Garden blues make you happy
Blue in the garden is as luxurious as purple on a queen. It’s the ultimate colour of blossom – desired for everything from petunias to roses, from phlox to daylilies. You’ll find true blue mostly hiding shyly in shady spots where the jealous sky can’t compete.
Nemophila or baby blue eyes, with its five cupped petals and white centre, is a woodland plant that can be found growing wild in parts of Canada. Nemophila menziesii is a favourite in the cultivated garden. Native to North America, it has been collected, hybridized and adopted all over the world for its perfect sky-blue colour.
Nemophila is a small, low-rise plant that grows as an annual and blooms faithfully over several months, dropping its seed in autumn to increase. It is best in springtime or early summer when it has little competition from taller plants. Nemophila grows less than a foot tall, usually to just over eight inches. Give it morning sun and afternoon shade. It will self-sow even in Alaska.
Hyacinth ‘Blue Tango’ is true sky blue and so is Mertensia virginica, a native North American perennial, with clusters of nodding, bell-shaped flowers. A woodland plant, it is also called Virginia cowslip or Virginia bluebells and is generally 12 to 24 inches tall, blooming in springtime and into early summer.
More intensely hued, and brilliantly blued, is forgetme-not, Myosotis, from the borage family. There are both perennial and annual varieties, but the annuals are such successful self-sowers that they are often mistaken for perennials. Some people think of this tiny blue flower as a weed, but I love to have its blue carpet fill my garden in springtime. Later it dies back and the dead foliage can be removed, but be sure to shake the seeds heads over the soil to guarantee a return of the blue carpet next year. Forget-me-not is a manystoried flower associated with the memory of the poor and of war dead. It was the flower of remembrance in Newfoundland until the poppy was adopted, but there are still Newfoundlanders who wear the forget-me-not to remember their lost soldiers.
Myosotis sylvaticus, the woodland forget-me-not, is the most common in gardens. Cynoglossum amabile, the Chinese forget-me-not, is not a true forget-me-not, but it is just as blue.
An annual that blooms blue-ly all summer long, is the blue of the lovely little Browallia speciosa, a shy little plant, with the five-petalled flowers, that grows to eight inches in the shade in my garden, but reaches over a foot in some others. The blue is blue enough to call one variety ‘Bluebells’.
Blue in the sunlight is often elusive, but it exists if you know where to look. Lovely blue delphiniums grow in the sun, although they are happy in part shade. The originals, Delphinium elatum, were so blue that the dye from their blossoms, mixed with alum, was once used as ink. Larkspur is the common name for delphinium, but Larkspur consolida, the closely related genus, is an annual with an open spike, where the flowers are threaded onto the main stem in a much looser way than the delphinium. Some varieties are intensely blue.
All parts of the delphinium plant contain an alkaloid, delphinine, similar to that contained in the poisonous Aconitum. This means that the delphinium is very poisonous, causing vomiting when eaten, and death in larger amounts.
Speaking of that, what could be bluer than Aconitum napellus? The beautiful but deadly monkshood or wolfbane is a violent midnight blue, reflecting its dangerous properties. In Roman times it was used to eliminate prisoners and criminals, and was so associated with death that it was banned. Anyone caught growing it could be put to death themselves. The toxic substance, aconite, has also been used for good, and minute quantities will slow down the heart, reduce fevers and treat pneumonia. Externally, an ointment of aconite soothes the pain of rheumatism, lumbago and neuralgia.
Blue, as we have noted, is not totally restricted to shade. Bachelor buttons love to grow in sunny places and are
quite good at regenerating themselves in the right conditions.
Bachelor button, Centaurea cyanus, also called cornflower (so called because it was considered a weed growing among fields of grain, when all grains were called “corn” in the United Kingdom), originally came in blue as testified to by its specific epithet of cyanus, from the Greek Kyanus, meaning dark blue. Another of its common names is bluebottle. Bachelor button was used as an eye wash to cool tired eyes, and its quick fading was a symbol of a man’s dying love. It was the favourite flower of John F. Kennedy and was worn at his wedding, in his father’s honour.
There is also a perennial variety, Centaurea montana,
that is not as showy but which is very photogenic.
Nothing is bluer than a blue morning glory and you will fall in love with the ‘Picotee Blue’ morning glory, which has a dignified rim of white around its blue petals.
The new blue favourite in colder zones is Hydrangea
‘Endless Summer”. There are also many shades of blue iris. The lollipop-shaped Allium comes in many blues. Linum,
the true blue flax seed, will return year after year.
No story about blue plants would be complete without mentioning gentian. I know a place where the fringed gentian blooms wild, waving innocently in a dusty ditch. There is nothing as lovely. Fringed gentian ( Gentianopsis crinite) opens in the sunshine. It closes its petals to shut out the clouds. Fringed gentian is a short-lived biennial that begins life as an insignificant rosette of leaves the first year, then bursts into bloom the second, spilling its seed lightly on the ground in open spaces. It likes boggy areas and sunlight.
Granted, there are garden-variety gentians, too, renowned for the blue, and pretty in their own right, but the wildness of the fringed gentian once seen will steal your heart and make it hard to accept anything less.
This summer, add a little blue. It will brighten your days.
Salvia 'Victoria Blue'.
Salvia 'black and blue'.