Gardeners often experience a jealousy greener than their thumbs when looking at gardens to the south. It’s usually the wisteria that starts it, but it doesn’t stop there. We covet a host of perennials and shrubs that stubbornly stop cold when we try to coax their comely southern roots deep into the soil of our northern paradise.
Oh sure, come winter we gather around the fireplace and comfort each other with grisly tales of southern gardeners that suffer from peony envy. We love to talk about how they resort to sprinkling ice cubes around their peonies to mimic the conditions we take for granted. We laugh at their paltry results and smugly click our hot chocolate mugs together with glee. There is nothing more vengeful than a gardener scorned. Or something like that.
Of course, it could be that I’ve fallen in with a particularly nasty crowd of gardeners. It is entirely possible that no-one else has ever coveted a wisteria vine in full bloom, but I seriously doubt it. Gardeners can no more drive past a beautiful plant without wanting to wrap their arms around it and take it home, than a caffeine fiend can bypass Tim Horton’s.
Well, shut off that jealous thumb, because I’m here to tell you about a beautiful plant you don’t need to drive away from. A plant you can wrap your arms around for years to come. Cheerfully waltzing her way into Zone 3 is the Giant White Fleece Flower Persicaria polymorpha (not to be confused with its short relative Persicaria affinis, a groundcover that is also commonly referred to as fleece flower). Never has a plant been more welcome to dance in my garden than this one. Its initial ho-hum green shoots make it easy to overlook on the nursery shelf, but to do so would be a tragedy of horrorculture proportions.
Keep in mind that the Persicaria polymorpha is one of those plants that get better with time. While it may fail to impress for the first two years, by its third year it will blow your mind. This is one fabulous shrub. Everything about it is pure magic. A perennial from the knotweed family, this sturdy non-invasive plant is slow to emerge in the spring, but once it gets its first glimpse of the summer sun it shoots for the sky like Jack’s beanstalk. I swear, if you had time to lay on your stomach and stare, this is a plant you could actually watch grow. Within a matter of weeks it can go from a couple inches to a massive plant measuring over five feet high and five feet wide. As if this wealth of foliage isn’t impressive enough, it also offers a stunning display of large, frothy, creamy white flowers from late May right through to freeze up.
After the killing frost its foliage turns a gorgeous copper colour and can then be chopped off flat to the ground to await its miraculous growth spurt come spring. The stalks also make great additions to dried arrangements or can be left to trap snow over the winter and add some pretty contrast to the white winter landscape, then come spring, you can cut the dead stalks off to the ground. Or you can use them to make bug habitats such as this one from The Metro Field Guide.
The fact that the fleece flower dies back to the ground every fall is an added bonus for northern gardeners, since this means there is nothing for the moose and deer to munch on – aka destroy – over the long winter months.
After losing roses, apple trees and even Saskatoon bushes to moose with the munchies, I planted a dozen fleece flowers along our driveway and now look forward to their magnificent display every summer without fearing for their demise over the winter.
Fleece flowers will tolerate poor, dry, soil but for best results, plant this giant in moist, fertile soil in full or half sun. Once established, it is extremely drought tolerant.
You will often see this fleece flower listed as Zone 5 – it makes a person wonder how many other plants out there would thrive in our frosty firma if we only gave them a chance…