Flower Towers

By Lorton, Steven R.; Swezey, Lauren Bonar | Sunset, September 2002 | Go to article overview

Flower Towers


Lorton, Steven R., Swezey, Lauren Bonar, Sunset


These old-fashioned charmers give the garden vertical punch

* Gardens, like good short stories and movie scripts, need climactic moments to give them punch. Delphiniums, foxgloves, hollyhocks, and verbascum provide the perfect accents, punctuating beds and borders with statuesque candles of bloom.

Plant these beauties at the rear of a border, where they'll make colorful backdrops for shorter plants. Cluster them in the middle of island beds so they'll anchor lower-growing plantings that sweep around them. Or, for drama, fill a bed with a small forest of towering blooms.

Fall is the time to scout catalogs and nurseries for these inspirational vertical bloomers. In mildest climates you can sow seeds of biennials now for handsome plants next summer and blooms the following year (some biennials may even bloom the first year). In cold or wet climates, wait until spring or summer to sow seed.

In all but the coldest climates, put established nursery-grown biennials or perennials in the ground now, and they'll have the cool winter months to become established. Then, as the season progresses and plants grow taller, you will be amazed by your perfectly punctuated beds.

Is it biennial or perennial?

Delphiniums and some verbascum are short-lived perennials, blooming every year for three years or more. Most foxgloves are biennials, producing lush foliage the first year and a dramatic spike of flowers the second year. In a few cases, modern hybridizing has blurred the lines between annuals and biennials so that now you can grow a biennial foxglove ('Foxy') or hollyhock (Summer Carnival mix) that blooms the first year when planted from seed in spring followed by a second year of bloom.

Planting and care

Planting. Set out plants in welldrained soil amended with compost. Fertilizing. To assure a robust flower spire, feed plants in late winter or early spring with a balanced dry fertilizer or a top dressing of wellrotted manure or compost.

Pruning. Cut the bloom stalks off delphiniums, foxgloves (Digitalis purpurea), and hollyhocks (Alcea rosea) as soon as they fade-but well before they set mature seed. In most cases, plants will send up a new flower stalk later in the season.

Disease control. Most hollyhocks are prone to rust, a disease that produces orangy pustules on the undersides of leaves and spots on the leaf surfaces. It's most severe in coastal areas when temperatures are between 64 deg and 70 deg and moisture is present for several hours. At the first sign of rust, prune off damaged leaves and spray with sulfur mixed with horticultural oil.

Plant and seed sources

PLANTS

In mild climates in fall, most nurseries sell delphiniums, foxgloves, and verbascum. Hollyhocks may not be available until spring.

Wayside Gardens (800/845-1124 or www. waysidegardens.com).

Weiss Brothers Perennial Nursery (530/272-7657 or www.plantperennials.com). Ships only until October 29 in fall; spring shipping begins February 26.

SEEDS

Renee's Garden (888/880-7228 or www. reneesgarden.com).

Thompson & Morgan Seedsmen, Inc. (800/274-7333 or www.thompson-morgan.com).

[Sidebar]

Foxglove (Digitalis)

[Sidebar]

Majestic spikes of tubular flowers rise in late spring and summer; their flowers come in a wide range of colors. Of the many foxgloves available, two are hardy perennials, while the rest are biennial (see page 68). Most biennial foxgloves reseed themselves in the garden. All prefer regular water.

Biennials

[Sidebar]

D. purpurea (Sunset climate zones A2-A3, 1-24 from the Western Garden Book) is the most common species and includes many beautiful strains. …

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