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Garden Journal

Spreading color: Some plants require no help at all

The transition from spring to summer comes bounding in like a startled deer in a meadow full of daisies. Add some purple lupine and red or yellow Indian paintbrush and you would have the perfect New Hampshire scene.

Blue and purple are dominant colors right now as the flag and bearded irises herald the beginning of the non-stop parade of flowers. Irises are such a regal flower it is no wonder the fleur-de-lis has been the emblem of royalty, although Louis Vll of France chose the showy variety, white with a yellow stripe.

A common blue flower in bloom is Ajuga, fondly known as bugleweed. It’s a hardy, low-growing herb from the mint family that some gardeners use judiciously as ground cover for its multi-colored glossy leaves that create a thick carpet that will grow in just about any garden soil. Ajuga may also grow where it is not wanted – like in gravel or under the house – for it not only has a tenacious and spreading root system, it is propagated by seed from the short period of spikey Mediterranean-blue flowers that appear in June.

Another common blue flower is Baptisia, also called False or Wild Indigo. This native plant is similar to lupine in coloration with pea-shaped blossoms. It is distinguished by its unusual, almost silvery, green rounded leaves, which, unfortunately, become brackish and charred in late summer. You can cut it back in the autumn and it does best planted in full sun. False indigo grows from 3 to 5 feet tall. A related wild indigo (Baptisia tinctoria) is sometimes referred to as clover broom or shoo-fly, due to its individual blooms, which are very dark blue and look as if they could be flies on the plant, sunning themselves. These perennial plants spread freely and with great generosity, which is perfectly fine by me; I enjoy being surprised when they show up in unexpected places.

Wisteria is a crazy plant from the pea family of Leguminosae or Fabrasae. Native to the Eastern United States and also brought here from China, Korea, and Japan, some species are important food plants for butterfly larvae. Well-known for its aggressive growing habit of twisting around trees or poles, wisteria produces iron-like twining stems that can bring down a small building. Wisteria’s foliage can appear either before or after flowering and grows so densely that I am sure the birds have trouble finding their own nests within it. It can be stubborn about blooming from year to year and is very slow to get started, It can take decades, so be patient. Pruning hard after blooming will bring wisteria under control and encourage more blooming the following year. Give this vigorous plant plenty of room; for it is graceful and elegant when planted in a rich soil and it would adore having an arbor or something of its own to climb so it doesn’t have to go searching for a something to attach itself to.

It is the flowers that we love so much about Wisteria – the familiar grape clusters of brilliant blue with white that, at a distance, look like a cloud or a misty pool of sky. Walk closer and you will find they are not blue at all but an amazing variety of colors, from pale silver tipped with gold to graduated shades of deeper purple as the blossoms and buds become smaller and smaller until they are almost dots. Bring the flowers up to your face and you can really experience Wisteria; the fragrance is redolent of lilacs, marshmallows and sweet-tasting peas. In keeping with its inherent eccentricity, the flowers are edible but the rest of the plant is highly toxic.

Imagine my surprise when I found Ajuga, all decked out in its pretty blue flowering period and happily sprouting far from where it had originally been planted.

It was nestled beneath the Wisteria arbor, in perfect accompaniment to reflect the blue above as if set in a scene created by a masterful artist. I cannot take credit for this majestic design, but we’re off to a great summer!

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