Mark has been the Director of Horticulture at Rotary Botanical Gardens in Janesville, WI for the last 14 years. Along with dedicated staff and volunteers, Mark coordinates the development and improvement of this 20-acre botanical showcase. Mark’s background is in landscape architecture and urban forestry although his true passion is obtaining, growing, observing and photographing all manner of plants.
 

 

V for Verticality
by Mark Dwyer - posted 12/02/14

  

I haven't been inspired recently for much photography outside so am focusing on some more colorful topics to get us through the winter months.  Verticality in the garden is vital whether it's represented by plants or non-living elements.  We don't garden in two dimensions and adding narrow height as an accent can help blend a composition and create some dramatic interest with those exclamation points leading the eye or becoming focal points.  Repetition of upright forms will add interest and depth as well.  Narrow conifers, ornamental grasses and plants with very upright flowers can offer this drama and be vital in the garden.  I always preach the value of "flower architecture" as it is certainly a characteristic worthy of consideration.  Flowers certainly bloom at different times and have a wide range of colors.  However, they also have different shapes and forms like flat platforms (coneflowers), trumpets (lilies), spheres (globe thistle) and spires (salvias).  This blog is a tribute to the letter 'V' for not only verticality but Veronica sp. (speedwell) and the native Veronicastrum virginicum (Culver's root).  Both of these perennials offer upright narrow flowers that really draw the eye as these photos will reinforce.  There are a wide range of varieties for both of these sun-loving selections.  The top photo shows the standard white form of Culver's root in a late summer composition.

 

 

Culver's root (Veronicastrum virginicum) is a North American native perennial that loves full sun (preferred) but will tolerate some light shade.  This perennial prefers moist soils and has minimal drought tolerance.  With a long history of historical medicinal use (research this!), this summer blooming perennial can add height (3'-7') in the sunny border with blooms lasting a good four weeks or more.  Varieties range in color from white to light pink and even light blue.  Multiple groupings of this perennial in the summer border or meadow garden will result in a pleasing repetition of vertical form when the spire-like blooms emerge above whorled foliage.  This narrow plant looks great in a grouping of 3-7 plants as seen in some examples below.  Consider this stalwart native for beauty, height, verticality and extended summer impact in your sunny garden. 

 

 Veronicastrum virginicum 'Pink Glow'

 Veronicastrum virginicum

Veronicastrum virginicum

 Veronicastrum virginicum

Veronicastrum virginicum 'Erica'

 

Speedwells (Veronica sp.), like those seen here, can offer flower verticality with colorful spires in mid-Spring.  There are some creeping and lower-statured veronicas but the spicata, longiflora and some hybrids can be selected for a profusion of upright spires (as seen on Veronica spicata 'Heidkind' directly above and below).  Most of these selections (and there are many more) hover at a 12"-15" flowering height although some varieties/hybrids will reach 24" tall.  Full sun is preferred for all veronicas and while they are quite adaptable in a wide range of soils, do provide moist, well-drained situations in decent soil and you will be rewarded.  The first strong wave of blooms in mid-Spring will be followed by sporadic blooms all the way until frost.  Consider shearing these plants back severely in mid-summer to remove spent flowers and encourage fresh foliar growth and a potential resurgence of blooms.  The value of these "vertical veronicas" can be seen further below.

 

 Veronica spicata 'Heidkind'

 Veronica spicata 'Fairytale'

 Veronica spicata 'Tickled Pink'

Veronica spicata 'Royal Candles'

 Veronica longifolia 'Pink Damask'

Veronica spicata 'Red Fox'

 Veronica longifolia 'Evelyn' (above and below at Olbrich Botanical Garden in Madison, WI)

 

 Veronica incana 'Pure Silver'

 

 

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