A PASSION FOR PLANTS: November 2007
The Blue Garden
by Nancy Schramm
I have friends who are so organized that they actually landscape
their gardens. It never fails to impress me. Having a nursery
with all the work and projects it entails, has meant that almost
all of my plants are still in containers. But I dream about having
a real garden, and read about gardens planted by others, both
famous and not. One well-known garden I've read about many times
is a "white garden" created around the turn of the
20th century by Gertrude Jekyll in England. Every plant in this
garden has white flowers. It's dramatic and magical, but not
as easy as it sounds. For one thing, there are different shades
of white (as anyone who's chosen white paint can attest) and
a yellow-white can look terrible next to a green-white. For another,
plants with white flowers are often less healthy and vigorous
than those with other colored flowers. But I still like the concept
of a garden with a color theme. So since blue is one of my favorite
colors, let's fantasize about planting a blue garden and look
at some interesting plants we might include.
Aquilegia (columbine) has always been a favorite of mine.
There are many species and hybrids with blue flowered forms on
offer. Columbine will grow in full to part sun. The lacy foliage
looks like a delicate fern, but then the flowering stalks shoot
up with lovely complex flowers. The petals and sepals are often
contrasting colors, and most species have spurs that project
down and away from the center of the blossom.
Baptisia australis (blue false indigo) is an ideal background
shrub since it can get 3-6' tall. This sun-lover has blue green
leaves with three leaflets. The flower spikes hold deep blue
flowers that are shaped like sweet peas.
Campanula (bellflower) is a genus that offers us hundreds
of species and many forms from groundcover to one that can get
6' tall. They will do best with part shade and good drainage.
The flowers are usually bell shaped, sometimes star shaped or
cupped. Many shades of blue and blue violet are available.
A campanula relative
that always fascinates children is Platycodon (balloon flower).
The unopened flower buds are inflated and do, indeed look like
little balloons. It can get 3' tall and make a nice clump. When
established, it can bloom for months if regularly deadheaded.
If you want to include an electric blue in your garden, check
out Eryngium amethystinum (sea holly) or E. alpinum, both
of which can get about 2 ?' tall. The thistle-shaped flowers
are a dramatic silvery blue. These species both have spiny leaves,
but there are others with gentler looking leaves. Most sea hollies
prefer full sun and moderate water.
Another of my favorite blue flowers is Linum (flax). The
plants I'm familiar with are not those grown for the seed or
linseed oil, but they are in the same family. Linum perenne and
L. narbonense both have tall wiry stems (to 2') arising straight
up out of the ground with small leaves and small blue flowers
at the top. Give them both full sun and moderate water. The succession
of flowers gives them a long bloom period despite each blossom
only lasting a day.
The California native, Penstemon heterophyllus is worth
the effort to find and grow. This mounding shrub will grow 1-3'
tall and becomes covered with blue flowers that blend into purples
and pinks. Give it sun and good drainage, and only moderate water
for a lovely display from spring through summer.
And while we're talking about California natives, remember how
easy it is to grow Sisyrinchium or (blue-eyed grass).
This grassy looking plant is an iris relative, and has a simple
six-petaled blue flower with a yellow center. It can tolerate
heavier soils, sun or part shade, summer water or drought. In
it's natural habitat, it is summer dormant, but summer water
is not a deathblow to this cheerful naturalizer.
For an overwhelming number of choices take a look at the many
species and hybrids of Salvia (sage). Large or medium
shrubs, groundcovershere they are. Most sages prefer sun, good
drainage, regular or moderate water. The foliage of most is fragrant
when bruised, and the flowers are attractive to hummingbirds,
butterflies, and bees. Look for one of the books about salvia
written by Betsy Clebsch, a local authority, for help in choosing
plants that will do well in your garden.
Finally, I have to mention one of my favorite groundcovers, Ajuga
(carpet bugle). I have a patch of A. reptans "Catlin's
Giant"(named for a friend!) with large purple leaves in
cold weather, going greener in the summer. Intense blue flower
spikes stand about 8" tall. These plants will take sun or
part shade, regular water.
and About Magazine
owner of Carman's Nursery, Nancy Schramm and her husband recently
moved the nursery from Los Gatos to Gilroy where they have lived
for 24 years. The nursery is known for growing rare and unusual
plants including bonsai starters, dwarf conifers, rock garden
plants and (of course) less common fruiting plants. Nancy has
been a member of the Western Horticultural Society since 2003.
She follows in the footsteps of her father Ed Carman, the founder
of Carman's Nursery. Ed was one of the charter members of the
Western Horticultural Society and also served on the first Board.
Contact Nancy at email@example.com