Green Scene

Grow Your Knowledge: Name That Plant as It Blooms

By Joel M. Lerner
Saturday, June 13, 2009

In the 1950s, I watched a television game show called "Name That Tune." The goal was to name a song in as few notes as possible. This inspired me to invent a game called "Name That Bloom," where the objective is to identify plants as you see them blossom.

All you have to do is go outside. If you have to research the plant online, in perennial texts or through cooperative extension service plant clinics to learn what it is, give yourself two points. If you know the plant, it's worth one point. I scored a 19 for the 16 plants identified below.

Let's begin with spiderwort (Tradescantia virginiana). This plant has a grassy, natural appearance. Several are native to the United States, but the most common are hybrids. It looks a little like a daylily as it leafs in early spring but has 1- to 1 1/2 -inch blue to purple flowers with a more floppy habit than daylilies. Spiderwort needs moist, well-drained conditions. It self-sows prolifically.

Catmint (Nepeta X faassenii) has been blooming for a couple of weeks and will continue to offer flushes of pastel to deep blue flowers throughout the growing season. The Dutch hybrid, also called catnip, is the most commonly found variety available from garden centers. It's a good, low-edging plant that flowers best in full sun.

Roses bloomed profusely this spring. One that is still lush with flowers is a shrub rose named pink knockout. Its red double blossoms are a standout, best cut hard in late winter because this plant is a fast grower. Roses love moist, well-drained, deer-free conditions, with good air circulation. This shrub rose thrived this spring.

A later-flowering azalea (Rhododendron kaempferi 'Macrantha') is blooming now. Its flowers always open in our garden in June. Though azaleas are used extensively in this region because of their considerable flowering value in early spring, there are some that bloom after the "masses." Investigate some of these and you'll appreciate why you should design at least several as flowering shrubs for your landscape, if you can keep the deer away.

Clematis hybrids began displaying impressive flushes of flowers near the end of May; some will persist until mid-June, and others will flower into late fall. This vine needs a trellis or wall and prefers shaded roots with sun on top for best flowering. With approximately 700 named hybrids, it's difficult to keep track of the best ones. A few of my favorites are Jackman, with large, deep purple blooms; creamy white Henryi; and long-lasting Mr. President.

Blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium angustifolium) has been making a pleasing show this spring. This member of the iris family is native from southern Canada through most of the Eastern United States. Its dainty, yellow-centered blue flowers are a treat in spring. If it gets overzealous, pull seedlings where you don't want them.

Pink sensation salvia (S. nemorosa 'Sensation') is wowing me this year. A drift of perennial pink salvia blooming en masse is beautiful, but I consider the flower too short-lived. Several years with pink sensation has changed my mind. This short, full and floriferous plant looks good from spring into mid-summer. It's showy, tough, deer-resistant, and a dependable repeat bloomer, spreading slowly and obediently.

Mountain bluet (Centauria montana) is sure to flower in sun and may naturalize in the garden. The hybrids 'Alba' and 'Grandiflora' are worth growing. Keep an eye out for too many seedlings appearing over several years. Pull unwanted plants when weeding. The flower petals are a colorful garnish on salads, entrees or desserts.

Allium is flowering now, growing from bulbs or rhizomes. The foliage is less interesting than the perfectly globe-shaped umbels covered with tiny star-shaped flowers. I spotted a striking, early and pink flowering form last week. The flowers are ball-shaped collections of blooms atop a scape ranging from eight to 48 inches tall, depending on the species. The pink spring blossoms I saw might have been a Schubert (A. schubertii) onion, from the Mediterranean and Central Asia.

Moonbeam coreopsis (C. verticillata 'Moonbeam') has started flowering here and can continue into October. This thread-leafed plant sports small, pale yellow flowers. They can fit into almost any sunny garden and are long-lived perennials. Most coreopsis blooms for a long period, and varieties range in height from eight inches (C. rosea) to 10 feet (C. triptera).

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