find their way into cultivation. This is not the case in Europe where garden hybrids have been developed and used for late summer flowering. Hybridization of some of their finest cultivars has relied heavily on our native goldenrod, S. canadensis, as one of the parents. Once again, the Europeans introduce new and attractive garden forms from plants that are common in our own back yard.

Surprisingly, though, Armitage then goes on to identify their height as one of the “biggest problems” with goldenrod and to dismiss the one tall hybrid he discusses, ‘Golden Wings,’ as “too tall for most gardens” and as “too close in habit to S. canadensis to be of value.” Here, I must disagree with Armitage. What is “too tall” for the garden depends on the garden. It seems to me that the tall goldenrods would be appropriate in any garden where other big plants like Eupatorium, Aruncus diocious (goatsbeard) or Rudbeckia nitida ‘Herbstsonne’ (see Try This Rudbeckia) are appropriate.

Goldenrod and Asters at Butchart Gardens (photo credit: Jean Potuchek) In the blue and yellow border, I used goldenrod as a companion plant with monkshood (Aconitum), but this hasn’t worked out because the monkshood just hasn’t been happy in my garden. As a result, this corner of the garden looks bereft once the daylilies finish blooming in August and needs to be redesigned. I would love to try growing a clump of this tall goldenrod with tall blue asters. In the future, as I develop new borders at the edge of the woods on the side of my house, I had been hoping to include Joe Pye Weed; I will now consider tall goldenrod as a companion plant in that area.

My contact at Butchart Gardens, Thea Hegland, tells me that they have been growing goldenrod for many years, and that the cultivar I saw there is a hybrid known simply as “Goldenrod.” I could not find this cultivar in my reference books or in on-line sources, so it may no longer be readily available. Nevertheless, those of us who want to try tall goldenrod in our gardens can just look for tall varieties of S. canadensis or S. gigantea. I definitely intend to look for these. If anyone knows of good varieties of tall goldenrod for the northeast United States or of good places to buy them, I would love to hear from you.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. September 30, 2009 8:09 pm

    What wonderful photos of the gardens. I was fortunate to visit there about 10 years ago. Thank you for sharing them.

  2. marydelle permalink
    September 30, 2009 9:22 pm

    I’m glad you want to include Goldenrod in your garden. Some consider it a weed to be gotten rid of. It is really beautiful.

    • Jean Potuchek permalink*
      September 30, 2009 11:14 pm

      Thanks. I love to blend native plants into my garden.

  3. October 1, 2009 10:49 am

    Happy to find you on Blotanical!
    I find the number of visitors to Butchart quite incredible… believe it was 50 million since opening -the last time I was there! Cheers, Alice

    • Jean Potuchek permalink*
      October 1, 2009 11:06 am

      Yes, it is amazing. Even on a weekday in mid-September, parts of the garden were quite crowded. This was my third or fourth visit to Butchart Gardens over a period of several decades; but it was my first since I started gardening in a serious way, so I looked at the gardens very differently this time — and learned a lot in the process. It really is a garden worth visiting.

  4. November 18, 2015 10:50 pm

    I am probably 6 years too late with this comment, but at 4′-6′ in height, I believe S. Rigida is one of the taller native goldenrods. I am going to give it a try this year with some Joe Pye and Asters.

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