Friday, January 8, 2010

Signature Plants

Diana of Elephant's Eye asked us to name our signature plant, a hard task in a large garden with several growing seasons. Spring comes early and lasts a while. Summer runs into fall and Autumn lasts until Christmas.

The plants that I brought with me when we moved here 15 years ago were 17 rooted Pink Ruffles azaleas and a handful of rooted hydrangeas. Already here were 2 ancient dogwoods and a handful of dogwood seedlings. I think dogwoods number 18 now, from 2 feet tall up. More seedlings have appeared, some I planted and some planted by birds. Photobucket

The problem with the signature azaleas and dogwoods show in late March is that it lasts about two weeks, so we need more signatures to designate our gardens the other 24 weeks of the year. Dogwoods do have fall color, both leaves and berries. Azaleas are mostly nondescript evergreen background the rest of the year.

Sweet William pinks
Dianthus are my fav plant that follows the earlier spring show. Sweet William Dianthus is easily spread by scattering seed. A single gallon of Bath's Pink Dianthus divided into multiple cuttings, scattered everywhere a pink flowered plant with glaucous foliage would be appropriate, spreading over stone edgings.

The mid-summer fav is Crape Myrtle. I have two shades of pink; more than a half dozen suckers came from around an old lavender one in one of the pastures.

crape myrtleWhite crape myrtles came as seedlings from the Colonel's Lady's garden. Only one seedling turned out to be the wrong color.

A purchased pot labeled 'salvia' turned out to be solid purple Salvia leucantha. Maybe that's my signature, it fits in everywhere in the garden. Attractive to butterflies, it blooms in fall and looks good until frost takes it out.

Another plant that gets spread around in many areas is Setcreasea, or Purple Heart. I saw Setcreasea as a border plant around daylilies beds in the next ccounty one summer and proceeded to spread Purple Heart everywhere.

Gingers are my choice to use instead of the Hostas that dislike our hot, humid summers. Many different gingers: Alpinia, both striped and solid; hedychium, another late summer bloomer; curcuma, and cardamon ginger. Except for curcuma and hedychium, there are no blossoms because our growing season isn't long enough. I grow the others for foliage.

Curcuma, or Hidden Ginger: Grumpy Gardener's Mama trims back her foliage. I tried it with good results to show off blossoms.

Begonias are another choice for shade instead of the water-guzzling impatiens that ask for water twice or more daily.

Bulbs, spring bulbs and summer bulbs, a large number: Daffodils, hyacinths, true lilies, lycoris, oxblood lilies, Calla lilies, and more.

It's like asking a mother to decide which of her children best represents the family. It takes the whole selection to make my garden.

An afterword: When I searched the term, signature plants, I found a different meaning. At one time, signature plants were those used to cure human ailments.

The Doctrine of Signatures was highly developed during the European Renaissance. This interest paralleled the widespread belief in an overall unity of Nature.

Many vernacular names of temperate plants tell us how plants were once used to cure human ailments. Such uses were fueled by fertile imaginations. In general, long-lived plants were used to lengthen a person’s life, and plants with rough stems and leaves were believed effective to heal diseases that destroy the smoothness of the skin. Plants with yellow sap were cures for jaundice, and roots with jointed appearance were the antidote for scorpion bites. Flowers shaped like a butterfly became cures for insect bites.
•liverwort = relieve liver trouble
•snakeroot = antidote for snake venom
•adder’s tongue = cure for wounds and inflammation from snakebite
•lungwort = cure pulmonary diseases
•bloodroot = cure blood disorders; induce vomiting; laxative
•toothwort = relieve toothache
•gravelwort = dissolve stones in the urinary tract
•wormwood = expel intestinal parasites
•pilewort = cure hemorrhoids
•ginseng = "man essense," used as a general human panacea
•mandrake = promote sexual passion in females
•black-eye root = remove bruise discoloration
•maidenhair fern = cure for baldness 
-- The Doctrine of Signatures, Professor Arthur C. Gibson, UCLA


  1. Very interesting post. Love your spring bloomers....all of them. Interesting that the Crape Myrtle was a different color than the one it came from.
    As for the name origins....would you want to be the first person to try...oh, wormwood if you had stomach issues? 'Give it to Mikey...' remember that one?

  2. Hi Nell,

    I agree with you that it is like picking out your favorite can't. You love each for different reasons. I recognize many of the same plants we can grow. My favorites are the Crepe Myrtle and Salvia leucantha.

  3. Interesting uses for the plants you found out about after doing more research. I love that alternative for hosta you have. What a lush and fresh looking plant with really pretty flowers too!

  4. i thought you would be a pink and white and purple kinda gal with a little bit of ginger tossed in...boy those are beautiful borders that you are creating and it looks like you are getting year round colors too!

  5. Nell, this one is food for thought..

    I couln't pick one plant either. I seem to love them all in their own time.

    I could easier pick ones I don't like.

    When I think of your gardens, porter weed and the salvia leucantha come to mind. Porter weed because I had never heard of it before and your late salvias because I can't really grow them well here and yours are so lovely.

  6. Being a mother of four, picking a favorite child is impossible. Mother of thousands of plants however, not so tough. I wrote last January about the deciduous Azaleas, natives and hybrids that are my passion, after the family that is.

    About Those Azaleas-My Signature Plants


  7. Frances, I love all the azaleas, native or not.

    Glenda, you wouldn't want to see the dead stems of porterweed and salvia now. I'm hoping against hope that at least some survive the ravages of prolong freezing temperatures. The older clumps of salvia leucantha will maybe survive, and I have cuttings of porterweed.

    Noel, what I call the 'Upper Garden' has lots of pink and purple and white. The 'Front Garden' has yellow, all shades of orange and many purples, with chartreuse. Orange sneaks into the upper garden as well, but only in the hottest part of summer.

    Year 'round color is on hold right now until the camellias can recover when this awful cold is over. The little orange violas have pinched faces right now. What shall we do for Bloom Day in a week?

  8. Nell, I had never seen crape myrtle for real until I went to Powell Gardens in Missouri in the late summer of 2008. What a neat plant, and the hummingbirds seemed to be adoring it. It's hard to pick just a couple of plants, isn't it? I'm still trying to figure out which I should post about.

  9. Boy, that's a tough one! I love all my flowers - and I'm nuts about azaleas though they can't handle my alkaline soil. If forced to choose, I would probably have to say my black scabiosas. Months and months of summer flowers even when I forget to water them. :)

  10. Nell Jean - what a difficult task! But you did a very good job answering the question. You gave me a lot to think about. Pamela x
    PS Your garden is lovely!

  11. Tx for such an interesting reply Nell Jean. We will have to try the Maidenhair fern again. The Ungardener could use some more hair ...

  12. Nell Jean,
    Your Crape Myrtles look great. I have a pink one that has survived here dispite my best unintentional efforts to kill it.It's only a couple of feet tall but I hope it grows to look as good as yours do.

  13. Cool question, Nell Jean - and a good way to sneak some great flower photos onto the blog in winter ;-]

    I've thought about signature plants one time I was sure it had to be the Blue River II hibiscus. I also seem to take lots of photos of the 'Julia Child' rose and DH & I have yellow roses as our flower. If you'd have asked me last week it might have been the Rosa mutabilis, but now I'll wait until to see what survives this frigid, plant-killing weekend before naming anything!

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  14. Beautiful post with stunning pictures. You have lovely signatures, what a wonderful idea for a post. :)

  15. You have a lot of pretty signatures. I didn't realize how pretty ginger is with that bloom. I like the foliage, too.

  16. You all are just too kind with your compliments.

    I forgot all about Gardenias when I made my list. I have 14. They bloom in June, ahead of the crape myrtles.

    Annie, 'Julia Child' is one of my new favs. I wish I'd bought a dozen instead of two. 'Nacogdoches' is another fav yellow rose.

  17. Hmm, you've really given my something to think about here. I might say that roses are my signature plant, since I love them so. But I only have about ten of them. I dearly love coneflowers, and have about 8 different kinds, perhaps that could be my signature plant. Yes, one of those two!


I look forward to comments and questions and lively discussion of gardening and related ideas.

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