My home garden is in Monroe, Ohio. Officially in USDA hardiness zone 6a, we still, however briefly, have hit zone 5a lows in winters not to distantly past. The soil in my immediate vicinity is Eden silty clay. In many local developments, the good stuff has been scraped away and sold off as topsoil to some other poor schmuck who also had THEIR upper soil horizons scraped away. Whatever we had upon our arrival has been amended with horse manure, coir, and compost. There is no bed in my yard that couldn’t have been amended some more.

01 February 2013

If a plant flowers in the woods...

Being something of a plant pig, the word "showy" suggests to me that people who see a plant so described will immediately suffer a loss of interest in all other things going on around them. Potted specimens in garden centers will cause parents to ignore the child who is shoulder deep in yonder aquatic plants display. Neighbors driving past your garden will run into parked cars while craning to get a better look at it. The last properly marked division on the donated plants table at the charity sale may incite violence in otherwise intelligent, pleasant people.

Scutellaria serrata isn't that kind of showy. While this perennial may, when it's blooming, be the showiest thing going in its natural habitat, it possesses a much subtler beauty in the garden. I've been growing it in a couple different exposures in my garden for over a decade. Over that time, the plants that have been in morning shade/afternoon sun have performed as follows: New foliage emerges a light, bright green, the margins delicately edged in purple. Growth tops out at close to a foot in height. It blooms, for me, in mid-to-late May.

A single mature flower is approximately 1" tall. Mid-May blooms, 2007. 

Somehow I've not taken a picture of the whole plant when in bloom. Perhaps this upcoming May... The seed pods that develop after that offer some interest, but are small and might be easily overlooked. For me, the real post-bloom attraction is the development of color in the foliage as summer progresses. The bronzy purple tint at the leaf margins intensifies and spreads with age. I suspect the extent of that will vary with exposure to sunlight, so folks who grow this in more shade will probably get different results.

Scutellaria serrata holding a few seed pods, leaf margin color harmonizing with Berberis 'Concorde'. July 2006

The same showy(?) skullcap with a tuberous pink Allium and more Salvia lyrata ex 'Purple  Knockout'. July 2009

Over time, a single plant will slowly increase to a clump of about one foot across. I've divided such clumps maybe twice. Pests that trouble other nearby plants seem to pass by this skullcap, and the droughts of late seem only to intensify the leaf bronzing. This is one of those plants that may not be conventionally showy, but which still deserves to be recommended due to their rock-solid reliability.

No comments:

Post a Comment