Gar­den blues make you happy

Manitoba Gardener Magazine - - CONTENTS - By Dorothy Dob­bie

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.

Ne­mophila men­ziesii.


Salvia 'Vic­to­ria Blue'.






Salvia 'black and blue'.


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