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Archive for August 2nd, 2009

Kim, who calls herself Blackswamp Girl is working on starting a new garden meme called “Foliage Friday”.   In these posts she celebrates foliage plants in the garden, and in spite of the fact that I am a little late with this, I am joining in on the fun, at least this week.   My history with repetitive memes is rather dismal, I play for a while and then I peter out.   Usually I get distracted, or I’m not inspired by the theme, or whatever.

At any rate, Kim is looking for inspiration, and I immediately thought of a foliage plant I have established in the bed on the north side of the house.   I came across this plant at Hornbaker Gardens,  a nursery in Princeton, Illinois that is so wonderful I actually have been known to make a special trip over there from my brother-in-law’s place near Cedar Rapids, Iowa.   We came across the place when we were on a road trip to Madison, Wisconsin.   Hornbaker Gardens happened to be having a sale and there was a billboard out on the freeway we were travelling on to that effect.   We had time, so we stopped by, and I have been hooked ever since.

However, on my original visit, I was walking around in their demonstration Hosta garden and there was a plant I had never seen spread amidst the different hostas that was making a wonderful backdrop and filler in and around them.   I liked the way it looked, and so I bought a pot of it and brought it home and planted it with my brand new hostas.  That was a good ten years ago, and it has indeed filled in around them.

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Okay, so you don’t really get a good idea of what I found so special about that plant, so here is a closer view.

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This is Persicaria filiformis “Painter’s palette”, also known as knotweed.  I liked the variegated leaves, which remain interesting all through the summer.   It is quite shade tolerant, and it doesn’t mind the conditions of moisture the hostas require.   However, it also does well in dry shade, and even in my gravel path it is sending up seedlings happily.

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It transplants nicely, and it reseeds itself freely.   But it is not invasive in the way the plants with rhizomes are, it does get bigger and fills out as it ages over the years, but it does not send out roots to take over other areas.   It is not a plant that is going to give you instant gratification, it takes a while to fill in if you are a thrifty gardener who only buys one plant and waits for them to propagate.   Also, the first year I had it I cut off all the flower stalks because I wanted it to stay lower and compact, so I didn’t get a lot of seedlings that spring, but if you don’t make that mistake you will have lots of volunteers the following spring.

There are several other cultivars out there, all of which have nicely variegated leaves as well;  it comes in several colors.

Do not grow this plant if you also want a flower show.  It does not have flowers to speak of.  It sends up a very slender flower stalk that has extremely tiny and insignificant flowers on it, on this variety they are red.  However, despite their insignificance they make plenty of seeds.

I am very pleased with this foliage plant, and recommend it to folks who are looking for something to fill in a bare area in the shade.

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