Height in the border

bill_ri_z6b(Zone 6B)February 8, 2010

I like to have some taller plants in my mixed borders, but I haven't had a lot of success. I've tried and killed delphinium and hollyhock several times. I do have Russian sage which is fairly tall but spreads too much to have the look I want. I've had some luck with veronica, but it's not as tall as I'd like, and not always a robust grower. I'm thinking of trying verbascum. Has anyone had luck with them? I like foxgloves a lot, but they seem to fade away. I have seen some that are true perennials, namely a pink and a yellow, so if anyone has any experience with either of those please let me know.

Of course, any other suggestions would be most welcome!



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mad_gallica(zone 5 - eastern New York)

Things that I consider at least middling tall: baptisia, miscanthus, panicum, veronicastrum, helianthus, rudbeckia Herbstsonne, lilies, aruncus, eupatorium Chocolate, Hmm, I'm beginning to think this is a pretty endless list.

Of those, the really tall ones are the grasses and helianthus.

    Bookmark   February 8, 2010 at 4:38PM
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bill_ri_z6b(Zone 6B)

I don't really want the grasses there. I'm thinking flowering plants. I have some helianthus but I really wanted something more of a spire or spike.........such as with delphinium, hollyhock etc. Love lilies but they just don't do well here. I'm convinced that there's some insect that devours the bulbs soon after I plant them. They sprout and then dry up and disappear.

    Bookmark   February 8, 2010 at 5:32PM
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carol6ma_7ari(zones 6 & 7a)

Height is only one consideration. Blooming time and duration is another. (color and form are 2 more, but let's just talk about the height and bloom time problem for now.)

If your border has full sun and the soil is rich and well-drained, you could start the season with tall iris and maybe one baptisia (they are bush-shaped), behind the biggest tulips you can find.

Then by midsummer you could have tall phlox davidii, a globe thistle, tall daylilies. End of summer you'd have asters and chrysanthemums. -Are the lilies you lose, hemerocallis daylilies or lilium lilies? There's a small red beetle that's eating all the local lilium bulbs; so I just stopped using them and switched to nice hardy daylilies. I ordered my daylilies and irises from catalogues of specific iris and daylily nurseries in the NW and midwest. They indicate the height and bloomtime (early, mid, late) for each variety. AND they're much cheaper than buying a potted bulb locally.

Also, I brought in more soil and heaped it up along the midline (front to back) of the bed, so anything planted there looks taller than it actually is. In other words, a cross section of the bed would show a steep mound. The shrubs behind that midline give the illusion that all the plants are taller toward the back, in a graduated order.

What I'm suggesting is mostly herbaceous perennials in shrub-like form but you could mix in some twiggy/branchy plants: roses, a lilac, a buddleia. My garden is windy, and tall thin plants (such as delphs and hollyhocks) get bent weirdly early-on and lose their height. I also have hydrangeas which could be an excellent back for your border, giving it lots of height. (Mine reach 4 ft. high). How deep is your border?


    Bookmark   February 8, 2010 at 6:19PM
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tree_oracle(z6b MA)


There are many different types of lilies and many of them are tough as nails. I suggest that you try some more before you give up on them. I agree with Carol on phlox as a possibility. You might also try some Lupine. They are one of my absolute favorites. I can send you some seed this year if you want to try some in your garden. Here's a pic of my Lupine from a few years ago:

    Bookmark   February 8, 2010 at 9:09PM
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carol6ma_7ari(zones 6 & 7a)

Wait! I realize bill wants tall spiky flowers. So that lets out most of my suggestions. Except for the phlox and the globe thistle. And treeoracle's lupines are great; mine don't grow very tall, though.

Who wrote veronicastrum? That'd be good too.


    Bookmark   February 8, 2010 at 10:17PM
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bill_ri_z6b(Zone 6B)

I've tried numerous lilies, both Asiatic, oriental, tigers, etc. Most don't even get a chance to bloom, and none of them have ever come back. I get a few straggly sprouts that MIGHT form buds, but they wither and die. Daylilies do fine, but I have enough of those now.

I'm going to try the true perennial foxgloves and verbascum. I saw both of these used a lot when I went to England and they look really good.

The borders' widths vary since I have used curving shapes. Minimum is maybe 4 feet to over 20, but at the widest there's a little sitting area, and next to it, a berm (or as you said, a mound) with crocosmia, veronica, coreopsis, daylilies and others. Behind that is Jasminum nudiflorum, hydrangea and some southern belle Hibiscus that gets about 5 feet tall.

    Bookmark   February 9, 2010 at 4:31AM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Hi Bill, I guess it's that time again, planning what to grow where. I have also tried Delphiniums and Hollyhocks. I love them both. The Delphiniums did grow for me, but I didn't find it easy to keep them going. They were doing well in one location and I decided to move them and they didn't like it and died. Hollyhocks are gorgeous, but the foliage is always a mess of rust by the time they bloom. Tree Oracle's Lupines are gorgeous. They are easy to grow from seed and worth a try but not as tall as either of those.

I would also encourage you to try lilies again. Yes, there is a red lily leaf beetle, but it doesn't eat the bulb, it eats the foliage. It can make a mess of it, but where you are, you might not get it. You could ask around. You would know it if you did, they are bright red and visible. I have them in my yard so I limit the number of lilies I try to grow and I hand pick the small beetles. Last year, I found I was able to stay on top of it by just knocking them off into a 5 gallon bucket of water and my liles were beautiful and well worth it. You might want to try purchasing a growing plant of lilies instead of the bulbs. That is how I purchased mine. I have Casa Blanca Lilies and they are one of the easiest plants in the garden for me. They get between 4-6ft tall. I don't do anything to them aside from picking off the RLLBeetles. I don't even fertilize them. They bloom the beginning of August.

You mentioned liking something spikey or spires. There are lots of tall garden Phlox as Carol suggested and 'David' is one of the best as far as disease resistance, but there are others that are as well in different colors. Hardy Hibiscus is worth considering. They bloom late and look good at the back of the border. They also can be grown from seed but take awhile to establish. They have hybrids out, lots of them. I have 'Plum Crazy' that I bought in a gallon size. Penstemons can get tall, I have 'Iron Maiden' and it can get as tall as 4 ft. Malvas are similar to Hollyhocks but their blooms are much smaller and can get 4ft as well. Liatris is spikey. Agastaches are spikey, not sure what the tallest of them are, but there are a lot. Easy to grow too, if you have the drainage for them. Digitalis and tall Iris bloom together. I do consider some of these middle of the border plants though.

I grow both Baptisia and Verbascum that were mentioned. I love them both. Baptisia can definitely handle the back of the border, it gets large and it has that spikey effect. It is easy as pie, another plant I never have to do one thing to and it looks good after it blooms too. Never a disease or an insect problem. Verbascum grow well for me too and are spikey but are middle of the border to me. Plus they have a basal growth that you cut back to after bloom so that leaves the back of the border empty again.
Have you ever considered growing a rose or a Butterfly Bush at the back of the border? Butterfly Bushes are easy too and they can get 6-7ft tall. They also have new varieites out that are supposed to be dwarfs that top out at 4-5ft. They bloom a long time, they attract butterflies, they are fragrant. Other than that, Sunflowers might be fun to try for a year. They get tall, you can grow them from seed, feed the birds in the fall. Since they are annuals if you don't like them, you can try something else the next year.

Here is a link that might be useful: Verbascum 'Southern Charm'

    Bookmark   February 9, 2010 at 5:55AM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Sorry, I didn't see your post before I posted. [g]

    Bookmark   February 9, 2010 at 5:58AM
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The only true perennial foxglove I know of is a pale yellow and not nearly as tall as the biennials. It's very weedy and not that pretty even in bloom - I wouldn't recommend it for anything but dire situations. The biennial, on the other hand, will flower for many weeks in spring and, if cut back will produce more blooms, though on short stalks, later in the season,once it's established. Now that I have it I would not be without it.

The best substitute for delphinium is aconitum, IMHO. I have one that's about 6' tall, that blooms under an old silver maple in early fall. Other varieties bloom earlier, in full sun, but are not as tall.

Other very tall favorites are Vernonia noveboracensis (NY ironweed), Eupatorium purpureum ('species' Joe Pye weed), and Filipendual rubra (queen of the prairie). I also love the height of Verbena bonariensis and the taller thalictrums - e.g. Black Stockings. Those are see-through plants that will pop up between others, but are not too invasive.

I do grow verbascum, and although I've tried the new colors I actually prefer the super-tall yellow 'weed' - not sure if it's a native or not - so I let one or 2 (ok, maybe 6) grow wherever they appear in spring. They can be really stunning, or quite plain and dowdy - it's a very variable clan.

Some other tall plants in my garden that have more mass and are not so spikey are Angelica archangelica (very architectural branching structure), Crambe cordifolia (flowers to 6', really stunning and fragrant, but horrible foliage) and volunteer asparagus, which I let grow among the shrubs and right next to the front door of our music studio) as well as bronze fennel, which like asparagus has a lovely ferny texture. I'll think of others, but those are the mainstays as far as tall perennials in my garden.

    Bookmark   February 9, 2010 at 9:08AM
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Fairly tall (4' or more) and "spikey" that I've used in my garden: Veronicastrum 'Fascination', Silphium perfoliatum (6' tall, not so spikey), Persicaria polymorpha, Perovskia 'Longin', and Vernonia noveboracensis. I'm planning on ordering another of this last plant from PDN that actually sounds pretty scarey - Vernonia altissima 'Jonesboro Giant' - can you imagine 12' tall purple spikes ??? It might be a bit taller than what you need. . .

Another late-summer-to-frost plant that I use every year in quantity is
Salvia leucantha, a tender perennial that has to be replaced each season in my zone, but well worth the massive purple spires that gentlly arch out from
their 5' vertical position.

And daylilies most definitely CAN be used in the back of the border, as I can attest to with five different varieties all 4'-5' tall. . .they are a fairly recent
discovery for me, and I've included the online site from whence they all came.


Here is a link that might be useful: Bloomingfield Farm

    Bookmark   February 9, 2010 at 2:01PM
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bill_ri_z6b(Zone 6B)

Thanks for the suggestions. I'll also check out Bloomingfield Farm.


    Bookmark   February 9, 2010 at 2:08PM
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claireplymouth z6b coastal MA

Has anyone ever tried eremurus?

I've never grown them but they look fantastic in photos, and are supposed to be hardy in zone 6. Tall and spiky indeed.


    Bookmark   February 9, 2010 at 8:52PM
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diggerdee zone 6 CT

Wow! Those lupines are gorgeous! What beautiful colors!

I have to half-disagree with DTD regarding the perennial yellow foxglove (digitalis grandiflora). I agree that it is rather low-growing, and probably not suitable for what you are looking for in this spot.

That being said, I have to come to it's defense for other purposes. It's a beautiful soft yellow, blooms forever, does well in spots without a speck of direct sun, and reseeds nicely but not aggressively. I have it front and center by the front door. I love this plant.

But I guess that's a moot point because it won't work for you in this spot, lol.

I also just realized that I don't have many spikey plants in my garden...


    Bookmark   February 9, 2010 at 10:06PM
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I second Carl's recommendation for Mexican bush sage - I plant a half dozen of these every spring and absolutely love them. They want a lot of heat, and do best in hot summers and/or in the hottest, sunniest parts of the garden. They root easily, so if you buy a larger plant you can start a lot of cuttings, which root quickly and catch up to their parent plants before you know it.

Claire - I've never grown eremurus; they look weirdly ... inorganic to me, stiff and always half-open. But another tall bulb on the web site you linked to is one of my favorites, they're selling it as Allium bulgaricum, but I've purchased it as Nectaroscordum siculum, an allium relative.

The photo is very 'optimistically' colored, undoubtedly photoshopped; mine are more washed-out and not nearly as "pretty" - but they're well over 3 feet tall, and they always get a reaction from anyone who visits when they're in bloom. Very tall, very interesting, and another one of the taller plants that I wouldn't be without.

Here is a link that might be useful: Nectaroscordum siculum at Van Engelen

    Bookmark   February 9, 2010 at 10:34PM
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carol6ma_7ari(zones 6 & 7a)

eremurus, yes! I've seen these foxtail lilies in bloom and they are definitely tall enough for your needs, Bill, and they're gorgeous - big fuzzy yellow brushy tails on long upright stems.


    Bookmark   February 10, 2010 at 7:35AM
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I've got some Eremurus, so at least some are hardy to the zone 4-5 border. They come in pale pink & orange as well as white, plus the yellow Carol mentioned. I got mine from Brent & Becky's Bulbs (a nursery which I would recommend) even though they really aren't bulbs - more a mat of thick roots. If you have some shade, consider Actea racemosa or its hybrids (aka Cimicifuga) which has tall bottle brush flowers in fall. It comes with green or maroon foliage, a bit like astilbe, but smells unpleasant when bruised, so don't plant it where you will brush against it. I also use clematis on a fairly narrow trellis in some gardens - not exactly a spike, but will bloom all summer if you choose the right kind and will give you height. Just be sure that you choose one of the more restrained ones, not one that gets to 30 ft. I've had verbascum in a couple of spots, one ordinary garden soil and one rocky gravely soil, and was rather underwhelmed. A bit floppy and rather muddy colors to my eye. I do like the traditional foxgloves - they reseed and I have bloom every summer. I have had both Eupatorium and Valerian, but both got yanked for seeding around too vigorously - even now, 5 or so years later, I still have to pull a few every year. My annual poppies get medium tall, though only bloom mid-spring through early summer. I wouldn't be without them, but they aren't spike shaped. The tall veronicas I've grown have looked rather weedy, so were removed. The tall phlox stay only because my husband likes them. They are somewhat prone to mildew and also seed themselves everywhere . . . can you tell I don't deadhead soon enough?! I do have a nice lavendar meadow rue (Thalictrum) that I love dearly that blooms in mid and late summer. Again, not a spike, but an airy cloud of lavender on dark stems with bluish leaves. It seeds, but not too vigorously. I have in the past had Verbena bonarensis and liked it - little purple flowers that floated over or wove through whatever other perennials and shrubs were nearby; it's a tender perennial here that behaves like a self-seeding annual.

Here is a link that might be useful: Brent & Becky's Bulbs

    Bookmark   February 13, 2010 at 11:16PM
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