Mind the gap with meadow rue

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Property - - SUNDAY PROPERTY - GERRY DALY

THE early sum­mer-flow­er­ing meadow rue is a re­ally good ad­di­tion to the gar­den. There is a bit of a colour gap in many gar­dens and bor­ders in this tran­si­tion pe­riod be­tween late spring and early sum­mer. A few plant species are in­valu­able, in­clud­ing pe­onies, Ori­en­tal pop­pies and irises, and to that group can be added the early forms of meadow rue, or thal­ic­trum.

It gets the name meadow rue be­cause of the small leaf-lets on the leaves, rounded and rem­i­nis­cent of rue, a lit­tle shrubby herb once used in her­bal medicine. Thal­ic­trum grows in mead­ows in Europe and its leaves are also like those of columbine, or aqui­le­gia, which gives the botan­i­cal name of Thal­ic­trum aqui­legi­folium, an­other good early-sum­mer flower, and they are both mem­bers of the but­ter­cup fam­ily. So, both the com­mon name and the botan­i­cal name al­lude to the leaf shape. The flower heads of thal­ic­trum, which is in full flower at the mo­ment, are al­most like candy floss, a mass of fil­a­men­tous pis­tils and sta­mens, the flower’s fer­tile parts, but no coloured petals. The floss of fil­a­ments has a soft pale pur­ple colour, made more gen­tle and dreamy by the sheer num­bers of tiny flower parts. Each tiny flower is made up of a puff of fil­a­ments, open­ing from rounded buds, car­ried on a strong branch­ing flower stem. In nat­u­ral con­di­tions, the flower stem would reach up to one me­tre above the grasses of a meadow. In a bor­der, it lifts the gauzy flow­ers clear of de­vel­op­ing sum­mer peren­ni­als, get­ting in ahead of the crowd. While the pale pur­ple kind is more of­ten seen, there is a very pretty white-flow­ered ver­sion.

There are some other kinds that open into flower later. The yel­low meadow rue has le­mon-yel­low flow­ers, held more in clumps than the fluffy can­dyfloss look of the early sum­mer kind. Later in sum­mer, the very beau­ti­ful Chi­nese meadow rue, Thal­ic­trum delavayi, comes into flower in shades of light pur­ple or white. This species is a bit taller and very ele­gant. It has fewer fil­a­ments in each flower mak­ing them more airy in ap­pear­ance, not as much of a can­dyfloss look.

Thal­ic­trums are easy to grow. They are nat­u­ral moist meadow plants and like moist soil, not wet or wa­ter­logged, and plenty of or­ganic ma­te­rial in the soil. They are hardy, not dam­aged by frost. Best re­sults are achieved if the plants are lifted, di­vided and re­planted ev­ery few years, but good feed­ing with or­ganic ma­te­rial will also help to in­crease the size of the fluffy flow­ers.

Meadow rue is an ex­cel­lent ad­di­tion to the gar­den

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