Category: A-Z of Perennials

Zantedeschia aethiopica
Zantedeschia aethiopica

Zantedeschia is a genus of about 8 tuberous or rhizomatous perennials, found in swamps or moist soils at the margins of lakes in southern and eastern Africa. The name of the genus was given as a tribute to Italian botanist Giovanni Zantedeschi (1773–1846) by the German botanist Kurt Sprengel (1766–1833).

Zantedeschia fall into two main types:

  • hardier outdoor forms (Z. aethiopica and Z. pentlandii ), often called arum lilies, with striking white flowers (these are in fact ‘spathes’ – a coloured bract or leaf- wrapped round a thin, creamy yellow column, or spadice); and

  • the more tender hybrid forms, typically with white-spotted leaves and pretty yellow, orange, pink or dark purple spathes (Z. elliottiana and Z. rehmannii  hybrids), which are borne in spring  or summer.  Z. elliottiana have broadly, heart shaped leaves, most with a covering of translucent white dots and usually yellow spathes, whereas Z. rehmannii have mid to dark green, lance – shaped leaves, rarely spotted, with white to pink or dark purple spathes. These are often called calla lilies.

However, Zantedeschia is neither a true lily (Liliaceae) nor an Arum or a Calla!

It has often been used in paintings, and is visible in many of Diego Rivera’s works of art (see The Flower Vendor, amongst others). It was a favourite subject of the painter Georgia O’Keefe.

Zantedeschia aethiopica
Zantedeschia aethiopica

Z. aethiopica is  the most common form in British gardens, grown as a marginal aquatic plant. This is a wonderful architectural plant for pond margins in areas that do not suffer from very hard frosts. The leaves alone are an attraction. They are large, 40cm (16in) long, and arrow-shaped, and a bright, glossy green with distinct veins. However, arum lilies are mainly popular for their serene, white flowers.They make superb, classy cut flowers.

Grow the arum lily as a water plant, planting it into a special aquatic basket, in water up to 30cm (12in) deep. Or you can plant it into moist soil around the pond, protecting it with a deep mulch over winter. The Royal Horticultural Society have given it their prestigious Award of Garden Merit.

In frost – prone areas they should be covered with a deep winter mulch. Where temperatures fall below 10 celsius more tender arums can be grown in a warm greenhouse  or as houseplants, or can be planted out in summer in a sunny site. Zantedeschia can be propagated by seed or division (divide in spring).

For early flowering plants at Easter, plant the rhizomes in December. Keep in a light, cool place at a temperature of 16°C (61°F) by night and 18°C (65°F) during the day. Feed fortnightly with a high-nitrogen fertiliser when in active growth but withhold feed during flowering. A high potassium feed such as a tomato fertiliser can be given once a week after flowering.

Both types of Zantedeschia can be grown in containers. When planting, use a loam-based compost such as John Innes No. 2 and plant the rhizomes (underground stems) just showing at the surface of a container with the eyes of the rhizome uppermost.

Water freely through the summer and feed with a balanced liquid fertiliser every two weeks until the flowers have faded. Zantedeschia are generally pest and disease free, but can suffer from winter cold unless protected.

Zantedeschia species are poisonous due to the presence of calcium oxalate. All parts of the plant are poisonous, typically producing local irritation or a burning sensation in the mouth and occasionally vomiting and diarrhoea. However leaves are sometimes cooked and eaten.

Sources and further information:


RHS guide to growing Zantedeschia

Lakeside guide to growing Callas

Gardeners’ World guide to Z. aethiopica

Kew Gardens- Z. aethiopica

This concludes my series ‘A-Z of Perennials’, started last year. I hope you’ve enjoyed it and will also like my new series- ‘A-Z of Garden Trees’, coming soon!

Old School Gardener

Yucca aloifolia flowers

Yucca aloifolia flowers

A genus of about 40 species of perennial evergreen shrubs or trees, Yucca is rosette-forming or woody- based and comes from hot, dry places such as deserts. sand dunes and plains in north and central America and the West Indies. It is also colloquially known in the Midwest United States as “ghosts in the graveyard”, as it is commonly found growing in rural graveyards and when in bloom the cluster of (usually pale) flowers on a thin stalk appear as floating apparitions. So striking are these flowers that early settlers of the south-western United States called them “Lamparas de Dios” or “Lanterns of God”. 

A member of the Agavae family, the yucca is closely related to the lily and has its origins in Mexico and Central America where it was prized by indigenous peoples for the medicinal and nutritional properties of the yucca flower.

North American natives, too, found the plant useful, using it to make clothing and soap (yucca roots are rich in saponins).

Cultivated for their bold, linear to lance shaped leaves and their erect (sometimes pendent) panicles of, usually white bell-shaped flowers. Many species also bear edible parts, including fruits, seeds,flowers, flowering stems and more rarely roots. References to yucca root as food often stem from confusion with the similarly pronounced, but botanically unrelated, yuca, also called cassava (Manihot esculenta).

They tolerate a range of conditions, but are best grown in full sun in subtropical or mild temperate areas. In gardening centres and horticultural catalogues they are usually grouped with other architectural plants such as Cordylines and Phormiums.

Joshua trees

(Yucca brevifolia) are protected by law in some American states. A permit is needed for wild collection. As a landscape plant, they can be killed by excessive water during their summer dormant phase, so are avoided by landscape contractors.

Several species of yucca can be grown outdoors in mild temperate climates where they are protected from frost. These include:-

Y. filamentosa

Y. flaccida

Y. gloriosa

y. recurvifolia

Yuccas are widely grown as architectural plants providing a dramatic accent to landscape design. They can be used as specimen plants in courtyards or borders and in frost prone areas can be grown in a cool or temperate greenhouse or conservatory. Pollination and proper yucca care are necessary for the formation of these flowers on indoor plants.

Be careful to site them away from paths or other places people could be scratched by their sharp leaves. Free-draining soil and sun is all yuccas require.They are fully frost hardy to frost tender and can be propagated by seed sown in spring. Rooted suckers can also be removed in spring and root cuttings can be taken in the autumn. They can be susceptible to leaf spot and aphid attack.

Yucca guatemalensis (syn Yucca elephantipes)

Yucca guatemalensis (syn Yucca elephantipes)

Further Information:


Yucca filamentosa- RHS guide

How to Grow Yucca

Yucca Care

Yucca- Plant Encyclopedia

Old School Gardener

close up of Xerochrysum bracteatumAs you might guess there aren’t that many plants beginning with ‘X’, but Xerochrysum is an interesting genus of around 6 or 7 species of short- lived perennials and annuals which are native to open grassland and scrub in Australia.

The stemless lance – like leaves are hairy. The flowers are dasiy like with papery white, yellow or pink bracts and a central disc of, often, yellow florets. The perennials can be used to fill in gaps in herbaceous borders and low – growing cultivars are suitable as edging or for containers.

The name Xerochrysum comes from Greek xeros meaning “dry” and chrysos meaning “gold” (this refers to the common yellow papery bracts that occur within the genus).

X. bracteatum is often grown for its cut and dried flowers and it self seeds freely. Also known as the “Golden Everlasting”, this is one of the best known of the “paper daisies” as it is a very widespread species occurring in both annual and perennial forms. It varies in habit from prostrate to a shrubby plant of about 1m in height. The leaves are usually large (up to 100mm long) and green to grey-green in colour. The individual flowers are very small but are formed into a large cluster surrounded by large papery bracts. The overall appearance is that of a large, single “flower” with the bracts as the “petals”. However, well over a hundred true flowers occur inside the ring of bracts.

The ‘golden everlasting’ has been cultivated for many years and a number of forms have been selected for cultivation. These include several which have resulted from both chance and deliberate hybridisation. Some examples are:

  • “Diamond Head” – perennial; green foliage, 0.2m x 0.5m. Yellow flowers

  • “Dargan Hill Monarch” – perennial; grey leaves, 0.8m x 1m. Yellow flowers

  • “Cockatoo” – perennial; similar to “Dargan Hill Monarch”, pale yellow bracts around a head of small orange flowers

  • “Princess of Wales” – perennial; similar to “Dargan Hill Monarch” but more compact (0.6m x 0.6m). Yellow flowers

  • “Kimberley Sunset” – perennial; grey leaves, 0.8m x 1m. Pink flowers

In addition, breeding work in Europe and Australia has produced annual forms with an outstanding range of colours – yellow, red, purple, orange. These are excellent for a massed, colourful display. Most forms are suited to cultivation in many areas. The annual forms can be purchased in packets from a number of commercial suppliers and established as instructed on the packs.

Perennial forms are usually quick growing in a sunny, well drained position. They benefit from a regular light pruning annually to encourage branching and a greater number of flowers. Severe pruning to overcome “legginess” may be successful but only as a last resort.

Golden everlasting responds well to annual fertilising, usually with a slow-release type and appreciates an assured water supply. The plants vary in their ability to withstand frost but most are at least moderately frost resistant.

Propagation of X.bracteatum from seed is easy; no pretreatment is required. Propagation from cuttings is also fairly easy and is the only way that named cultivars should be propagated.

Xerochrysum is half hardy to frost hardy and should be grown in moderately fertile, moist but well-drained soil in full sun. Those cultivars which reach 90 cms or more need staking. They can be propagated from seed in the spring. they might susceptible to downy mildew.

These very popular plants bring long-lasting colour and warmth into the garden. There are many cultivars available in nurseries with flowers varying from white through cream, lemon, canary yellow, gold and bronze. Many of the pink varieties are the result of plant breeding, most probably using South African species as this colour is very uncommon in Australian plants.

They will keep producing flowers particularly if spent flowers are continually removed. Butterflies and other insects love them and will flock to your garden adding another layer of interest. They are also excellent as dried flowers keeping their shape and colour well for years – just hang a bunch up-side-down in a dark airy place and let them dry for a few weeks.

Sources and further information:

Australian Native Plants Society


Growing Xerochrysum bracteatum-RHS

Old School Gardener

Watsonia-close-upA genus of around 60 species of perennials, Watsonia (‘Bugle Lilies’) are usually found on rocky or grassy slopes and plateux in South Africa and Madagascar.

Most are plants typical of the fynbos area in south Africa, adapted to a Mediteranean -type climate, but some occur along the eastern and inland areas of the country and have adapted to a wider range of conditions, mainly a continental climate with summer rainfall. Many species occur mainly in the mountains, though some occur in sandy flats and marshy areas.Watsonia species were introduced as garden ornamentals to Australia in the mid-19th century and were widely grown by the 1940s.

The genus is named after Sir William Watson, an 18th century Brtiish botanist. Growing from corms, they have erect, usually sword- shaped leaves at the base and are grown for their spikes of tubular flowers in shades of red, orange, pink or white. Stems grow to between 1.2 and 1.7 metres tall. Watsonia flowers for up to 4-5 weeks in spring, which makes it a really interesting plant for perennial borders.

They have an erect growing habit, do not need any staking or support and have blooms that add a ‘zing’ to a garden for weeks on end!

The plants are a little tender, so can only be grown successuflly in places with little or no frost, or alternatively in a greenhouse or conservatory. Spring and summer growing varieties can be grown outdoors in a border and then lifted in the autumn and brought under cover for the winter. They can also be grown in containers.

The most commonly cultivated species is the pink-flowered Watsonia borbonica and its white mutant ‘Arderne’s White’. These were crossed with Watsonia meriana and other species in the early 20th century by breeders in Australia and in California to produce a wide range of cultivars. Watsonia has been eclipsed in popularity by Gladiolus and other bulbs, and is now largely neglected by the nursery industry.

Under glass they should be grown in a loam-based compost with added sharp sand and leaf mould, in full sun. They should be watered freely when in growth and liquid fertiliser perhaps added every month. Outdoors they can be grown in light, well drained soil that does not dry out in summer. A dry mulch can help protect against frost during the winter.

Further information:

Plant profile- Watsonia

Growing Watsonia

Watsonia on Tresco, Isles of Scilly

RHS- Watsonia pillansii

Old School Gardener

Verbascum 'Kynaston'

Verbascum ‘Kynaston’

A genus of over 350 species, Verbascums are native to Europe, North Africa and Asia. Most of the species are biennial, though there are some annuals, perennials and sub shrubs and a few evergreens.

The perennials are often short-lived, dying after flowering, though they (like all species) are prolific self seeders. Verbascums mostly grow on open scrubland or dry hillsides, though some are found in open woodland. They like a sunny position with sharply drained soil.

Verbascums generally form a basal clump or rosette of leaves, these usually being large, soft and simple in shape, some with lobed or toothed edges. They produce one or a few spikes of flowers- these are densely packed and with saucer-shaped flowers. The flowers are individually short-lived, but are borne successively over along growing season. Flowers on hybrid cultivars are larger and showier.

Many Verbascums (or ‘mulleins’) grow quite tall (up to 3 metres) and need to be staked. Seedlings of named varieties will not grow true to their host, so these should be deadheaded before shedding their seed if you want to avoid a mixture of flower colours. The cultivars  ‘Gainsborough’, ‘Letitia and ‘Pink Domino’ have gained the Royal Horticultural Society’s ‘Award of Garden Merit’. Since the year 2000, a number of new hybrid cultivars have come out that have increased flower size, shorter heights, and a tendency to be longer-lived plants and a number have colour ranges not typical of the species.

Larger species can be left to naturalise in gravel or wild gardens, where they make impressive architectural plants, and will benefit from the support of adjacent plants. Smaller types are good in rock gardens, screes, or even walls. All Mulleins can be prone to mildew.

Vita Sackville-West wrote in 1936 that her Verbascums looked as though “a colony of tiny buff butterflies had settled all over them”. She described the colourings as “dusty, fusty, musty”. Verbascums have not changed much since then. The Cotswold Group about which she was writing are still grown, and there are others – for example ‘Megan’s Mauve’, and the new variety, ‘June Johnson’ – in which purple and apricot have become interwoven.

Verbascums make good partners for old roses (which they succeed in flower); in groups of plants with rounded or vase-shaped form to provide a contrast; or (where they are white-flowered) placed in front of softly coloured Hydrangeas.

Apart from propagation by seed, replacement plants can easily be grown from root cuttings. In March, scrape soil away from the roots area, take a knife and sever two or three fat, strong roots. Cut these into 4cm lengths and set them upright, individually, in small pots of potting soil with plenty of perlite mixed in. After three months in a frame and kept watered, each will have grown into a new plant.

Sources and further information:


Growing Verbascums- Daily Telegraph

Plant guide- Fine Gardens

Rosy Hardy’s blogspot

Verbascum dumulosum- Kew Gardens

Old School Gardener

Uncinia rubra 'Firedance'

Uncinia rubra ‘Firedance’

Uncinia is a showy addition to any border or garden with its shiny red-bronze foliage.

Uncinia is a genus of about 35-45 species of tufted,evergreen perennials, known as hook-sedges (or hook grasses or bastard grasses in New Zealand. The plants develop hooks, which are used to attach it’s fruit to passing animals, especially birds. The name derives from the latin word uncinus, which means a hook or barb. Uncinia is a “satellite genus” of the very large genus Carex.  Most species are found in Australia, New Zealand and South America.

Uncinia flower
Uncinia flower

Some species are rhizomatous and most are native to damp, tussocky grassland, moist woodland or swamps. Grown for their colourful leaves, Uncinia are suitable for the front of borders, or gravel plantings. Though they are frost hardy to about -10 degrees C for short periods, longer term exposure to frost is best avoided for some species and so these should be grown in cool greenhouses. They prefer moderately fertile, humus-rich, moist but well-drained soil in full sun or light dappled shade. They are not troubled by any pests or diseases.

The most common Uncinia used in gardens are U. rubra (around 30 cms high, with greenish red to rich reddish brown stems and foliage and with dark brown to black flowers) and U. uncinata (25cms tall and with pale brown to red-brown leaves and dark brown flowers). Both bear flowers in mid to late summer. Foliage colour is best in late spring.

Uncinia ucinata 'Red'
Uncinia uncinata ‘Red’

The plants gradually form dense clumps of short, arching, grassy, evergreen foliage.  Slow growing, Uncinia look at their best in groups as leafy ground cover at the front of a sunny border. They can be combined with other perennial grasses that enjoy similar conditions; e.g.

  • Carex oshimensis ‘Evergold’

  • Phormium ‘Alison Blackman’

  • Ophiopogon planiscapus.

It will do well in soggy areas and around water features and ponds. U. rubra ‘Firedance’ will add a highlight to the rock garden as well as the mixed border, and it also looks great in containers. It’s advisable to avoid planting them next to vigorous plants that would smother them, as they need lots of sun to do well. Comb or rake off any old, tired or dead leaves and flowers in spring. If necessary they can be cut back (by up to half) at almost any time from April to July, but should not be cut back in autumn or winter.

Uncinia uncinata
Uncinia uncinata

You can raise Uncinia seeds in a cold frame for protection and hardiness. Seeds can be started in the late winter or early spring and should be sown in good quality, well-draining seed compost, pressing the seeds into the soil. Lower temperatures of less than 41°F are very effective. Constant moisture must be maintained and trays should not be left in direct sunlight. Once seedlings are large enough to handle, move them into a pot to grow on. Transplanting can be done in spring or summer after all frost danger has passed.

Old School Gardener

450px-Tulip_-_floriade_canberraTulipa (Tulips) is a genus of some 100 species of hardy, bulbous perennials from Europe, asia and the middle east- especially Central Asia. They prefer sun but will take light shade, and must have a well-drained soil, though seem to prefer heavier soils than lighter ones. Tulips are grown for their showy flowers, which are usually at the end of a stem and upright, with six tepals. They vary from cup- or bowl-shaped to goblet-shaped, some with long, very narrow tepals, or lily-like or star-shaped- some are fringed.

There is a wide range of colours and bi colours. Depending on the species, tulip plants can grow as short as 4 inches (10 cm) or as high as 28 inches (71 cm). The leaves are usually grown from the base of the main stems, are broadly ovate in shape and sometimes are wavy-edged or channelled.

Tulips can be planted in groups among other plants in a border, in pots or ‘naturalised’ in grass. They tend to be later flowering than Narcissus and crocus so growing these together can produce a flowering display lasting up to three or four months.

The bulbs should be planted 15cm deep in the autumn. Cultivars benefit from being lifted and ripened every year once the leaves have died down. Most of the Darwin hybrids (such as ‘Apeldoorn’), the Greigii and Kaufmanniana groups  and the species tulips can be left in the ground for a number of years; mark the position to avoid damaging the bulbs with other planting. The size of flowers will diminish over time and they will also benefit from being lifted and divided every few years – this should be done as soon as the foliage dies down.

Mice love tulip bulbs, so store lifted bulbs out of reach and protect newly planted bulbs from disturbance. Some people have an allergic reaction  to any part of the plant which may cause skin irritation, and all parts can be mildly poisonous if eaten (though the flower petals can apparently be eaten – see link below).

Although tulips are often associated with the Netherlands, commercial cultivation of the flower began in early Persia probably somewhere in the 10th century. Early cultivars must have emerged from hybridisation in gardens from wild collected plants, which were then favoured, possibly due to flower size or growth vigour. During the Ottoman Empire, numerous tulips were cultivated and bred. 

Bulbs fields in Holland
Bulbs fields in Holland

The word tulip, which earlier appeared in English in forms such as tulipa or tulipant, entered the language by way of the French tulipe and its obsolete form tulipan or by way of Modern Latin. The word derives from the Persian word for ‘turban’ chosen because of a perceived resemblance of the shape of a tulip flower to that of a turban This may have been due to a translation error in early times, when it was fashion in the Ottoman Empire to wear tulips on their turbans. The translator possibly confused the flower for the turban.

Between 1634 and 1637, the early enthusiasm for the new flowers in the Netherlands triggered a speculative frenzy now known as Tulip Mania. Tulips became so expensive that they were treated as a form of currency.  To this day, tulips are associated with the Netherlands, and the cultivated forms of the tulip are often called “Dutch tulips.” In addition to the tulip industry and tulip festivals, the Netherlands has the world’s largest permanent display of tulips at Keukenhof, although the display is only open to the public seasonally.

In horticulture, tulips are divided up into fifteen groups (Divisions) mostly based on flower characteristics and plant size.

  • Div. 1: Single early with cup-shaped single flowers, no larger than 8 cm across (3 inches). They bloom early to mid season. Growing 15 to 45 cm tall.

  • Div. 2: Double early with fully double flowers, bowl-shaped to 8 cm across. Plants typically grow from 30–40 cm tall.

  • Div. 3: Triumph single, cup-shaped flowers up to 6 cm wide. Plants grow 35–60 cm tall and bloom mid to late season.

  • Div. 4: Darwin hybrid single flowers are ovoid in shape and up to 8 cm wide. Plants grow 50–70 cm tall and bloom mid to late season. This group should not be confused with older Darwin tulips, which belong in the Single Late Group below.

  • Div. 5: Single late cup or goblet-shaded flowers up to 8 cm wide, some plants produce multi-flowering stems. Plants grow 45–75 cm tall and bloom late season.

  • Div. 6: Lily-flowered the flowers possess a distinct narrow ‘waist’ with pointed and reflexed petals. Previously included with the old Darwins, only becoming a group in their own right in 1958.

  • Div. 7: Fringed (Crispa)

  • Div. 8: Viridiflora

  • Div. 9: Rembrandt

  • Div. 10: Parrot

  • Div. 11: Double late Large, heavy blooms. They range from 18 to 22 in. tall

  • Div. 12: Kaufmanniana Waterlily tulip. Medium-large creamy yellow flowers marked red on the outside and yellow at the center. Stems 6 in. tall.

  • Div. 13: Fosteriana (Emperor)

  • Div. 14: Greigii Scarlet flowers 6 in. across, on 10 in. stems. Foliage mottled with brown.

  • Div. 15: Species (Botanical)

  • Div. 16: Multiflowering not an official division, these tulips belong in the first 15 divisions but are often listed separately because they have multiple blooms per bulb.

They may also be classified by their flowering season:

  • Early flowering: Single Early Tulips, Double Early Tulips, Greigii Tulips, Kaufmanniana Tulips, Fosteriana Tulips, Species Tulips

  • Mid-season flowering: Darwin Hybrid Tulips, Triumph Tulips, Parrot Tulips

  • Late season flowering: Single Late Tulips, Double Late Tulips, Viridiflora Tulips, Lily-flowering Tulips, Fringed Tulips, Rembrandt Tulips

I mentioned my visit to the Amsterdam Flower Market recenrtly and here’s the 70 tulips I have for adding to the many groups that I already have in borders and pots at Old School Garden.

Tulips from Amsterdam...
Tulips from Amsterdam…

Sources and further information:


Growing Tulips- RHS

How to grow Tulips- Bunny Guinness

Tulips and Holland

Tulip Mania

Eating Tulip flowers

Related articles:

It’s Time to Talk Tulipsage

PicPost: Tulip Mania

Tip Toe Through the Tulips

Tulip mania and Bitcoin

Bloemen Marvellous

November in the Garden: 10 Top Tips

A-Z of Perennials: Q is for Quamash

GQT: Grow-bag Bulbs

Pleasing Planters

May in the Garden- Top 10 Tips

Plants to die for…

Old School Gardener

Sedum caeruleum
Sedum caeruleum

So, I’m getting close to the end of the alphabet and thinking about if and how I should follow up my current ‘A-Z’ series with another- what do you think? Any ideas? Maybe trees or shrubs? Or perhaps bulbs? Let me have your ideas!

S caused me a moment of uncertainty. I thought, it has to be Salvia, then I thought, Sedum is obvious as many are at (or close to) their best at this time of year, and I do love the larger forms which add so much to the garden with their chunky, glaucous foliage and shields of flowers, especially in autumn and on into winter as the flowers fade and their strong shapes give structure to the ‘close season’ border.

Sedum (common name ‘Stonecrop’) is a wide genus of some 400 species, encompassing annuals, biennials, deciduous, semi evergreen and evergreen perennials, subshrubs and shrubs- from both hemispheres! What you might call a botanical success story!

Their habitats in the wild vary from mountainous areas (where most come from), to arid regions of South America. As a result, they vary widely from dwarf, rock garden plants (the predominant type) to fairly  tall plants, very suitable for beds and borders. Some of the smaller species can be quite invasive. Sedums prefer sun, but some will tolerate light shade. They are drought tolerant, and prefer light, well-drained soils. The border types  will grow in almost all soil types, but do become rather lush and need to be staked if grown in over fertile conditions.

The foliage of ‘stonecrops’ is usually thick, fleshy and succulent, although the arrangement of the leaves varies. Individual flowers appear in summer and autumn, are mostly 5 – petalled and star shaped, and are borne in a range of different forms: corymbs, panicles or cymes.

Butterflies love the flowers- especially Sedum spectabile. The green buds on this species look good from midsummer, then colour pink into autumn. Stems are succulent and frosted, hence the common name “ice plant”. Unfortunately slugs and snails are fond of the leaves . All parts of the plant are poisonous, and contact with the sap may cause skin irritation.

Smaller, rock garden types are used extensively in ‘green roofs’. The ever popular Sedum spectabile ‘Herbstfreude’ (also know as ‘Autumn Joy’) goes well with many other autumn flowering herbaceous plants such as Michaelmas Daisies (Asters) and some of the shorter grasses such as Stipa tennuissima (‘Pony Tail’ grass). Carefully chosen cultivars of Japanese anemones, penstemons and phlox will also look good with them. They can also be used to good effect massed below a sun baked wall or hedge where other things might struggle, perhaps intermingled with spring bulbs and backed by early – mid summer ‘floppers’ like Perovskia (‘Russian Sage’). Leave the faded flower heads on over winter for some interesting garden shapes, especially after a ‘hoar’ frost.

Further information:

Sedum spectabile

Sedum spectabile ‘Brilliant’- BBC

Sedum ‘Purple Emperor’

Herbaceous Sedums- trials and awards by RHS (pdf)

Living sedum roofs

Sedum photos

Sedum Society

Old Schoool Gardener

rudbeckia via thegardendeliRudbeckia is a plant genus of 23 species, commonly called ‘Coneflowers’ and ‘Black-eyed-susans’. They are native to North America (‘prairie plants’) and are cultivated for their showy flower heads of yellow and orange, with a dark centre seed head, but there are also russet, bronze and mahogany tones. Mainly herbaceous perennials, some are annual or biennial.

They grow to between 0.5m and 3m tall, with simple or branched stems. The leaves are spirally arranged, and are between 5cm and 25 cm long. The flowers are daisy-like, with yellow or orange florets arranged in a prominent, cone-shaped head; “cone-shaped” because the ray florets tend to point out and down as the flower head opens.

A large number of species have been proposed within Rudbeckia, but most are now regarded as synonyms of a more restricted list. Several of these currently accepted species have a number of accepted varieties. Some of them (for example the Black-eyed Susan, R. hirta), are popular garden flowers, and prized for their long flowering times. There are many  cultivars of these species.

The name Rudbeckia was given by Linnaeus in honour of his botany teacher at Uppsala University – Professor Olof Rudbeck (1660-1740), and his father (also Professor Olaf – 1630-1702). Rudbeckia shares the common name ‘coneflower’ with other plants in the Asteraceae family – Echinacea, Dracopis and Ratibida.


Rudbeckias are not particular about soil, but do best in soil that is not too rich, with well-draining conditions. Rudbeckias love sunshine but R. laciniata and R. hirta (syn. gloriosa) will grow happily in dappled shade provided they have adequate moisture. Their blooms brighten up shadowy places wonderfully.  The flowers are daisy-like and can be single, semi double and fully double. Rudbeckias flower for a long period from late July well into autumn. Some of the varieties available include:

  • R. fulgida var. sullivantii ‘Goldsturm’ – The standard for Rudbeckia. Long blooming and virtually pest free (60cm)

  • R. hirta ‘Cherokee Sunset’ – Double and semi-double flowers in shades of yellow, orange, red, bronze and mahogany. Short lived, but re-seeds itself (60cm)

  • R. hirta ‘Indian Summer’ – Traditional daisy-like, large yellow flowers. Short lived, but re-seeds itself or grow as an annual. (1m-1.2m)

  • Rudbeckia ‘Toto Rustic’ – A dwarf Rudbeckia in autumn colors. There are also golden ‘Toto’ & pale ‘Toto Lemon’.

  • R. maxima Giant Coneflower – 12cm flowers and large leaves on an imposing plant (1.3m – 2.5m)

R. maxima (the ‘Great Coneflower’ or ‘Cabbage-leaved Coneflower’) is a favourite variety – It is an elegant plant with flowers with tall, black central cones which launch themselves upwards as its long petals droop downwards. Its foliage – unique among coneflowers – is a rosette of long paddle-shaped glaucous leaves, each with an elongated stem. Because it is late into flower it sometimes gets put at the back of a border, but it is a star performer that should be used nearer the front where its beautiful blue-grey foliage can be appreciated. Another advantage is that its flower stems are almost bare, so are easy to see through.

Rudbeckia maxima

Rudbeckia maxima

Rudbeckia work equally well as a complement to blue and purple flowers, like Russian sage and Veronica and mixed in with other jewel tones, like Sedum ‘Herbstfreude’, Purple Echinacea and Asters. Rudbeckia also make great cut flowers and even the seed heads will hold up in arrangements. Some plant combinations to try:

R. fulgida var. deamii with aster ‘Little Carlow’.

R. ‘Goldquelle’, lightened up with the airy wands of Gaura lindheimeri among it and foamy Calamintha nepetoides at its feet.

R. maxima with big-leaved plants such as bananas, hedychiums and ricinus for a late-summer ‘jungle’ effect.


Keep plants well watered the first season, to get them established. Once established, they will be quite drought resistant. A mulch of compost should be all the feeding they need. Regular deadheading of the faded flowers will keep the plants in bloom longer. You can let the last flowers of the season remain on the plants to go to seed and feed the birds, but you will also get a good deal of self-seeding. All perennial Rudbeckia can be increased by dividing clumps in spring or taking basal cuttings.


Sources and further information:


Growing R. laciniata ‘Herbstonne’ – RHS

Growing R. fulgida– Daily Telegraph

Choosing and growing Rudbeckia-

Rudbeckias- special

Old School Gardener

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Camassia quamash via Charles S. Peterson

Camassia quamash via Charles S. Peterson

Quamash, the common name for Camassia, is a genus of 5 or 6 species of bulbous perennials native to damp, fertile meadowland in north America. They have large, ovoid bulbs which give rise to narrow, erect, linear leaves at the base. The flowers form in racemes on the top of the otherwise bare stems. These are showy flowers, star or cup shaped in blues, purples and white, appearing in mid- late spring.

Camassia leichtlinii via Gentry George

Camassia leichtlinii via Gentry George

 The bulbs of the species Camassia quamash were once an important food source for native American indians.

Camassias are great in borders or wildflower meadows and make good cut flowers. They are fully hardy to frost hardy and should be planted in the autumn about 10cm deep in moist but well drained soil in sun or partial shade. The soil should not be allowed to become waterlogged. They should be mulched over winter in areas with persistent frosts.

New plants can be grown from seed, which should be sown in containers in a cold frame as soon as it is ripe. Offsets can be removed in summer when the plants are dormant. There are no major pests or diseases affecting Camassia.


To get the best from Camassia flowers plant them against a background that will allow the pale flowers to stand out:  e.g. Berberis thunbergii ‘Rose Glow’ – a good foil because the leaves are purple, splashed pink and white; Photinia x fraseri ‘Red Robin’ – blood-red young leaves; and Choisya ternata (Mexican orange blossom).

In borders, Camassias associate well, in light shade, with forget-me-nots, Dicentra spectabilis (bleeding hearts), Lunaria rediviva, Leucojum aestivum (spring snowflake) and Polygonatum x hybridum (Solomon’s seal), and in sun with early-flowering Geraniums and Aquilegia. If naturalised in a meadow, they look good with buttercups, cowslips and the late-flowering pheasant’s eye (Narcissus poeticus var. recurvus).

I have some purple flowered Camassias here in Old School Garden, planted in a mixed border and close by to an orange Tulip ‘Ballerina’ which flowers at about the same time – the colour combination works really well.

Camassias growing in the wild via Oregon State University

Camassias growing in the wild via Oregon State University

Sources and further information:


How to grow Camassias

Camssia leichtlinii – RHS

Old School Gardener

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