Last Call for Annuals

– Posted in: Plant info, Weather, What's up/blooming

Cerinthe major 'Purpurascens' photo by manxieWe’re in the midst of the last warm days of fall giving way to cool and colder weather. Light and medium frosts have been visiting with hard frosts soon to follow. It’s interesting to see how the plants in the garden respond to the weather. Placement and severity of frost have brought an interesting – ok, strange and half-burnt – look to the garden that keeps me poking my head everywhere noting the changes.

A medium frost took out the basil, marigolds, and isolated zinnias. It burned the outer growth of nasturtiums and bushy zinnias but they have recovered with milder weather. The annual Sages hormonium and farinacea have remained unblemished along with Ricinus, castor bean, and a self-sown petunia. Amaranths are still in form owing their protection to leafy screens of Cannas.

Some of the bird and chipmunk sown sunflowers continue their bloom but my earlier plantings are finished. It’s causing me to think of extending the season by trying 2nd and 3rd sowings. It may be silly of me to assume every fall will be similar to this one and the previous two. But if I don’t try it, how will I ever really know.

The real surprise has been Cerinthe major ‘Purpurascens’, otherwise known as “Honeywort” or “Blue Shrimp Plant” (photo above). Cerinthe is proving to be unscathed from light frosts and I will be curious to see how it bears up to a hard one. I had great germination and planted a large group in an island bed. Big mistake. The plants are thickly covered in wide glaucous leaves and the block looks like a mass of undifferentiated green touched with blue from a distance. I would have enjoyed them more by planting small groups closer to well-trafficked paths and walks.

The beauty of the plant is in its details. The bracts are very blue and protect the small purple, partially closed flowers. Flowers are nodding, making them convenient for bees and hummingbirds to visit. The plants are long flowering with older stems continuing to bloom while new ones begin opening.

The first time I encountered Cerinthe was at a garden open house. A volunteer was wisely stationed nearby to answer the constant stream of visitors asking, “What plant is that?” myself included. The plants are unique in their appearance and make a fun addition to the garden.

About the Author

I started in 1977 growing plants at wholesale nurseries and a wholesale seed company in California. In 1992 I started volunteering (in the nursery, of course!) at Strybing Arboretum in San Francisco where I met my wife. My wife is originally from upstate and we moved here in 2002. It took at least two years of living here for me to fully understand our property and to take advantage and work with our microclimate. Although growing zone maps show us to be in 5, we are realistically a 4b. I am inordinately proud, in a smarmy kind of way, of how many of the plants we brought with us have thrived. Coming from a zone 9 has been quite an adjustment for all of us. But we are thriving and enjoy the beauty and what the land gives us everyday. USDA Hardiness Zone: 4b/5a Location: rural; Central Leatherstocking near Cooperstown, New York Geographic type: riverine valley Soil type: Chenango alluvial – shallow clay and highly stony Experience level: 28 years professionally wholesale and retail, no longer in the business Particular interests: native plants and ecosystems, flowering and berry producing shrubs, home-grown foods, maples, birches, willows, ornamental grasses, filipendulas, iris, ligularias, persicarias, asclepias, artemisia, asters, arisaemas, hardy geraniums, euphorbias, eupatoriums, origanums, lysimachias, eryngiums, lilies, and visiting nurseries

In its own way, frost may be one of the most beautiful things to happen in your garden all year . . . Don’t miss it. Like all true beauty, it is fleeting. It will grace your garden for but a short while this morning. . . . For this moment, embrace frost as the beautiful gift that it is.

~Philip Harnden in A Gardener’s Guide to Frost: Outwit the Weather and Extend the Spring and Fall Seasons

Comments on this entry are closed.

Don October 8, 2006, 9:15 am

A few years ago, when I went on a garden tour in Marin County, California, with all the huge, magnificent rhododendrons, hydrangeas in smoky shades of pink and purple, and other tender plants of all types, the plant I lusted after the most was blue cerinthe… it is an absolute stunner.

Kim (Blackswamp_Girl) October 7, 2006, 11:12 pm

I fell in love with cerinthe this year, too… had a couple planted near my walkway, and they looked lovely with the reddish purples of amaranth and the swordlike foliage of iris. Oh, and the thick dark green of beet foliage set them off nicely also.

Misti, my seeds came from Renee’s Garden… they have mail order, but my local garden center carries them. You may be able to find some cerinthe seeds at your local garden center next spring if you don’t want to mail order…

misti October 7, 2006, 12:02 pm

Great thanks! I will try and order some in a few weeks. I have the yellow one and then the Justica red one and then three others, one is a bright bushy pink/green, a variegated sort and then a light green/yellow with some pinks. I’ll have to check my photobucket and show you the ones I have.

Thanks again!

Craig October 7, 2006, 6:00 am

Cerinthe’s unexpected combination of colors is purely seductive and should be planted by all gardeners. My seed came from Seedhunt, a small seed company based in Watsonville, CA. It’s owned by Ginny Hunt, an amazing plantswoman. She collects many of the seeds from her gardens and offers her own hybrids in different genera. There are very few pictures on her website and she only mails out a listing, so keep a few good references handy. But please persevere because you will find plants that few other seed companies offer. Her emphasis is on plants for Mediterranean climates but I believe many of the annuals should be trialed in other parts of the country.

Shrimp plant is a common common-name for plants. I grew up knowing it as the pinkish-salmon Beloperone which is now known as Justicia. There is also golden shrimp plant, Pachystachys, plus many other shrimp plants out there. It’s confusing when so many different plants receive the same name but it describes the inflorescence accurately. These are tender plants in most of the country and are propagated by cuttings.

Cerinthe can be a short-lived perennial in mild environments and is easy from seed. My seed is over 5 years old and surprised me with its vitality. Plants will gently reseed themselves, too. And anecdotally, my first plantings were gopher resistant.

misti October 6, 2006, 7:26 pm

Where did you find your blue shrimp plant? I grow several other varities of shrimp plants but have never seen that one. I’m very interested!