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purple spires, or, 'blue spikey flowers are why I garden'

17 years ago

On a previous post about nepeta walkers low I saw Jackied write - For me blue spikey flowers are why I garden.

Ha! I had to laugh because I recognize myself in that statement.

In my head I call them "purple spires", and I love the way they go with everything. The deeper the purple color, the better. My favorites are:

salvias - may night, blue queen, indigo spires, etc. Can't pass up trying a new one

delphiniums - I grow "magic fountains" because they don't need staking and have a wonderful deep dark color

lupines - wow

giant blue lobelia and violet lobelia

agastache blue fortune

verbena bonariensis - not quite a "spire" but a lovely cloud


penstemons - only have 2 that are hardy to zone 5, I need some new varieties that are larger, like I used to grow in CA

iris, iris, iris! - the tall bearded and the dwarf

campanula persicifolia - great foliage too

veronica - still trying some new varieties

Russian sage

liatris spicata

Any that I'm missing? (for zone 5)

Any specific cultivars you'd recommend? (deeper color and taller spikes?)

Anyone else out there got a love for purple spires?

Here's just a couple photos.




Comments (39)

  • keesha2006
    17 years ago

    I love purple, or blue flowers in the garden also...not just spikey tho..any, especially deep dark colors. I am a lover of colbalt blue, I collect colbalt blue glass and the love for that color carries over to the garden. I have colbalt blue glass in my garden here and there, and I love flowers that also accent that. I have a smallish yard tho that is fairly heavily shaded so it becomes difficult to get much blue that likes tho conditions. But I spread it where ever I can get away with it! Your pictures are lovely!

  • ego45
    17 years ago

    You may want to add Veronicastrum to your collection of blue/purple spikes.

  • david_5311
    17 years ago

    I am definitely a 'gardener's blue' fan (really, purple and lavendar, since true blues are quite uncommon among N temperate garden plants and I don't tend to really like them anyway). And I also think that most gardens with lots of perennials do not have enough spikey forms, which contrast beautifully with the much more common amorphous mounding plants. So yes, therefore, I am definitely a fan of spiky blue plants.

    You did not mention Veronicastrum virginicum 'Fascination', which is a powdery lavendar with pinkish overcasts (but it definitely "reads" in the lavendar not the pink range). No zone 5 garden should be without at least several cultivars of this wonderful native. It blooms for weeks at the peak of "high summer", and has beautiful whorled foliage that give it an architectural form lacking in even most other spiky plants. A must have.

    You oughta be cool enough where you are to successfully grow aconitums. The July blooming 'Sparks variety' and the fall blooming A. carmichaelii are 2 to start with. The need cool bright moisture retentive growing conditions, tricky in areas with hot summers (most areas that are warmer than you) since full sun will be too hot and shade won't have enough light. But worth a try...

    A little known plant for part shade that excels in beautiful though somewhat airy purple blue spires, and in the fall when they may be hard to come by other than aconitums and delph encores, is Rabdosia longituba. I got mine at a NARGS plant sale for a pittance, just to try, and it has become one of my favorite plants of fall. Tall airy wands of flowers dance above the leaves. It may be a bit more shrub like than strict spires, though the flowering stems are long and semiupright. But it is such a unique plant that I bet you would love it, especially for some shade. Hard to find -- Arrowhead alpines carries it.

    There would be many, many salvias beyond what you mentioned that would fir this bill, including many of the tender perennials that are commonly planted as annuals. One hardy one that is a bit harder to find but really worth having is S. azurea grandiflora. Blooms in fall, fully z5 hardy.

    You don't mention any veronicas, but there are definitely some taller 3' range plants that will do well for you. I forget the cultivar names, ?'Blue something?. There are also lots of shorter veronicas that have spiky inflorescences.

    I am sure I will think of some more.

    LOVELY, lovely, inspiring photos. My kind of garden and color scheme -- a rich assortment of plants in the color range you have, and not being afraid to use some of the more intense hues with paler ones. Very effective! And little to no bare earth, I like that.

  • laurelin
    17 years ago

    Oh wow, gottagarden! Your pictures of your garden are inspiring. What a joy to see all that dazzling color in January. I've GOT to try those delphiniums, they're amazing.

    My favorite perennial blue is lavender 'Munstead.' It's not a long-lived perennial up here in zone 5 (in the Binghamton area I usually get 3 decent years from a plant), but it's well worth growing and replacing every so often.

    I also grew culinary sage from seed, it's acting perennial (2 years going strong now), and some of them have pale blue-lavender flowers. It's a lovely accent, with its furry grayish leaves and tiny flowers. Nigella 'Miss Jeckyll Blue' is an annual, but it reseeds freely, so if you plant it once, you'll have it for as long as you want it. It's airy and delicate, with interesting seed pods.

    OH, I cannot forget my favorite climber: clematis 'General Sikorski.' It has large, blue-lavender flowers, and is quite vigorous for me even in partial shade.

    Clematis 'General Sikorski,' and the flood in June. . . .

    I like asters. This one is a seedling of aster 'Bluebird' by an unknown aster:

    I also really like my Stokes asters:

    Thanks for sharing those pictures!


  • mxk3 z5b_MI
    17 years ago

    Those photos are gorgeous!! I'm jealous of those lupines...

    I agree with the rec for Stokes aster - not a spike but definitely worth a place in the garden if you're a blue lover. Klaus Jelitto is my cultivar of choice.

  • linnea56 (zone 5b Chicago)
    17 years ago

    gottagarden, I know what you mean! I'm at risk of having almost ALL blue spiky flowers. If you haven't tried Veronica you MUST! It's my favorite spiky blue. I have 2 of the big ones, "Sunny Border Blue", and this last year bought several very short ones I have not seen bloom yet. I'm Zone 5, too, and it's a non-stop performer. In November it was still sending out buds. If you deadhead it just keeps going.

    Another good and funky shaped blue is Montana Bluet. Not a spire but a shape similar to Stokes aster, but a more vivid blue with a darker purple center which makes it stand out.

    I love your delphiniums. I have not had luck with them despite many attempts. I think my ground is too soggy. Which flower is in front of them in that photo (your third photo)? Is that the campanula, or is it platycoden?

  • maozamom NE Ohio
    17 years ago

    Veronica 'Sunny Border Blue' is a must in my zone 5 garden. {{gwi:193368}}

  • diggerdee zone 6 CT
    17 years ago

    Gorgeous photos, guys! Thanks for sharing them!


  • WendyB 5A/MA
    17 years ago

    How about Ladybells? adenophora confusa... very campanula-like. A little aggressive but manageable.
    mine has been a little floppy since those dang trees nearby have grown...


    (not my pic. from wff)

  • bean_counter_z4
    17 years ago

    A couple years ago I read an article by a famous garden designer (whose name escapes me:~) I am quoting him exactly, "You can't be too rich, too thin, or have too much blue in your garden."

  • david_5311
    17 years ago

    Well I will try to stick to the spires, since there are tons of plants that are blue/purple/lavendar with other forms.

    I did think of one more group of plants -- the ironweeds, Vernonia spp. The best known and most readily available is V novaboracensis. There are tall native composites with purple flowers in spires. They are excellent easy care plants as long as the soil is reasonably moist. They bloom from mid-August into October, at a time when blue purples may be harder to come by especially with vertical inflorescences, apart from the aconitums, salvias, and late delphiniums, which have already been mentioned.

    One other good tall mid-late summer blooming plant is Campanula pyramidalis. It is quite tall (3-5'), long bloomer, and meets the requireents for blue and spikey as you have asked. Another great campanula which fits loosely in this category is C. lactiflora. Though it looks perhaps a bit more "shrubby" than "spikey" when in bloom, its inflorescenes are definitely vertical. Many of the seed grown selections are a fairly pale blue-lavendar, some even pink, though there is a 'Pritchard's Variety' which is a more saturated lavendar purple. And it would look right at home in the 'cottagey melange' of your garden I bet.

  • gottagarden
    Original Author
    17 years ago

    Thanks for all the suggestions, looks like I am not alone in having these favorites.

    David, I appreciate all your ideas. I googled them and:
    * Rabdosia longituba - I've never heard of it and it is so delicate looking. It says zone 6, but I can sometimes get away with that.
    * Veronicastrum virginicum 'Fascination' - a few votes for this, so I will try to locate one
    * aconitum - yes! I have avoided them until now because they are highly poisonous, but next year my kids are 4 and 6, old enough to be well past the "mouthing" stage, so this is definitely on the list.
    * Salvia azurea grandiflora - will keep my eyes open, it looks like true blue. I try lots of salvia, also have caradonna and love them all.

    * vernonia - looks like wild asters. Never heard of them, will look around for some
    * campanula pyramidalis - I grew this at a previous residence and loved how tall the spikes were, haven't seen it for sale around here, but will try harder now that I'm reminded of this beauty.
    * campanula lactiflora - I have seen this in English magazines all the time, but have never seen it for sale locally. It looks perfect.

    * Veronica - I grow "sight seeing mix" and never know when to deadhead because it blooms for so long. Then I wind up with half-pretty, half -ratty blooms. I got "crater lake blue" in a swap last year, but it hasn't bloomed for me yet. I will try "Sunny Border blue" because I have seen that one for sale and here are two votes for it.

    * adenophora confusa - it's beautiful, but, . . . I've heard it's very aggressive, so I've avoided it. Anyone know for sure?

    Montana bluet, stokes aster, asters, clematis, nigella, lavender - even though not spiky, I have all these and love them, because you can't have too much blue in your garden.

    Linnea56 - the flower in the third photo is campanula persicifolia. It has wonderful evergreen foliage and reblooms again in the fall. Very carefree and not aggressive. But I do have *platycodon that I quite like that blooms late in summer.

    Thanks for the specific suggestions. I now have some special plants to keep an eye out for when I do my winter catalog shopping.

  • Monique z6a CT
    17 years ago

    Nice photos everyone.

    How about: Baptisia australis, Ajuga groundcover has nice purple spikes albeit very short, Salvia haematodes ÂIndigo (tall), Veronica incana, Veronica ÂGoodness Grows or ÂRoyal CandlesÂ.

  • gottagarden
    Original Author
    17 years ago

    I've had baptisia for 2 years but it hasn't really bloomed yet. Hopefully this year I'll know why everyone is raving about this one.

    Hmmm, must get more veronica, thanks for the specific names. I actually have veronica incana and I love it for the neat silver foliage and long lasting blue spires. Here it is blooming with my peony so you know it is an early bloomer.


  • WendyB 5A/MA
    17 years ago

    I second V. 'Royal Candles'. This is a picture of it its first year - a couple of years ago. Last year I noticed that it bloomed for a very long time plus I got rebloom from it later.


  • prairiemoon2 z6b MA
    17 years ago

    Gottagarden...those are the tallest lupine I have ever seen and the color is gorgeous. Could you share what variety they are?

    Has anyone mentioned verbena bonariensis? Would that qualify?

    I have the ladybells, Wendy. Not quite as gorgeous as that WFF photo. They were in my yard when I moved here and not sure if they are just native here or were planted by previous owner. They do self seed a lot. I like them enough not to pull them all though.

    I bought a Delphinum in a quart container one year and to our amazement, it grew into a gorgeous flowering plant that year. It was so gorgeous, but I lost it to mildew I believe. I started some from seed last year, but they stayed a small mound all season. I am keeping my fingers crossed that I will see some blooms this year. If not, I am going to go back to buying them started, because they were so wonderful that they are worth a little trouble.


  • deeje
    17 years ago

    Gorgeous photos! I'm another who lives for blue spikes... actually, any blues in the garden. Laurel, I especially love your aster photo!

    gottagarden, since you asked -- I had ladybells in my last garden. Thought I could get away with planting them, despite the rumors of their invasiveness, because I was planning to put them in a very inhospitable place:

    * inside the drip line of a monster-sized maple tree
    * unenriched clay soil
    * no water beyond what rainfall provided
    * at the edge of our property, where neighborhood children ran wild

    And they spread so effusively I started removing them the second season... and continued to weed them out for several seasons afterward. Thank heavens they didn't spread via runners! The bloom is awfully pretty in that photo Wendy linked from White Flower Farms, but my experience was not good At All.

  • gottagarden
    Original Author
    17 years ago

    Thanks Deeje, that's what I was afraid of with those ladybells. I will avoid them.

    Prairiemoon - I'm not sure which lupine, I think Russell hybrid mixed. I was given them in a garden swap, so I'm not positive. (love those garden swaps!)

  • hunt4carl
    17 years ago

    Ahhh, those purple (and blue!) spires. . .just when I
    think I've got an interesting color mix going, some primal
    urge causes me to drop a little explosion of purple
    (or blue) into the mix, and WHAM!. . .like iron filings
    to a magnet, it all just pulls together.

    My all-time #1 purple spire... hands down, no contest...
    has to be Salvia leucantha ("I know, I know, it's an annual
    for us. . ."), which I faithfully put in every season as
    a seedling (or two, or three). When a plant spends the
    entire summer bulking up into a shrub 4-1/2 to 5 foot tall,and then cuts loose in Sept/Oct with those incredible drooping spires of lavendar-purple which actually look and
    feel like softest velvet - what's not to like?


  • bindersbee
    17 years ago

    Some of the Agastache's have purplish foliage- I'm thinking 'Purple Pygmy' for example. Agastache 'Golden Fortune' and golden foliage and purple spikes so that's a double bonus.

    I also like Salvia Uglinosa- Bog Sage and it is one of the hardier varieties with a lighter but still true blue color. Oh- and it's shorter but Rocky Mountain Penstemon is also a pretty blue spiked plant. I also really enjoy the deep blue Veronica 'Georgia Blue' which has almost navy blue flower spikes. My very favorite though and the magnificent delphiniums. Any shade. I can't pick a favorite. I'm thinking of trying the seeds from New Zealand this year as delphinium do really quite well in my climate.

    I'm partial to spikes in general. I have to remind myself to plant the other flower head shapes or all I would have are spikes.

  • gottagarden
    Original Author
    17 years ago

    I was looking at my bluestone catalog and really paying attention to all those different veronicas. Now I have another "georgia blue" to look for. Don't know why I don't have a collection of these already. Guess I will by next year :-)

    Delphiniums are my favorite as well. I've only grown "Magic Fountains" but this year I think I will try some taller ones.

    Salvia leucantha - I used to grow these in Cal. I never saw them for sale around here. I should try to find a source and overwinter in the garage because they were one of my favorites as well. Where do you find them? Or do you grow them from seed?

    Thanks for all the suggestions! I'm using them as I look at my catalogs.

  • hunt4carl
    17 years ago

    Part of the problem with Salvia leucantha (and many of
    the other late-blooming tender perennial salvias) is that
    their very-late bloom means that retail nurseries can't
    really merchandise them for their customers until the garden season is already winding down. I was first
    introduced to this spectacular plant when one of our better
    local nurseries quietly brought a whole bunch of them along in one of their back beds and then proudly put them
    out for sale all at once in late September. . . you'd have
    thought they were having a fire sale! One of the folks
    who work there told me that all 100 gallon pots
    evaporated in less than a week - at $14.95 a pop! But,
    the following season, when I inquired early about reserving one, they told me they'd decided it was too labor intensive. . .so my source was gone.

    In subsequent years, I have discovered that a number of
    your better nurseries (those with variety) will often
    have them available in 3" pots in the Spring - but look
    for them in the annual section (NOT perennial), and some-times they'll lump them in with herbs.

    Here are three mail order sources, ranging from least
    expensive to most expensive:

    Well-Sweep Herb Farm
    Lazy SS Farm
    Plant Delights

    That first listing, one of my favorites, I visit every
    Spring, and the quality has always been excellent for me -
    so here's a link.


    Here is a link that might be useful: Well-Sweep Herb Farm

  • duluthinbloomz4
    17 years ago

    I'll add my caution regarding Adenophora Confusa. Not altogether unattractive in and of itself, but when it invades, it's not a pretty clump like the WFF photo. I inherited the family gardens five years ago and these blew in from somewhere and had gotten a toe hold. I've just about gotten them eradicated - they do pull up easily, and now that I can spot one from across the yard I don't allow them to set seed. Thousands of seeds per stalk and the germination rate must be 100%

    Beautiful photos on this thread. I need more blue and I need more spires.

  • blackswamp_girl
    17 years ago

    Gorgeous pictures... all of them! :)

    Carl, thank you for that link to Well-Sweep. My boyfriend grew up in Hackettstown, and when I googled Port Murray I noticed Schooleys Mountain Park on the map so it must be very close. We hiked around Schooleys when we visited in the fall... and as we're planning to back to visit again this spring I'm requesting a stop at Well-Sweep. I'd love to see their formal herb garden.

  • david_5311
    17 years ago

    Well, as long as it is January and people are garden dreaming (I was too, looking at pictures of my old garden), I came across a few pictures I thought people might enjoy

    Veronicastrum virginicum 'Fascination', here just barely opening, with Jacob Cline and another blue spire, a veronica about 30" tall whose name I can't recall


    And the same plant, here planted with 2 white spires which are in bloom at the same time, Cimicifuga racemosa and Epilobium angustifolium 'Album'. Who says you can't plant spires with spires with spires??? I am not sure I really planned it this way but I really liked the effect of the blue and white spires swaying in the breezes together.


    Another favorite mentioned by Carl and others above, Salvia Leucantha, first the straight species, with white flowers in a velvety purple cup, giving a bicolor effect


    An equally good and only slightly smaller selection, S. l. 'Santa Barbara. Makes a spectacular container plant.


    In my experience, Salvia leucanthas are among the best tender sages for cold northern gardens because they are relatively frost resistant, and will keep on blooming through the earlier frosts to continue putting on a good show. Others of the fall blooming tender sages sometimes don't have much of a flowering period in the north because they get nailed by freezes too early.

  • milo_z7
    17 years ago

    duluthinbloomz4: Are you sure your plant isn't Campanula rapunculoides?

  • hunt4carl
    17 years ago

    Well, David, if my "prose" didn't convince people of the
    glories of Salvia leucantha, your pictures certainly did !
    If only I had the room to plant such a mass of them.....

    And, if folks are looking for the straight species to
    overwinter, as you had suggested in an earlier thread on
    salvias, I finally tracked it down at Niche Gardens - but NOT listed in their 2007 print catalogue, only online.....


  • hunt4carl
    17 years ago

    Goofed again: CANCEL what I just said above, about David's
    suggestion for overwintering Salvia was
    Salvia guaranitica we were discussing that time.....all these gorgeous photos in the middle of winter get me completely frazzled: I need to be IN my garden !


  • gottagarden
    Original Author
    17 years ago

    David, those photos of salvia leucantha are gorgeous, just made me want to touch their nice soft fuzzy little gloves. Definitely time to get those again, especially Santa Barbara.

    Carl, thanks for the link to well-sweep farm. Although not immediately obvious from their homepage, you can download a pdf version of their catalog and they have Everything! LOTS of salvias, and also veronicastrum fascination. Once again, David's seductive photos made me lust after veronicastrum. Bluestone didn't have "fascination" and their selection was not as airy or purple as David's photo, but well sweep had it. They also had several of the veronicas listed there, so I see a big order to them soon.

    Thanks for all the great ideas and sources. I love to plan and plot in the winter.

  • david_5311
    17 years ago

    By the way, gottagarden, I do love blue too, but the other color forms of veronicastrum including the native species white, are equally good in the garden. In fact the white has more of an impact from a distance. Nothing quite so well gives the effect of a giant candleabra in the garden than this species in all of its color selections. They are all worth acquiring.

  • duluthinbloomz4
    17 years ago

    Milo z7. Thanks, you're probably right about the C. Rapunculoides.

  • barb422
    17 years ago

    May I suggest
    Blue Imperial Giant larkspur. I've purchased this from seed, and it is the perfect plant for winter sowing.

    Also phlomis cashmeriana is unusual looking and has lavender colored blooms. I'm going to link to a photo below, but it appears more pink in the photo. It's halfway down the page.

    I also love Rocky Mtn penstemon, Wasatch Penstemon, and Pikes Peak Purple. Oh and Rondo mix, though it comes in pink purple and blue. I guess you'd have to pick it out while it's in bloom at the nursery to get just the blue/purple shades. All three in this photo are Rondo mix.

    I see I need to add some veronica and the salvia leucantha by those photos above. I think that adenophora is so pretty too, but I wonder if it could take this climate.

    Also I sent you an email offline David3511. I'm dying to know where to find the white epilobium in your photo.


    Here is a link that might be useful: Cashmere sage

  • barb422
    17 years ago

    Oops, I should have mentioned Larkspur is an annual, but it re-seeds reliably.

  • gottagarden
    Original Author
    17 years ago

    Barb422, I LOVE your purple penstemon, exactly the purple spires that go with everything. I will look out for those varieties.

    I have the lilac colored phlomis, it is an interesting vertical note, but with rather coarse leaves.

    I have larkspur, but my variety is more of a "cloud" than "spires", so I will look for Blue Imperial Giant.

    EPILOBIUM - why have I never heard of this before?? It looks perfect to try even in its purple form, see link below.

    Here is a link that might be useful: {{gwi:193348}}

  • linrose
    17 years ago

    I second (or third or fourth) all the Salvias. Hardy ones I have are May Night, Blue Queen, Viola Klose, and Caradonna. Tender perennial types - Purple Majesty, Indigo Spires, Mystic Spires Blue, Black & Blue, and S. leucantha. I got all the tender types (except Mystic Spires Blue) from Logees. Those 3" pots turned into monsters by midsummer.

    I also love most Veronicas, I especially like Goodness Grows, it stays fairly low and spreads well so I use it at the foot of my roses. Penstemon is another favorite although many types don't like our heat and humidity. I love Violet Dusk and it does very well for me.

    Purple Majesty

    Black and Blue

    S. leucantha

  • pondlily
    15 years ago

    I don't know how I found this old posting, but I love it! I need to get to a nursery quick!

  • Jamazon
    9 years ago

    Echium candicans, the Pride of Madeira!

  • pam_whitbyon
    9 years ago

    What an informative thread, so glad to read it, great excuse to see gottagarden's wonderful photos and read posts from david_5311 again. This thread was started over 7 years ago but somehow 2007 seems like yesterday!

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