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A-Spire-ing Plants

July 12, 2010

Vertical spires of Aruncus dioicus and Astilbe biternata (photo credit: Jean Potuchek) Many garden designs include vertical elements that draw the eye up and create volume in the garden. Plants that grow spire-shaped inflorescences provide one way to create this vertical element. Because my garden is surrounded by forest, I don’t need my perennials to draw the eye up; the tall trees do that, and they dwarf even the tallest of garden flowers. I do need to use big, bold plants, however, to set my flower beds off from the woods; and at this time of year, my garden is full of flowering spires.

The delphiniums are the dramatic divas of tall flowering spires in my garden (see Delightful Delphinium), but they are accompanied by many other vertically flowering plants. There are the feathery inflorescences of goatsbeard (Aruncus dioicus) floating above my head. And there are many varieties of spire-shaped Astilbes, including the early blooming Astilbe x arendsii cultivars, the North American native Astilbe biternata, and the later blooming spires of Astilbe chinensis. Although the tall flower scapes of Hosta fortunei varieties are not really spires, masses of them waving in the breeze echo the color and shape of these other flowering plants.

Flowering spires of Astilbe chinensis (photo credit: Jean Potuchek) Flowering hosta scapes on the back slope (photo crredit: Jean Potuchek)
Not all the flowering spires in my garden are in shades of blue, lavender, pink, and white. The flowering inflorescences of Ligularia stenocephala ‘The Rocket’ add a bright yellow presence, as do the about-to-open flowers of goldenrod (Solidago). Native goldenrod (Solidago) just beginning to bloom (photo credit: Jean Potuchek)
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Liatris spicata in bud (photo credit: Jean Potuchek) In late summer, the spires of delphinium and astilbe will be replaced by those of the native North American Liatris spicata.

There are other plants in my late summer garden that do not have spire-shaped inflorescences but that do have vertical aspirations. These include the morning glory vines (Ipomoea ‘Heavenly Blue’) which are busy climbing the 6’ fence at the back of the fence border, the flowers of Hemerocallis ‘Autumn Minaret’ which float high above their foliage on slender stems (see Extending the Daylily Season), and the tall Rudbeckia nitida ‘Herbstsonne’ (see Try This Rudbeckia) whose flowers have already begun to bloom more than  7’ above the ground.

What plants aspire to great heights in your garden?

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18 Comments leave one →
  1. gardeningasylum permalink
    July 12, 2010 3:31 pm

    My superstar tall guy is a white agastache about 10 feet. Also purple and white meadow rue. I have and love that ‘Autumn Minaret’ just budding up now.

    • July 14, 2010 10:33 pm

      Cyndy, 10 feet?! Wow! I’m glad to hear that your Autumn Minaret is just making buds. I just planted mine in the fall and I haven’t seen any signs of flower scapes yet, but I’m hoping they may still appear.

  2. July 12, 2010 3:44 pm

    Unfortunately the weeds are the ones doing the best. I’ve got WORK to do. Luckily I can duck into your garden and feel refreshed.

    All best,

    Sharon Lovejoy Writes from Sunflower House and a Little Green Island

    • July 14, 2010 10:34 pm

      Sharon, You have my sympathy about the weeds. I remember how high mine were last year at this time after we’d had all those weeks and weeks of rain.

  3. July 12, 2010 4:22 pm

    Right now a lot more perspiring than aspiring is going on in my garden. Unfortunately there’s even some expiring, as plants shrivel in the heat.

    • July 14, 2010 10:36 pm

      Deb, Is it hot everywhere this year? It hasn’t been unbearable here, but definitely warmer than normal, and many of my plants look wilted, especially in the afternoon. I saw a report on the local weather tonight that this is the ninth month in a row for us with temps well above normal. Many plants are way ahead of schedule in my garden.

  4. July 12, 2010 7:52 pm

    Come see my delphinium post, Jean. You’ll laugh at how different my stalks look from the perfectly upright stalks in your recent delph post. 🙂
    I was just reading in a catalog that Aruncus dioicus never needs staking, despite reaching 6 feet tall. Sounds like a good plant for a lazy gardener like me.

    • July 14, 2010 10:39 pm

      VW, I hate to tell you this, but I have to stake my Aruncus dioicus. I don’t have gutters on my house, so all the rain sheets off the overhang, and plants that grow at the back of the border against the house get the brunt of it. The Aruncus gets doubly hammered because it’s at a corner. I’ve learned over the years that as soon as it blooms, we’ll get a heavy rain and I’ll find those wonderful plumes lying on the ground instead of floating in the air.

  5. July 12, 2010 9:43 pm

    Most things don’t get very tall in my garden due to cold nights. The tallest thing in my garden is probably hollyhocks.

    • July 14, 2010 10:41 pm

      Rosey, I guess our really cold nights are all in winter, but it’s generally not that cold once the growing season begins. We can have some overnight lows in the 40s in mid-summer if we get one of cool dry Canadian air masses (not this year!), but it doesn’t seem to affect the height of the plants.

  6. July 13, 2010 12:15 am

    I’ve been impressed with the goat’s beard live and in person before. It’s a powerful presence to compete with the tree canopy, for sure.

    I can’t wait to see all those liatris in bloom in a future post. Those are some of my favorite spires, Jean. You have great taste! 😉

    • July 14, 2010 10:43 pm

      I love the liatris too, Meredith — especially the white ones which look wonderful in August blooming side by side with yellow heliopsis.

  7. July 13, 2010 1:07 am

    I’m really drawn to these more upright bloomers that seem to grow in ways that challenge gravity. The aruncus in fact even seems to have aspirations of becoming air, the way it’s so frail (frail-looking, rather than frail, I’m sure) and delicate.

  8. July 13, 2010 2:34 am

    I love to be in the vicinity of your garden, Jean. I can imagine the lots of work you provided for all of those, to be in that condition right now. But the Delphinium in the older post, both blue and whites are my favorites, although of course we dont have them here. In fact when i was still passionate in cross-stitching my second design was the delphinium. I did it for 3 months and gave it to my adviser/boss for my graduate studies. I intended to make another one for me, but i outgrow the passion and my eyes already suffered much from strain. Yet i still love to look at the real delphiniums. thanks.

  9. July 13, 2010 3:26 am

    Good Morning Jean

    I have Salvia nemorosa ‘Ostfriesland’, Veronica Ulster blue , ligularia , astilble and aconitum as spires in my garden.

    That goats beard in your garden looks wonderful with the backdrop from the trees. I did consider buying the little dwarf one a few weeks ago. 🙂 Rosie

  10. July 13, 2010 7:30 am

    Not spires, but aspiring to great heights, are the roses which bear-hug me or wave over my head just out of reach. And these are happy hybrid teas not climbers or even ramblers.

  11. July 13, 2010 7:36 am

    My fartichokes are currently 7 feet high!

    Next year I am building a trellised cube, minus one side. It will be about 6 x 6 x 6 feet. Inside I’ll grow shade-loving stuff, and the outside will be for climbing squash, courgettes, beans and the like. I might back it with a wall of artichokes.

  12. July 13, 2010 11:08 pm

    Hello Jean,

    I love how you have incorporated such striking plants that can hold their own in our woodland garden. Delphiniums are a favorite of mine since I saw them growing in Wales. THey do grow here in the winter, but have never tried growing them before…maybe I need to try?

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