Friday, April 26, 2013

Perennial Herbs

Following up on my post about annuals, I have a few other species that I want to spotlight, but these are not  true annuals. They are technically perennials but don't really live more than a few years. They are short-lived perennial herbs, meaning that they develop no woody stem and generally die back to the ground after flowering, but then reappear the next year (if you haven't done something wrong and totally killed it). First is Western Columbine (Aquilegia formosa).

In my case, I had spectacular blooms one year and then did something wrong and killed it. I think what I did wrong was to give it no water at all after it bloomed. I think it probably needs about once a month water to keep the underground parts of the plant alive.

Next I want to talk about a genus with many great garden-worthy species and varieties in it - the Penstemons (Plantaginaceae). Below is Penstemon Spectabilis, mixed in with poppies and phacelia.

Other nice Penstemons for the garden include Scarlet Bugler (P. centranthifolius) an upright species like spectabilis but with crimson red flowers, and a cultivar called 'Margarita Bop' that has flowers very similar to spectabilis but is more of a ground cover (to name just two). These will live several years, but after awhile they either die or get ugly and it's time to replace them (in my experience).

A somewhat less common (in cultivation) perennial herb is Sticky Cinquefoil (Drymocallis glandulosa) (used to be in the genus Potentilla in case you know it by that name). It's in the Rose family (Rosaceae) and it greatly resembles wild strawberry in foliage and flower, but it is an upright plant to about 3 ft.

Sticky Cinquefoil is a mountain species of pine forests or wetland/riparian areas. For this reason, it likes a little more shade and a little more water.

The last one for today is a really uncommon one in the garden - Western Thistle or Cobweb Thistle (Cirsium occidentale).

It's an oddity in so many ways. First it's in the Asteraceae family, the sunflowers/daisies/asters. Next, it's a native thistle - native to just about every county in California. When I learned this I was blown away because I had been conditioned to think that all thistles are invasive exotics - Not True! After seeing one in the wild, I just had to have it for my garden. These guys are not easy to find in the nursery trade. I finally found it at a nursery called Annie's in Richmond ( Although Annie's is in the Bay Area, they sell a number of plants that are native to SoCal. They send everything by mail, and it works great. Of course, you have to pay a little extra for the shipping, but it's worth it to me because they have some plants that I can't get anywhere else, like Cobweb Thistle. When they mail plants to you, they are exceptionally well packaged in 4" pots.

Anyway, back to this plant, in the photo below you can really see the cobwebby material that fills the calyx and gives the plant one of its common names. Overall, this plant is so different that it gives this part of my garden a very distinctive appearance. I think it lends a feeling of wildness to the garden. I hope it will come back next year.

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